Every ticking second of our lives is a gentle knocking on our door, urging us to move forward, to conquer, to grow, to embrace ourselves, and to find depth in purpose. Often the opportunity to break free from mediocrity comes to us through ‘this shadow’. The darkness hovers over us in the shape of sorrow, sickness, death, doubts, loss, rejection, failure and fear. The battles that destiny throws our way set the stage for growth and change, so that we may find strength for our voice in the universe. Yet the strength is not just for ourselves, but for people around us and for generations to come.
William Wilberforce, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth Blackwell, Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzei are just a few people who changed history and impacted our lives, because they believed that the change they desired was worth fighting for. Our lives, our background, or what we are facing today may be different, but what we do have in common is that we all are presented with opportunities to grow and resist mediocrity. One common denominator that we have with the heroes we respect is that we will face fear as we seek to move forward.
So how do we face fear? The way we respond to our fears will ultimately determine how we live our lives. We all know the feelings of fear: our hearts beat faster, our muscles tense up, we sweat more, our stomachs cramp, our thoughts spiral downward as into a dark, bottomless pit. Fear. I entered in the search bar on Amazon.com’s book department the word fear. It showed me over 50,000 results. That was not even Google! This is just a hint that we are not battling fear alone. There are so many topics on facing, conquering, fighting, and overcoming your fears. We in the western world believe that this is how we have to handle fear. It is a weakness so we must get rid of it.
I am aware I am writing this to creative, amazing artists I look up to and who have already overcome many challenges to be where they are today. You are artists who are not only really good at what you are doing, but also strive to do better. You refuse to be tied up in how many likes you get on social media for your work or even how many clients you have, but instead want to pursue your passion to create something extraordinary. You even encourage others on the way to do the same. Deep inside, you dream to leave behind stories with your art that will inspire hope. But what I’d like to do with this post is take you a step further, and give you a deeper awareness of a buried and underrated emotion. I’d like to draw you an artistic view of fear. I want to show you that fear is ultimately for our advantage.
What if we called fear by a different name? Instead of calling it fear, we will name it a story — an amazing act of the imagination. Vivid imagination that children and visionaries are haunted with. As profound and insightful as storytelling itself. Fear is a type of unintentional storytelling that we are all born knowing how to do. Fear and storytelling have the same components, the same architecture. Like all stories, fears have characters and plots. Our fears also have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They also tend to contain imagery, every bit as vivid as in the pages of a novel. Fears also have suspense. They provoke in us a suspense that makes us want to know what will happen next. Just like all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question as important in life as in a story: what will happen next? In other words, our fears make us think about our future. Humans are the only species who can project ourselves forward in time. This mental time traveling is one more thing that our fears have in common with storytelling. A big part of telling a story is to predict how one event in a story will effect all the other events. Fear has this same trickle effect as storytelling. It predicts each next move, and ultimately the outcome.
See Karen Thompson Walker’s TED talk titled “What Fear Can Teach Us” for more fascinating discussion on this topic.
Let’s listen closely to our story. Every storyteller needs a good listener. When we can figure out what might happen next in our story, we won’t have to dismiss our fears, but instead we can use them to prepare ourselves so we don’t completely lose our way. We all know that we can’t always be prepared for all outcomes, but we can become visionaries, going back again and again to what we want our full story to look like. The following thoughts are a few ideas from other incredible photographers who embrace this visionary mindset, and who soar far above mediocrity. It is not about how big our clients list is, how many followers we have on Instagram, or if we’re able to join the trend. It’s about becoming the best we can be and finding the satisfaction that comes through a battle fought well and a hungry, creative heart being stilled.
Become vulnerable. Be honest, courageous, and loving.
Embrace fully who you are, the good and the not so good.
Make a plan. Write down where you want to go, what you want to accomplish, and how to get there.
Find your tribe. Find the people who want to go beyond themselves and will cheer for you.
