Take Yourself Seriously

| August 14, 2018 | 15 Replies

The serious photographer today should constantly be seeking new ways of commenting on a world that is newly understood. Constant creativity and innovation are essential to combat visual mediocrity. The photographic educator should appeal to the students of serious photography to challenge continually both their medium and themselves. ~Jerry Uelsmann

Some people say that you shouldn’t take yourself seriously. I think that you should. In fact, if you take anything seriously, it should be your self, since it is the self that decides what else to take seriously. But there is more to it.

Certainly, to not take yourself seriously makes life easier. It may save you from disappointment, it may liberate you from taking responsibility for things, it may help you rationalize taking the easy path, it may allow you to dismiss those nagging what-ifs, it may relieve you of some worries, and it may unburden you from caring too much about anything. And, when you excuse yourself from caring, you also spare yourself such undesired feelings as frustration, anger, envy, regret, disappointment, grief, obligation, guilt, and others.

So, why should you take yourself seriously? For starters, without taking yourself seriously, you don’t just spare yourself negative emotions, you also forfeit (at least in degree of intensity) positive feelings, starting with a sense of self-worth. Also, when you don’t take yourself seriously, the whole do-unto-others thing—considered by many to be the foundation for all human morality—breaks down. If you don’t take yourself seriously, doing the same unto others means you don’t take anyone else seriously, either, and some people are very much worth taking seriously.

Caring deeply (which is the product of taking something—and therefore also yourself—seriously) is the foundation for any kind of deeply emotional experience. To feel strongly about some thing or some person, to a point where it elevates your life in a way that you cannot accomplish on your own, you must care deeply about that thing. Therefore, to not take yourself seriously is also to deny yourself profound emotional—even spiritual—experiences.

When you take something seriously, you become invested in that thing; you become interested in it, and motivated to make the most of your relationship to, or with, it. To take yourself seriously means to not settle for a mediocre existence, no matter how easy or carefree*; you gain the strength to not yield to lesser temptations and to not take the easy path if greater rewards may be found by investment of effort. To take yourself seriously means to seek to elevate yourself emotionally and intellectually, and to strive for a more meaningful living experience. Without taking yourself seriously, you may never muster the courage to take risks in order to better yourself or the things you care about.

To not take yourself seriously, and to avoid living deeply, while certainly easier than finding some comfortable niche and persisting there, is also to not make the most of your living moments and the opportunities available to you within the blink of existence that is your lifetime.

If photography is an important part of your life, I believe that the more seriously you take yourself, the more serious you should be about photography, too. It is a simple case to make: if you feel that photography makes your life better, then the more you invest in photography, the more photography will give you back in return. Being a voluntary activity, if photography did not reward you for time invested, I suspect that you would not be a photographer.

Photography can be a wonderful pastime, but it can also be a means to much greater and more rewarding ends. Why not make the most of it?

I write this after having been rebuked for being “too serious” in my writing, advised to “lighten up,” and asked, “what’s wrong with just having fun?” I think that the word “just” within the question, likely used without considering its implications, is ironic. But there is a bigger issue at play, which is this: the attitude of some to gain popularity by appealing to people’s innate instinct to follow the path of least resistance. Evidently, telling people what they want to hear is a good business strategy, even if not always in the best interest of these people.

I am grateful that no one—especially those in positions of influence—convinced me to “just have fun” in my early years as a photographer, when I was still struggling with doubts about how I should pursue photography. What I gained from nearly three decades of photographing seriously—with dedication and dignity, and striving to understand as much about photography and its expressive power as I could—is many orders of magnitude more rewarding than “just having fun.”

To those who wish to become more serious—about photography or anything else—but struggle to find the first, or next, step, I offer this advice: seek out places, activities, and people you feel are worth caring about, and care about them; and among these places, activities, and people, find those you feel can challenge you, and let them.

Life Commemorates Itself

* I expect that some who are committed to philosophies proclaiming that one’s goal in life should be to avoid suffering, and/or that the self is an illusion, may bristle at this notion. I address these philosophies, and why I disagree with them, in my upcoming book (expected to be published next year).

 

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (15)

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  1. Lori Ryerson says:

    Interestingly enough, from the “I am the centre of the universe” perspective that seems to run rampant everywhere these days…whoever it was who rebuked you perhaps did not consider that everyone has their own idea of enjoyment, and what constitutes fun. Serious, or otherwise (evidently, that person doesn’t actually catch a lot of the ironic humour that runs throughout both your writing and your public appearances!!!), I have always taken away that you enjoy your writing. Just because one person thinks that writing passionately about something is not fun, doesn’t mean it is not fun for the writer. I look forward with great anticipation (she said with her own bit of irony) to all the fun in next year’s book.

  2. I often say that, while I take my photography very seriously, I don’t do the same for myself. What I mean by that, which differs from your argument, is that I am trying to avoid the pitfalls of ego and greed and reality star-like infamy. It means that I (at least I hope) am happier with internal gratification rather than blatant, external success. I may have to rethink how I say that from now on.

