Don’t Ever Give Up

It takes grit to pursue creativity. Being creative means fighting against all odds—most of all ourselves. However, the creative fight is less a battle for glory than a pursuit of personal spirit and finding a way to express it without fear. It’s not a gladiator’s brawl, but rather a solitary struggle with ourselves.

In previous post over the years I have used our playful relationship with water (at least before we grow too old) as a metaphor for creativity. Extending this metaphor, the creative fight is not Michael Phelps competing for Olympic gold but more like swimming to an inviting island off the coast somewhere. The Olympic Games are hyped up, and they are loud. When we swim to go somewhere, it’s discreet. We use ingenuity, agility and guts to accomplish our goal. Phelps swim against others, but swimming to reach that island is a fight within.

I think that we create with such a drive in mind. At least for me, I create for the sheer joy of making something for myself. Yes, I would like to get recognition, but that is not what is driving me. As when I have swum out to that island, there is great gratification to be had when I can enjoy the view from the island that I have earned.

The creative fight doesn’t gloat and it doesn’t crush. Yet the creative person isn’t some pushover that’s afraid of a difficult task.

One characteristic that makes someone a good swimmer is grit. Grit can be defined different ways. It can be thought of as tiny particles of crushed rock. Taking this perspective a bit further, the oyster reminds us that without grit, there is no pearl. Grit is a character that is a mixture of courage, resolve and strength. Like small granite rocks, grit is strength that won’t give up. Those who are gritty have a passion to pursue a goal over an extended amount of time. No one is born with grit. It’s grown into us through difficulties of life.

Earlier this year, I ran my head into a wall. Not literally, but in pursuit of a creative job. I was shooting an assignment for a magazine here in Norway. It was about a couple who had moved to an island to live off the grid, to support themselves as sheep farmers and of fisheries. They had been looking for a harmony missing in contemporary life—and had found their private Eden on the island. It was a fun assignment, offering plenty of creative possibilities. I didn’t have to swim to their island, but it still took some organizing to get there since there was only one regular boat transport a week. The shooting was really fun and I felt it went very well. However, when I got back and prepared to upload the photos, I discovered that the memory card was corrupted. It was a first for me, but nevertheless devastating.

I could have given up. Called the magazine and explained that I wasn’t able to deliver on time, knowing I would have to wait a week for the next regular boat to take me back to the island. Instead, I refused to give up. That evening I called all friends I knew had boats nearby the island and asked if anyone would be willing to take me back. One of the last on my list, agreed to do it. Early next morning I was back with the couple.

I don’t know if you have had to do a reshoot of something you thought went pretty good the first time. Mentally, it feels like having to clean up your own mess. Not fun and definitely not the best starting point for a creative quest. I pushed my worries and frustrations away, forcing myself to be present in the moment and not thinking at all about what I did the first time I visited the couple. It worked. In the end I think I returned with even better photos than the first time. The editor surely was pleased.

Grit isn’t easy to learn—there aren’t any classes offered in schools. Long time ago I asked a friend of mine who is a triathlon athlete if grit can be taught. He said: “The only way to learn grit is to get out there and get your ass kicked. You have to suffer and you have to fail.” My friend does Ironman triathlons. That is biking 181 km, running a full marathon of 42.2 km on top on swimming 3.9 km. He knows what he is talking about.

Grit isn’t something that you will find on an online course. It’s gained while in pursuit of something big. Grit requires belief that it can be done. It means don’t give up when the going gets tough.

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89 thoughts on “Don’t Ever Give Up

  1. Good on you Otto for persevering and getting back on that island. That’s true tenacity and grit and it sounds as though your pictures were even better for it. Well done..

  2. Wow! I would have been beyond devastated to find that I had no usable images after the trip to the island. Good thing you were able to get back out there. And I can imagine it would be hard to do it again, but the good news is you got better images the second time. I’m glad it all worked out.

  3. Yes, a man without facing hardships, troubles, obstacles, challenges, and failures, will never acquire grit, or true character.

    Very well put Otto. 🙂

  4. Another great post! Being a creative may not be as easy as it looks to others. Art college was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. There were many late night projects and tears in the process. Your post has me wondering just how gritty I am!

  5. Well done, Otto. Finding a way to get back to the island and re-shoot shows what it takes to be a professional photographer and journalist – sheer grit and perseverance.

    One can’t help but think that ‘karma’ had a little part in this episode as you got what seemed to be better photos second time around?

    As you know I’m more housebound these days and can’t do much in the way of nature photography or long walks, but when I do get outdoors I’m always amazed at the improvement in my image focus. Day after day, I take bird photos from my desk chair. Over and over I take the same, or similar, images of the same birds, trying to get these fast-moving tiny birds in focus. I win some and lose some, but I still persevere and often am rewarded with a charming little snapshot (which I could never have got a year ago).

    Every time I think of giving up photography (which is my only hobby in retirement, apart from gardening), I keep thinking that even though today might not be a ‘good’ day due to severe back/hip pain, there’s ALWAYS another day, another time and another opportunity. In a round about way, I keep living in hope I’ll think of a creative way to shoot something indoors or regain a way of shooting nature outdoors. That’s MY ‘sheer grit’.

