I know there are times that we lack confidence in ourselves as photographers and artists; but how can we overcome that lack of confidence?
1. Death threats on the blog
I’m going to make this a bit autobiographical if you don’t mind.
First of all, I’m lucky enough that I was raised by an amazing mother who taught me how to have confidence in myself. She never doubted me; and always encouraged my creativity.
When I first started this blog (with the encouragement of Cindy) — I had no idea what it was going to be for. All I know is that when I started street photography, I couldn’t find any useful information on the internet in terms of how to shoot street photography.
I was first hesitant to start the blog. I told Cindy about my lack of confidence, and she told me: “Just start it anyways.” But I retorted: “But I don’t know anything!” She said, “It’s fine — you are always going to be learning. Just share what you’re learning along the way. I’m sure there are a lot of people like you out there.”
I said ok.
I then started the blog in around 2011, and had no idea what direction to take it. I was figuring it out as I went. I blogged about practical tips on how to shoot street photography, interviewed other photographers, and shared any ‘secrets’ I learned along the way. I kept everything open and free, because it felt like the right thing to do.
In the beginning, everyone was encouraging. Everyone pumped me up. But the more traction I got online, I started to get ‘haters’ who left really nasty anonymous comments online. I’m not even joking, when I have gotten responses like this:
- Eric if I saw you on the fucking streets, I would punch you in the throat, and throw you under a running car.
- Eric, I wish Mosul chopped off your head.
Honestly, that shit really hurt. It actually made me scared too. A lot of the haters got me to put down my camera for a while. And made me scared to blog; and share my opinions, thoughts, and learnings.
I became paralyzed with fear.
But then— I started to grow a thick skin from all these haters. If anything, I am grateful for all these mean attacks I got online. Like a good boxer, I was put up against opponents who were stronger than me. I got beaten up. Bruised black and blue. I bled on the digital screen.
But after I bandaged myself up, I got stronger. As time went on, I started to care less about what others thought about me.
I was also lucky that I came across Stoicism, the badass (practical) philosophy which taught me how to deal with fear, haters, and how to become invincible (at least mentally).
So now, I have a lot more confidence in myself. Why? Because honestly — at the end of the day, this is just a blog. Photos are just photos. We’re all going to die one day anyways. I used to take myself too seriously. By learning how to take myself less seriously, I became less scared to share what was really on my mind.
Another thing that helped me— just not reading comments. I know myself best. I am allergic to eating cashews and shellfish. If I eat those two things, my throat swells up, it is hard for me to breathe, and I think I can die. So my analogy is this: if I am allergic to cashew nuts, should I eat them just because I’m curious how they taste? Hell no.
That analogy is the same as reading comments from (potential) haters. I know that I will read something bad that will cause me to get an allergic reaction, and perhaps die. The best thing I did was install the ‘Shut Up’ Safari extension (disables comments on most websites). I now have a lot more peace of mind. Like Ulysses, I stopped up my ears with beeswax, because I know that I cannot survive the songs of the sirens (that want to kill me).
2. What do I think of my own photos?
Another thing that helped me: not seeking anybody’s approval, but my own approval of myself.
Now this is hard. I still care a lot about what others think of me. But I certainly care a lot less.
I used to always upload photos, wanting to get a lot of likes.
Now, I try to avoid looking at the likes. I only upload photos that I like, and I want to share with others. I don’t use social media as a barometer to see whether my photos are good or not.
As of late, I’m trying to ask myself the question before I share photos:
Do I like this photo?
Because if I don’t like the photo — what do I care what others think?
I feel that art, photography is all about self-expression. It is about seeing the world with more appreciation. It is about sharing your ideas with others.
To be an artist and a photographer is to have courage. To have the courage to be judged negatively. To have the courage to be ignored.
I also know there are certain photos that others don’t like, but I still like. I don’t need to share those photos either. I can let them die on my hard drive. But when I look at the photos, they still bring me joy.
