The problem with wedding photography has nothing to do with photography. It has nothing to do with exposure and f-stops and whether this looks like film or that works as a print. It has nothing to do with light and composition or even emotion or feeling on their own. The problem with wedding photography, in fact, is distinctly non-photographic.
The problem is Iceland.
This is an industry where there isn’t a week that goes by where the stakes aren’t ratcheted up a notch. Where the landscapes don’t loom a little more dramatic, where the couples don’t get a little smaller, and the compositions grow more impressive. A high stakes game being battled across the globe in locations near and far and so commonly settling in Iceland, as the hills sing with the sound of shutters clicking and couples trekking.
Each year, the light gets prettier, the cliffs become steeper, and the pictures are stunning – more than enough to satiate the wanderlust in every flip-phone toting, card-carrying, hipster heart. Raggedy-yet-graceful couples walking up hills, down hills, staring at oceans, and standing in forests.
But for all that, no matter how stunning and how impressive, the question isn’t about how well you take the picture. The prettiness may make it all go down a hell of a lot easier, but it will never be a replacement for what really matters: having something to say.
While it may be the age of unending fetish, no VSCO filter, no stock of Kodachrome, no place, no space – none of it means anything if there isn’t a point of view stirring inside the person who clicks the button.
Yes, pictures have improved. But as the haze lifts and the talent grows, what becomes clear is that the plague of the wedding industry isn’t its sheer crappiness. We’re finally starting to steer clear of that. It’s the pervasive sameness that has defined this industry from the start. Where craft is concerned, crappiness and sameness are worlds apart. But insofar as the art, heart, and soul of the medium goes, they remain one and the same.
This is a time of a thousand variations of couples center-framed, space-enclosed, holding hands, and looking somewhere, anywhere, and everywhere. And I’ll fess up now. I, too, am guilty.
What’s wrong with sameness? It sells. It’s sexy. It’s hot. Why not?
Because people are more. Couples are more. Because we are more. If you buy the party line – and this is a line I’ll buy hook, line, and sinker – that we all have something to say – that we all have something to offer – then sameness is most certainly a problem.
We are defined by how we are different. No one says you’re you because the things you do or the beliefs you have are just like everyone else. You are you, because of all the ways you’re different. That’s how it goes. We are our exceptions, not our conformity.
And we all have something stirring inside of us. Everyone has a way of doing things. But many never put it to use nor pay it heed, instead, chasing the chase, looking for better in all the wrong places.
You see it in the battles of the moment and the talk of the times. There’s the white hot fight to see who can produce the truest film emulation. The crusade for printing prints. The unending litany of discussions about the cameras we use. Do we stick to a DSLR or go mirrorless? Do we shoot digital at all? And what format, if we go film? Check out the Leica M Edition 60 if you want to see the ultimate conceit of the now. All digital, no LCD viewfinder. Get the hardness of digital and the limitations of film for $19K. Nice.
This all misses the point.
The question isn’t how good a film emulation is. It’s why you use it. I’ve seen many a conversation comparing film stock presets. I’ve seen all of none telling us why it matters. If you don’t have an answer why getting 98% of the way to Portra 400 is better than 96%, then who really cares about the rest? Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter, but that the question of why needs to come first, or else it’s the chase for the sake of the chase.
Authenticity is only valuable when you understand it well enough to let go of it. The moment we cling to the authentic for itself is the moment it loses its original purpose.
It’s not digital or film. Print or screen. It’s what you have to say with them. How you use them. And if the answer is only going to go as far as the mysterious beauty of the grain structure or how a different technology makes you slow down and think, that’s not even close to far enough.
Beauty for what? To say what about the world? About your subject? Slowing down and thinking, though great, did all of nothing to make every film photographer anything close to brilliant before digital hit the scene. Most people were just slow and bad.
Thinking about light, composition, and timing is one thing. Thinking about what life, love, and living is for is another. And that is the problem with Iceland.
Not that so many have gone to the ends of the earth and back to find the ultimate shot. That, in and of itself is fine. But that so many people wander through the mist and climb the hills – whether it be in Iceland, California, or across the street – only to bring back something so similar to so much without asking what their own private Iceland was. That we chase the look and not the meaning.
Great photographers find novel ways to show similar subjects. Sameness disparages the complexity and beauty of who we are.
