Ever looked at someone’s work and though it was terrible, and that you could do better? Ever read a book or a blog post and felt the same way? Or looked at a photograph or listened to a song, and struggled for something to like about it? Maybe you even laughed mockingly at this inferior work? Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that was wrong. It’s natural to poke a little fun at those who try and fail. It makes us feel better about ourselves.
But what if the work you despise belongs to a friend? Whether they made it or paid for it, most of us would bite back the sarcastic comments at that point. So, do you say nothing and pretend everything is fine to spare your friend’s feelings? Or do you stop to help?
I happen to know a little about writing and photography, and I used to know more about web design (which was my business before I turned to photography). Experience gives me a decent understanding of how those three work together. Or so I should like to think.
If I were a perfect man with perfect morals, I would never mock others for their ineptitude. But sometimes it’s fun to laugh at other people – not with them. That’s why we have shows like World’s Dumbest… But again, if we’re talking about an actual friend or even client, pointing and laughing might not be the wisest way to go.
And here we come to my point. If you notice a friend is lacking in some area, reach out and help them improve. Even if it costs you time and effort for no immediate reward. It will come back to you, and not just as good karma in some future life. The friend you helped is likely to talk about it to his friends, sharing a story in which you are the hero. It makes you look good, it makes you feel good and you’ve helped a friend at the same time.
Later, when your friend’s friends come asking if you’ll help them too, make sure to charge enough to make up for the time spent helping your buddy.
Paying it forward is never a bad thing, but it can be difficult to know where to begin and what might be worth investing in. I think there is no better investment than friends. Start with them. Help your friends be better, and you recruit them to be your champions. If you’re an independent creative or struggling artist, you absolutely need champions. As many as you can get!
So the next time your friend shows you her creation and you could do better – don’t just nod and offer a false attagirl, but offer to help improve it. And try to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt her feelings too much.
“I’m inspired to do my own version of your head shot. Can I take a quick phone snapshot to give you an idea what I would do?”
“Woah, your new head shots make you ten years older! I hope you didn’t pay for those, because I could do better with my cellphone camera. See?”
Note that some friends are beyond help – I won’t encourage you extend yourself to the point where you’re being taken advantage of, or fixing the same problem repeatedly for free – but I do think success of any kind can be boiled down to the people who like you.
So who am I to tell you what to do? Unless we already know each other, I’m nobody. You are free to laugh at my words and mock my pocket-wisdom and pseudo advice without any guilt or shame. Though I hope you walk away with just a little more than cheap laughs.
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