I read once (probably on Pinterest somewhere, let’s face it) this quote: “Do something that scares you every day.”
You should know right off the bat that I am NOT someone who likes to be scared.
You people who pay $10 to see scary movies in the theater? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOU. I can’t fathom voluntarily scaring yourself silly and then not being able to sleep or walk around your house at night without thinking some demon is lurking around the corner waiting to suck your soul out. In high school, my best friend Amy and I thought we would put on our big girl pants and go see The Ring together. And then go spend the night at my house, when the rest of my family was out of town. This was quite possibly the worst idea either of us has ever had. What I did see (through my half-shut eyes and behind my fingers) of the girl crawling out of the television was enough to make me never want to watch TV, or be alone, or turn the lights off, EVER AGAIN.
And it isn’t just about horror movies. I’m not what you might call a risk-taker. Or at least, I wasn’t in the past. I love my safe, daily routines full of coffee cups and dog walking and emailing and Lightroom, capped off by a little TV-watching (I did eventually recover from The Ring scarring) and some reading in bed before lights out. I’m a homebody. I hate confrontation. I wish everyone would be nice and get along and never say anything mean to me.
But surprise, surprise: playing it safe almost never results in the kind of life-changing, soul-satisfying experiences that define us. When has watching Project Runway while eating Milanos and perusing my Facebook news feed for the jillionth time EVER resulted in something great and big and wonderful? Don’t get me wrong: I love all of these routines and mindless activities dearly and I think that they are occasionally necessary to balance out the really meaningful and sometimes heavy stuff in our lives. One of my favorite song lyrics was written by Jimmy Eats World: “I’m in love with the ordinary. I need a simple space to rest my head, and everything gets clear.”
But the thing is, when I think about the things in my life I’ve been most proud of, the things that I remember most clearly and most fondly, most all of them resulted from me taking a risk. A leap. While being scared senseless. Unsure of whether I’m capable of succeeding. Not knowing what kind of criticism awaits me, or whether I’ll be able to take it without collapsing in a ball of tears. So many uncertainties and possibilities for disaster.
I think that’s part of what drew me to wedding photography. There’s nothing quite like the fear and nervous jitters (and resulting adrenaline rush) that comes from prepping for a wedding on a Friday night, checking and double-checking and triple-checking all of my equipment and STILL worrying that I’ve missed something. Going over every worst case scenario in my mind, from me getting in a car accident on the way to the wedding to me SOMEHOW forgetting to photograph the ceremony to … well, you get the idea. Will I be able to rise to the challenge and succeed, even if everything goes wrong? If I let myself think about it too much, it’s pretty terrifying.
But you know what? At the end of the wedding is when I’m the most happy and proud of my work. Sure, every cell in my body is exhausted from being mentally and physically and creatively “ON” for 10-12 hours straight, but the realization that I did something that scared me and I survived it is pretty exhilarating. Every single time.
Recently, my friend Heather of the now-pretty-darn-famous Sprinklebakes blog asked me if I’d be willing to help her out with some promotional materials for her upcoming book (!!!), specifically some head shots (totally not scary) and a promo video (totally scary). At this stage in my journey, there’s nothing scary about a head shot. Especially not for someone like Heather, who’s so stylish and fun and full of life and color. But a video? The extent of my experience with that has been a couple of very amateur home movies for friends. But she completely trusted me and wanted me to do it, so before I could talk myself out of it, I said yes. And then felt like I might go throw up. Not that I wasn’t excited or willing to take on such a big project full of creative possibilities, but there was so much more at stake here. I mean, Heather’s become kind of a big deal (though she will deny it til she’s blue in the face), and there was no room to screw it up for her.
Then she asked if I’d be willing to have a phone conference with her editor in New York to go over some ideas for the video, and the nausea really started creeping up from the depths of my belly. I wondered if it was too late to back out and say that I was in way over my head. After all, a professional videographer I am not. (And I have no plans to become one!) But I swallowed my fear and played it cool, and we got on the phone and got the ball rolling. Her editor pretty much nipped in the bud the ideas that we had already been discussing, and instead suggested some ideas that were WAY out of my comfort zone. Oh crap. And he asked us for other ideas and we really had none. So we went back to the drawing board.
In the days leading up to our shoot last weekend, I tried to think about everything BUT the shoot, because when I did, the fear made my stomach turn. No matter how much Heather insisted that I shouldn’t be worried or nervous, and that everything would turn out great, I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it.
But guess what? The day came, and sure enough, under just the right amount of pressure, fear, and excitement, together our creative juices started flowing— GUSHING, even— and we came up with an even better idea than what I could have ever imagined on my own without the input of her editor and Heather’s own ideas. I finished editing the first draft of the video a couple of days ago, and when I watched it all the way through, I was PROUD. Really proud. Of both of us. We did something that scared us, and we survived. We thrived, even. (I can’t wait to share the finished product, but more on that later!)
I wanted to share this today because it’s a lesson that I’ve had to learn and relearn time and again, and I’m preaching all this to myself as much as (if not more) to you guys. I mean, literally, even as I say this, I’ll want to go retreat into my safe place and just do some menial office tasks because they’re easy and they don’t scare me. But the thing is, I can’t just sit around waiting for my inbox to fill up with awesome opportunities where all the hard work will be done for me and I can just waltz in and take the credit when it’s all over. If I want something, if I want to dream big and do bigger, then I have to be the one to ask for it, seek it out, and (in Lara Casey’s famous words) make it happen. No one is going to come along and give me permission. Nor will they offer a step-by-step guide and a numbered to-do list, along with a Xanax for when the panic sets in. No one is going to hold my hand and do the work for me. And you know what? I don’t want them to. Because if I let someone else pursue my dreams and do the work and be brave when things get scary, then they’ll be the ones to walk away feeling energized, inspired, and proud, while I’m left feeling … safe.
You might never get me into a theater to see Silent House (no matter how much I love Elizabeth Olsen), and you might not even get me to do something that scares me every day. But I’ll be darned if I sit back and watch everyone else take all the risks.
Because, sometimes? It’s when the fear passes and you uncover your eyes that you feel the most alive.