Let’s Talk About Fear

by | Jul 18, 2019

I want to talk about fear for a minute.

I’m involved in a year-long mentoring program run by David duChemin. I am learning a lot, it’s pushing me to explore things very far out of my comfort zone, and I’m enjoying the process a lot. Leaving my comfort zone scares the crap out of me.

I’m not alone. Dealing with that fear has been a common thread in discussions within that group. We’re all afraid of failure, of being judged. People are intimidated by what they see others do. People are afraid to talk, to post images — afraid they’ll be judged and found not worthy.

I’m there, too. Fear is one of the hardest things to overcome in creative endeavours, and I don’t know that you ever beat it, but you can pummel it into obedience if you try.

A big reason I’m enjoying this mentoring group is that it is incredibly positive and constructive. You can look around all of the conversations and you don’t see people judging images harshly. It is also, as an aside, a really talented group. In the few months I’ve been involved I can only remember seeing one picture where I thought to myself I’d be embarrassed to post it (but I didn’t say that in public, of course. Not constructive).

The fear that’s holding you back isn’t based in logic, but fear never is. Find the ability to push it away for a bit and dive in, and you’ll see that fear you’re fighting has no basis in reality. Doesn’t make it any less real, but that can give you a handle to pull to get it under control.

So here’s my fear story, to help show you’re not alone. I have spent a chunk of the day making hotel reservations, first for Victoria BC, a city I love and haven’t visited in a decade, and then for a photo workshop that I’ve been wanting to take for over two years now.

A big reason I haven’t been to Victoria in a decade is because I now have mobility limits and Victoria is a wonderful walking city. For the last few years, I’ve vetoed the trip because I’ve been afraid to go and not be able to enjoy it the way I want to. This year? I’m going, I’m using it as a deadline to push me at improving my mobility to the best I can, and my wife and I will simply figure it out around my limits. I’ve been able to push back the fear because, honestly, visiting Victoria with limits is a lot better than avoiding Victoria because of them, and I’ve finally pushed my way past that wall of fear I’ve been fighting for literally years. But this year, we’re going to go back (and maybe buy David and Cynthia dinner if schedules align).

The photo workshop? In September I’m driving up to Lake Quinault, Washington, in the Olympic National Forest, where I’m going to take a workshop from Art Wolfe. Art Bleeping Wolfe. For four days it’ll be Art, two assistant teachers, and eight people. Eleven of us max.

Wanna talk about stone dead fear? Art Wolfe is going to be expecting me to make images every day, and then judging them in front of the group. Consider doing that, folks, and you’ll realize posting your images here for discussion isn’t really so bad… (giggle)

What got me to finally grapple these fears and get past them?

David DuChemin, his classes, and this place. David’s discussions about thoughtfulness and managing expectations and constraints. Also, frankly, David falling off a wall in Italy, and watching as he pulled himself past that and has pushed himself forward and moved on. Every time I sort of want to feel sorry for my knees, his legs remind me I’m not so bad off unless I let myself feel sorry for myself…

David also got my brain unstuck after I successfully got myself so messed up about expectations of success and fear of failing to meet them I stopped being able to take landscape shots without feeling sick about the results. That’s been a slow process of getting back to being productive, and I don’t know that I’d have ever gotten there without this place giving me a different perspective, a constructive place to hash things out and get feedback, and some very welcome advice and suggestions from you all.

As FDR said, the only thing to fear is fear itself, but that’s a very big, very real monster. But it’s one you can manage and conquer — and should, because getting past it, you’ll find the fear is unwarranted and the place beyond it is kinda cool and fun. But the only way to do that is to just put the fear in a closet and do things, because otherwise, you’ll be that guy who really misses a city he loves but is unwilling to visit it because it might prove him unworthy.

Yeah, right. When put that way, see how silly the fear is? Only took me about three years to figure that out.

And the only way to start conquering the fear is to put yourself out there and do the things you’re afraid up, so you can find out the response really isn’t that bad, and actually, is kinda fun and useful. But you have to start, or the fear wins (and fear winning kinda sucks. Trust me).

To those of you afraid of putting yourself out there a bit, try it. it’s not so bad. It’s definitely not so bad as, oh, falling off a wall in Italy is bad. And really: we don’t bite.

(unless you like being bitten, of course)

This is a hard lesson I’ve learned over time: The fear is often the hardest challenge to overcome to push yourself forward grow — and the thing you fear almost never actually happens; in fact, what I find when I open up and talk about these things is I get a lot of strong and positive feedback, and I hear from people struggling with the same challenges who, having found out they aren’t alone, find it a little easier to grapple with those challenges.

So yeah, fear. It’s hard, but it’s one of those fights worth fighting, because once you get past it, you realize it never was a monster, but only a shadow. But in the moment…