Why I Walked Away From 500,000 Followers On Google+

 

I Want To Break Free

I Want To Break Free

 

Have you ever considered yourself a fraud? Well a psychological study done in the early 1980s have found that 70% of the population at one point in their lives have considered themselves frauds or imposters. It comes down to people not being able to internalise their accomplishments even though there’s proof that contradicts this thought pattern. People who suffer from this are said to have Imposter Syndrome and now I have a peg to hang this feeling on.

 

I’ve been writing this comeback post for about 2 months but my procrastination ability has exceeded all previous delaying tactics. Yes the life of a procrastinating imposter syndrome sufferer is a rather bumpy road to travel along.

 

I’m writing this for 2 reasons. To help me come to grips with this and out myself. Also to bring awareness to others who may be feeling the same way. You are not alone.

 

Looking back I can say this all started around the time I was asked by Jay and Varina Patel to contribute a few articles to their photography teaching website Visual Wilderness about 18 months ago. I didn’t and still don’t consider I have enough to offer (Imposter Syndrome still prevalent) but through the fear of being exposed, I trusted their professional opinions and gave it a shot. Now my photography prowess then covered a whole 4 years. 2 less than it stands now. For some reason within that first 2 years Google decided to make me a  “Suggested User” to follow in the genre of photography. I later was featured in a 2 part blog post by On1 Software, a photography editing package that has been with me 90% through my journey. These were my 2 claims to fame. Oh I also take “above average” images too. These should have been enough to convince me that I had “something” to offer the Patels. I did knock out a few blog posts for them and the fear eased. Then an offer was giving to me for a more profitable project to participate in. I can’t go into details but this REALLY scared the crap out of me but like the previous Patel offer I thought I could overcome the fear and accomplish this. As I layed down the groundwork for the start of this project my Imposter Syndrome really kicked into gear and the fear became unbearable. I quit the project. The fear of being exposed as a fraud was insurmountable.

 

It was around this time that 1 of my images was selected to be displayed on Google’s Chromecast device as a screensaver. Congratulations I hear you say. “That will give you more exposure.” Yeah current count is just over 1.43 BILLION views. WTF!!! Exposure and Imposter Syndrome are a lethal cocktail. I slowly faded away from Google+ and my photography outings became few and far between. I still have images from our 3 month Europe vacation to post before all of this started. Then there’s the 2 week New Zealand South Island campervan tour to post as well. My family and close friends, along with a few die hard supporters, have seen a preview of images shot with my Olympus point and shoot that were edited in Snapseed. The good images from my Olympus OMD cameras, which are dwindling in number as I procrastinate over the final selection, are still to be seen.

 

So the question is now how do I get out of this predicament? I want to break free from this cycle of self doubt. It’s not going to be easy and It’s going to take some time to get my confidence back again. There has been so many changes made to Google+ with Collections, Communities and general posting since my absence. I’ve just about forgotten how to use WordPress for my MykalHall.photography website and that needs updating. What I need to do is get out shooting with friends I have neglected recently, share images regularly and blog posts. I have to start posting images to other communities too. Flickr, Instagram and Facebook.  I also need to develop some useful habits that will help me achieve a few goals. One of those habits has to be gratitude which will aid in the internalisation of accomplishments. A key factor for breaking out of the Imposter Syndrome cycle.
If you have overcome or are in the same situation I would love to hear how you are coping or conquered this fear. Please leave comments below or share this post to someone in need.

24 thoughts on “Why I Walked Away From 500,000 Followers On Google+

  1. Thank you Mykal for sharing your thoughts. I empathise with so much of your struggle although I do not have the followers you had. My internal thought processes are similar; basically not good enough, fear of success less I be seen as an imposter. I have moments of WTF I AM capable and just do it but I have no real solution. Good luck.

    1. Thanks Tina. Until I came across this syndrome on the internet I thought I was the only one. I started to write ” the number of followers doesn’t make a difference” but that’s not true. Some people are compelled to produce to keep the masses happy. I’ve never made a photograph for the sole purpose of chasing likes. When I create the outside world doesn’t exist. I have shared images in the hope of doing well and have the ego patted on the head. I think all artist have that longing to be liked and recognised for their talents. I guess the upside of feeling not good enough is we are always looking to improve ourselves. That way it will take longer to be found out. 🙂

      Dianne and I will have to come by the gallery again for a chat and coffee when her schedule allows it. Take care and see you soon.

