A couple of days ago I wrote about job satisfaction, and how, for, me it didn’t always correlate with enjoyment of the process of doing the work. Today I’ll take money out of the equation, and try to tease apart how process and result affect satisfaction and pleasure with performing a given task.
The novelist Frank Norris wrote, in a letter discovered in 1915 (emphasis is mine):
I write with great difficulty, but have managed somehow to accomplish 40 short stories (all published in fugitive fashion) and five novels within the last three years, and a lot of special unsigned articles. Believe my forte is the novel. Don’t like to write, but like having written.
Something similar is often attributed to Dorothy Parker.
Here you have a clear distinction between the process and the result. I’ve read that some other writers feel the same way: the process is painful, but the result is worth it.
When you pick a profession or an avocation, you need to think about both. If you’re on fire to create the desired outcome from your efforts, it may not matter that the process is unpleasant, but it will be a big bonus if you’re having fun while you’re working. Even if you enjoy the process, you may eventually become dissatisfied if you’re not producing something meaningful.
Let’s say you like to sing. Will you be happy singing works that don’t appeal to you? Singing jingles for television commercials? Singing do-woop backgrounds for 50s rock-and-roll tribute groups? Maybe so, maybe not. Singing your own compositions to sold-out stadiums and in private concerts for presidents? Now we’re talkin’.
If you like to cook, would a job as a short-order cook appeal to you, or would job satisfaction require that you decide what to cook and how to cook it?
If you like to write computer programs, would you be happy working on spaghetti-coded legacy business applications in COBOL? Probably not. State-of-the-art Python code for a hot new web business? Maybe. Working in the same programming environment on ways to manipulate the market to make already-rich hedge fund managers obscenely rich? You decide. Working in the same programming environment on ways to manipulate the market to yourself rich? That may be a different story.
Turning to photography – you knew this was gonna come around to photography, didn’t you? – it’s clear to me that the result is the long pole in the tent, but that the process is for the most part pleasant as well.
For the most part, I love making the exposures. Most cameras that I’ve used have been precision instruments that offer great tactile pleasure in operation. I love composing the shot, whether in a view camera, a SLR, or in the LCD on the back of a mirrorless camera. I don’t love dragging piles of heavy equipment around, setting up and tearing down complex assemblies – using a Betterlight back, with its attendant power supplies, cables, and computer gear, in the field is something I try to avoid, and suffer through if I have to do it. I don’t love getting up hours before dawn, or getting home hours after sunset. I don’t like being away from family at meal times. Sometimes photography is an antisocial pursuit, and I don’t like that part of it.
In the darkroom era, I, like most everyone I’ve ever talked to about it, loved seeing the print come up in the developer. I never got tired of that, and losing the experience was one of the reasons that I found developing color prints unsatisfactory (the others were the hot, humid darkroom and the way the chemicals smelled). I hated how long it took to set up, process, and clean up; I could go into the darkroom to make a copy of a print that I’d already made and had the recipe for, and it would take me an hour to get the exposure, paper grade, dodging and burning, etc all dialed in, and three hours before I was done. Being on my feet for 6 hours at a time wasn’t my idea of fun, and made my back hurt. And then there was the isolation. Some find it pleasant. I did not.
So I was glad to see the computer era arrive.
I like it that you can stop editing, go do something, and when you come back you can take up just where you left off. I like working with the door open. I like the precision of the tools in Lr and Ps. Sometimes when I’ve got thousands of images to deal with (the Staccato series and the panoramas I do) I find the mechanics of selection and compositing boring, but I can always stop and rest.
But at the end of the day, what I want to do is make art. I’ve chosen photography as my path to doing that. At a larger level, the process that I enjoy is the process of discovering myself and the world in trying to create.