Working On Possibilities: “You Get an A!”

I’m reading a book I like very much titled (But first, a little aside: Why do people put “entitled” when it’s ‘titled’? It’s not ‘entitled’ to anything! Okay, back to the book ‘titled’): The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. He’s the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. You can hear his Ted Talk here–he’s fascinating.

One of the things he talks about is people working for a measured score versus making art for the joy of it and to contribute something to the world. For as soon as we go to rate things on a scale, we make it about the measurement, which he points out isn’t real–it was invented.

We made the score up. We made the whole game up.

And if we made it up, we can change it. Why not?

Who says we are bound to keep things the way they are if they’re not working? And art isn’t about only keeping score so we can measure up to some artificial standard. That’s part of an unfortunate game we created a long time ago.

Are we good enough?

He talks about how everyone in his music conservatory class was so worried about their grade that he decided at the start of the class to give everyone an A and told them so. He let them know at the outset that they are all A-players. And as such, they can know their grade upfront. The only requirement: They have to write him a letter set in the future with details of what they accomplished during his class as A-grade players.

When he does that, it changes the dynamic altogether and players stop worrying about making a mistake and instead recreate themselves as the players they are working on becoming.

A student playing with glass, water, and light.

A-grade players. Musicians with the belief that they were the best and getting the score isn’t their primary goal–getting graded isn’t any longer their chief concern

I’ve been teaching middle school and high school digital photography classes at a local private school, and the students are very score-oriented. They just want to know what to do to get a good grade. I had to recreate the classroom into a playroom. Because they’re beginning photographers and now isn’t the time to work worried about the grade, but rather the time to play, to explore, to try things, to let their creativity go and see where it takes them.

What are we doing with our system of measurement and what good does it do? Is it because we think it’s the only way we know who qualifies for the top positions at the top schools? All the while at the expense of the young artists’ creativity as they chase the number, the score, to make sure they make the grade?

You get an A today! Right now.

Now, you don’t have to worry if you’re good enough. I’m telling you now that you are. Now, go write that letter to me about where you want to be in one year after carefully working on your craft, and what your goal is that you’re going to achieve.

As a photographer, you can come up with any goal you want. And then, just believe in yourself–in your A–and make it so!

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