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A blog written by a Denver photographer, with photographs by that photographer, but not always about photography. Or for that matter, Denver.

Conquering Fear In 2017: How To Be Brave And Live The Life Of Your Dreams (Part Two)

(continued from part one here)

I sat staring at my phone, unable to move. What had I just done? I knew that I couldn't back out once I said yes, but I was almost paralyzed with fear about what saying yes meant. The only thought scarier than saying yes was the thought of saying no, as I had no idea what else I was going to do with my life. The first thing I did was search the internet: LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES

I figured they might come in handy. 

I had owned two DSLR cameras over the last ten years, but truthfully I had photographed virtually every image on the AUTO setting and many of my best images were accidents. I really didn't know how to control my camera. As I purchased book after book in preparation, foreign photography lingo like aperture, ISO, white balance and shutter speed leapt off the pages and filled my mind with growing anxiety. But I was doing it. I was refining my skills by learning things that I had completely overlooked as a hobbyist. I became obsessed with watching photographers teach on YouTube and a website called Creative Live. I found a brilliant teacher named Nick Carver who had an online course on manual photography. I crammed and crammed and crammed some more. I sold all of my old gear so that I could purchase a full frame camera body and what are considered "fast lenses", or lenses that allow in more light which enables the photographer to use a faster shutter speed in low-light situations. And this is also when my Pinterest addiction was born.

Weeks later it was time to find out just how prepared I was. I packed up my car and drove to Indiana. Part way on the drive there, I faced a massive thunderstorm and wondered if it was an omen.

 Well, shit.

Well, shit.

I made it to Indiana in one piece, but barely. I met the bride and groom for the first time on the wedding day...one of the addresses that I was supposed to meet everyone at was not found in my GPS...I was trying to remember all the guidelines of shooting in manual mode, which was like trying to remember Cantonese while doing a cartwheel...I sweat a river as the bride walked down the aisle, fearing that I would miss the shot or that it would be blurry...I felt like every guest was staring at me and not the bride thinking, "don't screw this up, kid"...but somehow...

 Morning mani/pedi.

Morning mani/pedi.

 Gorgeous maid of honor.

Gorgeous maid of honor.

 Morning coffee.

Morning coffee.

 Something old, something new.

Something old, something new.

 The wedding dress anxiously waiting to be worn.

The wedding dress anxiously waiting to be worn.

 The flower girl before...

The flower girl before...

 The bride and her fun bridesmaids. 

The bride and her fun bridesmaids. 

 ...the flower girl after.

...the flower girl after.

 A handsome little guy at the receiving line.

A handsome little guy at the receiving line.

...I survived! I did it!

I'm a total perfectionist. And when I set my mind to something, I aim high and strive for excellence. So looking back, would there be things I'd do completely differently? Yes. And that is not the point. The point is that I tried. The point is that I was scared out of my mind and did it, anyway. And the point is that I became pretty uninterested in the opinions of my fear and more curious about what was on the other side of it.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
— Jack Canfield

That wedding led me to my next wedding. I did even better that time. I took what I learned from the mistakes I felt I had made and improved. Two years later I look back on my work from when I first started as a professional and think, "My God, I didn't know what I was doing." And I will say that about my present work when I look back at it ten years from now. So here's the secret:

Fear is not real. And you will never be more or less perfect than you are today.

So many of us are scared to take the first step climbing the mountain. We are scared to fall. In reality, we are even more scared to live. For those that actually end up getting the courage to begin the climb, their once cautious journey morphs rapidly into "how fast can I run this race to the top and win?". This is still fear, being clever and hypnotic. You see, here's the next secret:

There is no top. There is no finish line with a prize. It's an illusion.

We are not stagnate beings by nature. We are always growing, always evolving. I do not care what your biggest goal is in life...once everything is said and done, it will be one day out of your life when you actually achieve it. You will eventually say, "well, I've finally done it. Now what?" And your mountain suddenly becomes bigger. So then is there no point in beginning to climb in the first place? Of course there is a point. 

It is about the journey.

I was able to grow tremendously over the last two years because I said yes to an opportunity that felt right in my heart, but that my head told me I wasn't ready for, yet. And my head was right. I was not ready, yet. And it didn't matter. By leading with my heart and saying yes to the opportunity, I was FORCED to grow into the person who was ready. And on that journey, I learned things about myself that I didn't know existed. I am highly critical of my work...I throw plenty of it out...but there are other times that I stare at work that I'm genuinely proud of and think, "I cannot believe I actually created that..." 

You will never know what you are capable of creating...you will never know who's life you might touch or change...until you try.