Live life first.
Not through the camera. Not for the camera. But with the camera. Sit on a sidewalk and watch the people pass. See how you feel about them. Not what looks like some shot you’ve seen before from a hero of the past. But what YOU feel. Put that in your pictures.
Read a book and think about what people are. What is marriage for to you? What is love for to you? How does your choice of framing, composition, filtering, and camera make this opinion – this belief in your heart – indisputably clear? Step out of your role as the photographer and forget about what you’re supposed to shoot. Find what you need to shoot.
Be conscious of your possibility.
The world doesn’t need you to solve what’s already been solved. It’s waiting for you to solve what hasn’t. It’s waiting to hear what you have to say. Don’t check yourself in at the door. Don’t run from who you’ve fought to become. Wear it. Show it. And make that lead the way.
Einstein once said if he had an hour to save the world, he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution. What’s unfortunate is if you research this carefully, you’d find he probably never said that (I, on the other hand, did not research this carefully, but I did Google it and found this article).
What is fortunate is this makes for a great quote that reveals an essential truth about creative thinking: Answers are bad. Questions are good.
Read on, to see how it worked for Steve Jobs, how it stops photographers in their tracks, and why Jeff Goldblum can save your life.
FOCUSING ON ANSWERS BLINDS YOU TO THE OBVIOUS
Answers are only as useful as the questions they serve. Or, to put it another way, creative thinking isn’t answering questions. It’s asking them. Think about it. How many times have you thought to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Because you know you could have. But the odds are the reason you didn’t see the obvious is because you didn’t ask the obscure.
Bad questions are stifling. Why? Because all questions are packed with assumptions –horrible, mind-numbing, headache-inducing assumptions – and until you can untangle this morass of evil assumptions, answers have limited value. Worse yet, bad questions are not only packed with the most assumptions of all, but they’re also the first questions to come to mind, so when we set out on solving a problem without taking the time to reframe it, we implicitly accept the status quo instead of taking a fresh look at the issue .
For example, the entire computer industry spent years in the early 2000′s trying to make the tablet work. Why did Steve Jobs get it done, when everyone else couldn’t? Well, yes, sure, because he’s Steve Jobs, there’s that. But the real problem was everyone was asking the wrong question.
The whole industry was asking “How do I stuff a computer into a tablet format?” That was insurmountable, because they had to figure out how to create a machine that could do everything without the physical tools (keyboard, mouse) and space (form factor, screen size) a full computer necessitates. Because of that, what they produced were slow tablets with clunky interfaces that plain sucked.
If Apple had asked the same question, there wouldn’t be an iPad. But that’s not what they asked. Instead, they asked what are the basic features people need when they’re on the go? By asking that, they could let go of all the legacy functions in a full-sized computer and create something that worked exceptionally well for a few specific purposes. Problem solved.
And so it goes in this industry, as well.
Do you need to give out close to a thousand pictures to your clients? And I’m not actually saying you should or shouldn’t. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t – it depends on who you are. But here’s one thing I can guarantee. Asking how many pictures you should give, whether it’s a lot or not is a useless question. How do you even draw a conclusion to that? Research? Ask people? Do an a/b comparison for five years to gather data? Way too hard.
The types of things you’d want to ask is what matters to your clients and why. Or what makes people hire you? Or how you get the results you get? Or, even, if you’re going to insist on focusing on the numbers, then ask ask what types of numbers will get people’s attention and generate more business. Either way, quantity alone won’t get you anywhere without a reason behind it.
HOW PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOOT THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT
And it’s not just a business problem. In fact, asking good questions is the essence of creativity.
Look at the way people typically learn. They see a picture they like. They find out how to replicate it, and they spend the next year shooting everything they can to look just like that. Sometimes the next ten years. Sometimes, the rest of their lives. But asking how to achieve a technique, though a necessary part of the process, is also one of the least important questions to answer. If voice begins when differentiation begins, then asking the same questions as everyone else is the hardest way to get there.
A gaggle of photographers running around in an open field at golden hour shooting the same model might improve some portfolios, but it will do nothing to up their vision. Vision is not technique. It’s not ability. Sure, you need these to execute, but vision comes from somewhere much deeper. A place you find by asking better questions.
