Not how to overcome fear exactly, but why overcoming fear is so important….
You would think that quitting your nicely paid job to chase a seemingly ridiculous dream of being a man with a camera (that people would hopefully pay to make videos and take photos) would be one of the scariest things you could do. A couple of years ago I thought exactly the same thing.
I’ve wanted to work for myself for as long as I have known that I was ‘ok’ at photography. It’s a story I’ve heard a fair few times since I entered the industry. I bought a camera, took some photographs and wanted to improve. I learned and practiced, and when i wasn’t messing with my camera I was reading about technique, composition and the like, gradually improving as I went. I had the confidence to publish some images to Flickr and Facebook and after a few years started to get feedback like, ‘you could get paid to do that’.
I could get paid to do this thing that I found to be immensely good fun?! I could be going here there and everywhere taking photos rather than sitting at a desk populating spreadsheets and planning next years facilities budget? I want some of that! So I tried to work out how it was possible. Granted I didn’t try very hard, as ‘Wedding Photography’ was the first thing that popped into my head. I knew a couple of guys that shot weddings, so worked a couple of gigs with them and my wedding photography business was born.
Business was good, bookings were coming in and I was able to reduce my ‘real job’ to part time hours. After just a few months of working in this way, I was offered a full time position to set up a photo studio for a pretty big retailer. Jackpot. I’m going to get decent increase in salary and I’m just going to take photos all day and have access to all this cool equipment. I couldn’t believe my luck. The weddings continued too, so financially I was much better off than ever before. Life was good, i thought. Awesome even.
This continued for 4 years. It really shouldn’t have.
You see, there’s this thing with creativity in that you really have to love it to commit to it fully. You have to be passionate about what you are creating and passionate about the subject matter that you are working with. Not necessarily all the time – varied work keeps us on our toes, gets us thinking a little differently, and ignites that creative spark even if we don’t care too much for the genre. Of course you can try and force it, but no matter what you try this just does not work. The longer you do this, the more it grinds you down.
You can tell where this is going….
Weddings as it turned out, were not for me. Photographing thousands of pet products (I have no pets, nor any interest in getting one) a year was not for me. I developed similarities in my feelings of both. Initial excitement, the buzz of creating something new, of publication, of challenging myself and of learning. But there were limits to how far I could take this. I’m not for one minute claiming that I mastered either, but with no interest in mastering them the learning and challenges and fun came to a halt.
I stopped shooting weddings in 2017. A year later I wanted to walk away from the Studio job but fear got the better of me. Early 2018 saw us trying for a second child (Finley was born in February 2019) and having a major home extension requiring a remortgage. Not exactly a good time to walk away from a steady paycheque and a job that had now become pretty easy and did not affect my home life. Not in the ways most jobs do anyway, so I decided to stick it out and keep my eye out for different roles. 2018 then turned into one of the worst years of my life.
2007 was bad, 1996 was worse, but 2018 is easily the worst ‘death free’ year in my life (I’ll probably go into my darker past at some other time, it’s not important now. Unintentional cliffhanger, sorry about that!). I don’t think I can describe the feelings I experienced last year, and I’m not sure I can expect people to understand how much not liking a job that is on paper a really nice thing to be doing, can affect ones general wellbeing. My feelings for the Studio job were mainly of my own making – the job was as I’d always expected it to be and expectations were clear and well managed. A lot of it was good fun. But it just didn’t fulfil me creatively. It stopped me from developing and it led to me having negative feelings towards using my camera in any situation. An intelligent scholar once said, “There’s no better way to kill your favourite hobby than to start doing it for money”.
2018 culminated in me being signed off work for stress, anxiety and depression. And it was all because I was too scared to walk away a year before.
Sometimes fear stops us from doing things that, when we look back, are the most obviously beneficial things for our lives.
How many times have you done something scary for it to go horribly wrong and affect your life up to this present day?
I’m guessing not many.
How many times have you been too frightened to do something, been scared into inaction and that affect your life to this present day?
I speak from my own experiences and anecdotal evidence from friends and the wider online community, but I see this so often. Jobs that people stay in too long, relationships that people are too scared to walk away from (and the opposite, being too scared to ask someone out). We build this fear up into a life or death feeling, but if we contextualise it as I have above, we’re screwing with our own lives by NOT committing to the action.
I handed in my notice in Dceember 2018, and left 3 months later. The fear told me that I may have been in a slight financial pickle by quitting when i initially wanted to in 2018. When i look at what i dealt with instead, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in life was not resigning in 2018. Financially, I picked a worse time (higher mortgage payments in action, second child 3 weeks old so my Wife had only just gone onto maternity leave), and mentally it took me (from the point of being signed off and getting help) somewhere between 10 months and a year to get over.
I set out writing this post to highlight how fear was affecting me now in my 10th month of working for myself, but I’m not sure I’ve fully learnt my own lessons and embraced the fear as I should. Building a resistance against this fear is a mammoth task that fully relies on our self esteem and the confidence we have not only in ourselves, but in our work. I’m going to discuss this more in a future blog post – the back story to this one took a fair bit longer to navigate than anticipated!
Earlier I said that you would think that quitting my job to work for myself would be one of the scariest things that I could do, and it wasn’t in the end. That’s because by the time I actually did it, I didn’t think I had any other choice – I just had to leave. Being too scared initially led me to this worse place of feeling trapped, and then without option. I look back now and don’t see it as a scary choice at the time I eventually made it. The scarier choice would have been carrying on.
Now, I’m in a position where I love what I do, who I work with, and the varied projects that I am a part of.
But please think. How is fear currently affecting your life? How could taking a difficult decision now dramatically improve your next 12-18 months? Try and project yourself into that future you and look back. I wish I’d done this back in 2018, so please don’t fall into the same trap of inaction.
What are you scared of doing or not doing right now? Let me know in the comments below, sharing these things and talking them through with others could be a great first step.