  2. I’d never heard of this syndrome before, but it makes sense from your explanation. Self doubt is a formidable beast but one well worth fighting as it robs you of so much that is positive, beneficial and enjoyable.
    Getting out relaxing and shooting with your friends is a great idea, and you have some wonderfully kind and relaxed people up there to do it with.
    I hope you can rekindle your love of taking and processing images as they are wonderful to view. Good luck, Mykal!

    1. Thanks Al. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only nutter feeling this way. 😉 There are some good people up here and chatting wit friends every now and then will be part of the solution. It’s strange how a common love for photography breaks down all social barriers.

  3. Thank you for your honesty and humility in this article. I just stumbled across it and reading it struck a familiar nerve. I struggle with depression and self worth and have most of my life. Drugs and alcohol were my cure for a long time. I have been sober now for 2.5 years and life keeps getting better little by little. Gratitude is a huge part of sobriety and has been a huge part of my feeling better. So has acceptance. Ad a portion of spirituality and Boom things get better. I recommend keeping a Gratitude list and trying to ad something to it each day. Read it over often. I also try and do one thing each day that I do not want to do. Helping others is also good for the soul 🙂
    Best of luck to you sir in all you do 🙂 Remember, working on yourself is the most important job you have. Work at at improving your self and everything else will fall into place 🙂

    1. Noah I admire your ability to kick the habit for that long. I’ve witnessed first hand how the battle with the bottle can tear apart family and friends. It takes great courage just to accept that there’s a problem. My friend has been sober for 39 years but know if they have one drink it all comes unglued. Luckily they don’t have any longing to break that drought. 🙂

      Gratitude does have a role to play in crushing these demon. You’ve also raised another key ingredient with acceptance. Long before I caught the photography bug I was on a search for the meaning of life. I read book after book, listened to years of podcasts and audio books on self help, psychology and then finally Buddhism. It was strange as here was all these modern day thinkers with their theories and solutions however the Buddhists had discovered all this 2500 years previously. Acceptance leads to non attachment, which results in no reaction to those thoughts. Thanks for reminding me.

      Doing something you don’t want to do each day….. I read that book too. 🙂 I’ve forgotten who wrote it but remember the key phrase. “Eat That Frog” 🙂

      I do have all the answers I require It’s just down to sifting out the wheat from the chaff and putting it into action.

      Thank you for your comment as your suggestions will be put into practise.

  4. Great to see you coming back Mykal !, I know from personal experience what it is to fall prey to such things, I was made redundant in July after 8 years with the same firm and it knocked me for six, and have been feeling lost since, My Photography outings dropped from two or three weekly to a handful over the last six months,Lapsed my Arcanum membership ect, Anyway I am working on it by planning a world trip . Any way so great to see you back and look forward to joining you on a walk or two,
    Jim B

    1. Jim thanks for commenting mate. It’s good to hear from you. As we get older and are made redundant it can be hard to get back into the workforce. I hope you find something soon. Maybe not too soon as that world trip sounds great. I can honestly say that traveling for an extended period melts all the worries away. Our 3 month vacation was a dream come true and hope you get to experience the same thing mate.

      Looking forward to seeing you again in the not too distant future Jim. Thanks.

  5. Mykal, we’re friends on facebook and I’m pretty certain we connected initially via Google+, maybe somewhere else, we seem to move in similar circles at any rate. I’ve been taking photos for pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve been a “full-time professional” since 2009 and I have had a constant struggle with Imposter Syndrome. It seems it is not something that just goes away, no matter how much you achieve and it is even worse when you’re going through hard times (like I am at the moment) as it just reinforces the self-doubt.

    What’s funny is that I have a blog post about it on my wordpress that has been sitting in drafts for close to a year now… so I really appreciate you getting through it to publish! All the best 🙂

    1. I don’t forget that many who are on, or appear to be on, a higher run of the photography ladder than I. It was on G+ we first connected organising some photo walk for Google I think. Yeah we do tend migrate in the same herds to the same photography water holes. Nature of the beast.