The whole reason the greats can run wild, break the rules like twigs, and trample over convention is that they’re solving different problems than everything else. They don’t just say, “How do I reproduce this picture?” They ask “What makes a better picture?” Better yet, “What makes people react?” And they know what their answers are. Ansel Adams was famously technical, but his command of the camera and darkroom always served a greater function – observation and ideas.
Good questions open up possibility and expand thought. They engage you and let you ask even more questions and become more interested. They let your brain make the essential connections to see the world differently. That’s voice. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “[They] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And that’s what’s essential.
Asking better questions isn’t just a theory to expand your horizons. Asking better questions is a necessity to stand out. It’s a necessity to keep yourself involved in your own business and your own art and your own life. It’s lets you become more, and it’s the activity that most people never bother to do, which means the advantages are vast. So before asking how to do something, ask what the value of that thing is. Otherwise, you wind up getting eaten by dinosaurs.
It’s Saturday morning.
Your stomach churns, your guts twist up in knots, and thoughts of what’s ahead pour into your mind. You stammer out of bed and screw up your courage, ready to put it all on the line.
You’ve followed Accuweather all week, you’ve got Dark Sky loaded, and your bag pulls like a ton of bricks with more gear than Batman and more cards than Vegas, because you’re ready to roll if the shit hits the fan, and you know what’s coming down the pipes.
It’s hard, it’s bruising, it takes everything you’ve got.
And you surely do know what’s coming, because you’ve cut out swaths of your life just to think about every single thing that could go wrong each step of the way. So much so, it sifts into your dreams and drifts into your head in the middle your days like a bolt from the blue. From the focus that won’t hit to the camera that could die. From filling your card right as the bride steps into the aisle to a flash running out of juice as the first dance kicks into gear. And despite that, something new goes wrong. Every. Single. Time.
Aimee Mann said it right:
It’s not what you thought
When you first began it
You got what you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
Your world spins in perpetual motion, steady and ready on the outside, at the edge of control within, and in every moment of the day and every second that passes by, you’re forced to make the call. The information is a torrent, hitting your senses without a break. When’s the kiss happening? Are the place cards in place? And how much darker can it possibly get? A mom tells you not to miss this, your gut tells you not to miss that, and no matter what you decide and where you point and shoot, there will always be more to think about, more to consider, and more you’ll miss than you can possibly get.
It’s true. It doesn’t stop. But if you’re in it and at it, you have to decide whether you’re really going to do it, because there are only two ways out. Either quit early and cut your losses, or you make your way through to the other side. Just don’t stand in the middle of the road, where traffic will plow you down.
And it’s not just the shot that’s on the line, but your reputation, your livelihood, and every ounce of integrity you have. And integrity is no exaggeration, because it can bleed out faster than you can ask a bridal party to jump in the air.
Who are you, what do you say, and where are going? There’s nothing but nothing that won’t define who you are, as you constantly search the depths of your soul. Are you going to play it safe? Are you going all out? There’s every reason not to do anything and no reason not to do everything. It’s all in your hands.
It’s the middle of the road where you sell yourself short. The middle of the road, where you can’t do more than fight to survive. And there’s nothing wrong with survival, but you’re built for more than taking the hits. When you find what you have to say, every moment is an opportunity, and every act is a chance for self-expression.
Every weekend you pit you against you against you in a match to the death, and only one person makes it out of the ring. It’s a high wire act with an empty stomach, a full head, and a once in a lifetime day every single week, where only one missed shot can send you into a tailspin.
This is a world where everything’s a pitch. Five tips for this. Ten ways to do that. A single secret to conquer them all. You’ll learn how to spend more time avoiding work than doing it, which is the surest way never to get anything done, because the more you run, the more you feel the hurt, and the more you feel the hurt, the more you run. You create a cycle of detachment that exchanges the brilliance and clarity of the possible for a duller, more lifeless version of the now. Temptation will tell you to check your vision at the door for the promise of heaps of cash and unending ease, but muting your voice so you can just suck up the pain is too much to give.
And it only gets harder when the week comes along. After 8 hours of standing and ten miles of walking, your feet are a wreck, your body is in shambles, and you still have the rest of your business to run. A slave to little, red notifications and emails received, you have blogs to follow, people to read, and the unending keep of your manicured digital front.
