We did it! With the help of so many of you, I won the People’s Choice Award in the 2011 Lincoln PhotoFest Contest. Thank you for your support and for taking the time to click all those links and “like” my photos on Facebook. It means a great deal to me to know so many of you are in my corner.
Since submitting my photos to the contest last Tuesday, a number of “issues” about entering a contest revealed themselves to me. I was pleased with the work I had done and with the 5 photos I chose to submit to the contest. I felt like I had stretched creatively, trying some new things in terms of content and style. I also felt proud that I was taking a risk, that I was diving in, and entering a contest. To me, entering the contest felt vulnerable ~ I was putting myself out there, like really out there, to be judged by a panel of jurors who are artists and photographers. So that felt good and scary. Overall, I saw (and still see) this an important step in my creative journey. A step I feel grateful I took.
And then…the shadow side of entering the contest manifested itself. Once the photos were uploaded online and submitted, I began to fall down the rabbit hole of the need for validation and approval. I started to think about the 3 jurors and wondered what they would see in my photography. I read and re-read the instructions for the competition (i.e., be inspired by the local photography exhibits and shoot abstract photos based on that inspiration), then would scroll through the Flickr pool, making a mental note of each photo in the contest that was “old,” shot a few years ago, and clearly not inspired by the exhibits and shot since the contest started. I would start to fantasize about the judges not taking these older photos into consideration because these contestants clearly didn’t follow directions. Then I would puff myself up a bit, feeling a bit superior because I did as instructed, and was somehow “better.” I was wanting my odds of wining 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place to be improved by finding ways to denigrate the other photos in the contest.
As if that wasn’t enough to send me swirling, the contest featured a People’s Choice Award based on the photo that garnered the most “likes” on the sponsoring museum’s Facebook page. At first, I didn’t think that much about this fan favorite award, assuming that lots of people would go and vote on certain photos. But then I realized people in the contest were campaigning to win. They were urging their friends, and their friends’ friends, to vote for their photos. They were posting and re-posting the contest and their photos on Facebook, drumming up votes. And how did I respond? By falling even farther down the rabbit hole. I ventured into a week where I may have been diagnosable as having Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (and I should know). I became consumed by this whole fan favorite thing. I was compelled to check the voting every few hours (sometimes more frequently), and this compulsion grew exponentially as I realized that there were two of us in the lead with me trailing just 8-10 votes behind the leader. I became obsessed about getting more votes. I became that person who was constantly posting and re-posting on Facebook. Then I started to send emails through Facebook ~ I thought lots of people might not have seen my pleas depending on when they got on Facebook, so I needed to make sure they saw my request to vote. I even started writing on people’s individual walls. Obsessed.
This week of obsession didn’t feel good. I wanted to stop being consumed by this contest. More specifically, I wanted to stop being pulled into the lure of being the fan favorite. I could so clearly see that this had turned into a popularity contest, and now had nothing to do with photography. I knew that if I won, it would not reflect people’s actual opinions on the photos and which ones they truly saw as the strongest photographically or artistically. Yet, I couldn’t stop myself. Each morning, I would write in my journal about how I was feeling and how I was not going to keep posting and pleading for votes. And each day, I would beg for more. I somehow thought (consciously or not) that winning would make me feel validated and accepted, that it would give me a stamp of approval.
I am grateful that so many of you lended support and voted on my photos. That is perhaps the best outcome of this whole mess ~ that I know I have a beautiful community of friends who have my back. And part of me is excited I won the People’s Choice Award as it comes with a cash prize that will help me buy the new lens I’ve been eying up. But if I had to do it all over again…I don’t like the ways in which I fell so deeply down the rabbit hole. I feel a bit ashamed of the parts of me that reared their ugly heads over the past week. So even though I got the outcome I wanted, I’m left with many questions for myself.
As I continue to reflect on this experience, I wonder, have you fallen down the rabbit hole? Do you see yourself “hustling for worthiness?“