Okay, so maybe you haven’t created your New York Times Best Seller that’s sold millions of copies, and maybe you haven’t won the Chinese kickboxing championship or hold the Guinness Record for most consecutive tango spins, but there’s one all-important thing that you have in common with my pal Tim Ferriss….fear.
You might think a wildly successful author and innovator doesn’t experience fear like a “normal person,” but as Tim revealed here, it’s exactly that emotion that is at the heart of his success. Of all the liquid gold Tim shared with me there are 3 important subjects that stood out. I mined these shiny gems to present here with some “homework,” to get you moving in the right direction.
1. Mastering fear: fear is a creativity killer
2. Finding your voice: your voice is a creativity stimulus
3. Giving it away: sharing your knowledge is essential to your professional growth
Here’s the first of three exchanges we had on these topics:
1. Defining Your Fear
CJ: I think it’s really, really important for the folks at home to know about your take on fear. It’s basically useful in any genre of any pursuit or passion. Talk to me about how you view fear, because there’s so much fear in the photo industry. People are afraid to make mistakes. They’re afraid to get called out. They’re afraid to do shitty work. They’re afraid to be called out on something and a lot of that keeps creative people in a little shell.
Tim Ferris (TF): Fear is a real driver, and it has been for me as well, in the past, whether it was in athletics or writing or academia, whatever it might have been. I realized that it’s a driver based on risk, and that’s when people define risk or should define risk as the possibility of an irreversible negative outcome. What I mean by that is just like most people fail to achieve their goals because they are poorly defined, most people are prevented from doing things based on fear because it’s poorly defined.
[We’ve all been told a thousand times that goals become infinitely more achievable when they have been written down in as much detail as possible. Defined goals are reachable goals. But defined fear? This was something new.]
TF: So what I tend to do if I find myself paralyzed or indecisive, is I’ll write down all the worst-case scenarios. I mean really get high def in the absolute specific worst-case scenarios. Then the second column is…anything I could do to prevent those specific items. Then, if they happen, what I could do to reverse those or minimize the damage from each of those outcomes. You find once you do that that the worst-case scenarios are very seldom as bad as you have envisioned.
It’s just the nebulous, dark phantasm of a bad outcome that prevents you from taking action. What you actually realize: oh, worst-case scenario, I go back to my last job. Worst-case scenario, I take a part-time job doing this. Worst-case scenario, I have to suck it up for a month or to do twice as much work with that one client I don’t like, and then this. Then it really doesn’t seem as scary and you can actually move ahead with it.
Just like most people fail to achieve their goals because they are poorly defined, most people are prevented from doing things based on fear because it’s poorly defined.
Your Homework on #1
You’re probably sitting on a great idea right now. Maybe it’s a short film project that requires you to quit the desk job and start an indiegogo campaign. Maybe it’s a photojournalism road trip across America documenting classic diners. It doesn’t matter. The point is you’re sitting on it. Why? Fear, probably. Right?
If this is you, here’s what you do:
List ALL the possible worst-case scenarios. be specific and then for each scenario list all the possible steps you can take to prevent that scenario.
Doesn’t look so bad anymore, does it? Boom!
2. Finding Your Voice
When he set out to write 4-Hour Workweek, Tim knew he had great ideas, but we all have great ideas, right? For an author (or would-be author, as the case was for Tim) the challenge was turning those ideas into actionable advice and doing so in an authentic way. In other words, he had to find his voice. Turns out Tim’s approach is applicable across many disciplines:
TF: I first ended up with this really pompous like Princetonian shtick that I was doing. Shit, too. Like four or five-syllable words. That was horrible, so I scrapped it, and then I went to like Looney Toons/Three Stooges slapstick, which was also horrible. Scrapped that. So I threw away four, five chapters and had two glasses of wine and sat down and said I’m going to write this like I would write an email to my best friends. That’s how it started. That’s how I found my voice.
Great approach, right? Stop burdening yourself with the prospect of a worldwide audience. Present your work as if to your friends. This applies to writers, photographers, musicians, etc. You’ll be lest apt to force a voice that isn’t yours, and you’ll probably be less apt to see your creative cogs seize up under the pressure. If you have true and trusted friends, I’m betting the bank that you already have an authentic voice within that circle. Use THAT voice to tell your story, whatever it is.
Your Homework for #2
Look back through social posts, photos, your work etc. that you shared with or sent to friends and family and find the little ticks and tickles that are truly unique to your vision, your special sauce, your mojo. Now apply this to your future work.
Sounds simple, but it’s harder than you think. But you’ll thank me (us) when it’s done.
3. Give [Some of] It Away
To a large extent we photographers make our living because of intellectual property rights. The idea of putting our best work on Flickr without our rights reserved is antithetical to what we know—or think we know—as businesspeople.
But Tim made a great point about releasing some of your best work “into the wild” even though there’s no promise and very little prospect for being paid for it. It’s about getting eyeballs on it:
TF: I have a friend, Eben Pagan, a really fascinating guy who’s built up a very successful online content business…and he talks about moving the free line. Meaning giving away, in many cases, your best content as a way to introduce people to your work and to drive people back to your other work. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone onto Flickr and found a photograph—now I’m not saying that everything needs to be Creative Commons—but I’ve wanted to introduce someone’s photograph to a few million people and I choose not to, of course, because it’s all rights reserved. Instead I go to Creative Commons search and then sort by most interesting and I always find amazing stuff. But I always credit and if you were to simply take let’s say two or three of your best pieces and make them Creative Commons, then people like me, and there are plenty of them, hundreds of them, would be able to use that to help promote you.
CJ: Yeah, and you know there’s a big, there’s a big discussion that’s been going on for years now, again, historically photography’s been a fear-based protective, very closed loop, because intellectual property is how photographers make their living. So that’s been a very dicey conversation, and I’ve been at the middle of it several times. I remember five or six years ago talking about Creative Commons with Larry Lessig…as the marketplace unfolds and emerges into this new era, photographers specifically are faced with a decision on how and where to share your work. So it’s interesting to know that you notice that stuff.
TF:…I was traveling with Matt Mullenweg at one point. Matt Mullenweg, genius of a guy, good friend of mine who is known as the lead developer of WordPress. Matt was largely responsible for a lot of that code base in the beginning days, and now runs WordPress.com and Automattic. Really smart guy. We were on the plane, and I remember being really stressed out at this point…because The 4-Hour Work Week was on RapidShare. It was on all these different Torrent sites, and I was like, “Oh, God, how are artists going to be incentivized and writers going to be incentivized to produce work if this is happening?” And he said, “The people who are downloading your stuff on Rapture are never going to buy your book in the first place. They’re not your paying audience, so you’re getting additional eyeballs on your work for free. They would never buy it anywhere.”
I think photography, we could get really futuristic about it, but I do think there are ways that photographers can maintain a better user experience with the paid version, whatever form that takes. So I’d encourage people to think of unleashing some of their best content into that wild, whether it’s Creative Commons or [the] pirated world, because those people aren’t your customers anyway. They’re not the people who are going to spend a $100,000 to get a blown-up print and put on their living room.
Give it away for free. I’ve used this platform to highlight passion projects left and right, from Jay Shells and his Rap Lyric Street Sign project to Andres Amador’s sand art. You MUST get your work seen by the world. And there will always be those who download/use/distribute your work for free, possibly illegally. But this is a risk you have to be willing to take in order to get it seen by those who WILL pay for it.
Your Homework for #3
Assuming you have some sort of body of work, it’s time to get it out in the world. And not the factory seconds, either. Here’s what needs to happen:
Identify 3-5 of your best photos/songs/poems and 3 websites where your work is most likely to be seen + distributed (Flickr, Soundcloud, etc.) Then upload your work under Creative Commons or otherwise.
Controversial? Only if you want to stay in your rut.
And that’s that. You’ve got your assignments; you’ve got no more excuses. If you’ve got a hankering for a little more Tim Ferriss in your life, check out the full cjLIVE show below, which aired back in August of 2011. We also recently recorded an episode of Tim’s podcast in collaboration with CreativeLive. Check that out here. Otherwise it’s time to get to work.