It’s never what you thought. It’s never what you’d hoped. Like love, reality is at its best and fullest when you take it for all that it is. It’s at its worst, when you can only wish it were something else. It’s never what anyone thinks, and that’s the beauty of it all. Only when you feel the texture of your life for good and for bad do you see how far you can go.
You blow through a day and get nothing done. A week passes by, and you forget what took place. You clean out your gear and sync up your clocks. You sort, you tone, and Friday comes around. You sneak out for some drinks, but you know just what’s in store. You pull out your phone and take a peek at the weather, and you brace yourself, so you can do it again.
Do it different. Do it fully. Dive right into the heart of it all, living and breathing every part of your life. Don’t focus on making more and doing less. Don’t think about just making it through. Steer into the skid, learn to love, and learn to find. Take problems out, leaving them down for the count, and don’t look for the answers you need. Answers curtail your options and limit your channels. Ask better questions, instead. Questions explode the possible, making the static, alive. If you’re chasing the dragon, the true high is never going to hit, but when you see the unlimited, you touch your purpose and feel your worth. Fun and fulfillment are the byproducts of a life fully lived. Live it all wholly and fully, and your Saturdays will never be the same.
Man, that is one bad thumbnail. I’m not sure if I look more like I’m about to sneeze or pass out, but check out the video below to get past that thing, and find out my favorite sales technique. It’s dirt simple. It comes up time and again. And you can use it almost anytime someone asks you a question, no matter how hard the question is. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.
When it comes down to it, great sales doesn’t mean selling well. It’s connecting, and the best way to connect is questions, questions, and more questions. What sales techniques have worked for you? Share your experiences in the comments below.
I love beginnings. Shiny and new and oh-so-enticing, before an edge frays or the varnish peels, beginnings offer the promise of the perfect. And while old can have its own special charm – a well-worn, comforting companion with the battle scars of achievements hard-earned, how often do we really get there? How often do we stick it out and push past all the starts, through the hard and the hurt and finally make it to the other side?
My life is closet packed with dreams that never came and hopes that didn’t happen. Brush aside the cobwebs, blow off the dust, and you’ll find this business here, that career there. A rebrand for a rebrand that never took hold, a world forever 3 simple steps away from success. Potent and seductive, chasing the chase, I inhabit a world of constant beginnings.
But this is the question we have to ask: Are you getting it done? Or are you just surfing the Kool Aid?
We think of disillusionment as a loss. Crestfallen from our once great heights, we hit the skids, as we pick up the pieces and come to terms with a life that ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This is a world that loves the Kool Aid. That feeling of endless power and infinite hope that comes at the cusp of the possible right before you step into the soup. It feels so good. Why would you want to ruin it with reality? Sometimes, it’s easier to live in the dream than to live the dream.
But dreams end and reality doesn’t, and if you care to make good on all the promises you make to yourself, you’ve gotta take the dive and plow headlong into the real, because infinity lives in the the belly of the beast.
After all, isn’t disillusionment what we really want?
In the simplest sense, it’s not betrayal or burnout or the end of the road. It’s the moment the air clears and the illusion lifts. But the exact meaning of disillusionment is being free of illusion, so it’s also the moment you can truly see what’s really been in front of your eyes all along, and if at that point, you want the dream and you want the blue pill and you want to go back, the problem isn’t the loss of the dream. It’s that you had the wrong dream to start.
As Steven Pressfield would say, artists do the work. It’s not the hope that fills the void. It’s doing. It’s getting down and dirty, wrapping your hands around your life, and racking your brain each and every step of the way. It’s clarity and making it past the courtship, and keeping at it until the dream is gone, reality is there, and it is better than your dream. Not so much that dreams must die, but that to live, they must become more.
Photography isn’t going to make your problems go away. Business won’t. Neither will a new USB drive with a custom logo, a new website, or the right film filter. In fact, most things create as many problems as they solve. But they’re also an opportunity to do the best thing the world is going to give you. To feel the texture of your life, to engage with your true potential, and to find open doors you never saw. Don’t run away from these things. See how far you can go.
I love the getting and the going, and I love fresh new starts. But you can only hop from hope to hope so many times. You can only go so far on borrowed promises and the illusions we let ourselves believe in the face of the new. At some point, you need to break out, and instead of looking for the next big thing, learn to love the small things along the way. Because as wonderful as beginnings are, nothing beats being in the middle of it all.
