Overcoming Fear

The Risks and Rewards of Committing Yourself to Your Art

Me Ra Koh

As we allow our art to evolve, we give space to grow beyond the limitations we can struggle to hide behind. The risks and rewards of committing yourself to your art become almost overwhelming.

To start is one of the bravest steps we ever take.

If you struggle with multitasker tendencies, you know the angst that twists inside your stomach when asked to focus on one thing. To focus on one project, one person, finish one book, commit to one vision means that you spend less energy taking care of all the other ones that pull and tug at your heart. Fearful questions have raced through my mind: “Will that other vision die if I put it on the back burner? Will people think I don’t care if don’t respond to them with the frequency they are used to?”

Then, one of the biggest questions I’ve had to battle: “Will I miss out on something by putting too much focus in one area—will I have limited myself unknowingly?” And yet, after eschewing that one thing that called to you, life quickly feels half-lived.

As a working artist for almost twenty years, I have encountered a powerful myth in committing yourself to your art. It is the message that you have to figure out what “your art” is and never veer away from it. I understood the reasoning behind this advice, but it felt so limiting.

Wasn’t the act of creating meant to be free?

The oxygen had been robbed from my creative spirit. I decided to meet the naysayers (whoever they were) halfway. Instead of being dedicated to being a certain type of artist, I would dedicated myself to being an artist. And whatever art knocked on my heart’s door and asked to be created, I would answer. I would focus on creating it with excellence until it was birthed and living on its own.

This choice has walked me through an ever-changing, evolving journey.

Twenty years ago, I started as a high-school teacher. I crafted the art of speaking with confidence so I could one day speak easily in front of a crowd when my first book was published. This evolved into me being an author, speaker, and then by surprise, a photographer.

My first child Pascaline was eighteen months when I miscarried our second baby, little Aidan. The overwhelming grief of this loss robbed all my desire to speak — and writing felt too intimate for a broken heart that felt so raw. One afternoon, I was lying on the couch and watching Pascaline play in front of the sliding-glass doors. The afternoon sun spilled through the doors, illuminating her with a golden light. In that moment, I wondered if it was possible to capture her, preserve her story in images, homage to the life I couldn’t hold onto.

When you think of committing yourself to your art, do you feel boxed in? Identify the myths so you can commit to creating unlike ever before.

I bought my first SLR camera at Costco along with a bag of film. Then I started taking photos of Pascaline. I discovered the craft of storytelling to be as true and powerful in imagery as it was for me in writing.

Instead of sharing my story in front of audiences, I was sharing her story.

And behind the camera, my heart began to heal.

Yet at the time, I felt like I was betraying myself as an author and speaker. My first book, Beauty Restored, took me ten years to write based on my journey of finding restoration and healing after being date raped. The audiences I spoke to were close to my heart. They were desperate to know you could not only survive, but breathe deep again, after being traumatized in such a horrific way. Now I felt such a deep disappointment in myself. Was God disappointed with me, for not speaking to these women, giving up the mission I had started … to take photos instead? Was this okay?

The truth was that no matter how much I felt I should keep speaking or writing, I couldn’t. My heart wasn’t ready yet. I prayed that somehow I would come back to empowering women as I stepped into the unknown territory of taking photos.

That was almost ten years ago. Since then, the healing hobby of taking photos evolved into taking family portraits. This transformed into shooting million-dollar weddings with my husband shooting beside me. In the midst of running a successful high-end wedding photography boutique business, the knocking came to my heart again. It was time to shift my focus again.

I’m not sure if it’s a curse or a blessing, but I can’t escape the sound of the knocking when it comes. Listening to the knock is committing yourself to your art.

The knocking isn’t loud or intrusive, it is simply present and constant.

I felt like we were supposed to move away from shooting weddings. In many ways, the timing didn’t make sense. We had finally climbed to a place of leadership and recognition in the wedding industry. We were featured in top magazines, speaking at conferences, and to give it up — to walk away — wasn’t that crazy?

It came back to my commitment years before, a commitment that Brian now shared with me. Our commitment was focused in our art, whatever art that may be. And when we put our focus in one place, we would give it everything we had, not holding back, until we heard the knocking again. In the quiet of that conversation with Brian, I told him that I felt like we were supposed to return to empowering women again, like we had in the days of touring with Beauty Restored. But this time, it was going to be moms — moms with their cameras.

I also said that I felt like we were supposed to get me on TV.

I remember whispering it to him even though no one else was listening.

However, it felt so scary to share.

Ten years after I picked up that SLR, an awakening was happening. All the years of teaching in the classroom, combined with shooting million dollar weddings, and the immense stress that goes into NOT missing the moment with practice of writing on my blog — every piece of the journey had prepared me for this particular knocking. The first time I walked on to the Nate Berkus Show on NBC, with 200-plus audience members clapping, half a dozen cameras filming, I was ready. It was those experiences on-camera — my two years with Nate, Harpo’s team and NBC — all preparing me for my new show with Disney Junior, Capture Your Story with Me Ra Koh.

This is where I want our starting place to be.

Choosing to focus sometimes feels like it may threaten other possibilities.

Yet this belief underestimates the creative power we each carry. Choosing a focus is committing yourself to your art.

Whether you recognize yourself as an artist or not, your life is still ever-evolving, ever-changing. There is a knocking that comes to your door, a sense that you feel in your spirit. Do you listen and follow the trail?

Do you risk shaking up all that is known and familiar to follow a gut feeling?

Even when it gives no guarantees of where it will lead? If you do, you are in good company.

I want this space to be a place of safety, especially knowing that I’m among an audience of risk takers.

When we choose to be risk takers, every safe harbor is that much richer. May this blog fill you with rest, companionship, and hope as continue to risk putting your focus on that single knock.

*The Risks and Rewards of Committing Yourself to Your Art First Published on Disney.