Day 97: The Path To Self-Awareness

It’s a rare occasion that you get to compare your work to another photographers that you admire on this level. I had recently shot alongside a fabulous photographer at a styled shoot. We had the same subject, same light, same details… heck we even had the same camera and film stock. So when her photos posted online, I scoured them thoroughly.

It’s not uncommon that I’ll pick apart everything that makes a photographer’s work wonderful. It’s also not uncommon that I’ll think, “I could shoot like this is I shot half a million dollar weddings too.”

So you can see, this was a rare opportunity to see if that theory actually held water. I was ready to compare my work to the work of another photographer who frequently DID shoot luxury weddings.

Three days later I got my own scans back and I opened them to compare. They weren’t as good. I deflated. “Dang it!” I said. Raffi assure me that mine were perfectly fine.

I sighed. “Perfectly fine isn’t how I get better. I get better by being realistic about my work.” I opened her images and placed mine side by side. “Okay,” I thought “her angles are straighter… I just need to clean that up in Photoshop… and her whites are brighter… I can fix that in Lightroom too.” Mere minutes later, I had a group of photos that I was MORE happy with than I would have ever thought.

You won’t get better by lying to yourself. You also won’t get better by beating yourself into a slump. You get better by being honest with yourself.

What is Self Awareness?

The best definition I’ve found was from a TEDx Talk from Tasha Eurich: Self awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly.

Most of us think we know what that means, but we really don’t.

Some people believe that by being self deprecating, they’re being self aware. Saying things like “I know, I’m a terrible person,” when really, they’re just giving themselves permission to do something they know is wrong.

Some people believe that it’s simply acknowledging their failures. Maybe they say, “I know cheating on that test wasn’t the best but…” when really, they’re just justifying their behavior and giving themselves excuses.

Self awareness happens when we stop telling ourselves stories and we start facing facts. We stop adding in our own salt and pepper to the story, we cut out our own personal narrative, and we start getting real with our own actions and the real reasons why we do what we do.

Why Value Self Awareness?

Being self aware can be uncomfortable at first, but ultimately working through it can be very freeing. Self awareness is key to developing emotional intelligence. When you know who you are and what’s important to you, you have the ability to shape your life in a much more healthy and realistic way. All the lies you tell yourself to comfort yourself or get you through the day are all just clouding your path towards being the best version of yourself.

I’ll give you an example.

In 2014 I was at a point where I was feeling irritated with my business. I had been working at my photography business for years at that point and it still hadn’t taken off. I was nowhere near quitting my day job and I was watching other photographers run circles around me. “I’ve literally done EVERYTHING I can think of to grow my business!” I would cry to my friends… but one day, I stopped. I woke up. I said, “Have you? Have you really? Because if I remember correctly, you’ve taken a nap every day this week and woke up to snuggle your son on the sofa, watch cartoons, have dinner and then spend a precious thirty minutes doing something small like re-editing old photos or looking up website templates you can’t afford.” The absolute truth was, I WASN’T putting real effort into my business. Was napping and spending time with my son bad? No, not at all! But I was denying the truth so that I could live in the victim zone.

Self awareness wasn’t me realizing the truth and using it to say “I SUCK! I can’t believe myself! I’ll never get it right!” It was simply telling myself the facts. “Right now you are giving self care and motherhood a precedence over photography so it stands to reason that photography isn’t on the level you’d like.” Right or wrong had nothing to do with it.

With that information, I could see clear enough to either keep on that path or make some changes to help further my photography.

How Can You Practice Self Awareness?

Ok guys, I should let you know, I’m not a self awareness expert by any means, so if this is an area that interests you, I really encourage you to watch some videos and read some articles online to help further your education in this topic.

Let’s end with some recaps and exercises.

    1. Stop telling yourself stories. If you have a hard time with this, imagine a friend is telling you what is happening as if you don’t know any of the characters. This is someone else’s life. How would you see them? Usually we can see others more clearly than we see ourselves.
    2. Accept that your choices aren’t necessarily wrong or right, for now, they just are. Later you can decide if the choices you’re making are in tune with the person you’re trying to become, but for now, your actions and behaviors are something to accept without attaching an evil or angelic grade to them.
    3. Be mindful if your actions are fueled by your mind, your heart, or your gut. These are our three central locations of intelligence. When we make decisions with our head, we are being logical and intelligent. Our hearts lead us to making decisions with a lot of feeling and emotion. And finally, our gut is more instinctual. When something “feels right” but you can’t quite put into words why, that is our gut feeling.
    4. From the TEDx talk mentioned above, Tasha advises to ask “What” instead of “Why.” She gives an example of someone who just found out she was diagnosed with Cancer and instead of asking “Why me?”, she asked “What is important to me?” This allowed her construct a life that was meaningful to her. You can watch this video right here:

Hopefully that got you on your way and I’ll see you tomorrow for day 98: Answering your questions. Then on day 99, we are going to pick up on this topic again and take it a bit further to help find genuine confidence in yourself.

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris