Small Steps toward the Big Goal


We all carry dreams in our hearts. Dreams about our future. For things we want to accomplish. For our creative endeavours. For our love ones. The dreams we dream encompass hopes, aspirations and desires. And our dreams have a big impact on our creativity as well. Dreaming simply encourages the creative process. Dreaming is good. But dreaming can also halt your creativity – completely. That is if dreaming becomes nothing but a dream. If you don’t turn the dream into action, nothing comes out it. I have written about this before, talked about doing the work. And we can talk about creativity till the end of time, but if we don’t do the work, we are not creating.

There is something more to it, though. Because dreaming also has the aspect of dreaming the big goals, the big achievements, the ultimate expressions, the big aspirations of the creative life. There is nothing wrong with that. But big dreams have a tendency to scare us more than encourage us. Going for the big leap is so much more frightening than staying put. But the reality is that creative life is not made in big leaps, but by a lot of small steps – every day. Instead of believing everything has to be done at once, we should rather start out small and take one small step at the time. That’s exactly how babies learn to walk. They continuously practice first by crawling, then getting up on their feet, taking small steps while still holding on to something, then try one or two steps without holding, before they are finally are able to walk, better and better as they practice more and more. And so it is with all big goals in the creative life, too. We must take small steps and continue doing smalls steps, until one day we have achieve what we once dreamt about.

Take the ultimate dream for many of my fellow many photographers – included myself when I was younger: They dream about getting an assignment for National Geographic magazine. But just the mere thought of having to compete with the world’s most accomplished photographers or even just approaching the picture editor of National Geographic seems like too big a leap to even try doing. And it is, if you start out there. Instead look to what you can do today. What do you need to get closer to the dream? Well, first of all some work to show for. Then start doing personal projects, and do something you can accomplish wherever you are. And start doing it today. When you have a body of work, try to sell it to the local publication. If it doesn’t sell, do another personal project. Eventually you get enough experience to move up the ladder and maybe one day even to the top. Small steps toward the big goal.

I have experienced people telling me how they envy my way of working and living, that I am able to travel the world and make a living out it. Again the best advice is to start out small. Do a travel story in your own backyard and try to sell it to a smaller publication. Next time you go on holiday somewhere give yourself an assignment to photograph the destination you are visiting as if it was a travel story. Then move on. Eventually you might get an assignment abroad. Small steps toward the big goal.

If you can break you dream down to small increments then every task becomes really easy. You can do it, no sweat. Do not look at changing you whole life in one swoop. That is too scary and a sure way to stall yourself. No, small steps toward the big goal.

About Otto von Münchow

Photographer based in Norway
This entry was posted in Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

81 Responses to Small Steps toward the Big Goal

  1. Angeline M says:

    An inspirational and motivating message, Otto. I leave for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in three weeks and your post today was perfect for me to see right now.

  2. Dawn says:

    Excellent advice.

  3. Dear Otto,

    Thank you so much for my super dose of high-octane inspiration today! I am beginning photographer starting late in life (49 years old) after a career in teaching.Somedays it is so hard to even say to myself that I am a “photographer” and that’s what I do. It is all a bit haphazard at the moment without clear focus of how I need to achieve my dreams. I dream of exhibiting my work someday and being seen as a “professional” with vision (and I need to believe this from myself as well!). Thank you for putting it all in perspective. It can be very overwhelming at times and it is a challenge to find good ways to improve, study, get feedback and meet with other photographers more experienced than I. To have a professional studio one day – it will happen eventually. To have a photo included in the National Portrait Gallery or in National Geographic – I like to dream. I would like to repost your article in my photo blog (with full credit of course) if I may.

    Thanks again Otto for helping me to go one footstep closer to my goals!

    Have a creative new week,
    Jacqueline

    • You response made my day. If what I write can be of inspirations to others, that makes it all worth while for me. You say you started out late, but it’s never too late to start anything, isn’t it! So just keep going, and you will get your photos exhibited and displayed in the major magazines.🙂 Thanks for this wonderful feedback, Jacqueline. And of course you may repost the blog. I would be honoured.

      • I have to tell you Otto, that your blog posts, comments, feedback and photo work is really my “mentoring” go-to place! Thank you so much for the encouragment too – I am really focused lately on developing my photography and getting into a photo program at a good art school. Printmaking is another love. I would love to exhibit some of my photos and/or have them in the major magazines but don’t yet know how to go about this. Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated. Thank you as well for allowing me to repost some of your blog posts – I hope other photograpers will find them as useful and intersting as I do. Have a great new week, Jacqueline🙂

        • Thank you for that lovely comment. It made my day—and makes it worthwhile with all the blogging when I know readers like you experience it this way. Thank you very much, Jacqueline. As for any advice for either being able to exhibit or have magazines print your photos, this is a big subject that books have been written about. I don’t know much about getting work out in exhibition, but when it comes to publishing, I think the only way is to make a little but very good package of each of your themes you are working on and send it around to the various magazine. Just makes sure you send it to the right person, which would normally be the photo editor or the art director.🙂

  4. paula graham says:

    Sure, one step at the time and lots of dedication and a wee bit of talent and you will get there.

