Mike, your question is simple, but not so easy to answer. I am taking photographs for a variety of reasons: for my own enjoyment as a hobby, for the enjoyment of people who see in my photos something pleasing or unexpected, for getting me out into nature, for communicating a problem and/or solution to something that matters, for documenting something from a historical perspective, for maintaining the plasticity of my brain, among other things still unknown. Whenever I hit a wall in my photography journey I just put it on hold and go do something else, and let inspiration come to me naturally. Thankfully I don’t rely on my photography to make a living!
Regarding competitions, my goal is to become a better photographer by objectively taking in the judges’ comments, not only on my images but every submitter’s images. In addition, I enjoy seeing what other photographers are submitting. When I start taking the judging comments personally or get consumed by winning and losing, that’s when I need to chill out, for it’s easy to get caught up in the competitive spirit and lose the plot. So, what is the plot? Perhaps it is to do something worthwhile, to apply our evolving photography skills toward a project that serves the greater community, for example, making North Bay cities more resistant to mega-wildfires, fighting climate change, or something else that stirs your passion.
Thanks for motivating me to think about your important question.