To my own embarrassment, my shooting of 25 years did not improve until I starting working as a corporate photographer on products and events some 12 years ago. My feedback went from family and friends whom outright lied to me: "Oh. That's nice, Pete." To honest directors and managers whom would comment: "What is this?", "What are you trying to convey?" and "Shoot it again!" While my friends were trying to be nice, my co-workers and clients had their jobs on the line, and I damn well better listen if I wanted to keep mine, and get paid.
I stopped shooting things because for the sake of awards and a prints on the wall, and shot to document or describe an event or thing. Some of the shots in my early days that hit the reject pile for not being artsy, actually wound up being the best received. I was amazed when I used Face Book for this, not for the narcissism, but to see what others liked vs. what I thought was the winner. The shots that described emotion, especially when folks were not aware of the camera, was the hammer that rings peoples bells. For those of you whom crave the feedback, consider the quality of that feedback. Is it honest and genuine?
The other thing I learned was that photography is a recording tool that places a viewer in that moment. When you consider the audiences perspective... like shooting a rock band, not in the pit with a wide lens as most do, but ten rows back, including heads, hands and arms of the spectators -they're a part of the event, too. It was a hard lesson to learn, and a new habit I needed to adopt if I wanted to eat.
In short, I stopped shooting for me, and started shooting for... you.
yes, if you are in this to make a living, you often are forced to shoot to satisfy someone other than yourself. Many of us have experienced that throughout our careers. But many of us continue to also shoot for ourselves ... they are not mutually exclusive. Without that, it's just a job, and while it may be financially rewarding, it may not be fulfilling. There are certainly some that shoot what they love the most and have managed to figure out how to make that pay. Many shoot for themselves, and choose to do something else for financial support ... there are many talented and outstanding photographers who are not professionals. And it seems for some reason we forget the appeal that made us get into photography, and can't understand why so many try to do what we do. Nothing has changed other than the cost of entry and of learning has dropped dramatically so many more can afford to try their hand at it.
If you are only shooting for others, and really only care about what those you shoot for think that's fine. But just because you are making them happy doesn't mean anything at all about the quality of your work other than to them. sure it's important, but this feedback is of pretty limited value. And if that's all you care about, then it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, and I'm not sure why you bother showing your friends the work anyway (maybe you don't anymore). but if you are shooting to try and be a better photographer and shooting work you love as well, then it's pretty easy to tell when your friends are just being "nice" ... you call it lying which is pretty disrespectful, and when they are sincere. Certainly judging the impact and appeal of your work to a group such as this has some value. As far as competition, each to their own. Some competitions are judged by talented and skilled people, ones without any agenda other than the merits of each image they see. Others not so much (as is the case of this "competition" which turns out not to be a photography competition anyway so the entire premise of the authors article really doesn't apply and just exposes his own personal opinion and agenda). As an example, I see the work that Josh Holku does, and it's obvious to me he's extremely talented and has a great eye ... I really like what he does. I also notice he's won many awards from a couple of groups. To me this means those groups are judging the work in the way I appreciate. It doesn't make them right or wrong, but if that's the type of work a person does, entering a competition like that would have some value and decent feedback.
I was a portrait photographer for many years and while it payed the bills, I really lost passion for it. Now that I've retired, I can do what I love, which is landscape work, and am constantly trying to improve both my craft and my eye. I actually enjoy photography immensely now, and since I no longer need it to support myself and my family I can shoot just for myself (that doesn't mean I no longer earn income with it). I think that plus freedom from the restrictions of film have made the past several years my most enjoyable since I became a professional photographer back in 1975.