Fear and Professionalism, v.2.0

As I said in my last post, I want to share some of my previous writings on the subject of fear and professionalism. Today, a post that is very near and dear to me, being that it was made on a very important day in my life: the day I officially became a lawyer.

What I didn’t write at the time was that, when this happened, I was in the middle of a humiliating break-up and mentally at a spectacularly low point. I was looking for a place to live back in San Diego (I had moved to LA right after taking the Bar), was middle-aged, post-law-school (and post-relationship) flat broke, and quite literally I had no one physically near to celebrate with me on this day. I had considered skipping this big ceremony, fearing I would stand out for being old(er), utterly solo, and potentially looking like a loser if I ran into people from school who knew about the relationship and move but not the break-up and return. I felt like I had a big neon “PATHETIC” sign above my head and was afraid I’d burst into tears if anyone spoke to me. Of course, this was all only in my head, but it felt pretty real (and raw) at the time.

Obviously, I screwed up my courage, drove down, and attended the ceremonies. I chose to put a smile on my face and stay mindful of the event itself and all its parts. I’m so glad I did. If I hadn’t faced the fear, I would have missed out so much I hope always to remember. Here is just a bit of what I learned that day.


Fear and the Law and the Arts[1]

Today, I took my oaths and became a real, licensed attorney. The ceremonies and speeches were rather moving and, often during the speeches, I thought about you: the photographers and other creatives with whom I have worked for so long. Surprisingly, much of what was said applied to you as well as us, the new attorneys.

There was one speech in particular that really struck me. One of the officers of the State Bar of California talked to us about fear in the profession. He explained that he had suffered from severe anxiety after being in combat, which resulted in him being afraid of speaking in public. He was afraid even to be in a room with more than one or two others. He was terrified of trying to communicate with anyone. And, during all this, he was applying for law school, wanting to pursue a profession that required him to do everything that, frankly, scared the hell out of him.

He explained that, over time, he read everything he could about fear to try and figure out what was going on (this was before we understood about PTSD). After a while, he began to realize that whatever he feared was inevitably in his path to success: from simple things like asking a girl out to his desired profession. No matter what he wanted, he’d have some fear block his path. But other things didn’t scare him and, interestingly, those things were not on his path to success. He realized that if he let the fear win, he’d never get what he wanted, so he did what he needed to, scared out of his wits as he did it.

Then, he turned and gestured to the long row of judges (federal and state appellate, about 12 or so of them) seated behind him on the dais. He said (as close as I can remember) They are afraid. Every day, they are afraid. Every day I am afraid. Every day, every one of us is afraid. He then said, essentially, that we need to lean into our fear to get where we want to go. He said that, for him, he knows now that if something scares him, that is his sign that he needs to do whatever that scary thing is. If he avoids it, he will be avoiding something that will bring him more success.

I loved that speech. It was wonderful, honest, and I knew from my own experiences that he was right. I know he was right for me and for you. Lean into your fears if you want to be successful.

There was one other thing that struck me in the speeches that I thought I should share with you. As we were about to take the oath to be admitted to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California, an 80+ year old Federal Judge said, with deep sincerity, that whatever we do in our lives and careers, we must not stop being idealists. When he said that, I was brought to the verge of tears because, throughout my life, I have been called an idealist. This was never said as a positive, it was always said like it was something bad. Well, I am an idealist and I’m not going to apologize for it ever again[2].

I think all artists are also idealists. You have to be to do what you do. If you weren’t, if you didn’t hold the belief that art, your art, is of enough value to make a living making it, youd be an accountant or firefighter or whatever. Hold onto that idealism and don’t you apologize for it either.


[1] Originally written and posted on June 1, 2011.

[2] For the record, I’ve stuck to that pledge. Since writing this piece I’ve received vile threats and other online bullying, but I’m proud to stand for strong copyright and my clients’ rights.

