Task 48 – Continue despite the fear
Continue despite the fear
“I should have been a freelance doctor like you, but would I have earned enough for my retirement pension? Aren’t you afraid of being unemployed, making an error, being alone on duty and so far away from a hospital?”
Being an emergency ward doctor in rural areas is maybe the most risky job for doctors. With patients we are not familiar with and few resources we are supposed to distinguish life threatening diseases from more benign ones, though the symptoms may often be similar. Since the patients don’t have a previous relationship with us, it is easier for them to complain authorities if something goes wrong. I enjoy this exercise in risk. The will to tolerate insecurity has become my security.
As a child I was afraid a lot. I was afraid of getting beaten up and of being bullied. Life was unsafe for me out in the suburb where I lived. But after years of being bullied, I grabbed hold of the fear. Since then I have actively sought it out. Competition made me nervous so I began kayaking. I was afraid of blood so I became a doctor. It looked scary to be on TV so I signed up for the TV quiz show Jeopardy. Being out in front of others and visible made me anxious so I became a public speaker.
It is said that everything you want is on the other side of fear. That is also my experience. Doing scary things brings you further ahead since you have to work hard to have command over yourself. People have done a lot to remove real fear from their lives and instead have become anxious. As mammals we are designed after all to live with risk and fear. Even if we don’t experience dangerous situations, the brain is still searching for things to be scared of, however trivial. Our ancient brain and its nervous system control us like a living fossil in our human body. Both during hunting and tribal conflicts men had to take bigger risks than the women, who contributed mostly to the family’s and tribe’s survival by being concerned with seeking security. This explains why in general men are more willing to take a risk.
Many people refrain from doing things they are afraid of. When I heard that 80% of peo- ple’s choices are based on fear, I made the decision to never let fear rule me. I still make fear-based choices, but now I do them towards fear instead of away from it. We have become so complacent in our comfort zones that we are able to tolerate less fear. The paradox is that if we never do what we are afraid of, then we become increasingly anxious. The solution is to go into the danger zone. That’s where life really kicks in.
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Enter the danger zone
Photographing strangers can be terrifying. Thus, we can practice coping with fear by taking pictures. Jan thought it was unpleasant to approach people in the streets at the workshop in Perpignan. In his work as a radiologist, he mostly related to pictures of people’s inner organs. Out on the streets, people stand there in the flesh. Going around photographing people on the street is also the scariest thing I know so I can easily relate to this situation.
I told Jan that he didn’t have to photograph people if he didn’t want to. He said he wanted to. I told him that then he had two choices, either wade out amongst the people and gradu- ally let them take up greater space in your pictures, or just brace yourself and jump off the high dive. Jan chose the latter. Then he did a photo series from the café Bodeguita which was absolutely gorgeous. The looks from the guests and owners signal that they appreciated him being there. Jan made a nice little book which they received for Christmas. Confronting fear was fruitful. You have already seen the picture in Task 11.
A really good picture often has a hint of anxiety in it. It means the photographer has taken a risk, gotten inside of the skin of a person he has done a portrait of, compromised them- selves, touched something vulnerable or dared to cross their own boundaries. Photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen said, “Art is risk made visible.” Courage is rewarded with good pictures and a feeling of mastery. You win when you dare. The tests of manhood for hunter-gatherers were organized as follows: Through daring one thing, you gather courage to dare the next one. You learn to become secure through doing things you are afraid of. The biggest obstacle for acting is fear. Fear is not an enemy, even if it feels that way.
Think closely before you choose your words. If you say you are nervous, you will become it. When I feel my pulse race and the adrenaline rush, I say to myself that I am enthusiastic. The bodily symptoms are the same regardless: increased pulse and a rush of adrenaline. The brain nevertheless accepts what I tell it.
Photograph something you really think is scary!
Something you doubt you can do. Most important of all is that you dare to try. Make the picture into a daring deed. You are going to do just fine!
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BOOK SUGGESTION: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers