You miss the shots you don’t take

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

― Henry David Thoreau

It’s a pleasure to announce that this shot won an Honorable Mention in the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge’s annual photography competition. Given the Bosque is one of my favorite places in the world and this is the first photo competition I’ve entered, it’s a very special honor.

Since learning of the award, I’ve been thinking about what it takes to be a winner. What is the measurement for achievement? Who gets to decide? What if I hadn’t won – would I have actually lost something? What if I’d not entered? Oddly enough, what began as a meditation on success turned into a contemplation on the true nature of failure.

Winning is fun, for sure. But in a culture so averse to losing, how many times do we stop short and rob ourselves of the gift of failure? Why try? Why bother? If I’m unlikely to come in first place, why risk the inevitable disappointment (or humiliation). No one really wants to be a failure.

We’re excellent excuse-makers.

Failure is the demand of success. Every toddler taking her first steps intuits this, and yet we deny ourselves the freedom to fall down. When was the last time you asked yourself if you’re failing often enough? How would your life be different if you actively sought it out? It’s something worth considering because it’s in the falling down that we learn our most pivotal lessons, not to mention the skill of getting back up.

“I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how he teaches us.”

– Serena Williams

Failure is a positive signal. It means you’re in action and taking a stab at doing something. Placing yourself on the court is an act of faith in all your missed shots adding up.  After all, every botched attempt increases your odds of not screwing up. Because that’s the way the game works. The more we take action, the more we fail, the wiser we become. As long as you’re in action you can trust the game – even while not entirely trusting yourself. That’s pretty powerful stuff!  So stop obsessing about what everyone will think and welcome the screw-ups. 

 “If I fail more than you do, I win.”

– Seth godin

Take the damn the pictures! is a lesson I learned from my Photography 101 professor in design school. Although I can’t recall his name, I’ll never forget the mantra he kept repeating: You miss the shots you don’t take. Shoot more than you think you need to. SLEEP with your camera if you have to. Never stop shooting.

“Lower your expectations,” he said, “If you come away with just one good shot per roll, then you can call yourself a professional.” 

Back in the day of film canisters that meant 35 failures in order to get one good picture.

There are countless artists and would-be successful leaders with talent oozing out of their ears sitting at home right now wondering when their ship come in instead of actually shipping. The difference between success and failure is in the showing up and doing your own version of taking the damn pictures.

Deep down inside we all know it’s just that simple.

The morning I took the winning shot I rattled off about 500 pictures. Birds are notoriously difficult to shoot and I knew going in that hundreds would be duds. But because I know I miss the shots I don’t take, I wasn’t telling myself a negative story about every out of focus, butt-shot, bird flying out of the frame image as “a failure”. 

And neither should you!

Most certainly, there are other areas of my life where I still hesitate and squirrel myself away – especially when I miss the mark with communication or  I’m afraid of who I might become if I dare to round the next corner, but I’m working on it. 

This is what I think Thoreau meant by launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. He understood that creative opportunities are constantly rolling toward us, but to launch, we must actively make ourselves vulnerable by stepping into the field and risk playing the fool. Sometimes the waves are scarily high and knock us down. Other times a riptide might carry us out. The point is to get swimming. And as far as I know, you can’t do that without jumping in.

What about you? What shots are you missing in your life because you’re afraid to take them? What do you stand to lose by insisting on winning? And most important – what do you stand to win through the practice of failure?

– Susan J. Preston 

p.s.  I’m tickled pink when I hear from readers personally. Sign up for my email list below or leave a comment. And be sure to check out my new friend, Pam Dorner’s 3rd Place image of the magical baby bobcat on the Friends of the Bosque website! 


Photo Credits:  Launch! by Susan J. Preston, Bosque del Apache, NM © 2019, all rights reserved
Technical: Fuji XT-3 | 312mm (XF 100-400MM F4.5-5.6 R ML OIS WR) | 1/650 | F5.6 | ISO 320