    “When we are born there is nothing but birth/beginning. When we die there is nothing but death/end. But when there is change and hope, there are infinite possibilities” is my motto.

    1. It does seem like karma might have been involved with my assignment. 🙂 Your perseverance has always impressed me, Vicki. And you do capture a lot of fun images in your near vicinity. Your attitude is well reflected in your motto.

  6. Your story really does capture the meaning of grit! I can only imagine how you first get upon realizing your card was corrupted! Stress and determination do create the best conditions for birthing grit. Job well done, Otto.

  7. As Vicky said, well done Otto ! Shit happens but all these mistakes (and the way to work on them) makes you feel stronger in your work but also in your mind !
    Best regards, Jürgen

  8. Well done. I seldom give up or in when I am determined to do something. On the other hand I have never had a corrupted memory card….as I wrote before – well done!

  9. I have some photos of me sailing in the Bahamas and Virgin Islands aboard a vessel named Reshoot. The friend who owned it was a professional photographer who spent years in Europe, living aboard his boat in Gilbraltar and photographing high-end cars. He had tales to tell of his own reshoots, and would have appreciated your story immensely — as do I.

    I also appreciate the way you saved me great grief when I was sure I’d lost that cardful of images, and pointed me to the programs that could be used to bring them back. I learned a lot through that experience: especially that one shouldn’t assume the worst when things go wrong. There’s almost always a solution.

      1. it does… to know i’m not getting the respect i would if i ‘sold out’ hahaha… but i walk a fine line… something about each photo i take, i like… i just know that other people won’t haha

  10. Good for you in finding a way back to the island. Sometimes it can feel so much easier to admit defeat than to try again — but the rewards for persevering go beyond simply meeting a deadline. Thanks for reminding us all to keep trying 🙂

  11. I have a Question 😉 about the guy on your picture! is He Safe back now? 🙂
    ‘course He is… Your Blog Title and picture make me think of The best of the Best movie ( well, to me :P) I have ever watched, regarding “inter-relation between Man and Sea”; Movie title in reference is “All Is Lost”.
    Here I mean :P… But note! that many and many and many people have to struggle, have to withstand (recurrent) storms, each passing day, ya know, sometimes each passing day!! whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever on their way…till? and there comes a time where… surrender because “all is lost”? Or but “not all is lost”…’coz here comes an helping hand, just on the last minutes before your blood got cold… like beautifully shown in the movie.
    Okay! hang in there little one! and sail away… 😉 (uh, off topic again? “c pas grave!”:))

    1. Yes, he is safe back. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts. I am very well aware that life in general can be unbearable challenging for many people who thus need the rest of us to reach out a helping hand. Remember, here I am writing about creativity, which can be a very fearful endeavour, but still is something we pursue out of joy. Challenges we meet in the pursuit of creativity, we need to try to overcome with grit.

      1. Sorry Otto for any Misunderstood! Like anyone else, I read your article, looked at Photo, and while reading, some words grabbed my attention… so that, as a spontaneous flow of inspiration :-P, the whole “inspired” me to mention “All Is Lost” Movie 🙂 which includes “Creativity”, “Grit” all the way, “Metaphor” with life in general (well, to me)… regarding “The creative fight” between Man and Sea, “helpful hand” for :”I called all friends I knew had boats nearby…” ETC
        New comment? 🙂
        > “It worked. In the end I think I returned with even better photos than the first time. The editor surely was pleased.”
        BRAVO Otto! 🙂

  12. You use the word grit perfectly here, one of my favorite words even though I rarely use it. It seems life is a never ending process of finding and redefining our creative process, and as you say it is a solitary struggle with ourselves. There will be good days and bad days, but the never ending goal and perseverance to see it through no matter what the obstacles is what makes life/creativity so special when things do finally come together. Wonderful post, Otto. The challenges around creativity is difficult to grasp, but you manage to do so smoothly.

  13. Very well said Otto. Grit and determination is certainly required in the pursuit of creativity. I agree, being forced to photograph a location or a subject a second time can pay dividends. This happened to me recently when visiting the Faroe Islands. Second time round I was fortunate to come away with work which I felt was an improvement on the original visit.

  14. ‘I create for the sheer joy of making something for myself. Yes, I would like to get recognition, but that is not what is driving me’. You are speaking for me as well as for yourself, Otto!

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  16. You have any excellent way of words and getting your point across. This post was genius and I love what you did. You hit a lot of points in this too that I’m sure many can relate to. Excellent job!

  17. Otto, what an amazing story. First, I thought the way you presented the metaphor of swimming to an island was great, but then your story – even better. I personally am feeling grateful for whoever supplied that boat ride! 🙂 You surmounted quite a few obstacles, internal and external. Congrats, and thank you for an inspiring tale.

  18. Over the years I have had “grit” on and off. Your state of mind can really play with your ability to step into the grit factor and have it fit. You’re right, it can’t be taught it’s something you have to muster up from within and it takes the right mindset at the time.

  19. What a great story, Otto! I am happy you didn’t give up and found a way to do it again. My memory card got corrupted once a few years ago…and I didn’t have the opportunity to do it again as it was an important family event where I was the trusted photographer, luckily not a wedding, but a horrible discovery never the less.

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