My recently turned 18-year old son is a passionate photographer. He’s got himself a little business where people pay him for senior photos, family portraits, sport team pictures, and other personal moments.
For Cooper’s 18th birthday last month, I gifted him a four-hour private lesson with a pro photographer/coach.
Cooper told me something the instructor shared with him that caught my attention. The instructor said that Cooper’s attentiveness, note-taking, and astute questions were a refreshing contrast to most of the people who hire him simply wanting to know what few buttons to push to get good photos. Most of his clients want to simply know the shortcut to good photography.
(He was so taken by my son’s interest that he wants to return for additional four-hours of instruction free of charge!)
Does this instructor’s experience sound familiar?
Truly skilled pros like this instructor know there are no shortcuts to mastery. He knows that there are no predetermined buttons that will always capture the emotion of a moment. Even though today’s cameras are sophisticated computers, a good photograph still requires a skilled eye with knowledge and experience with the technology.
There are no magic buttons on a camera any more than there are predetermined notes to memorize to becoming an accomplished jazz musician.
Looking for the shortcuts in anything doesn’t make you a bad person, however. Your brain is hardwired to look for shortcuts. Those shortcuts make you more efficient in the activities of your life. But there’s a downside.
One demonstration of that hardwiring occured in an experiment a few years ago. Participants signed up for an opportunity to have their IQ measured. The researchers told the participants that mid-way through the test there would be a 10-minute rest break in which they would move to a room filled with magazines and candy. The participants were encouraged to relax and help themselves to the magazines and candy.
But there was a subtle manipulation that was the real purpose of the study. The experimenters weren’t interested in the IQ results. Once people had entered the break room, the experimenters placed bowls of candy 10 inches (within easy reach) of certain participants and other bowls 30 inches (requiring people to lean forward to reach the candy).
At the end of the 10-minute break, the bowls were weighed to measure how much candy had been consumed. Those 20 inches made a huge difference. Participants ate roughly twice as much candy when no effort was required to consume the candy.
But effort is required to become a skilled musician, photographer, chief, athlete, or any accomplished expert, and willingness to exert the necessary effort is what separates those who dabble from those who are the truly skilled.
To consistently study and practice one’s craft in the face of friction and resistance is to go beyond the brain’s hardwired tug toward energy conservation and efficiency.
Do you have the purpose-driven fire in the belly to achieve the ‘escape velocity’ necessary to go beyond settling on learning the few buttons to push or notes to memorize?
Now, I want the conclusion of all of this to be very clear.
It’s perfectly legitimate to dabble in the arts. I dabble in photography. Just be clear on the outcome you desire and make sure that the effort you’re willing to extend does not fall short for accomplishing whatever you tell yourself you want to achieve.
Half of those participants were unwilling to lean another 20 inches over in order to enjoy a piece of candy, and I’m guessing they liked candy!