Which Way Is Up?
This post was inspired by a post on ProBlogger, How Cancer Changed My Life, by Karl Staib. I highly recommend reading it, a great inspirational story.
Do you know which way is up? It sounds like a trick question, and it is.
It seems like an easy question, but the answer seems to puzzle many people. They find themselves suspended in the middle of nowhere, where directions become meaningless: right is left, left is down, down is up, up is right, and it goes on. It’s kind of like being an astronaut in space, you lose a sense of direction.
I’ve been overwhelmed with projects lately, business, and school. I don’t really know when to stop. My high school psychology teacher was right one morning as we walked to school, “Viktor, you need to learn how to turn your brain off from time to time.” Six years later and I still don’t know how to do it, but this is not about that.
Recently, I have come to a realization why I had issues with photographing people. In the fall of 2010, I began photographing people primarily as I switched to a photojournalism major. There was a clear change in my photographs: they weren’t as good as I can do. The problem was, I didn’t know why.
Sometimes it takes a miserable failure to realize what your fears are; or, rather, accept them.
Two weeks ago, I failed miserably on a shooting assignment for my photojournalism class. I hit the bottom, finally. It was an eye-opener to what was the underlying problem for quite some time, I think as far back as high school. Yet, I never paid attention to it. The problem? I’m afraid to talk to strangers.
That’s the last thing people who know me would ever expect from me. I’m very outgoing and social, but not when it comes to strangers.
Sometimes you have to hit the bottom to know which way is up.
This is my personal wisdom on failure. Clearly, I lived up to it. I know which way is up, I know what I have to work on now.
The hardest thing was admitting I had a problem. I sat, shaking, in front of my professor’s door; waiting for him to show up. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my entire life. It was harder than the four years I served in the US Navy, which was a breeze compared to admitting weakness. This was the only way to start working on it, really working on it.
If you do have a fear of something, it doesn’t matter how small or ridiculous (so you might think) it is, admit it to someone other than yourself. A friend or family member is great. If your fear affects your work somehow, admit it to your boss. He or she should understand that we’re all humans with fears. It takes so much weight off your shoulders you will feel like a different person.
I don’t have an answer, yet. The advice is to “just do it.” Yes, easy to say not so easy to do. I clearly can’t “just do it.” I think the best way is to take baby steps. The hardest part for me is to engage a stranger, not keeping the conversation going. So, my “up” direction is to start conversations with strangers I have to engage regularly as part of my daily life. Cashiers would be the perfect example. I have to engage them, so why not have some small talk instead of silence?
One thing my professor recommended is to engage people on the bus in small talk. The first step, he said, is to sit next to people you perceive to be more open to small talk and try to engage them. The second step is to sit in the front row of the bus where you don’t have any control of who sits next to you and engage them. Got my bus pass, just need to find time to do it. Great advice.
Hitting the bottom helped me figure out which way is up. Sometimes that’s the only way to be able to propel yourself up.
What’s your fear? What are you struggling with right now? Tweet me.
Viktor…I feel you
I would add that learning to stop, instead of fighting th urge to “do something” can help you gain the perspective you need to make the right move. My mom taught me how to be comfortable with silence. She said: “You can learn much more about everything by allowing silence to happen”
It really helped me get out of the habit of trying to fix things before I really knew what was broken, we fight so much to never hit rock bottom, that we deny ourselves the value and perspective of knowing which way is up, and left, and right.
Smooth blog Viktor, glad to have read it. Stay cool man.
Thanks for great advice. Yes, silence speaks volumes. We need to learn to listen to it, not only break it. It’s a great mentor, but in the age of iPods people tend to not listen to silence because they replace it with headphones and music. Sometimes you need to take them off and hear your environment, a busy subway in NYC, ambient sound of your office, construction workers outside.