Ok! so here’s the deal. I’ve been looking at my screen for 15 minutes now without being able to write a single word. Ironically, I have given myself writer’s block because I’m starting to worry that what I write might not be good enough or grab your interest. Maybe it won’t be as insightful as the million other articles written on the subject of comparison. As the frustration builds I look up other articles for inspiration, but all they do is make me feel anxious. I’m finding myself on a slippery slide of dark thoughts, sinking feelings and a strong need to give up. Sounds familiar?
Luckily i know this roller-coaster of emotion and recognise it for what it is. Its presence is overwhelming yet it can be summed up in these four little letters:
F E A R
Fear of judgement, fear of looking silly, fear of getting it wrong, fear of letting people down … the list goes on. But in essence when we get caught up in all of this thinking we’re scared. Scared of not being good enough and worried we’re not going to measure up. Fear loves it when we hop on this crazy ride and start comparing ourselves to others, the more negative self-talk the better, Fear is ALL over that stuff, crowd-surfing and high-fiving to the tunes of self-doubt. Why? Because it wants to keep you STUCK. Because staying right where you are is Fear’s safe place. It doesn’t want you to take risks or let you put yourself out there. In many ways Fear is nothing but an overprotective Mum, wrapping us up in cotton-wool, keeping an eye on our every move and doing a fabulous job of helicopter parenting. It really just wants to keep us out of harm’s way. Bearing that in mind we don’t need to be upset with Fear, but we don’t need to listen to it either. Its perspective is all skewed.
A big turning point for me, when it comes to my reactions to Fear and feelings of inadequacy, was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She talks about Fear being a natural part of the creative process. It makes sense really when you keep in mind that Fear is just trying to keep us safe. As photographers we are creating and exploring new ways of viewing the world, – this step that we take out of our comfort zone during times of creativity triggers Fear to step into action. Once we are aware of this we can consciously allow these thoughts to flow through our minds, acknowledging their existence but not attaching any importance to the message they have to offer. (I wrote another blog-post that goes into this in more detail. You can read it here.)
A great starting-point in overcoming the tendency to compare, and feeling discouraged as a result, is to become aware of whenever Fear is present, in whichever disguise it might be. In general whenever you feel bad, Fear is the core feeling. So check in with yourself. Ask: “How am I feeling right now?” If you’re not feeling good, dig deeper and try to establish what you might be afraid of. Once you get that bit out in the open the hard part is over. Recognising that your feelings are fear-based is the most important step, because as mentioned earlier Fear is a natural part of the creative process! So really you’re right on track! Exactly where you’re expected to be. Once this really sinks in you will experience a tremendous amount of freedom. Understanding that what is holding you back is actually just a step along the path to where you want to be is incredibly liberating. And I really think that the bigger the Fear we overcome and move past, the bigger the impact we can have with our creative voices. Authentic, original work can only come from a “feeling place” – it comes from feeling the fear and taking action anyway. So use your Fear as fuel. Use it as a stepping stone and let it propel you forward. FEEL IT and then do whatever the hell you intended to do. And then notice how you are now able to do it with great freedom simply because when you create from that “feeling place” deep inside you that is the home of all of your pain, sorrow, joy and wonder, you will tap in to something so unique to you that it would be a crime to keep it from the world. Fear wants you to give up … but when you don’t and when you keep the creative process alive by staying you have reached the place where true beauty unfolds.
A lot of us end up creating while we’re still stuck in the fearful phase. We are referring to other people’s work, second-guessing ourselves and doing the safe thing. We are so close to finding our unique voice. Only a step away, but we stay. I believe it goes like this: Inspiration – Fear – authentic creation. Try to think of it as a three-step process with the middle part being a bit like walking through a dark, scary tunnel. You could turn around and give up. You could sit down, put your head in your hands and feel paralysed by the fear. You could stop and decide this is as good as it’s going to get and start creating despite the lack of light. Or you could just keep walking through the fear until you get out in the light, the open space, the greenery, the sunshine!
I have made my choice! What is yours going to be? Thank you for reading and walking through the tunnel with me.
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Photo taken today during a shoot with my friend and model Rosie Luik.
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