Compass Checks

Now I see that the journey was never meant to lead to some new and improved version of me; that it has always been about coming home to who I already am. –Katrina Kenison

2017 was very much a year of recovery. In the few times I wrote in 2016, I struggled with feeling incredibly off balance. I stepped into 2017 hoping to recover some of that balance, to find myself again. I made strides in my business. I tried to regain the athlete I once was. But when October rolled around, I still felt less than whole and dove headfirst into old Facebook albums.

I’ve reflected on 2017 and felt slightly disappointed in the lack of progress I made, in feeling like I ended the year just as it began. I’m not sure we entirely know what we need even when we think we do. We wander blindly and might feel nudges towards one thing or another. We might suspect the direction we should take and try any number of routes only to find dead ends.

Sometimes I get frustrated with this constant circling back and wonder why I can’t be consistent, why I’ve been lost so many times. What I’ve found is that 2017 taught me there’s wisdom to be uncovered in my kind of compass-less travel. It’s easy to feel stuck when we look around and see that we’ve wandered and floated for so long. It’s easy to feel discouraged and almost abused by a lack of self-care and self-awareness. We can know intellectually that one small change can lead to another and another and become big changes as they ripple out, but those first steps back to ourselves can be terrifying. We sulk in fear and guilt and shame.

The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.
― Brené Brown

2018 is about showing up and re-learning how to thrive.

What began as a potentially emotionally dangerous delve into nostalgia in the fall has rippled into something incredibly positive and productive. That plummet was a powerful compass check and redirection: an about face right back to who I know I am and who I know I need to be.

When I saw that picture of the girl I once was, I immediately knew what I needed to rebuild my courage, to rebuild myself. A hesitantly sent email to my former triathlon coach in hopes that she would still coach me was all it took. A meeting and reunion lunch a week later, and I was back in my happy place. I was back on the path that has saved me again and again. I was careful not to jump in too quickly; I’ve learned to be very aware of my impulse to make a change just for the thrill of making a change. I’m too familiar with the thrill of signing up for big and scary races yet not being ready to commit to the actual process of training for a big and scary race. Training for triathlons has always provided so much; it has been life-saving and life-creating, and I wanted this return to triathlon to be for the right reasons- not to prove myself to anyone and not to patch a hole in my heart. We began training carefully and intentionally with the goal of a spring sprint and a summer olympic and beyond that, we’d just see what will happen. After two months of consistent, happy training and feeling more like myself than I have in years, I felt ready to commit to a big, scary goal. Ironman 70.3 Ohio is now officially on the calendar for July.


Bringing this blog back to what it always was, separating my business writing from my personal writing, my business life from my personal life established the breathing room to write rambling posts like this. Posts that are a little clunky and feel rusty to write after nearly three years of not much practice, posts that provide clarity and direction and lay the groundwork for an intentional life to begin again.


Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand-and melting like a snowflake. —Francis Bacon, Sr.

I’m so grateful for this journey, this noodling and indirect path I always take towards and away from myself again and again. With each compass check, with each reset, I’ve understood what’s worth holding onto, what I need to allow to fall away, and the responsibility I have to myself. I’ve learned so very much about trusting, living intentionally, and crafting a well-lived life.

Beginning. Again.

Over the last three years, I’ve alternated between sporadic and quickly fizzled out fitness goals, to wanting to write but never being brave enough to actually begin, to hating and resenting my business to diving back into it head first. I’ve been completely out of balance, off center, and unfocused. Reading back through old posts, I think this spiral was beginning in between Raleigh 70.3 and Augusta, my last 70.3. I was burnt out on training and preoccupied by the rough beginnings of learning the art and science of photography and fitting in in an industry that isn’t always welcoming to beginners. All of the confidence I had gained in my journey towards 70.3 didn’t transfer, which was frustrating and overwhelming.

I have wondered what happened to the girl who once braved to do what felt impossible. Especially recently I’ve missed her, hard and with a dull and throbbing ache. In mid-October, I was wistfully looking through old Facebook albums and saw a post-race, happy, sweaty picture and without realizing, actually said barely above a whisper: I want to be her again.

I’ve tried over the past year to regain myself, my love of being active, and having goals. I tried a cross fit gym, tried working out at home, joined a running training team, signed up for running races, but I failed at buying into any of it fully. My sense of motivation and dedication was still flailing and when my nagging knee injury flared up at the end of the summer and derailed my fall half marathon goal, it left me in the perfect place for a plummet into old Facebook albums and wistfulness.

That post-race image of myself was when I was in the thick of triathlon training, I was surrounded by good friends, and I was working with a like-minded and dedicated coach. I was brave and showing up in my life in a way that I haven’t fully done in the last three years. I have been dedicated to my photography business, but it’s been with a veil of uncertainty and a feeling that I don’t really deserve to be in this industry. I’ve struggled with feelings of belonging, of hiding the parts of myself that thinks and writes too deeply, of being a photographer and an athlete and a writer. I have felt like a shadow of myself.