      It’s sad but comforting to know that those who we consider are “living the dream” have the same struggles as the rest of us. Does your syndrome stem from your professional life, social media “Instagram” or a combination of both? As for your hard times I’ll gladly lend a pair of ears if you need anyone to “unload” on. I know you have good and well respected photographers as close friends but at times you feel ashamed to raise these issues. I don’t know if it’s a guy thing or just an Aussie bloke thing where we over protect our soft vulnerable emotions. I understand it’s going to take awhile to come to grips with this as the mind is one tuff nut to crack.

      Mate don’t delete your draft. I want you to finish it when your comfortable to do so. Just because I’ve posted mine before yours, it doesn’t down play what you’re going through. It’s like two photographers standing at the same location but coming up with their own unique images. I’ve found taking about it distance it from you. It becomes a label. It’s no longer me but a thing I’m experiencing. See the difference?

      Good luck with your journey mate.

  6. How very open and honest of you.

    While I never had the success you did in getting noticed by the “right people” my follower count is upwards of 350,000 people on G+.

    I often get comments that make me feel the way you describe. I tend to just say, or think “it was a lucky shot. I barely know what I’m doing” etc.

    I was, for some time, a regular contributor to some of the aired hang out shows, and while I enjoyed that, there was always this fear that someone might ask me a question that I wouldn’t be able to answer.

    I eventually began pulling away, much in the same way you did.

    I’ve felt this way about other things throughout my life, and I am currently facing it again. But I’m working through it. I’m educating myself. I’m practicing. Im trying to remind myself that everyone started somewhere, and it’s a natural progression.

    If you are good at what you do, and you really work at it, I think that it’s ok to move forward and accept that you are not a fraud.

    No matter where you are…. You could be a master at your craft, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t still learning. So at what point do we ever become “qualified” to pass on our knowledge? Never, if what we are waiting for is to know it all.

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s helpful to know that even the people who seem to be experts with all of their shit together have doubts and feel like an imposter at times. You’re human. That makes me respect what you do even more. 🙂

    1. Sandra I would swap 500,00+ followers for the 40,000 I had years ago in a heart beat. Back then I earned every one of them through hard work. The “gift” of a Suggested User listing started the doubts.

      I too have used those lines in describing my abilities. To be honest i have also thought, “It’s not that hard to get a decent image. Composition, control the light, creative shutter speed or aperture setting, click. So why cant other people do the same?” That’s when I do give myself credit and announce that i’m just better than average.

      That must be difficult experiencing this syndrome in other areas in your life other than photography. My mind just refuses to image that mental torment. Even in the face of this you are “working through it”. That reminds me of a saying from a Buddhist monk, “This too shall pass”. Everything is impermanent. Nothing lasts. Just wish I could practise all this wisdom I’ve accrued over the years. 🙁

      Even though I’m not on G+ as must as was previously, I have seen your name pop up over the years and it’s familiar to me. Keep up the good work and battle on. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I can relate to you, and I am familiar with fear paralizing you and stopping from fulfilling your potential. I found they were to basic questions I needed to answer: values & purpose. What does photography bring to your life and does it align with what you wish to achieve? If you have the answer to these questions, and you feel strong about it you just need to push through my friend, go through the pain one step at the time, and when you less expect it, you will be pedalling again. People have seen through you and through your work and they’ve connected, they’ve seen something special in you. It’s time for you to connect with yourself, and your art, the rest as before will be the result of it. Also remember we are a tight community, you are not alone, don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed, anyone would be there to give you a push if you need it.

    1. You’re right Johana. Values and purpose play a major role in eliminating self doubt. You know I have had it in my to do list for years and procrastinate until the desire to answer these two fade off in the distance. Thanks for handing me a missing piece from the puzzle of life. 🙂

