Maintaining your self-image

Here's something you might've not known about yourself: in your field, you're probably not as good as you think you are. And, this is especially true for people who are just starting out (count me in).

We've all noticed how many beginners quickly become very cocky in their abilities. They might have humility in the beginning, but after a while, many begin to think they're one of the best in the world.

I came back from my travels thinking I would start winning prizes with my pictures but Gideon just flicked through the prints saying that most of them were shit, and he was right.

Mikhael Subotzky

They start to think that they know everything. A lot of them even become arrogant and start to look down on others - even to their own teachers. How crazy is it for a student to look down on his own teacher? It's as if they get intoxicated with some of the success they have.

Some might say that they're overly confident, but 'confidence' is definitely not the correct word here. The right word is 'the ego.'

Once they 'made it,' their ego forms a certain self-image. It's an identity of who they are, what they know, the status they have among their peers, etc. Once this self-image is formed, it needs to be maintained.

Maintaining a self-image means to live up to the standards of this self-image. If they think they know everything, then that means they can't possibly be wrong. After all, how can you be wrong if you're one of the 'best' in the world?

E.g., when they have a different opinion than their colleagues, they can't possibly admit that they're wrong. This would threaten their self-image and their 'greatness'. So they need to assure themselves that they're right and the other person is wrong - even if deep down they know that they might be wrong.

The problem is that if you know everything, you can't learn anything new. You will have a distorted view of the world, and sooner or later you'll fall flat on your face. The more delusional they are, the harder the fall will be. Life will make sure you'll get a reality check.

The solution is to let go of this need to maintain some image. Always remain a student. Tell yourself that no matter how much you know, you still don't know anything.

This makes life so much easier because if you allow yourself to be wrong, you don't need to waste any energy on maintaining a front - you can be just you. You won't become paranoid about whether you're right or wrong. Besides, it doesn't matter who's right - it's not about you - it's about the truth and the bigger picture.