  5. Mary says:

    Very well said. I think every creative person wants to leap to the top, a few get to, but most don’t. A little here, a little there, that’s the way to get there.

  6. Baby steps. It is good to be reminded that it is best to start with baby steps. There are times I think we all put too much pressure on ourselves to make giant leaps and then get discouraged when we fall short. We all need to remember … baby steps.

    • Yes, we do have a tendency to put too much pressure on ourselves, don’t we. It’s the story about the tortuous and the hare again. Slow, small steps and steady! Thanks for commenting, Michelle.

  7. You have such a generous heart, Otto, to share your experiences and encourage others. Thank you!

  8. Leya says:

    Thank you for some good advice – much needed in today’s society…for young and old, for everyone. Sometimes I am just fed up with all those gigantic goals people want to reach within a week or two. The strange thing is that even grown-ups and middle aged people like myself have difficulties in understanding the concept of time and energy. Society gives you too many opportunities and too many possibilities…the pressure and the stress to “become something” and to “achieve something” and to be “seen” or “read” or whatever. Of course you should always have dreams (stop having them, and you are dead…), but you should not let them eat you up.
    Small steps, see it grow and develop – feel good.

    • Well said; one shouldn’t let the dreams eat you up. But, yes, it’s quite amazing how some people expect to achieve the biggest goals in no time. We all need to learn some patience, don’t we! Thank you for a very poignant comment, Ann-Christine

  9. Debra says:

    This is certainly true! I think on top of needing to take small steps itowards goals it is also important to enjoy other people’s work to inspire, but not to compare! Comparison can be a set-back to taking even small steps! My goal for quite awhile has been to feel comfortable enough with my camera and to take photos that I am happy to enlarge and frame, and I am finally able to do that with a few. This was actually a big goal for me. You are very much responsible for the encouragement, Otto. I mean that sincerely. I simply want to be able to do that with great confidence, and I do go out every week and practice. Progress is sometimes very limited, but it’s still very enjoyable!

    • I agree wholeheartedly with you, Debra, it is indeed very important to enjoy other people’s work as well as their development. Then; thank you for those heartwarming words, I feel honoured that you feel my blogging has been so much of an encouragement. Keep the practice going!

  10. mfryan says:

    Totally agreed! I think that people especially have this “all or nothing” perspective on artistic pursuits because of the perception that artistic talent is mostly God-given. Some of the most talented artists I know of are virtually unknown because they couldn’t hang in there with the motivation on a daily basis to get the momentum and eventually the foundation they needed. I have that problem too, ha! Hence my sporadic blogging. Thanks for your piece, the inspiration it offers is always helpful.

  11. egbertstarr says:

    “Then move on”—is key.

  12. YellowCable says:

    Great inspirational post! Think small but dream big..

  13. Otto, Thank you for the inspirational words.

  14. Elaine- says:

    yeah, go take pictures of different trees hehehe

  15. Vicki says:

    Excellent advice.

    It’s easy to give up when attempting too much too soon and facing failure, but putting in the practice and taking the time to achieve small (achievable) goals is a great boost to both our self esteem and dreams for the future.

    It’s like hunting for a job. Provide a solid background of experience and proven successes, makes a much better statement of you as an employee and person (a CEO wants in their Company).

    When I think of the hundreds/thousands of terrible images I made in the first year of my amateur photography hobby alone, that one really good image in that year, alone, is really appreciated so much more. I still make a lot of mediocre images, but the ‘keepers’ are improving in numbers as time goes by.

    Sometimes when my health precludes going outdoors I photograph items on my desk, with a variety of compositions and DOF. I find achieving a pleasing image indoors making good use of the available light, just as good a practice as looking for that great street or nature shot. Many beginners forget that practice, practice and more practice will eventually give pleasing results. Sometimes I used to go to the local zoo 3 times in one week in early 2012 striving to hold the camera still enough to get one focal point through 1/2″ cage wire and that…….was the best practice of all (at hand-holding the DSLR AND telephoto lens).

    (I still wobble when I’m tired, but that’s beside the point 🙂 ).

    • Yes, practice, practice, practice is what makes the difference.🙂 And even the best photographers keep taking mediocre photos, as do I, too. But, yes, the fraction of keepers will increase with time. You know; what distinguish a good photographer from a mediocre isn’t the amount of good pictures she or he takes, but the fact that they only show the good ones. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Vicki.

  16. A always love the inspirational post that motivate me…Otto love the image too…

  17. how very true, otto, small solid steps toward the big success, just like putting up the brickwork for a house.

  18. Otto, thank you for sharing your insights…they appeared at a significant moment for me. It’s a pleasure to open your posts and read about your experiences and lessons of life.

