Common advice to photographers is that we should slow down when we're photographing. It's fine advice. I wish I'd follow it myself more often. But slowing down is difficult when the rest of life is pressing you to go faster, achieve more, be all you can, and so on. Slowing down might be best applied to how we live our lives.
Somewhere I've heard or read that historically humans have found more mystery in common objects and routine moments. Modern and postmodern people don't seem to do well with mystery. We need to measure things, answer any uncertainty, define the parameters, identify the variables, and measure probabilities. We want to get control so that we can keep things safe and predictable. Who wouldn't want to do that? If someone deliberately and earnestly pursued less stability, wouldn't we consider that mental illness or at least emotional instability?
We don't need to be reckless or naïve in the conduct of our affairs. But we also don't need to have every last aspect of our lives quantified and controlled. It's hard to make artwork, or at least interesting artwork, if you don't allow uncertainty and the possibility of failure into your creative workflow. Yet the same is true in the conduct of our lives.
Years ago, I moved hundreds of miles from home, to a place where I didn't know anyone, with no financial margin for error or emergency. I was younger then and took those actions at a time in my life when it was appropriate, or at least acceptable, to take risks like that. Those actions and that type and degree of risk won't be acceptable to everyone. On the other hand, the greatest benefits that I've realized in life have grown out of the willingness to put myself in a position of vulnerability. Most of the time, it's profoundly uncomfortable to accept vulnerability, to relax into the risk and uncertainty and allow events take their course. Deeply uncomfortable. And yet the greatest benefits that in my life came through my willingness to surrender control of a situation.
The ability to let go often improves my photography, but it's probably been even more beneficial to let go in life. What I'm letting go of includes expectations that others have for me, especially when I've taken those expectations into myself to the point that I can't tell whether I'm working toward my own goal, or a goal someone else had for me. More and more, it seems like our goals are off track. It's not that any particular goal is "bad" or "good." Rather, the direction we're striving for in our lives is often driven by a story that doesn't help.
The writer, Barry Lopez, related a conversation he had with a native American, in which they discussed the purpose of stories and the role of story tellers. The overarching purpose of any story is that it should help us. The Indian man that Lopez spoke with said that one could be a story teller as long as his or her stories helped. But when your stories help, you're not the story teller any more, even if you say that you are.
The overriding narratives of our lives is that competition is intense and requires ever greater effort on our part. Too often that point is an assumption that's left insufficiently examined. We need to slow down and examine our assumption and have the courage to dismiss the story tellers in our lives when the stories no longer help.