I’ve had days where getting out of bed was its own special challenge. Where nothing sounded better than hiding under the covers, paralyzed by a fear of failure that wouldn’t let go, and the only way I could cope was not to cope at all. I’d let the time pass, until darkness came, another day gone. And so often, I’d furrow deep into my mind and wonder where it all went. Where the hope went. Where the certainty went. What happened to the me of yesterday?
It used to be you had security. Drinks at lunch, a bar in the office, and a 9-to-5 job with a career ahead. You paid your dues, you got in, and you rode the slipstream right into your sunny retirement with the gold watch and Mai Tais on the beach. But those are days long gone in a new economy that’s becoming well worn.
Now we’ve got the age of reinvention. A carrot on a stick and a constant chase. You go at it. You go hard. If you don’t make it, you take a breath, and do it all over again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And if you do make it? You ride it, then you take a breath, and you do it all over again. Whatever you do, you can’t coast. Not now. Not when it’s only you. Not when constant concern and an endless fight defines the day. Go big or go home has never been more true. As Andrew Ross says in Nice Work if You Can Get It, it’s a Jackpot Economy.
Uncertainty is the new normal, and braving it is more than just brave. It’s essential and necessary, and as gutsy it gets – risking failure for every small success. Something works, so what? The slipstream is gone, so all you can do is double down and go on.
But here’s something to think about. In the face of this constant reinvention, where you up the stakes every single step of the way – where even retreat offers barely a pause and hardly a rest – consider this:
Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert found lottery winners returned back to previous levels of happiness after only 3 years. We simply adjust. Which we all know, because you get something new – the fast new computer, the shiny car, or the big contract – and it takes no time at all before the dissatisfaction returns, and we’re right back at it, looking to the next thing.
But if it’s true that we adjust no matter what happens, because that’s how we are, then here’s the corollary: when you lose something, you’ll normalize too. Your body takes care of itself. It feels like you’re risking the world every time you take a step forward. And maybe it’s always been that way, but the tension has been ratcheted up more than a few notches as we live at the speed of data. But know if you slip and fall, you’ll bounce back just the same. Which Daniel Gilbert also confirmed. Like lottery winners, amputees returned to their normal level of happiness, as well.
For all the glory of living your way, there’s also a gnawing fear when so much is on the line. Even the smallest of things can feel monumental. So much so that it can be easier to cradle yourself tight and let the time pass than to take the risk and make the wrong call. It may seem like there’s more skin in the game now than ever, but if a win is only going to last so long, a loss is just part of equation, and we always bounce back to where we were and who we are, then in reality going big never cost less. So let go of the worry. Let go of the drag on your wings that keep you from flight. Once you do that, you’ll find the hope. You’ll find yourself. And you’ll find tomorrow.
Frames are highly undervalued things. Subservient to the art and often unnoticed in function, they’re rarely prized as possessions nor desired as ends, and yet, they are everything. So powerful is the frame, that very often, it and it alone is all a viewer need see to feel the value. A frame defines the experience, and that’s the secret to running a business.
For example, you could break the bank on an original Eggleston and thumb tack it to the wall, or you could buy a print off the street for twenty and some change then find the best frame you could get for a fraction of a fraction of the Eggleston. Put both up for sale to the average person (and I can assure you the average person has no idea who Eggleston is), and what do you think is going to sell for more?
If your cash flow is faltering, and you’re not hitting your marks, before you look at your pictures, look at your business, and know that business is the frame. Now keep in mind that there are frames of all stripes. They’re not just rectangles bounding images. Frames are spaces and words and colors and clothing. Anything that creates the experience that surrounds your product. It’s the place you choose to meet, the way you show your pictures, and even the tone of your voice. It is everything, and understanding this is the first step to making business work. Business is not about the product alone. The very job of a business is to create value.
That means the question is not whether you’re taking the pictures you need to take, which is not to say they don’t matter. They do. As your product, they influence every single thing you do including building your frame. But at the end of the day, the real question is whether you are making people react.
Are you making people want you?
Business is a lot like flirtation, in that sense. It may not be the essence of who you are, but it sure can be enticing.
