Down the Rabbit Hole

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?


About Meghan

Love Warrior. Psychologist. Photographer. Writer. Yogi. Gypsy. Lover of Polaroid, film, and digital.
This entry was posted in Community, Refocus, Self-portrait, SOOC, Swirling and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. Tom D says:

    Ok, so you got a little crazy on Facebook for a while there. That’s ok. If Seal taught us nothing else, he at least taught us that we’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.

    And here’s why it’s not a big deal:

    1) You deserve to win. Genuinely.
    2) You’re not normally a self-aggrandizing publicity vulture. Quite the opposite.
    3) You recognize the crazy in yourself. Without anyone saying anything.

    So go with your bad self and enjoy the new lens!

  2. Rod says:

    I can totally relate Meghan. Been there and done that. And also felt the “remorse” of wanting to be validated. Validation feels sooo much better when it comes unexpectedly. I’m still learning that one.
    Don’t beat yourself up about it. Learn and go on, as I’m sure you’re doing.
    I really like your photos 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    Tom D and Rod (and Seal) are spot on. It’s OK to get a little crazy, go overboard, and really GO AFTER something you want. And the rabbit hole thing happens to us all… just enjoy the process –the secret of life is enjoying the passing of time– a little James Taylor quote to throw in after the second Seal reference.

    Love you MEGS!

  4. Emily says:

    I think you are feeling all the feelings that normal, humble, level-headed people feel when they step outside of their regular unassuming behavior. So take heart – if you were completely comfortable in this campaign, that would make you a different person. You are completely deserving of the fan favorite title — and the only way to have reached that goal was to indeed campaign like everyone else. That’s how it works. So kudos to you for standing up and being counted! I think that sitting on your hands and letting this all happen without engaging would have felt worse.

  5. Nicola says:

    OMG I so often feel this way….especially over my Flickr stream. If I work really hard on an image and it doesn’t get many “likes” or comments I start having a big old freak out about why people don’t like it and is it worse than my other pictures and have I lost it completely? As long as you can take a step back (eventually) and realise you’re on the bus to crazytown I think there’s still hope. Now, everyone quickly go and “Like” some of my pics : )

  6. darlene says:

    i love that you are so open about this and think it is really healthy that you have examined your feelings around all of it. you won something even bigger than a photo contest here i think, something really valuable. and your photos ~ so wonderful, your risk taking, so vulnerably beautiful. love to you xo

  7. Michelle says:

    I have always hustled for worthiness, approval, and perfection. My husband always asks me, “what will it take for you to realize how smart and deserving you are?” and, the truth is, even after earning my PhD, I don’t know if I will believe that I am smart and deserving. It took years for me to get into the habit of feeling inadequate so I know it will take years to get into the habit of self-compassion and feeling vulnerable.

  8. thank you for being honest and putting yourself out there in more than one way ~ so much love to you friend, you teach us all to be honest and accept ourselves…xoxo

  9. Robin says:

    I do think what’s the point of those contests if the people voting don’t really think the photo is their favorite (in fact, they may not even like the photo or compare it to the rest) but just vote because someone asked them to or they think it is part of being a good friend. Next time, go with your gut, and don’t be a part of that. If you’re going to win Fan Favorite, you want it to be because your photo is actually the fan favorite. If you are bound to lose because others employ the aforementioned tactics, fine, then you’ll never know and that’s ok. But, other than that, well done!!!!

  10. Erika says:

    I share your membership in the humanity club! The mind just does this, and you have nothing to be ashamed of….and so totally great that you are tuned in and learning from your process. What else can we do, right?

  11. Tiffany Hogan says:

    As always I appreciate (and resonate with) your honesty Meghan. You deserve this though. Friends love to support their friends. Enjoy!

  12. A comment on some of the comments: Not everyone campaigned. I didn’t even vote for my own photos. I had written off the People’s Choice because I didn’t have the numbers (only ~30 facebook friends), but had I the hundreds and hundreds of friends that “normal” people have, I WOULD HAVE campaigned…if only because I knew the winner would have had to do it.

    On submitting old photos: I asked Monica Babcock about that and she said it was okay to do that if you saw something in that old photo that related to one of the photofest gallery photos. I agree with you that that seemed to go against the spirit of the contest until I realized that the whole point of the contest is to get more traffic to the local galleries and to increase the Sheldon’s facebook “likes”.

    And in that light, campaigning for votes or not, you helped them achieve that goal. Same thing with people who submitted old photos…they increased traffic to the galleries.

    I’ve been thinking about the contest since yesterday and let me tell you what I thought was unfair. We were supposed to write a description about how we were inspired. Therefore you would think that the description would play some part in the contest. Instead, it seems like it was an abstract photo contest and the relevant inspiration didn’t matter. I would have preferred the judges to say what they thought of the winning photos and how it related to the described inspiration.

  13. pieces of me says:

    I crave validation but know I don’t need it because as someone reminded me, i am enough…

    you deserve it, just think that.


  14. Celina Wyss says:

    I think it is great you are recognizing those feelings and sharing here. Very proud of you and did genuinely love your tree photo. Congrats again!

  15. bonniegunkel says:

    I especially enjoyed this blog, because I too, just recently entered a photo contest. I was very scared to “put myself out there”, but I did it. And thankfully, this contest was judged by a panel of pre-chosen photographers, and there was no voting or fan favorite-ness included. I won fair and square…1st place and 3rd place.

    I know someone who entered a contest once and sent out daily emails and reminders on Facebook. She didn’t win the contest, even though I’m sure her “friends” cast countless votes for her.

    Trust your work Meghan! Your friends and fans will give you the validation you crave, and if your work wins…you will know you truly deserved it!

    Congratulations on your win…and thanks for sharing this with us all.

  16. Christa says:

    I am coming in late, but wanted to join in the support.

    I am pretty sure that you didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head, Miss M., so let it go. We voted because we like your work. Period.

    What is that quote about being more afraid of success than failure? I certainly understand…

    Go take more photographs and let us all support you when you are ready for the next show!


  17. Lis says:

    thank you for your honesty here … because that shadow side is a reality of putting ourselves and our creativity out there … and i hate how i begin to doubt something i love and am proud when the feedback isn’t there. i know you’ve probably read this: the comment thread has a great discussion in it.

    Congratulations on a well deserved victory! And now, after ecstasy, the laundry. Or in your case, the camera and new pictures to uncover …

    xo lis

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