3. Spend less time on social media
If you want to innovate in your photography, my practical advice is to spend less time on social media. Better yet, take a break from social media for a week, or even a month, or even a year. For me, the biggest innovations in my photography happened when I stopped posting things to social media, and when I started to look at my own photos by myself.
The problem with putting photos on social media too quickly is that you are picking the fruit before it is too ripe. You need to let the fruit grow strong, before you pick it, share it, and eat the sweet nectar.
Great art takes a long time. Great wine tastes better the longer you let it age. The same goes with a nice steak — you gotta let it marinate.
4. Subtract negative people from your life
Some other practical tips: avoid anyone who depowers you. People who subtract your energy. Avoid people who have negative energy.
You know those people. They always discourage your ideas. Another tip — stop sharing your ideas. Just do it, or don’t do it.
For me, the only opinion who matters is Cindy. Even Cindy — there are times I need to appreciate her feedback and opinion; but I need to stick to my own gut.
I read this thing from Seneca, which was interesting— why is it that in the case of ego, we are selfish, and only care about ourselves more than anybody else. But why do we care what others think about us, more than we think about ourselves? If we thought we were the most important person in the world, shouldn’t we value our own self-opinion above all others?
I have made it a point to subtract negative people from my life. People who gave me bad vibes, and made me feel like shit. Sadly, that was my father. He was just all negative energy, like a dark cloud hanging around me. He prevented me from seeing the light. I still love him, and have forgiven him for all the negative things he did in the past— but I needed to cut him out of my life, just like a tumor.
And now I’m a lot mentally sane, and healthier. I feel good, creative, and positive.
5. Pump yourself up with empowering music
Also to pump myself up, I listen to a lot of empowering music. I listen to a lot of hip hop music which encourages me to stay strong, such as:
- New Level – ASAP Ferg
- POWER – Kanye West
- King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar
- All Day – Kanye
- Rap God – Eminem
Also getting physically strong helps. I know my biggest boost of self-esteem came from picking up powerlifting. I still remember the first time I deadlifted ‘4 plates’ (four 45 pound plates on each side of the barbell) — which was a total of 405 pounds. I never thought it was possible, but one day I finally did it. At that moment, I knew that I had no limits, and nothing could kill me.
I also have a practice of listening to hip hop instrumentals (just the beats) on loop to help me get in the zone when writing. It helps me fight off some of my fear of really bleeding onto the page.
6. What do you think // what is your opinion?
Another big thing I learned; don’t quote others. Quote yourself. Follow your own opinion. Don’t care what the masters said before you in photography. Follow what feels right to you.
Who cares what others said in the past? What do you think? What is your opinion? What is your idea?
To be an artist is just to have courage to stand up for your ideas. Nothing more or less.
7. Practical tips how to boost your self-confidence
Some practical assignments:
a. Seek to get rejected
Next time you go to the coffee shop, say something ridiculous. Say something like:
Hey hows it going? You know me, I always come here. You know what— today I’m having a really shitty day, and coffee always makes me feel a bit better. I know this is a lot to ask for, but do you mind giving me a coffee today, on the house?
It doesn’t matter whether you get a yes or a no. The point is that you fight your fear of getting rejected.
Another practical tip: shoot street portraits, and keep asking a bunch of people until you get 5 people to say ‘yes’ and 5 people to say ‘no.’
b. Take cold showers
This is random; but try to take a cold shower tonight. Start off really hot, and end very cold.
I have made it a practice to take cold showers the last 3 years or so. It has made me tougher. I have less fear. If I can survive an icy-cold shower, in the winter, what can kill me?
c. Uninstall social media from your phone for a week
Try this as an experiment: uninstall all social media apps from your phone for a week. You can re-install it at the end of the week. This will help you care less what others think of you.
You have only one life. Why live it in fear? Express yourself creatively, with your photography, or whatever.
Don’t become the fear of slave. Put on your diamond-plated armor, and know that nothing can harm you.
Drink lots of espresso, do deadlifts, take icy-cold showers, and realize— nothing can kill you.
Learn more: Stoicism >