Create what moves you, what makes your heart sing, and your mind peaceful.
Practice, practice, practice! 😉
Be kind to yourself and to others. It is a process.
As you learn to embrace fear and reach for your full potential, ask yourself these questions. What are my goals? Who do I want to become as a photographer? Who am I as a photographer? Why do I see the world as I do? What can I do when my work gets rejected? How will I handle success? What and how am I investing into my talent? What is my plan for the next few months, weeks, days? Let these thoughts help prepare you for which direction your story will go.
I got my first DSLR in October 2018 and I had no clue how it worked. I joined a beginners photographer group on Facebook and started to shoot in manual two weeks after receiving my camera. I practiced often with tears and frustration to apply the triangle exposure. There were times I wanted to give up, but then decided to push through because I paid quite a bit for my camera. I promised myself that I can quit after I manage to shoot in manual. The beginners photographer group was great and so resourceful, but after a few months I felt this hunger for more with my new hobby. I didn’t know exactly what it was I was looking for because under my small horizon, I could only see shooting in manual. While googling what other “real” photographers were doing, I came across Hello Storyteller Community on Facebook. I fell in love with all the work I saw. I had no clue what I was looking at, but I felt that my creative hunger had found something tangible. It had found a home. I would get on the blog and read, and then go back on Facebook and look at the photos. Often my heart was amazed, but my mind had no clue what I was reading or looking at.
One day the thought came to my mind to post my own photo. However, I rejected the thought immediately. Then one day I started to read my story. In my story I felt so small and wanted to hide in the shadows deep inside of me. There were days I posted a photo and deleted it right away, or tagged Hellostoryteller and removed it quickly. My story was telling me that I was not good enough to be sharing my art with these artists who are not only amazing, but have traveled the path for years.They could put into words what was moving about a photo. I was still figuring out my exposure! So I thought I had no business even thinking to share my work with them. I didn’t want anyone to roll their eyes and think, Here she goes again. This is so ridiculous. Please, come back in maybe 10 years…no let’s make it 15! I do not belong, I thought.
But my heart kept gently tugging me in their direction. Finally, as I was reading my story more closely, I asked myself, what will happen next? And then I realized that the opportunity to grow was knocking on my door. So I started to post from time to time, with my heart beating fast, sweaty hands, and all kinds of thoughts of angst. If you get to know me, you will see that I am not a shy person at all. But I realized I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I didn’t mind sharing my photos with the beginners group, but sharing with those I felt were amazing scared the heck out of me. It meant letting go of control, it meant vulnerability, and it meant complete honesty.
Most times when I shared my photos I got one like and a sweet comment from one of the admin. I didn’t care, but it made me think about what I can do differently. I could take a class, read on the topic, invest in some way to grow. What makes this artist’s work great and mine only gets one like? I kept searching for more ways to improve.
Then just after a few weeks, I noticed the more I posted my creativity, and the more my desire grew in wanting to be better and reject mediocrity, the more my work grew into something beautiful and strong. It was like a clear new day was dawning. The shadows were passing. I wasn’t frustrated anymore when I couldn’t figure out something new. Instead, I wanted to learn about light, color, emotions, connection and storytelling. I was excited to learn! I began to see a path forming that I wanted to walk. I was blown away by this change because I didn’t expect it. And that, my friends, was far beyond what I could have asked for.
I am thankful for the admins at HelloStoryteller and their kind comments, because it is so good not to feel ‘rejection’ in any way, but to be welcomed. They showed honesty in not painting a false picture of my work, saying Oh my, this is AMAZING when they knew it was not. I know there is a mentality that everybody should receive a medal for participating in a race, and not just the winner. But that won’t help us grow. Let us seek authenticity. When we are vulnerable and embrace ourselves and our fears, then we will be kind to others as well and cheer on one another. And we will find our storytelling to be authentic, relatable, and beautiful. This is a place of growth and success we all want to be.