And She prayed. ©2014 Anjani Millet
Many years ago, after twelve years of owning my own photographic business, I lamented that I’d never done the one thing I was told all Good Photographers once did: Assist another photographer to learn the ropes. So, with my business at a stalemate, I decided it was me that was the problem. I found another photographer, asked if I could meet with her, showed her my portfolio, asked if I could be her assistant.
She laughed and responded with, “What the hell? You’ve been a working photographer for twelve years? Why are you here? Oh, I know what it is. You have what I have, which is the crippling Expert Syndrome. You think you have to be perfect, and an expert, and if you aren’t perfect or an expert in EVERYTHING, you freeze and nothing you do is good enough or even good at all. Listen: you are already a working photographer. And my competition. This is silly! Go out and be my competition!”
Eventually crippled by my own doe-in-the-headlights self-doubt and perfectionism, I left my career behind, sold all my equipment, and entered a completely different field. I turned my back on what I’d spent years building.
Well, I’ve returned full circle to photography, and writing, but that perfectionism had amazing staying power and never left, though I did. I face that dragon again now. Zoom forward to a month ago and another interesting reflection from a friend. He noticed my crippling perfectionism too, and gave me an assignment.
He told me of a student who was so crippled with perfectionism that her professor assigned her the task of writing – and turning in to him – the very first draft of a paper. If he found she’d edited it, he would fail her from the class. Wow! My friend said, “You are just like that. Here’s my assignment for you: you must make a plan that is deliberately imperfect and do that plan.”
So, this week, with my first presentation at a museum, I chose to present knowing full well that what I was about to do was imperfect, and do it anyway. I discovered that I didn’t die, and no one else in the room did either. My one suffered renal failure as a result of my imperfect introduction in this talk, and the slightly unsure wrap up of the story. It was imperfect, but I did it. Despite that, one man in the room told me my writing had answered a question for him that he never been able to articulate. He said this: “I want you to know that what you wrote really meant something to me, personally. You helped me understand something about my place in this world. Thank you.”
If that is the result of humble but shared imperfection, with its wobbly, nervous introduction and a not-perfect wrap up, I’ll take it.
On June 30 of last year, as my contract at an I.T. firm was ending, I decided to start writing in a more focused way, and not return to my job behind a desk. I wanted to return to my roots and career as a photographer and writer. So, I promised myself to write for 15 minutes every day before breakfast, starting on July 1. I began with one single sentence as a writing prompt.
By July 15, I attended a writer’s conference, and heard that I could present my book idea to the editors present; someone told me to tell them my book was 50,000 words, an average novel’s length, and I decided right then I’d complete those 50,000 by the end of that month. I had written only about 1,300 words by the day I “pitched” to the editors, and to my astonishment, they loved my book idea. When I told them I guessed it would be 50,000 words, they told me to aim for 80,000. By July 31 I had written 80,000 words – a few hundred pages of a book.
By September I had a rich relationship with the characters in my book. I felt more than a little astonished and frankly a little freaked out by how much this had taken over my life, this creative process, freaked out and in love with writing a book. I put the book to sleep for the winter in January to focus on photography, and have begun to turn my attention to integrating the two together now.
I just found this note yesterday, at a time when I find myself frightened again, still, to leap into my own greatest dreams. My main character, Georgia, told me this, when I had hit a wall in September:
“I think you frightened yourself with your speed and alacrity. Frighten yourself again. How can you do that? Make a goal to frighten yourself every day with your powerful progress, creation, and mastery. Yes, I said it… mastery. What would a goal of mastery in writing look like? What do you want to master in 5 years?”
Noun: Brisk and cheerful readiness.
Synonyms: readiness – willingness – eagerness
In building a business and a life as a photographer and writer, or as any artist, or anyone with the dream to truly live the life they dream to live, focusing on projects and business planning is one important way to approach the future. But this is another. What do you want to truly master? What will blind you with amazement at your own “speed, alacrity, and mastery” in five years? One year? After dinner tonight?
And by the way, I want to have loved mastering it by that date, not just plodded through.
Today I leave for 4 quiet days in the forest, on my own, to deeply reflect on my future self, and figure that out. When you are an artist, you yourself are the business. Starting with your own mind and heart is the beginning of the deepest kind of business planning.
What do you want to master in five years? I hope whatever you decide, you find the deepest joy in getting there. I’d love to hear what you dream of being and doing!