A few weeks ago, I was in Maine at a workshop by John Paul Caponigro on creativity. It was a great opportunity to learn about exploring ways to see things and great exercises to push the envelop on what makes us artist. Along the way we got to have some great conversations about art, photography, and life.
One of the exercises that we worked on was developing a personal mission. I have worked for several start-ups over my career and so developing missions and visions is something that I have worked on a lot. It has been one of my favorite things to do at these companies. Figuring out the purpose and passion that gets you up in the morning is something that provides a great compass for how you work.
I have also learned over the years that companies without a mission or that don’t follow their mission often times float around in the doldrums and can’t seem to move forward. The missions gives everyone in the company something to strive to achieve. Google wants to index the worlds knowledge. REI, my hometown outdoor gear co-ops mission is to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.
And then there is Microsoft. When I worked for Microsoft the mission was a computer on every desktop and in every home. When Microsoft was working on that mission, the stock was going up, people were happy, products teams were constantly innovating and life was crazy there. Now, I don’t even know the mission it has something to do with connecting people and living dreams with Windows or something. Stock price flat for 10 years. Why? I think it is because they completed there mission and now don’t have that compass to follow. They sit in the doldrums. Now rather than a mission things like selling copies of software matter most.
All of this brings me to what I have been working on for the past month, which I still haven’t finished. What is my personal mission. What is it that gets me up and going in the morning with a camera in hand. When I talked with JP about where I was with my work, I talked about feeling like I had writers block. He quickly asked how many photos I took last month, last year, yesterday. When I responded he quickly pointed out that I couldn’t be blocked, I was creating work. And then he asked me the big question. How does what you photography relate to your mission AND where is that mission written down.
And there is the big bright lightbulb. My work feels confused (blocked) to me because I never put in under the spotlight of my mission. I also never took the time to write down my mission. I always talk about this and that being important in my work, but never took the time to distill it down into a mission statement. Like the companies before me, I sit in the doldrums creating lots for work but to what purpose.
Over the next few weeks, I imagine my mission statement will finish taking hold since I write and rewrite it everyday. I know now that community really matters to me as does family, the environment, creativity, maximizing the strengths in others and finding alternatives to problems. But, what I don’t know is how all those fit together and inform my artistic efforts.
In the past since I don’t yet have my mission as I would like it, I would be tempted to say I had writers block and can’t think of what to say. Now I know, I don’t have writers block since I have lots of words on lots of paper. It is just a process of editing and developing and they can take time.