only

If only.

These are dangerous words.

“If only” stops us doing what we really want.

Say we want to write: then we need a writing instrument. The minimum equipment required to write is a pen and paper. Easily within the financial means of most.

If you’re not writing material that you like, then you may say: if only I had the right pen, then I would write a masterpiece. If only I had the right paper, then I would write articles that everyone would want to read.

Beyond a certain limit, more paper doesn’t let you write more. Certainly, you can write more on two pages than on one. But not having 500 pages is not a barrier to your creativity.

What about more pens? You can only write with one pen. More pens may allow you to be creative with colours, or continue if one breaks, but more pens don’t allow you to write more or better.

If only you had a nicer pen? If only you had a more expensive pen? If only you had a pen that would make your friends jealous. If only you had a pen that said “you’ve made it”.

Personally, I have gone through this process with photography.

If only I had this piece of software, I could really get good at photography.

If only I had this new lens my images would look so much better.

If only I had a new camera, I could get more clients.

I learned the hard (read: expensive) way that physical things were not the things holding me back; there were other things in my way.

Eventually, I figured it out. Once I’d shot and edited enough photos, I understood my own limitations. So when I needed to produce a certain kind of image, I had enough experience to understand that I needed a new lens.

Sometimes, it’s the lack of a physical thing that stops us from doing what we want to. But I’m convinced now that 99% of the time, there is something else holding us back.

The two most critical things needed to do anything aren’t things at all:

Time

Time is our most precious resource. Without time, we cannot create good work. If we waste our time, we cannot create. We cannot spend time thinking about the things we actually want to create.

How much time do you actually have to dedicate to what you want to be doing? How can you get more time?

Be intentional with your time.

Watch where time is sucked up.

Is it disappearing into hours of Netflix? Endless cleaning? Maintenance? Minimalism for me bought me a lot of time.

Space

Mental space is important. If we are constantly thinking of things or have things on our mind, then how do we create the mental space to create valuable work?

What is on your mind? What is stressing you? Can you get stuff off your mind?

If you have time and space, you might need knowledge, practice or inspiration

Knowledge

Sometimes training can be really useful. If we want to gain a skill, taking a course could be the answer. There are courses on almost anything you can think of, from short certifications to Masters degrees. The course you need depends on the skill level you have.

Practice

Often you can simply practice your craft until you get better. Set aside some time to practice something new, or hone your skills.

Inspiration

Inspiration is all around us. To be inspired, just have an idea. An idea is a beautiful seed. Ideas will branch into more ideas. 

Don’t have an idea? Then go out, sit quietly, observe the world in silence. Thoughts will appear on their own.

Take one of these thoughts and hold it.

Perhaps think of a problem you are having. They’re often easy to spot. Then envision a solution. What would that solution look like? How can it be elegantly implemented?

Any subject has breadth and depth. Take photography. To understand photography, we must understand its breadth. But to do meaningful work, we must dive deep into to The Unknown.

Breadth is another selfie. Another cat photo.

Depth is taking what has already been made and pursuing it further. Depth is where your unique perspective can push through lines. Driving portrait photography into new areas. Discovering solutions to problems that no ones else has had to solve.

Money

Money is almost never the thing to hold you back.

Start

Sometimes the way to find out what the the work you want to be doing is to just start.

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