2017 began with a renewed sense of awareness and promise, and even with the posts I wrote at the end of last year while I was slowly coming to these realizations, implementing a route back has been a tedious process. Seeing that image reminded me that I still am her and can be her again. I think as the years roll on, the achievements that seemed to define us at one point fade and begin to seem hazy. That with time, they become less tremendous and almost begin to lose the meaning they held and the claim we had on them. It quickly becomes “that thing I once did, but can’t necessarily do now, this second” and so it loses its value to our ego and our minds. You feel a fraud. But what I realized in that wishful breath is that I am still all I was back then. I can choose to be that determined and brave girl every single day and do that day’s impossible feat.

We are at the ending of another year. With the winter solstice at our doorsteps this morning, another season’s cycle is beginning. I’m ready to begin.

Trails. Home.

2017 : Live Loved, Be Brave

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. -Hal Borland

virginia-beach-family-photographerIn the last seven years that I’ve maintained a blog, I’ve searched and questioned. I’ve tried my hand at different kinds of writing, different voices, different ways to communicate. I’ve gone absent. I’ve returned. I’ve been unsure. I’ve found a wobbly confidence. I’ve been focused almost solely on writing as a business pursuit.

It mimics quite a bit of the reality of my life and my usually overflowing and anxious brain, and sometimes it’s frustrating to see so much back and forth, so much sway between focal points and commitments. Hyperfocusing is my pattern, and it’s taken reaching some fairly low moments in the last six months to see how damaging that can be. To live incredibly out of balance with who you are and what your needs are for over two years finally brings you to a point of feeling completely suffocated and paralyzed.

Alarmingly, I was feeling many of the same emotions and reacting in many of the same ways as I did immediately before and after my divorce (even down to weight gain and a dramatic haircut). The impetus and situations are totally different, but my reactions to feeling lost and suffocated were not.

It was incredibly confusing to see my life and know it was good, to love so much of it, to be so grateful for how amazing it was, and to know that I had no obvious reason to feel so frustrated and listless.

Despite having figured out so much through the summer and actually being brave enough to write about it here, I wasn’t ready to fully understand what I needed to do to gain a better balance. I was hashtagging #liveinthelayers but not really grasping what it meant for me to actually do that. I was not understanding that I really needed to make choices that brought those layers I so desperately needed back to my life. Instead I continued to hide, to feel more fearful than ever.

In my relentless pursuit of building a successful photography business, I all but abandoned any real physical goals. Running, swimming, and biking dwindled even with half-hearted attempts of signing up for races and then finding injury around the corner. I felt paralyzed from writing and expressing my heart the way I had been doing for years on my blog and on social media because it didn’t feel like it lined up with branding goals, a curated and polished feed, and what is taught as the methods used by successful creatives to build a brand and business.

It’s incredibly important for me to note that none of this is wrong empirically. It simply didn’t work for me, for my heart, and my goals for my life and business. But I mostly kept up. I forced myself to play by the rules.

Until it became too painful and too exhausting. I considered giving up my business. I checked out of social media for a while. I stayed quiet because that is the only way for me to regain understanding. Thankfully, this pattern was ready to be broken, and despite having gained 25 pounds in two years, having a growing out haircut I don’t totally love right now, and having flailed a bit business-wise in the last six months, it is no longer 2006, post-divorce. I am not the unhappy girl who sat on the sidelines at the Shamrock wishing for the confidence to do something real, to feel real and alive. I have done real and hard and meaningful things in the last ten years. Running away is simply no longer an option in my life.

It feels perfectly timed that so many realizations came at the end of 2016. December brought such light and courage and well-timed conversations, and I am entering 2017 with a lightness and confidence that has eluded me for a long time. And while it is a leap for me to share so honestly here because I’m out of practice, I believe it’s important. It’s important for me to acknowledge my journey. It’s important for others who may also be struggling for any reason to recognize themselves in these words.

I am ready to fully dive into the layers.

I’m carefully reconstructing a business that truly reflects who I am. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like yet, and I’m comfortable with that mystery for now. I do know that it will continue to focus on loving my families and newborns well.

I’m taking charge of my fitness. I found a new gym that is personal and ego-free. I’m running again without the pressure to tackle huge distances. I’m eating healthily. I’m feeling better about myself.

I’m reflecting and writing and reading and journaling again. I realized, sadly, that I haven’t dedicated a year to a theme or a word in two years.

I’m not considering 2017 a new beginning, but a going on, a continuance of this life’s story that is threaded with more wisdom and experience and intention.

I’m chasing down me again (and again); I’m remembering to live loved and be brave.

