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doubt: stuart sipahigil

Success is a funny thing. After having succeeded at something, you wonder why you ever doubted that it would work. It seems so obvious now that you chuckle at all the hesitation and the butterflies and the doubts. But before you succeeded, they are very real. It was the doubt that originally kept me from my recent success in photography. Doubt that anyone other than my friends and family would like my work; doubt that I would be able to talk about my work with strangers; indeed, doubt that my photographs were good enough.

Self doubt can be a good thing. It keeps you honest. It keeps your ego in check. But it can also talk you into playing it safe; into not taking risks. As Steven Pressfield tells us in The War of Art, it’s another face of Resistance. I placated my doubt and fed Resistance by keeping my photography to myself. Oh, I showed some to a few friends and family members, posted a few online, and people flattered me with “oohs” and “ahs,” but I didn’t really believe them. Of course they would be complimentary–they just didn’t want to hurt my feelings. It was my wife who finally made the difference. She was, of course, one of those who told me that my photographs were good, and one of those whom I didn’t really believe. She would constantly bug me to get my photographs off of my computer and let people see them. Ha! What did she know?

In May, she heard from a friend about a jazz/wine festival in June at a local winery, and that there were tables available for local artists to display their work. It was only $30 to reserve a space and proceeds from the event would benefit the county cancer services, which is always a win. She told me I needed to show my photographs at this festival and that she would help me do it. Of course, my first reaction was panic. There was no way I could do something like this and even if I did, everyone would quickly discover me for the fool I was.

But something happened. I can’t tell you exactly what it was, because I can’t put my finger on it, but a little voice inside my head—other than the usual voices—said, “Go for it.” “Do it,” I heard, “what do you really have to lose?” So I did. I paid the $30, printed and framed a few photographs that my wife helped me pick out, and showed up on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.

I sold nine prints. Nine. And I got invited to show at a local gallery.

Holy smokes. How did that happen? Hell if I know. But here’s what I do know. You have to conquer the doubt. You have to take the risk. You have to get your work out in front of people and take the chance that they’ll hate it. Or worse, ignore it. And if they do? You have to keep trying. Sitting around hoping somebody will discover you is not going to work. You have to put yourself out there. Of course you need to be somewhat prudent about it, but if you are getting the “oohs” and “ahs” from friends and family, it’s time to give it a shot. Join a local camera club and enter their contests. Enter your photos at the local county fair. See if there’s a small gallery in town that might be interested. As Beate Dalbec says, take a chance.

Success also begets success. I’m now working on something special; something I would have only dreamed about just a few months ago. I can’t reveal more until the details are finalized, but you’ll hear about it as soon as I can. Trust me, it’s very cool. None of this would have happened, though, without that first step. Mark and Beate, in their posts here on Sabrina’s blog, have said the same thing: you have to get over the first hurdle—and that first hurdle is your own doubt.

Many thanks to Sabrina for offering me the opportunity to share my story here, too. This series is a great idea and a great way to see how others have found success.

Stuart Sipahigil
The Light Without



  1. Bishop
    July 5, 2010

    Stuart —

    Congratulations and thank you for your posting. A great story about the need to overcome self-doubt and to take a chance. I look forward to hearing about the something special you are working on.

    Best regards — Bishop

  2. Tweets that mention doubt: stuart sipahigil -- Topsy.com
    July 5, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Olwick and others. Mark Olwick said: RT @SabrinaHenry: Guest blog post "Doubt" by @digitalstew is now up http://tinyurl.com/2unlc3y Great post! […]

  3. Mark
    July 5, 2010

    Nice post, Stuart, thanks. I’m begotten by the “what ifs” all the time…

  4. Craig Ferguson (@cfimages)
    July 5, 2010

    It’s that all-important first step that needs to be taken. Once over the inertia of self-doubt, anything is possible.

  5. Jeffrey Chapman
    July 6, 2010

    Not trying is (almost) always the wrong choice.

  6. Matea Michelangeli
    July 6, 2010

    This is a very common mistake among photographers, just keeping your work in your computer won’t do any good, and it is so important to let people -other than friends and family- judge your work. I make that mistake all the time, this article gives me inspiration to go out there and show my work, even if it get rejected!
    Congratulations Stuart and looking forward to see your new project!

  7. Ed
    July 6, 2010

    Stuart, what a great post. You are absolutely right about doubt, it’s something I struggle with too. I would add that doubt is fed by perception of perfection – you hold yourself to your own highest standards doubting your photographs are good enough because you don’t feel they can are perfect in your eyes. Well your eyes are too informed about your photographs and it is the eye of the beholder who needs to feel their stories. It’s also a fact that perfection is never truly attainable, at least the way I see it, and we are much better off that way. So, if you don’t feed the doubt and, as Craig says, get over the inertia great things can happen. Now I just need to heed your and my own words. Congratulations again Stuart!

  8. Beate Dalbec
    July 6, 2010

    I’m glad you listened to that little voice, Stuart!

  9. Stuart Sipahigil
    July 6, 2010

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments. One additional thought I had is that it never really goes away, does it? Once you’ve conquered doubt for one thing, there are doubts about the next thing, and so on. You just have to keep moving forward.

    Yeah, perfectionism can be a killer, too, Ed. I’ve learned you have you have to just pick something and put it out there. If it’s not quite right, you’ll find out pretty quickly, but you may also discover you’re better than you think.

  10. Christine Glade
    July 6, 2010

    Great read Stuart. Can’t be reminded enough that the “self-doubt song” that loops in our heads is often at the top of the charts for most creatives. Thanks for this post.

  11. Tweets that mention doubt: stuart sipahigil -- Topsy.com
    July 7, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dani. Dani said: In case you missed it: @digitalstew wrote an excellent guest post for @SabrinaHenry's blog http://tinyurl.com/272jvhe. Food for thoughts… […]

  12. Maureen Murphy
    July 8, 2010

    Great post Stuart
    It is reassuring to know that others have the same doubts and yes perfectionism can inhibit also…

  13. Erin Wilson
    July 10, 2010

    One more grateful reader here…

    I appreciate both your honesty about self-doubt, and the encouragement to step out. Thank you (both) for this post!

  14. The morning announcements… | The Light Without
    October 28, 2010

    […] back in July, I wrote a guest post on Sabrina Henry’s blog on doubt and success. In it, I mentioned that partly because of that particular success, I was […]

  15. Going Amateur As An Alternative To Going Pro
    December 29, 2010

    […] for your friends and family, there are more opportunities now than ever before. Overcome your doubt and hesitation, step out and see what you can accomplish as “just” an amateur. Please support this […]

  16. Dave
    February 11, 2011

    A friend of mine pointed this link out to me. For good reason. Time to get busy!
    Thanks for the inspiring post!

  17. Your Story: Stuart Sipahigil | Jacob F. Lucas – jflphotography.com – Seattle Based Landscape, Travel, and Urban Architecture Photographer
    July 3, 2011

    […] me to sign up for a booth at a local wine/arts/jazz festival. I’ve written at length in a guest post for Sabrina Henry about what happened, so I won’t repeat it all here, but suffice to say that she got my […]

  18. FeetfromShore
    August 16, 2013

    What an inspirational post! I’m glad I found it.
    The picture it is also amazing, I love the contrast of colors.


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