Photo of a boy pulling on a hose by humanitarian photographer Bryon Lippincott

I am currently in the process of reading Linch Pin by Seth Godin. As I’ve been reading, one idea keeps hitting me between the eyes. We spend our entire lives learning to and being trained to wait for permission to act. In school we need permission to go to the restroom, to speak, to start the test. After school the list of things we need permission for is ever increasing, permission to drive, permission to take a vacation, permission to change the way we do our work.

Many of these things are normal and there is a certain reasonable need to have gatekeepers granting permission, driving is a great example of this. However the more I think about it the more I realize that all of these situations where we learn to wait for permission, really just teach us not to take risks.With so many places and situations that actually do require permission, we become conditioned to want permission granted before we proceed with anything.

I have realized this a lot in my photography and how I approach it. I am much more assertive and make a much greater effort to connect with people when I am on assignment for someone else and have permission and a reason to be there. When I am on my own walking around the cityies of Asia I often make the assumption that I don’t have permission to take photos instead of assuming that I do.

This only serves as a self imposed limit that reduces my enjoyment of the moment and short circuits the creative process. I would get a lot more done, with better results if I worked under the assumption that I had permission until I was told otherwise.

I think this idea of permission and our self imposed limits is applicable in much more of my life and yours that we realize. There are so many things we want to try or dream of doing that get short circuited by our need for permission, our need for someone, even possibly our own ego to authorize the trip outside our box or comfort zone.

Why do we get so attached to our need for permission?

I think we get attached to the idea of permission because it provides a gatekeeper to risk. If we can rationalize the need for permission, then our subconscious can convince us that it wouldn’t be granted to us and risk is averted and we can move on.

It is easier to predict success and feel successful when the tasks and our authority to do them are easily defined. We know we can succeed because we are removing the unknown from the equation.

The other factor that fuels or need for permission is perception. What will people think? If I do this, or go there or talk to this person what will they think? Will I look funny? Will I get in trouble for going there? Will they ignore me or get angry?

Our perception of people’s reactions and opinions become virtual prisons of our own making. We forgo our ideas and dreams based on our fears of the worst case scenario.

To be clear I’m not saying you or I should drive without a license or practice medicine without going to medical school and receiving permission. What I am saying is that we can all easily identify areas where we are waiting for permission to move forward in spaces where there is no gatekeeper. We are waiting for permission to act because it feels safer and easier than taking the next step and acting.

Going forward I am going to actively work on changing how I approach this, both in my photography and in other areas. I am giving myself permission to explore, make changes, to create things, and even to fail. I am giving myself permission to put action first, and push the boundaries of what I think I can do and what I think I have permission to do.

Would you join me in choosing to act, in giving yourself permission to try, to fail, to succeed?