On Amateurism v Professionalism, and Fear

This morning, I read this Farnam Street Blog post about the difference between amateurs and professionals. What I was going to write today went out the window.

I know lots of people, especially (but not exclusively) creative people, who call themselves professionals but who act and think like amateurs. It’s something I wrote about often when I was a rep and consultant; now that I’m an attorney, I see it all the more. The gist: fear versus reality.

As Mr. Parrish points out in the piece, people working from a fear-based mindset rather than a reality-based one make poorer choices and behave in limiting ways. I know this from personal experience. I was reared to respond to fear (risk-averse is an understatement!) rather than accept reality and use that reality to reach and work for more. In fact, the first half of my life (so far) was lived that way.

Then, I made a conscious change. It started small but, as Dr. Seuss might say, it grew and it grew. Now, when I look back on my life, I see that I have accomplished a lot and been more successful in many ways than I ever thought I would be. Why? Because I took risks and I pushed myself to do new things. I didn’t let the fear win.

With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks Im going to re-publish some of my previous writings on fighting fear and being a successful creative. I hope you’ll find them helpful. I’ll warn you, sometimes the language will not be entirely safe for work and some of you may not hire me because of it.

But, I’m not going to be afraid of that.

Here is the first, from June 19th, 2013:


What Are You Waiting For?

Yesterday, I saw that a promising reporter was killed in an auto accident in Los Angeles. He was 33. This morning, there was news a best-selling novelist had died of an aggressive cancer. He was 47. And now, as I sat down to begin writing this piece, the news confirmed that James Gandolfini (star of The Sopranos) had died. He was 51.

I share this data with you not to depress but to remind you that life is unpredictable and often way too short. So, what are you waiting for?

Are you afraid of failing? Why? What is the worst that will happen? You’ll lose your home and end up living under a bridge someplace, and you have kids?

Lame excuse.
You read me right, that is just lame.
Guess what, you can do everything right and that dark future can still happen.

Or you can do everything right and get hit by a bus. Or have a heart attack or get cancer or, well, just about anything.

You have one chance at this life (well, one conscious one, if the Hindus and Buddhists, et al., are right) and you have no control over when it will end. So, I ask again, What are you waiting for?

You chose to be an artist and with that came the requirement that you have faith. Not faith in a god (not that you cant have that) but faith in yourself, in your art, and that somehow you’ll make it all work. That’s fabulous. It’s amazing. It’s actually empowering, if you stop shaking in your boots and look at it.

Being an artist requires you actually acting on that faith. You can’t say I choose to be a photographer/designer/writer and then play it safe. You have to do. You have to leap. You have to try and fail (or succeed) and try again and fail (or succeed) and keep doing that over and over again.

For the rest of your life.
That is the bargain you agreed to when you chose to be a professional artist. You have to make, and do, and (sometimes) make do.

The one thing you cannot do is wait for things to be perfect before taking the next step. I’m sick of hearing artists say I can’t send the promo because the site isn’t perfect or I’m not sure my list/promo/portfolio/edit/studio/haircut is perfect so I can’t____. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

If you make some excuse for not doing, then get a real fucking job because you dont deserve to be an artist. You dont have the guts.

I say that with love (you know that, I hope, by now).
But it is true.

Frankly, it’s true for any profession. It’s as true for me as it is for you. We have to get out there and do. We can’t be bound up by the fears of getting stuff wrong (which, by the way, is much worse in my profession than yours) or failing. We have to do and leap and try. Every bloody day.

Not only will doing this give you your best shot at being successful (and it will), it will make you happier in the process. Following your dream, doing what you love, isn’t that worth the risk of trying? Why be an artist if you never get to make your own art?

Life is (sadly) short for too many people. We don’t know when our last breath will come. No matter how well we treat our bodies, it is ultimately out of out control when Death will come. And each of you deserves to have loved the life you have. The only way for that to happen is to try, to do, to make your art, to follow your dream, to risk, to fail, and to do it all again the next day.

So, what are you waiting for?