Although I still take on weddings, I have realized that my biggest photography passions are candid family photography and classic portraiture. At one point in my photography journey I photographed a lovely elderly woman spending time with her very new great-granddaughter. Shortly after I took the following images, the woman's time on Earth came to an end.

This family will treasure these images forever. They are priceless to them. And they wouldn't exist if I had said no to opportunity just a few months earlier. There is such tremendous power in saying yes to things that we are scared of. And 2017 is your year to start saying YES! What would you do in your life TODAY if you were unable to feel fear? Seriously. Look at your dreams and imagine that somehow it was impossible for you to experience or react to fear. What does that look like for you? And what would it look like for the world?

You do not need to have "perfect" circumstances today. You do not need to know how or when you will achieve what you dream about most. What is true today will eventually fade away, so do not use your present circumstances as an excuse to live a small, fearful existence. On 1/23/13 I ended a relationship that was just not working. I was scared to walk away, but I dreamt of a happier and deeper partnership. I remember that I chose to finally end it on 1/23 because I wanted to remind myself that despite the endless nights of tears that were bound to follow, everything in the Universe is always in perfect order.

Exactly three years later on 1/23/17, I signed a lease for the Denver house Martin and I are moving into.

In 2013 I was sinking in fear, certain that I would be single forever if I walked away from the relationship that was not working. But I started ignoring that fear and chose, instead to have faith and be brave. As a result of that choice, coupled with a tremendous amount of work on myself and a bit of patience/Panera Bread, I am happier now in my current relationship than I've ever been in any relationship. I don't care how dark you think your life is; you can change it. Make a new, braver choice when you get up every morning and believe in the possibilities that exist for you. Look at fear lovingly and say, "I hear you. You have every right to your opinion. And I'm still going to say yes to this opportunity. You're right. I'll probably fall. Maybe a bunch of times. I may go unnoticed. Or people may notice me and say I'm no good. And I'm still going to try, anyway." When you do that, you'll free yourself from fear's grip and realize that life is truly magical...

 "Those who do not believe in magic will never find it."~Roald Dahl

"Those who do not believe in magic will never find it."~Roald Dahl

...and always has been.

I understand that you are scared. I hear you say that if you were a little bit more like so and so, you could accomplish greatness. Perhaps once you are a little bit more educated...have more money...move to a more ideal home...lose ten pounds...say goodbye to your youngest child as they leave for college...THEN you can dream. Then you can change. Then you can finally believe...

That is what fear will tell you. Fear will give you every excuse under the sun to think small. The good news? It has no more power over you than a child throwing a tantrum when he or she doesn't get their way. Unless you are in a life or death situation, the fear talking in your ear serves little purpose other than to distract you from being the grandest version of you. So give it a time out and follow your curiosity, instead.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson
 My son as a blastocyst. To any person who has ever lost a child at any stage, you are not alone. I see you. And I love you.

My son as a blastocyst. To any person who has ever lost a child at any stage, you are not alone. I see you. And I love you.

Two years ago today, my life looked very different. I did not see a way out of darkness. I did not think that life had anything happy in store for me. I did not think I would ever smile again. I was wrong. Not only do I smile, I make people smile. I know that when I create a beautiful photograph for somebody, I could be changing their life forever in ways that even I cannot anticipate. 

Please don't let 2017 be the year you face what you're scared of. Make it the year you face what you're scared of! How do you face fear? You face it! And smile at it because it's not real. And then keep moving. As it turns out, the storm clouds in Indiana were an omen for what was to come. I got distracted by the darkness...but eventually the sun came back out. In fact, it was there all along. And now I'm here to teach you the same thing.

I lost a baby. It sucked. It sucked the life out of me. I put my whole heart and soul into having a baby and I failed. And you know what? I haven't given up. I will never give up. I am not defined by that perceived failure, nor will I submit to fear telling me that it's not in the cards for me. The experience unexpectedly put me on a much more important path, one that I am eternally grateful for. I've learned that I'm stronger than I once thought. I've learned that I have the ability to be not just a business owner, but a passionate entrepreneur that touches and changes people's lives for the better. I can be more than a guy with a fancy Nikon gadget; I am a caring individual who wears his heart on his sleeve and stops time with a camera for the families who wish the beginning never had to end. And one day, I will be a father. One day I will be like my clients and welcome somebody into my home and have them photograph my expanding family.

Who would you be and what would you do in life if you laughed in the face of fear and kept moving towards opportunity? Who are the people that you could help that can only be helped by the gifts YOU bring to this planet? And when will you finally leave the excuses at the door and take the first step towards the grandest version of your life? One day...or day one. You decide.

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.
— Henry Ford

I believe in you.


For my latest work/shenanigans, please follow me here on Instagram! @markrossphotography