  8. I checked the calendar. It’s not April so I can assume I’m not being taken for a fool. My internatisation tells me it’s sarcasm, a talent I hold close to my own heart.
    Back in the 80’s psychologists were covering a lot of ground in order to find the meaning of life. I was alive and sober during that time, having survived the 60s (sex, drugs and rock and roll) and 70s (bad hair, bad dress and bad music) and was attempting a drug free 80s.
    What the psych students discovered was an endless supply of grant money to fund anything that didn’t have a name allocated to it, including, you guessed it, the ability for humans to feel insecure when faced with the judgement of other human beings.
    Back then it wasn’t a big deal. Now, in the face of the new world, it seems to have bubbled to the surface like puss from a festering wound.
    It might be, Mykal, you just have too many ‘friends’. How easy it is for us to ‘follow’, ‘like’ and pass on an image, person or place. With the touch of a button we have access to probably billions of photos. It is estimated by Flickr that around 300 billion photos were loaded onto the web in 2014 with an estimated increase in the following years to be in the order of 20 – 30 % per year. Now, with a catch of 1.5 million, and a likelihood of 500 million lookers, the popularity of your images shrinks into something akin to walking down a busy street in a busy city and someone recognizing you, but probably not quite knowing from where.
    I’m a photographer as well. If one valued associate critiques an image of mine in an appropriate and academic way, I would place more value on that than a random choice from a random act by a random person I don’t know.
    The problem with associating numbers with capability isn’t a anew phenomenon. I fall into that trap often. If I’m looking for a plumber I might ask my friends for recommendations. If I hear the same name twice I might be alerted to the possibility that the named plumber knows what they are doing. The trouble is, each of my friends are working on the same premise.
    You are right, of cause. Internalizing rewards is definitely the best way to go. Create your own reward system based on personal goals, not numbers gathered like a bower bird gathering blue beads.
    Also consider what difference all the hype has made to your photography or business or personal life. Followers don’t buy. Followers have their own motivation. It’s a means of seeing their name in lights, even if it is just for a moment.
    And keep your finger off the ‘like’, ‘follow’ button as well. It does you no good to encourage those who encourage you to externalise.
    Are you also conscious of the possibility that a large portion of those that follow have shit taste or know little or nothing about photographs?
    I live in a small city, population of about 100 000. We have a newspaper who’s claim to fame is that 53% of the city reads their paper. What they don’t add is that it’s the only paper in town, there are 47% who don’t read it and when questioned, most only read a few pages, such as the sport and cartoons. As a literary sample, the paper has a reading age of 8. All other cities in this country laugh at it on a regular basis, and I mean weekly if not daily. The paper is the joke of the town and country. I was asked to write an article for it some years back. I told the editor I would not because I didn’t like the idea of my neighbour wiping his arse on it.
    Photograph for yourself. Be your own judge. Be your own critic. Be your own story teller. At least one person is looking. You.

    1. Tom, sarcasm is a weapon I know too well and ashamedly pride myself with the marksmanship I’ve mastered over the years. Alas this is not the droid you’re looking for.

      It’s not about the quantity but how the figure came to be. Then how that perception is placed on me and my competence of the craft considering the number of years of experience. I find it more rewarding picking up 2 or 3 followers a month on Twitter than the few hundred a day on G+.

      As for the fact that some of them have shit taste, you are 100% correct. Take for example Peter Lik and his $6.5 million image. If it had any other name on it other than his it wouldn’t have sold for that. He just knows how to market himself better. He’s not that highly acclaimed. Even if he was, it’s still someone’s opinion. Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone has one but some smell better to others than the rest.

      I always have photographed for myself, am my worst judge and critic, tell my own stories and at times hate most of my images.

      Thanks for your comment Tom.

  9. Thank you for writing this blog Mykal, I completely relate. Some days I look at the abundance of images uploaded by so many people and think.. Mine isn’t as good.. (Self doubt).. I even make excuses as to the quality of the image or the story it tells,(does anyone really want to see it?..) and leave it on my OneDrive..
    When next you are out, I’m in! Thanks again,
    Natalie

    1. Natalie we all shoot for different reasons. Someone puts up an epic sunrise shot with one in a million cloud formations and dancing unicorns on rainbows or an image of a parent with other members of the family, Which is more important? I know which one I would save as the house burnt down. Everyone’s images are important. It’s just a matter of finding the right viewer.

      That’s the problem with chasing perfection. It doesn’t exist but we still keep chasing it.

