In order to be great at anything, you have to produce great quality consistently. Being a great photographer does not mean that you only produce one great photo, but you produce great photos consistently. To be a great athlete, you do not win one championship. You win again, and again, and again, until it is time to pass the torch. Great athletes and people also fail more than other people, because they put in more attempts, they try different things, they put in more time.
In order to become good at something, you have to put in time and effort. A lot of it. An unbelievable amount. In this day and age when there are so many talented people, it is much harder to stand out. Think more than 60 hours a week over the span of years, if you want to break free from the curve of the average, and if you want to compete with the people who do nothing else for a living. Hobbyists can indeed be as good as pros, but those that are are relentless and usually obsessed. There are some pros who are not very good at what they do for example, but it is hard to beat a pro who is at the top of their industry.
Yes, there are ways that you can expedite your learning so that you improve at a rate far faster than the average person (namely, 1-1 tutoring with the best), but even so, you will not be up-leveled even with these hacks unless you put in the work to improve and practice and develop your own voice and understanding.
I’ve learned lately that quality is so much more important than quantity. I did not follow this philosophy fastidiously in the past, but I would like to start following it now. However, in order to produce quality, you ironically have to start with quantity: you have to do something a lot to get better, and then cull your work down to the best. People underestimate how much culling is done. That means going out of your way to shoot every day, and then culling that down to only the best shots, sometimes not using any shots from a particular shoot at all, because you tried something new, and you realized it didn’t quite work. Not occasionally going out to shoot and then choosing the best among those. It means sketching and practicing every day. Applying yourself, challenging yourself in places where you are weak. It means writing dozens and dozens of short stories that never see the light of day. Iterating, getting better. Putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours into reading documentation and studying how to write better code that your coworkers may not be able to immediately see the results of. Spending hours pouring over specs, strategizing, thinking, and working late at night slaving over grueling details to ensure an excellent product. People will see the glamorous, beautiful result and never fathom the thousands of hours poured into the foundation of it. And why? Why bother with it? Do it for the beauty that you’ve made with your own hands, your own mind, your own sweat, blood, tears, your own heart. The beauty that you made, that you created. Do it for the spectacular view after the grueling climb, the exhilarating high of joy and the satisfaction of knowing that you did something hard that nothing else can quite replace.
Whatever you do, do it well.
Ultimately, if you are trying to make art, 1000 poor quality photos are not worth 1 art piece. The 1000 poor quality photos are worthless, and the art piece, if great, is priceless. If you have to take 1000 poor quality photos to produce that one great photo, then so be it, so long as you cull your work down to the best.
If you are trying to start a business, one great business that influences the lives of millions in a positive way is much better than 10 mediocre ones that are barely profitable. But to be a good CEO, you must consistently perform.
If it comes down to it, it is better to have fewer items of quality than many pieces of work of low quality. One of my favorite songs is “Obedear” by Purity Ring, a band so committed to perfection that they hardly produce anything. But I will never forget their one song, whereas I experience hundreds of other songs that visit and then leave my consciousness. Maybe they were pleasant, maybe they were okay, but I don’t remember them. One of my favorite games is Machinarium, an astoundingly beautiful and painstakingly detailed game. Although that game studio has not produced many pieces of work, they have already earned their acclaim with Machinarium.
Of course, on the road to “getting good,” you have to fail. The trick is that while you are learning, to put in far more time and effort than others, and fail frequently and fast to learn. People drastically underestimate the amount of work and culling that successful people do. We only see the tip of the iceberg. So produce a lot, fail fast, learn a lot, and then start producing great work, consistently.