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How Do I Know I’m Making Progress in My Photography, Art, and Life?

Dear friend,

I believe one of our tasks as humans is to progress. To improve. To advance, and for us to visibly see our own progress, and actually be proud of our progress!

But how do we know we are advancing or progressing in our photography, art, and life? Some personal ideas:

First of all, we must define “progress” for ourselves.

The word “progress” comes from the Latin (Pro+gradi). Pro: Forth, Gradi: Walk. Therefore, ‘progress’ literally means to “walk forward”.

foot selfie Starbucks advance

Now much of our English etymology and words comes from Latin, which is rooted in Roman military tactics and society. So when we think of the word “progress”, it probably meant for an army to march forward and advance.

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Now, in modern times, unfortunately we live in a society ruled by statistics, data, and numbers. We currently live in a time of “data-deification”— our new god is numbers.

We believe in charts, numbers, and statistics more than our own gut, more than our own personal beliefs, and we believe that with enough numbers and “proof”, we will somehow discover some deeper truth or knowledge in the universe, and be “happier”.

Humans are more than numbers

Colors chroma and traffic

We get suckered by this all the time. We equate our progress in life by “quantifying” it with numbers. For example, we feel joy when we see these trends:

  1. We feel joy when we see our salary or income numbers go up from $ -> $$$
  2. (For bodybuilding men), we feel joy when we see our “gains” increase — when we PUT ON weight. For example for a bodybuilder, going from 150 pounds to 160 pounds is seen as a positive achievement.
  3. For powelifters (like myself), we see joy when we see the maximum weight we can lift go up. For example, I get joy when I can increase my deadlift “one rep max” even by 5 pounds a week!
  4. We feel joy when we see our social media following number go up. For example, as photographers we get joy when we see our social media following go from 100 followers to 1,000 followers. Unfortunately this is the main benchmark we use in order to measure our progress as photographers.

Yet, we are more than numbers. Numbers technically aren’t “real”. Humans, molecules, and organic matter is real. Yet numbers are an abstraction, based on real stuff.

Just consider,

If you didn’t use numbers to track your self-progress, how would you track your progress?

And another deeper question:

Do we even need to track our progress? Is it even desirable to see progress?

And even deeper:

Is it even philosophically possible to measure progress?

How I track my progress

Black pink blue car

The way I track progress is simple. Everyday I consider and ask myself,

Am I stronger, smarter, or more artistic today than I was yesterday?

This is why I think this rationale is good:

  1. You don’t know whether you will die today (during the day in a texting-while-driving accident, or some idiot running a red light and killing you in your car), or if you might die tonight in your sleep. Thus from a rational perspective, it makes sense to live for today. Not to do reckless thing, but to fully devote 100% of your will-power to create art.
  2. The more you practice something, naturally the better you get at it. And the problem with photography is that you cannot measure how “good” a photograph is with a ruler or numbers. Instead, you must follow your own gut and your own aesthetic taste. If you feel that you’re making progress in your photographs (through critical self-judgement of your own photos), you are making progress!
  3. As a bodybuilder, the easiest way to see if you’re making progress is looking at yourself in the mirror and just asking yourself: “Do I like how I look today compared to yesterday?”

You are the ultimate judge

red silhouette

To be really frank, I don’t think you “need” to track and measure your progress. Instead, I would recommend NOT to prevent yourself from pursuing things you’re curious in.

Often we are curious about new techniques, methods, or art-works to pursue– yet we either talk ourselves out of it, or we let others talk us out of it.

Instead, turn a deaf ear to the “advice” of others– and allow enough peace, space, and quiet to listen to your own inner-voice.

Cindy flexing

Our inner-voice might be “wrong” — but better to attempt what your heart says and fail, than listen to the advice of others and succeed.


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