      There will be a walk towards the end of next month. I can’t give details now so keep your eye open of an announcement leading up to that point of time. It will be good seeing you again. 🙂

  10. Wow, does this post resonate with me. Paul Pichugin turned me onto this post, through his recent, and excellent, “Let’s Be Honest” post.
    Although I started off relatively early on G+, I never really “took off” (popularity-wise), with “only” around 25,000 followers there. Regardless of the difference in our stats and reach, I do know how you feel.
    I’ve been pursuing photography for nearly 20 years now. I started out in the Midwest of the U.S., then moved to Alaska a decade ago, to “push my photography to the next level”. Thing is, I’ve battled with depression for all of that time, probably since I was a teenager. That depression manifests itself as an (occasional) lack of self-confidence and, more concerning to me, an absurd difficulty finishing projects.
    I was also intensely competitive, and – up until about 2 years ago – I easily succumbed to jealousy/envy over my fellow photographer’s successes. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m fully past that, but I do feel like I’m doing much better now. I’ve tried to teach myself to be happy for for my peers, and to use other people’s successes as plentiful examples that [it] is possible.
    I’ve also adopted a few of the themes from Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent book, “Big Magic”, and David DuChemin’s amazing book, “A Beautiful Anarchy”. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced, regarding my art, has been dealing with the surges and lulls in my creativity and productivity. David DuChemin uses a great analogy – our individual creativity is very much like a boat on the ocean. We experience swells & troughs, the swells are when everything is working, and we are feeling great about what we are creating. The troughs are when we hit those lulls and we sometimes feel like we’ll never make anything worthwhile again. The key is to understand that there can be no troughs without swells to separate them, and there can be no swells, without dips between them. It is a natural succession. If everything we produced was extraordinary, it would lose that description – it would just be normal, and we wouldn’t appreciate it as much. That one concept has helped me so much. Not sure if it will help you in your situation, but perhaps it could help one of your readers.
    The other concept I’ve really bonded with comes from Elizabeth Gilbert (of “Eat Pray Love” fame). She talks about the change the creative society has made over the centuries. Back in ancient times, artists/artisans believed that creative genius was NOT achieved by an artist, but that they (as artists) were simply conduits to be influenced by a spirit or force. No one considered an artist to BE a genius, when they produced great work – when an artist produced something incredible, people believed that a “genius” had passed through the artist and inspired them to create. But in the middle ages, that changed. Genius went from being an outside force that influenced artists, to being a descriptor OF artists. It completely shifts the weight of responsibilities, from an artist looking to collaborate with a higher force, to an artist who is responsible for BEING the higher force. A lot of people won’t go along with the idea nowadays, because people like to be in control. But I’m really enjoying the concept. It still means that I have to “show up” for work, everyday. But if I don’t create something incredible, I can playfully say to any spirit/genius nearby, looking for an artist to collaborate with, “Hey, I came to work that day! I’m doing my part. So if you want this thing to come to life, I need you to do your part to.” Yeah, it sounds a bit silly to a rational person – luckily, I’m not one of those, when it comes to creativity – but if it helps free my creativity up, and take some of the strain off… I’m all for it.
    Anyway, enough blabbering from me. Hopefully, something I’ve said will help out. Regardless, I wish you the best. Remember to take things at your pace, and don’t try to pace yourself to someone else’s race. It will likely just burn you out and frustrate you. Show up for work, but remember to credit the Genius when they inspire you. 😉

    1. David we are 100% on the same page, other than you’ve been at it 15yrs longer than I. Competitiveness, jealousy, lack of self confidence and my worst trait procrastination. (It took me 2 weeks to post a letter. I had the stamps, envelope and paperwork signed.) I have been tested for depression and was clear on that. I understand how it affects people as I’ve had close family live with it for decades and refuse that anything is wrong.

      I have a large collection of audio books and a few ebooks covering a variety of self help and spiritual topics. “Big Magic” and “A Beautiful Anarchy” are in the list waiting to be read. I will now prioritise both to next on the list. Thanks for the reminder.

      My other biggest problem is applying the knowledge I have collected over the years. 🙁

      You have helped and I’m grateful that Paul sent you my way. 🙂

      1. Ah yes, the application of knowledge already attained. I know THAT one very well. I’m excellent at advising others on what to do, and analyzing their positions this’ll them grow – I just seem to flounder when it comes to doing it for myself. 😀
        Best of luck, man. I know we don’t know each other, aside from these comments, but let me know if I can help in any way.
        Perhaps we need to start a creativity-based support group, where people with similar difficulties can talk openly about their struggles. I have found it be very empowering, talking with others that share similar difficulties – because, to outsiders, a lot of this can seem over simplified, and even unimaginable.
        I think you may really enjoy those two books. Cheers!

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