It’s often been said that it’s all about educating your client. And this isn’t to say that education doesn’t matter. But, rather, that it’s only half the battle. Not so much a matter of whether you educate, but how you choose to do so. Not so much a matter of making people think you’re good, but feel it without a conscious thought. Quality should be exciting and intuitive.
How important is framing? Along with the vast amounts of studies out there showing how effectively price can be manipulated by the smallest of factors (here’s my take on the deadliest pricing assumption), here’s another great example:
Jennifer Aaker and Cassie Mogilner set up a lemonade stand using two 6-year olds to sell the lemonade. Customers could purchase the lemonade for any price they wanted from $1-3. They tested three different signs saying the following:
- “Spend a little time and enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
- “Spend a little money and enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
- “Enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
As it turns out, making people think about time is far more appealing than thinking about money – which isn’t all too surprising. What might be more surprising is how much it mattered. The sign stressing time beat the others by bringing in both twice as many people and twice as much per lemonade.
In a second study, students in college were asked how much money they spent on their iPad and how much time they spend on their iPad. Students who were asked about time had far more favorable opinions about their iPads. When it comes to value, talk of time trumps talk of money. But more importantly, the point is the opportunities to adjust your framing are vast. The small things count.
If that’s not revealing enough, in an A/B test for a web page on unbounce.com, simply changing “Start your free 30 day trial” to “Start my free 30 day trial” increased click-through rates 90%. Yes. 90% for one word.
Which is all to say, we are tremendously influenced by very minor things that operate at subconscious levels. Levels beyond education and beyond the photography itself. That’s the differentiation you’re looking for. As creators, it is often too easy to find ourselves investing our time in the creation of the images, on the posts to show them off, and on the distribution of those pictures in general. But as business owners, it needs to be our job not just to create the work and have it seen, but to have it seen in the right light through the right experience.
Business must elevate the value of your art. And if you don’t take that job as seriously as the art itself, you leave your livelihood to chance. Are you creating value in the art you produce? Are you teasing the most out of all the elements that signal to people who you are and finding ways to hit triggers that others aren’t? If not, then it’s time to start building a better frame.
If you’ve been rebuilding your business, I’d love to hear about what sort of framing devices have worked for you. Add a comment, and share what you’ve found! And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter. Just scroll up and fill out the box to the right.
It happens again and again. People hit the top, and when they fall, they fall so hard. It shocks us and rocks us. This world deifies the stars. We think they’ve got it made, and every time, it takes us by surprise. No matter how many times the story is told, we figure if we can climb the mountain, the problems will fade.
Robin Williams hit the summit, but you figure he was hurting pretty bad in the end. The pain is part of being human. Harder for some, better for others, but fame and fortune don’t make it go away.
You can’t spend all your time on the chase. There’s so much to love. There’s so much around. But it’s not fuel for the future. It’s not about the one last job or the big payoff. It’s seeing the now. I mean, isn’t that our job? Not to build the portfolio or get the big feature, but to immerse ourselves fully in the present?
It’s so easy to forget. You snap right back to the idea you can buy your way through. That’s why it’s always a shock when people who get to the top give up the fight. “They had it all!” But we know better. Success might be around the bend, but joy is either in the now or in the never. It sure isn’t in the money or the fame or the name.
Truth be told, Robin Williams never fully registered with me. I loved Dead Poets Society – I’m gushy at heart, and it gets me every time. I liked Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting, but the comedy – I could never quite lock onto it. But what’s it matter? He vibrated his way through life at double the speed doing it his way. I respected that, and I love that he did. There was a warmth to his soul and a comfort in his presence. He brought so much laughter to the world. There was just something about him that felt so personal.
He lived the lesson he left as Mr. Keating. Our power lies in ourselves. You can’t escape being human, but you can be you. That’s all we can ask. And it’s all we need to give.
O Captain! my Captain! Our fearful trip is done.
I’ll miss ya, Robin.
A lot’s been said of comfort and resistance and struggle and hardship. It’s a simple point, but a big one – if you want to make it, you have to risk failure. You have to pass through uncertainty and come out the other side. Only when you embrace failure do you embrace hope.
Uncertainty is not the enemy. It’s nothing more than not knowing. A mandatory point of departure for every new journey. And aren’t new journeys what it’s all for?
