sat there staring incredulously at the date. My thoughts came whizzing through my head like a convoy of speeding cars. It’s too soon. I had so much I intended to do, but I’m out of time. I mean, could this really be all my life amounted to? Mediocrity and unremarkable achievements to mark my legacy?
There it was in black and white. His book was frayed along the edges and pages were yellowing. Each date was in bold numbers, though. The man showed me my Expiration Date, my last day on this earth, and it was much, much sooner than I expected. My whole life I played it safe, never daring to stray from the beaten path. I was never one of those people who gambled big and won big either.
“You gotta play big to win big!” they’d tell me. But when I “played big,” I just lost a bunch of money and hated myself for losing it all so quickly. Slow and steady was my game, and although I’d never “won big,” I usually went home with only slightly lighter pockets for my troubles. I lived my life the same way—slow and steady. That predictability gave me a perceived sense of control and cut down on the drama in my life.
I liked “safe.” Safe meant I didn’t have to fear the unknown. Safe kept me free from failure, and safe meant I didn’t have to do anything different from what I was already doing. But looking at my Expiration Date and seeing when it was coming, I now realized that I missed the boat. My life had passed me by because I thought I had more time to do the things I wanted to do. I was just needed more time to muster the courage to do it.
No, I’m not drunk. The scenario above is how I envision I’ll feel when I do reach my Expiration Date. Recently I asked my friends on Facebook what they would do differently if they discovered their Expiration Date. They said things like “stop working a job I hate,” “I would use the word ‘love’ more,” and “I would travel to Barcelona.” One of my friends poetically asked “Why not do these things now then?”
She has a point. And to the point of this blog: Why wasn’t I doing the things I wanted to do with my business? After some major introspection, I realized what was stopping me:
For me, it wasn’t necessarily fear of the unknown. No, I’ve always been paralyzed into inaction when given two choices because I worried that by committing myself to one choice I rendered the other permanently and irrevocably “no longer an option”. If I came to a fork in the road and chose the left, the right would magically disappear and I was stuck with the consequences that lie ahead on my chosen road. Ironically enough, making NO choice is also a choice.
Fear is deadly. It can kill your hopes and dreams. It can lose your relationships. It can keep you from being the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Do you know why children do some of the most amazing things? Because they haven’t developed that sense of fear we instill in them to keep them safe…..from life. They go up to total strangers and say hello. They dance for no reason in the middle of a bank lobby. They strip down naked and run onto your front lawn while you have company. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that last one gets you a visit from the police when you try it as an adult.
The funny thing is, in many cases fear is exactly like that school bully who picks on the small kids. All it takes is one kid to stand up to him and say “Okay, I’m calling your bluff; let’s do this,” and the bully backs down. Fear, like the bully, preys on your willingness to give in. If you stand up to it, do what scares you the most, and see what happens, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you can actually do this….whatever it is you are holding yourself back from doing.
I see fear even in established photographers or those on the verge of “making it” (i.e., becoming well known within our photography world). They have some success with a particular lighting setup and then rarely stray for fear of losing their momentum or audience. It’s just “change out the model and styling, rinse, and repeat.” The fearless photographers are those who try different things without worrying about their audience.
I like to use Joel Grimes as an example of this. He has a very distinctive style that’s very identifiable, yet he’s always trying new things—new modifiers, different lighting positions, different editing styles, etc. As long as he continues to do that, I don’t think he’ll ever stagnate or become irrelevant.
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention what my fears are.
I’m afraid that I’ll put myself out there with my business and hear crickets. If I hear crickets, I’ll feel like all this time I’ve been a fraud—that I’m not as good as I think.
Another fear I have is that I’ll try something new and realize I do suck at it. But as a photographer friend once said, “I’ve failed at every photo until success.” Success is the fear killer. Each success you have makes you less and less afraid.
I have a good friend named Cindy, and she’s my sales hero…not because she’s a millionaire (not yet anyway), but because she’s fearless. She’s tried many different things to boost her sales. Some have panned out, others have fizzled and cost her money. She never stops; she keeps trying new things and I’m always inspired by her.
So if you happen to catch a glimpse of your Expiration Date, make sure you feel the way Tecumseh Sherman put it:
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have some insight on this topic? What are your fears? It helps people to see that they’re not the only ones who are afraid.