I’m currently working on a long-term photo project that’s ambitious, requires a ton of logistics, and will probably take a couple of years to bring to fruition. And while I’m still eager to complete the project and share it with all of you, in recent weeks I’ve noticed some of my internal excitement wearing off. I brought this up with a close mentor friend of mine the other day and we went digging for possible causes.
In discussing it I realized I’m not feeling as much ownership over the project lately. I define ownership as the acute awareness that you have total responsibility over something, and the complete freedom to shape it into whatever you want it to be. For example, even though in high school I knew I wanted to go into film, people cautioned me that college should provide a general liberal arts education. It’s not the time to specialize in one area. So I followed their advice, went to a very good liberal arts college, and proceeded to have a lackluster four years during which nothing much grabbed my intellectual fancy. I felt no ownership. I was just going through the motions, studying what the general consensus said I should be studying.
In contrast, a few years later when I went to USC film school I was a man on a mission: I sought out the best professors, obsessed over my film projects, volunteered for every crappy indie shoot I could just to learn what really happens on set, found work on paid shoots, and on and on. Finally I was where I needed to be. I felt total ownership. And for the first time I became aware of the difference ownership makes.
I believe that ownership is crucial in bringing worthwhile, ambitious projects to life. And if you can attain total ownership, your creative energies and decisions will flow, and you will see possibilities everywhere. But my mentor took it a step further. He pointed out that when you first choose a project you feel a powerful excitement, a sense of the possibilities before you. Your mind flows with innovative ideas and new perspectives. But in the weeks and months that follow, there comes a point where the initial excitement dissipates, and you must re-choose the project. And by making the choice again, you regain ownership. And once again you see new perspectives and possible breakthroughs, and your excitement returns.
From this perspective, a recurring cycle becomes clear: Choosing a project leads to ownership. Ownership leads to reinvention, novel ideas, and the excitement to bring something new into the world. Then you put your nose to the grindstone and work to bring the project to fruition. And when the project starts to take ownership over you (not the other way around as it should be), you must consciously re-choose the project, regain ownership, and begin the cycle anew.
This is certainly the case with my current project. I’ve chosen it again, and the excitement is back. The cycle has restarted, and I’ll see you on the next time around.