It goes something like this. We know safe. We know the feeling of comfort when something is within bounds. But life tests us. Constantly. There’s the photo you don’t know if you want to post. There’s the the sales pitch you were afraid to try. And those hands. What are your couples supposed to do with those damned, gangly appendages of theirs?
So let’s take posing as our example. Maybe you’re not sure what to do, and there are so many ways those hands can go wrong. So you tell your couple to put them exactly where you know they should be. Maybe wrapped around one another. Maybe resting on a groom’s chest or around a waist. And in doing so, you quell all the voices of fear, knowing you won’t go wrong.
That’s too much to give up.
Every time you choose not to cross a boundary, every time you stay with the familiar and fear the strange, you draw a line in the sand, telling your body: This place, I will not go. And like a child told where not to go, the more often you enforce these boundaries, the more power you give to the fear you feel. So the greatest of ironies is that only when you’ve had the most experience, can you feel the most fear. In other words, the time at which you’re the most capable and you should fear the least is the time we often fear the most.
Of course, we don’t call it that. By that time, our minds sift through it, and we justify our fears as beliefs or rules. See, beliefs grow around patterns, and when we stop, we create beliefs telling us to stop, and when we go, we create beliefs telling us to go. Either you come to believe you are limited or limitless. How much do you want to let fear matter?
Let’s go back to the portrait. The portrait is always about that delicate balance between the familiar and the strange. In fact, what isn’t about that balance? The familiar gives us comfort and resonance, while the strange defines individuality and creates excitement.
So you have that hand, a little twisted, not quite like you’ve ever seen it before. Maybe it’s floating. Maybe it’s sitting somewhere just a little different. Maybe it’s tense instead of relaxed. You just don’t know what to make of it. Use it. Play with it. Take it further and embrace the possibility. This is a point of departure. This is where the magic is. When you let it take you somewhere, you let yourself grow.
Uncertainty is the heart of exploration and growth. That we can feel it is a blessing. That our body can so finely sense when we have stepped to the edges of our craft and the borders of our selves, means we can always shape who we are and know when we have the potential to be more. What greater a gift could there be?
It was good. Too good, in fact.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. How had he done this? The year was 1999. It was a time before there was Facebook and Twitter. Before there were apps and smartphones. The Internet was new, and I was a web designer. I had been fighting the fight, pushing with no relent, no give, year on year, day on day, and I was sure as sure that I had arrived. Big things were coming. Then came this. This thing. This site – years ahead of its time. In that instant I knew everything would change forever. And I would be on the sidelines.
I could feel the well of inferiority pooling in my gut. Knowing I was less. Feeling I couldn’t be more. I hated the hurt. That feeling when you see something not just better than you, but beyond you. Beyond your knowledge and beyond your talent. Beyond your vision. As if someone operated on another level. As if they lived in a world that moved at one quarter the speed, absorbing everything in Matrix time, so much fuller, so much richer, so much deeper.
For so long, so often, that feeling has defined my life. I’ve worn it, sometimes in shame, sometimes in defiance. Always gnawing at my gut, as I trudged step by step, hoping I was more.
And I’m here to say, it doesn’t matter.
Ignore better and worse. Superior and inferior. Don’t play that game.
Because that type of better misframes the challenge and misses the point. It leads you down a path of rights and wrongs. Full of this is good and that is bad, and this is how it’s done. What you want is exploration and freedom. What you get are rules.
It’s a prison with four walls that kills creativity and limits vision. The whole point of life is to figure it out for yourself. To love the challenge and live in the process. It can’t flourish in the light of others. Comparison is the surest path to bitterness and grief. Explore. See your power. See what you can do. Success is not being better than everyone else. It’s finding you.
When you frame your value in the context of others, you place yourself on their roads in their journeys. But the problem is you’ll never see the whole puzzle. You’ll never hear about their failures and hardships – the challenges they overcame to become who they were. You will only know their successes. You will only witness their best. It will give you none of their insights, but it will leave you empty and miserable, drained of the very energy you need to live like you.
So, sure, go ahead and enjoy what others can do. Be inspired. Let them move you. But remember, learning from others is one thing. Chasing them is another, and when your gut churns, and you feel you have less, do less, or are less, let it go. Because it’s the surest sign you’ve checked out of your life to go after someone else’s.