‘But you have a family!’ – On Photography, Competition, Trauma, Change and Performance 

I like to improve. To do better and be better. I love coaches, teachers and mental health professionals. I like to advance. But in the last two years I wasn’t full of pick-me-up stories myself. I was the opposite (that’s a long story to be told at a different opportunity). Partially, it was because I started thinking that it’s not OK to want to be better, that it’s not OK to learn and that it’s not OK to want to be a good player, that it’s not OK to get stronger. Where has that mentality emerged? When has this started to develop? 

But I want to get better and be better. Surely, that is not wrong. 

I’ll be honest this post is a reaction to a small quarrel I had with a friend last night. The conflict was again about photography and being a mum.

‘You have a job.’

‘You have a family.’

‘You have pets.’ 

‘You don’t have strength or stamina to be a photographer. It’s a an exhausting job, a demanding job.’

And as usually I backed off. I turned into a small girl who just wants to hide and quietly write and read in the corner. ‘Remain invisible’ – the scolded girl heard. 

I just want to be a writer. I always said I want to use photography in my work. I don’t need to be a professional photographer. 

And then I cringed at my own words and thought to myself: Right, Alicja. There’s work to do here. You are losing your yards here. You lost. You lost against your friends. 

Sod it, I thought to myself. I am going to be a professional photographer and a writer and a bloody damn good coach, because I will and I am sorry I am not going to allow people around me to destroy the culture of confidence that I am trying to build. I have been on the bottom, I have learnt my lesson and touching the bloody pit made me want to learn and listen. Truth, to listen somewhat selectively, but in the past I was listening selectively too – to the negative and I ended up taking anti-depressants. Look, I am not talking out of order here. There is a lot of research that suggests that societies who tell the stories of courage and strong leadership qualities are more likely to overcome their traumas that they encountered. Now it’s not the time for negativity but for wise choices and for seeing what is possible rather than what isn’t. 

These reads make me think that it is possible:

I have three great books at home that inspire me. One of them is entitled: ‘One Hundred Reasons to Hope’ and these are stories of incredible people that Captain Sir Tom Moore spoke to on Zoom call or met during lockdown easing. The book contains also other stories of people who brought hope and relief to others. The book cherishes hope and to a large extent redefined my memories of lockdown, added a new and much needed dimension and made me look differently at statistics too. Do you know that more than 15 000 retired health professionals came back to help in the NHS because of the Covid crisis and the vaccine was brought to us in just nine months, while it usually takes 10 to 15 years to make a vaccine. The book is full of hopeful stories that would certainly set a good tone to your day and make you and your children happier. 

Trauma keeps us small, keeps us tight, makes us freeze, flight and fight; makes us stuck in our usual responses, but what does the opposite? This has been my question and my therapy. Of course there is a process to it. Of course, there is a lot. I’ll be explaining this process here later in a different post, but just stay with me. Pay attention to what releases an incredible body language in you? What makes you want to jump out of bed and dance or move forward? What makes you want to recover or push forward? In another book that I wanted to recommend here and that I love to work with, Dan Abrahams, a sport psychologist, introduces a coaching model for developing world class players and he talks a lot about the importance of voice and messages that are sent to players. He writes: ‘Too many of your players will chip and chisel away at their self-belief. They probably spend their days breaking self-belief rather than building it. Players can’t build enough self-belief.’ It’s not always winning that builds that confidence but mindset and intensity of training. It’s the insistence of the coach, Abrahams says, ‘that helps things go beyond the intellectual and into the emotional. It helps players feel what it’s like to focus..” Be there for them. Give them attention. 

So my conclusion here is I cannot have enough self-belief. This is impossible. The problem with low self-belief is always the same. I end up doing everything late and I end up being the last one to implement changes… ‘A late adopter’, as people in business as well as the author of the third book that I wanted to recommend, Atul Gawande in A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, writes. If we always catching up, we do not see the inadequacies in our practice but, as Gawande asserts “a doctor must not let that happen-nor should anyone who takes on risk and responsibility in society”. Gawande writes something else too that touches me to the core. He says: “The notion that human caring, the effort to do better for people, might make a difference can seem hopelessly naive. But it isn’t.”

And let me stay here for a while and ponder this thought. 

Photography and art have been helping people for a long time. My own experience showed me how healing and healthy-out-of-your-shell body language emerged because I picked up a camera or because someone else picked it up. Dan Abrahams talks in his book about ‘building an inner catalogue of pictures that can drive the mentality and mindset of the players’. He means it metaphorically – I mean it literally too.

I believe it is my task to help people develop their catalogues of supportive images, of images that they can reach for when they need to, because we cannot have too much self-belief and will to contribute to the society. We can always do with some more. 

As for my friend, I think he played devil’s advocate for a reason. Now I can see even more meaning in the 52 frames portrait project that I am about to start. Just like Captain Sir Tom Moore, I want to share inspiring portraits of people and tell their stories. I also believe in photography for wellbeing. There is strength and recovery in both.


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