Gemma Good

The Good Life: Chocolate, tears and life lessons

In her latest column, Gemma learns the value of receiving constructive criticism and when/who to take it from...

When a lecturer says in the middle of a class, the purpose of which is to teach students lessons, says in a raise voice: “Guys listen to this because this is a lesson.”

I am one for typing notes during lectures, it is the only way I engage. At this moment in my photography lecture on white balance, I stopped immediately, and I listened.

My lecturer, for whom I have developed a deep respect, informed us all that she was going to be honest with us. She began by telling us that she was 47 years of age and that she cried during Easter break. A deeply passionate wedding photographer, a bride cancelled on her just before the big day. Confused, my lecturer accepted the decision but asked why. The couple were satisfied with the pre-wedding shoot but, upon looking at her website and earlier work, the bride decided that she hated how my lecturer edited her photos and told her so.

My lecturer was devastated, telling us that she cried to her husband with disappointment. My heart went out to her, and my respect soared. As a lecturer, to tell your students that a client cancelled on you is one of the most honourable things you can do. She didn’t debase herself, because she never put herself on a pedestal to begin with. She is no different to the students sitting in front of her, and she said these very words.

“And then the voice of reason came,” she said, referring to her husband.

He told her to take the criticism and use it to assess the work. He restored his wife’s confidence by urging her to consider who is giving the criticism also, reminding her that this bride probably didn’t know a lot about photography or editing photos. He said, if it was the head of the faculty giving the feedback, then yes, there would be reason to worry and make a change. A random bride’s opinion is not important enough to reconsider her life’s work. She was teaching us to take all opinions on board but also consider the source of the opinions.

Ms Debono said she took on board what her husband said and decided she is good at what she does. She ate some Figolli (a traditional Maltese treat enjoyed at Easter time) and chocolate and everything was good with the world.

As a student, I needed to hear this story. My lecturer is certainly somebody I look up to, her knowledge of photography is profound, her work inspiring and her passion is powerful.

I have recently started reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho in which he explains what a personal calling is. He writes:

“What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend.” (viii)

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I fully believe in callings, maybe this book will shed some light on the topic. However, I know the feeling of enthusiasm. As a student, I worry about my career path and this passage gave me comfort. Following my passions and seeing where they lead me is something I can do.

I admire people who are good at what they do in their professions, people who have found the balance between work and passion.

My photography lecturer is one of these people, a passionate photographer through and through. Hearing her doubt herself was shocking for me but also needed. Even people at the top of their field can have doubts, make mistakes and need reassurance.

So last Thursday morning, I learned a few things. I learned how to adjust my camera to different types of lighting while also learning to take all criticism but consider who it is coming from. I learned that I should not put people on a pedestal, because even professionals

can doubt themselves. Not everyone is going to love what I do but I should pay attention to whose opinion I take on board, my own being the most valuable.

Finally, I learned that as human beings we will always have doubts, as students or professionals, what's important is being able to rationalise them and not allow them to consume us. And sometimes all we need is a piece of figolli or chocolate and a good cry.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a third year journalism student in University of Limerick


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