    Is it possible, then, in your argument to take yourself too seriously?

    • Guy Tal says:

      Ego, greed, and a host of other things not worth taking seriously are not your self. They are parts of your self (parts that are more prominent in some than in others, to be sure).

      In fact, I think that to take yourself seriously is, among other things, to resist and transcend, rather than yield to, such things as ego and greed—to strive to become the best version of yourself that you can be.

      I think this definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary expresses what I consider to be the self in this context:

      “the union of elements (such as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person”

    • Tom Coverdale says:

      Chuck, I understand what your are saying! And I think it is working……wait, who are you again??

  3. Malcolm Cross says:

    Guy
    Another insightful article. As commented upon above I sometimes experience the tension between taking something seriously and myself overly seriously. That is to sometimes lose a balanced perspective and the consequences that can follow. I look forward to your book next year.

    • Guy Tal says:

      Thank you, Malcolm. For some reason, many equate taking themselves seriously with being vain, which is not at all what I meant. Perhaps it’s easier to explain in the opposite direction. What I meant is that you should not take your living experience too lightly; that it’s worth investing in and, if needed, taking risks to make it as elevated and rewarding as you can. It’s the only one you get.
      To take yourself seriously, in my mind, has nothing to do with other people, but with one’s own attitude toward striving to elevate his/her self.

  4. Sandro says:

    Hello Guy, I’m a 33 years old italian computer engineer, I’ve spent the last seven years doing a job that I knew it was not good for me. I knew that somewhere inside me but leaving the “comfort zone” was a huge step; more like climbing a mountain than just a step.
    I’ve been into photography for some years before. That little bit of spare time my job was leaving me, was often spent going taking pictures, exploring and walking in the mountains. It was like going to get that oxygen I needed to survive for the whole working week. I will never forget those years, they have been very hard for me.
    In the end I finally found the courage to quit and follow my instinct somehow. I was really tired and frustrated, sometime even exhausted. Now I’m jsut looking for opportunities and I’ve found an interesting internship for a website as a photojournalist in Japan, a country I love. I’m learning a lot and improving, and that is what I like the most. After this experience I have no idea what I’ll do and where. I’m still very confused on how to earn a living with photography, it still seems so… unreal. But I guess I just have to keep going. Anyway, one thing I know for sure, that I did the right thing.
    During this last year of my “new” life I lived so many emotions, madly intense sometimes, strong happiness and painful feelings have been part of my days several times. If my life before was a slightly curvy line, now it’s the ocean during a storm.
    All these changes came after I started taking the feeling I had deep inside me more seriously. Since I stopped thinking “One day I’ll change, one day I’ll quit” and did it, I feel like I lived more this year than the seven before. I hope one day I’ll find my way to balance my passion with the need of earn a living out of it. I’m confused and scared but even those are strong emotions that make me feel alive, more now than ever before in the last seven years.
    Thank you for being so inspirational to me.

    I wish you a great day!
    Sandro

    • Guy Tal says:

      Thank you for sharing your journey, Sandro. You might be surprised how many of the things you described we have in common. Leaving a “safe” technology career was a difficult step for me, too, and the first couple of years were fraught with worries and anxiety but so long as I could pay the bills, everything else just fell into place. I did not have a long-term plan, I just knew that I could not stand the thought, day in and day out, that my life is going to waste, and that this is the only life I will ever get. Looking back now, I can say that what I gained by taking the risk is so much greater than what I gave up in financial security that if I could go back in time and advise my younger self, my advice would be this: don’t be afraid.

      I wish you a life of wonder and awe.

      • Sandro says:

        Thank you very much for your words Guy, they are a real boost for my new life! I always keep reading the second-last paragraph of your article “Reawakening”. It made me feel almost uncomfortable when I was still “trapped” and that’s how it should be! However now it makes me feel like I’m closer to getting there. The path is endless but it’s everyday a new little step in the right direction!
        Thanks again to be so inspiring!
        Sandro

  5. Tom Coverdale says:

    I find myself awaiting your monthly articles with great anticipation! I enjoy everyone of them and you never disappoint!! Thanks Tom

  6. Brad Mangas says:

    I have held a long belief and stated it publicly many times that life is to short to take most things seriously. This may sound somewhat contrary to this post. In fact, such as you do many times, you have stated it much more articulately than I. I see the interweavings of seriousness vs. nonseriousness and the important ability to distinguish between the two.

    I strongly believe that one of the most important abilities is to know what one should take seriously and what one should not take seriously in life. There seems to be way too many “things” taken seriously in society today. As the old saying goes, when everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency.

    Once again you have provided a spark of insight into what I had thought an old ideal.

  7. Guy Tal says:

    “I strongly believe that one of the most important abilities is to know what one should take seriously and what one should not take seriously in life.”

    Amen to that, Brad!

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