Specialize or Integrate?

white or black

“What you are born to be, you will be, whether it be priest or sailor. So step up and be it. Let them do nothing to you. Be the one who shapes yourself. Be who you are, and eventually all will have to recognize who you are, whether they are willing to admit it or not.”
| Robin Hobb, Ship of Magic

Often, I hear from my students that they have trouble determining a focus to develop out of all their interests and hobbies. In this blog post, I address the question of whether we should specialize in one thing to beat out stiff competition, or whether we can’t integrate our different sides into something new.

Throughout my life, I have felt caught between two worlds. Part of my family is made up of the scientists and the workers who invest a lot of energy, time and passion to make their way. This path is very rationally structured, following clear ideals and goals. These people have achieved a lot in their lives, but also with great expenditure of personal power and energy.

The other part of my family consists of the artists, the creative and virtuosos of life. These simply do without thinking too much. Their daily routine is mostly dictated by what they feel like doing at the moment. Their path follows their emotion. Perhaps they have achieved less in their lives in terms of factual results, but they have lived very intensely with themselves, their feelings and their lives.

As a child of these influences, I was often caught between these two worlds. Not only did I study music alongside mathematics, or work creatively as a photographic artist alongside my job as a scientist at university, it accompanies my daily thinking, creating and doing. On the one hand, I am self-contemplative, reflect a lot and think very structured about my project ideas in photography. This leads to a very self-critical attitude and I am rarely satisfied with the results of my pictures or other work. Even though this always drives me to develop further, it is an attitude that eats up a lot of energy from within. On the other hand, I love to just experiment, try new things, connect, be surprised, have a hundred new ideas every day and be a creative hotspot. These moments give me a lot of energy and transport me into moments of flow, where I am strongly connected to myself.

As a consequence of these two influences, I have asked myself all my life whether I should not better specialize in one path, focus all my energies on it, in order to better follow my path. Currently I ask myself whether I actually feel I belong to the world of classical landscape photographers, who show the beauty of this world in selected sections. Or more to the artistic photography, who work in projects and series to discuss statements, to investigate questions, to give perspectives or answers to stimulate.

Over the years, however, I’ve learned that I don’t have to make choices at all. When I am connected to myself, the world shows me my way if I just listen carefully. Here is the problem, because like many other people, I have often neglected the ability to listen to myself. I am just this diversity in one person. Maybe that will never put me in a top position on any of the paths. But each personality in me influences the other personalities, gives them questions, ideas and challenges. And to accept these tensions and to transform them into a creative life is precisely my task.

Where do I see myself in relation to these two photographic worlds? Just in between. I work in conceptual projects and try to make visible things visible with my camera, to trigger emotions and to open a discourse. But I try to do this through an aesthetic and beautiful visual language of our wonderful world.

Maybe all of our lives would be easier if we would just accept each other. Simple? No, often it is a long process, but this acceptance seems to me to be the key to inner peace. Then the search also stops. And it turns into listening and being curious about what may come.