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Finding courage in the creative process - Part 2

In Part 1, Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal defined what fear means to her and why it’s important to address it while approaching a new project. Here, you will embark on the journey together, as she offers useful tips to help you overcome common obstacles on the way to creating a new project.

Do you sometimes find yourself in a state of stagnation? Where you just can’t seem to make progress with tasks, new projects or areas of your life that you want to take forward? Often, the hidden barrier is fear. Last time I explained the benefits of investing time and effort in getting to know and work with our fears. Here, I want to share with you some practical tips of coping that have helped me along the way.

Before we begin, I strongly recommend that you choose a specific project or area in your life where there is no progress, and then approach and apply the following advice in this context, this way you will mobilise your courage and determination and feel a greater benefit. Reminder: This article addresses non-existential fears. If you feel you are facing real danger, or experiencing levels of anxiety that require support, then please seek professional help.

A man in black swimming shorts, shown as he enters the water. He has clearly jumped or fallen in with some force, as the disturbance of white water can be seen behind him from his entry on the left. On the right, the water is clear, calm and deep blue.
"The good news is that if you look objectively at your subconscious fear, you will find it is almost always exaggerated, even if the fear may have a grain of truth."

1. Find a sense of proportion

Do you find yourself saying you “must" achieve a certain goal? Such as "This project must succeed/ be perfect", "I must have this person cooperate with me"? In my experience, every time you add a "must" to a mission, even if it’s with good and positive intention, the "must" turns your desire into a kind of forceful threat. In reality, it is impossible to completely control any outcome. Therefore, demanding yourself to succeed at any cost is unrealistic because it never only depends on your actions. The conditions for success are many (other people, health, social and political situations, even weather), so you will never have complete control. This contradiction creates tension and fear, because, deep down, you know that you do not have the ability to guarantee the success you demand of yourself. An honest assessment will show you that this tension hurts the quality of your action, your feelings, the people around you and, ultimately, the project as well. My advice is to recognise when you feel that you ‘must have it this way’ and adjust this mindset to one that is more productive. How? The next two important tips will guide you.

2. Measure the true meaning of failure

The key to understanding this ‘must succeed mindset’ is realising that behind it lies a fear of its opposite: failure. The fear of failure is of course present in many other situations and may be expressed as resignation (when you give up on your dreams), or trying, but with the stress of fear and tension. The good news is that if you look objectively at your subconscious fear, you will find it is almost always exaggerated, even if the fear may have a grain of truth. For example, if you lose your job, it may (but not necessarily) take time and effort to find another similar one, but it's unlikely that you will never find one again. The inner voice of our fears is often over-dramatic, so take the time to look at your fear more closely:

  • Ask yourself questions
What will happen if the desired result does not materialise? What are the true consequences? Write down your fears and don’t be afraid to include those which feel embarrassing – this is private to you.

  • Examine the fears.
Consider which are exaggerated and which are realistic.

  • Plan your response.
Address the realistic part of your fear and consider how you will respond in the event of this scenario happening. This will give you confidence and readiness to handle any situation and is really worth the investment.

It is also helpful to understand that your project is part of a long-term sequence of doing and creating. In other words, there were projects before and there will be others after. If one does not materialise, then you draw conclusions, learn from the experience and… you will do another! One day even this, which seems so critical to you now, will be history and you will be immersed in something else.

A bright blue background, filled with an eruption of tiny bubbles, as though someone has just jumped into water.
Ask yourself questions, examine your fears and plan your response. Careful consideration of your fear will teach you that you have less to fear than you might think.

3. Set realistic goals

After realising it’s neither realistic or productive to try and control ‘success’, and knowing that nothing terrible will happen if we do not achieve our goal, we can redefine success and choose more helpful goals, such as:

  • Doing your best and investing in the success of the project
  • Gaining new experience and knowledge
  • Acting out of a desire to contribute and help others
  • Being flexible and open to new and surprising results
  • Enjoying the road! (Much easier now you are not self-forced to achieve)

Write down your new goals and place them in plain view. After this, you will find yourself approaching projects with a healthy and relaxed desire to succeed, ready to accept the possibility of failure, cope with it and learn from it.

4. Find the courage to ask for help and advice

Do you believe that by achieving something yourself, it makes you better and stronger, and the achievement more worthwhile – more yours? There is no doubt that being independent is an important part of life, but sometimes it leads to us avoiding beneficial help or cooperation. ‘Alone’ is an illusion because nothing we create or invent is really done alone. Our physical survival depends on the help of countless others. Countless brilliant people have worked in the technological development and manufacturing of your camera and lenses. A myriad of artists came before you, sharing knowledge and inspiration. The lone hero is the stuff of fiction. You are part of a beautiful human network of success and discovery. View others as a source of strength rather than competition or a threat. True, fierce competition exists but so does mutual help and community, so focus on the latter while moving on from the first.

Take a mentor, consultant, partner or even a buddy with you and be proud of your professional ability to ask for advice and engage in teamwork. Not only will this benefit you greatly, but it will alleviate your fears and tension. Thus, each project becomes both a more successful and enriching experience of learning and development. And always remember to thank everyone who helped you along the way.

On the left, an image of the upper body of Dafna Tal, wearing a blue wetsuit and turning to face the camera. She has short blonde hair and looks as though she has just come out of the water. On the right is a quote that reads: “Alone is an illusion because nothing we create or invent is really done alone.”

  1. Walk through fear – just do it
Even after you’ve worked through all the steps above, there is still likely to be some residual uncertainty and fear. There comes a point where it is important to simply do because coping will, in and of itself, help us be braver next time. Remember to divide your complex project into a list of goals, so that you only have to take the next small step – it can be as simple as a phone call, an email or a little research you can do with a friend.

Finally, it is important to understand that there is no magic solution. Real coping happens gradually, slowly and with persistence, then the results will come. If, at this stage, you have been able to recognize some of your fears and accept that very human part of yourself, recognise that it is a rare and courageous act, and already an extraordinary success.

In Part 3, Dafna shares some advanced tips on breaking the fear barrier and finding creative freedom.

Discover more about Dafna and her work. She also discusses her experiences on Shutter Stories, our podcast where we talk to leading photographers and filmmakers from around the world.

Written by Dafna Tal