I began taking photos more seriously when I got my E-PL1, and, ironically enough, not when I got my first DSLR.
I didn't really aim on becoming a "pro" photographer, I just wanted to be really
good at recording my young family's moments. Of course I've toyed with the idea of recognition (seriously, who doesn't), but it wasn't really my driving motivation. And, while reading some tips for beginners, I came across one that says join any weekly/monthly photo challenge. So I joined the Boston Globe's monthly contest for amateur photographers - just something to aim for every month, and hoping in the process I'll "see" better.
So, long story short, I got my first "recognition" as one of the Top 12
out of about 250 entries for its May theme "Reflections". It's chosen by a guest judge who's a professional photographer. I know, I didn't win, but still ... baby steps!
And this is a really good time to express my gratitude to this forum - about 90% of the education I am getting comes from here.
(My entry is actually one of my earlier shots with the E-PL1, and one of my first attempts at B&W. I really just had it everywhere back then.)