  19. Most excellent advice, Otto. I always enjoy your insightful posts.

  20. Hello Otto…I stumbled across your post just now…
    It seemed to be just what I needed to hear. I’m a painter not a photographer but I really appreciated your thoughts about creativity and doing the work. I feel very much that creative work only happens when you dive in and put brush to canvas or in your work, eye to lens.
    Getting it out in the world can be daunting but then again learning to walk was too…I had forgotten. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Thank you for the lovely words, Siobhan. I would believe making a painting is all small steps – or one stroke at the time.🙂 But, yes, getting out in the world can be very daunting.

  21. rangewriter says:

    Great advice, as always, Otto. You are part teacher, part coach, part muse to so many!

  22. Phil Vaughn says:

    Setting realistic and attainable goals and standards for ourselves and our own work is paramount. Perhaps reaching the heady heights in the world of photography (pick any genré) is actually secondary to the intent to realize our own potential. If we can do that, then the next door will be more likely to be a “step up.” We get fooled by photography. For instance, fashion photogs take hundreds of photos during a shoot and cull them to just the most desirable few. Landscape photogs travel far and wide and carefully select a view, suitable equpiment, light, time of day, etc. Street photogs get in the middle of the fray and play up close and personal. They don’t just settle for a mid-day shot or two and hope for professional status. Basically, I think a step back to spend time in some analysis and self-assessment and, as Otto says, much practice, can bring good rewards in our own progress as photographers. We are ourselves. Our view is unique. We should nuture that. Will the world and the market notice? Whether or not they do may be less important that what we become in our short time here. Best regards.

    • This is a very good point, Phil. What should be more important than our own development and realizing our potential as artist? Yes, recognition feels good, but in the end we need to feel we have done as much as we are able to with our own growth. Thank you for a very thoughtful comment, Phil.

  23. LensScaper says:

    An excellent post Otto and full of good advice. My parents had a quote for me as a growing lad: ‘Aim high, or what’s a heaven for’. It was an inspirational driver but it also needed tempering with developing the ability to also cope with failure. Aim too high and failure can come as a hard knock. Strangely just yesterday evening I read a quote from Confucius: ‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’ I still dream these days about success but I’m simply happy with images that bring me pleasure and if they please others then that is always a bonus.

  24. Ptck says:

    Life is not a bed of roses, as I am obliged to go away Blogs
    for some time for other priorities! Take care, thank you for your faithfulness
    Soon as possible

  25. A post that grabbed me from start to finish Otto that has provided food for thought. Many many thanks.

  26. themofman says:

    This applies to all artists.

  27. Dalo 2013 says:

    This is a great, inspirational post Otto. The idea of taking small steps at a time to slowly work your way into the ‘dream’ is important, especially in a society where people are beginning to expect immediate results. Perhaps the most important thing I took from this post is that “we can talk about creativity till the end of time, but if we don’t do the work, we are not creating…” It is often that first step of doing, of taking that first step that I sometimes find so hard. Super post.

  28. shoreacres says:

    You know by now how deeply in agreement I am with the thoughts you express here. For me, the heart of this piece lies in these words: “we can talk about creativity till the end of time, but if we don’t do the work, we are not creating.”

    That’s the beginning and the end of it. It’s like talking for hours about what to have for dinner, but never moving to the stove. Better a perfectly grilled cheese sandwich that’s attractive and tasty, than a twelve course dinner that never gets prepared!

  29. Your words show up just when I need to see/read them. Right at a time when a shove from behind is needed. Right at a time when I need to be reminded of the big picture. Right at a time when all the 100 plus pictures that aren’t just “quite right” need just one more to be executed. Words that are right, Otto. At the right time. Wishing you well. Raye

  30. Chillbrook says:

    Very, very, good advice Otto. I certainly never imagined that I would be noticed by not just one but two NG Editors. I think it’s really important to not make that the your goal, it’s fine to dream and to have something to work towards, but you just have to just keep doing what you do. This is the only way to hone one’s skills such that one day, a photograph or two will get you noticed.

  31. Chillbrook says:

    ..And of course to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re recognition led, you’ll not be enjoying the journey which has to be what it’s all about.🙂

  32. Heartafire says:

    Wonderful advice Otto, we need to keep moving forward, baby steps if you will, toward our goals. Dreaming is easy and necessary, but as you so aptly expressed, it is up to us to make it reality.

  33. Dreams can also be depressing when you don’t realize them soon enough. Best thing is to keep clicking away and not put the camera down. If nothing else we always improve bit by bit.

  34. restlessjo says:

    I’m smiling 🙂 🙂 I’m not aiming for National Geographic, but selling a little travel story would make me happy.

  35. arisealchemy says:

    Beautiful post and amazing photos!

  36. Robin says:

    Wonderful advice, Otto. Thank you for the reminder that it’s better to proceed one step at a time. Love the photo you paired with this post. It made me smile. 🙂

  37. This is so inspiring. Thanks for posting!

  38. So very true! Success and achievents are not met in a moment, they take time. Each step, day, and habit builds upon another. Without the small actions we never will achieve our goals.

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