Catch and Release

The mornings unfurl before me now, expansive, open ended. Suddenly there’s time to sit on the screened porch, the cicadas humming, their white noise infiltrating the silence, the rain playing its staccato beat, and write. Think. Be. Suddenly there’s endless time to swim and train, to run errands, unencumbered. To meander around bookstores, the colorful spines of the books lining the shelves, a running rainbow of words and stories.

It’s unsettling, this free time, and I’m unsure how to navigate because in the midst of exhaling, of realizing this gift of quiet and time to myself after years of very little, is the immutable reality that my role as a mother is always changing. We spend years knitting together our own version of motherhood. We question; we cry; we laugh. We sigh exasperatedly and feel that we will never quite get it right. And all the while, as we furiously create new layers, new textures, and designs, we realize that the other end is slowly and methodically unraveling.

Motherhood, it seems, is a catch and release, a ceaseless practice of gathering close and of letting go. And the unraveling around here lately has reached a furious pitch; we are on the cusp of change, just dipping our toes into the liminal spaces between the shadows of childhood and the hazy beginnings of becoming.

The sun hadn’t yet begun its wide arc across the sky as I stumbled out of bed and downstairs to find Pacey already dressed, packed, and ready to catch the bus on his first day of high school. Over the rim of my coffee cup, through the steam, I examined him, memorized the few remaining round, boyish features that lingered along the lines of his face. We’ve grown together; we’ve argued and said many harsh words; we’ve snuggled and watched movies and read books; and now that he’s tipped the scale towards more man than boy, now that he’s starkly taller than I am, I see that I’m releasing more than I’m catching. Our orbit grew ever so wider as he walked to the corner, backpack-less despite my futile protests, brown paper lunch bag in hand, his plain black lunchbag quickly becoming another unwanted relic of middle school. I couldn’t help but see the boy he was, the knock-kneed, striped polo shirt, backpack so large that it almost swallowed him figure that I sent to kindergarten in a release that was no less large, no less wrenching than this.

I know our time together, this day to day getting on with school and soccer and home and endless summers has already reached its pinnacle. We are on the downward slope, quickening with each day towards even more difficult releases, and I frantically want to grasp at every scant piece of his boyhood that remains on the edges. And while I know that the teen years are a time of reckoning, a time of push back and brassy behavior, I can’t help but want to soften my response to the increasing chaos and embrace the crazy, emotional, and sometimes obnoxious ways they embrace the world. Because I’m learning that softening, a more emollient and gentler approach with my children and maybe more importantly myself is the answer to the tumultuous way life refines us.

To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. —Pema Chodron

Every part of me wanted to panic and rattle as I struggled with gracefully allowing Rowan to board the bus later that morning. It was now her turn, with her too-big backpack and knobby knees, another image that will be a fallback, a marker, one to draw up when we need comfort. The bus drove away with a loud rumble, and I saw in such sharp relief that our entire reality shifted in that moment. Another orbit dramatically expanded and our slow mornings and drawn out and placid days are now the stuff of memory: another release, more merciless unraveling.

We talk of how babies change our lives, how time to ourselves becomes something of luxury. We move sleepily through molasses infused hours that bind each day indistinctly to the next, and then we finally come to the day we send everyone to school. I’ve been expecting to find more clarity; I expected to be invigorated by the freedom, and it’s surprising to find it feels just as hazy but with less noise. We will find our way, our comfort with this new routine and schedule, but for now, it feels strangely foreign and ill-fitting. It’s scratchy and unfamiliar, and in an attempt to not unravel myself, I’m softening my approach here, too. I’m, begrudgingly at times, giving myself the space to feel completely raw and uncomfortable because I’m learning that this constant knitting and unraveling is life’s way of refining us. The unraveling will relentlessly continue, but on the other end, unfurled and beautiful, ragged and undefined, there are new intricate layers and designs surfacing.


Pitching Tents

Our campsite sat alone at the edge of a winding array of freshly groomed and perfectly square parcels of temporary residences. Slowly, we pitched our tent, what would become our shelter for the weekend, vulnerable and thin. Carefully choosing a corner of our site that had just enough tree cover and just enough space to hold the rectangular base of our tent, we brought the tent to three dimensions.

This trip, poised perfectly at the cusp of summer and fall, was a reaching, a narrowing of my purpose to provide my children and myself with what I believe we need in this world: nature, the rhythm of a day lived wholly outside, living by the sunrise and the sunset, simple, quiet togetherness. A longtime camper, our recent lives have included no weekend excursions. It simply wasn’t something that we found worked as a whole family, but recently, I’ve longed for the simplicity of the mountains, the way the crisp morning air provides a stark contrast to the day’s waiting warmth and humidity, the pungent campfire smoke, and the ambling way the hours drift by.

Just as my meager and out of practice fire began to finally form in the ring, a summer thunderstorm rolled across the tops of the trees and rain began to fall, slowly at first and with just enough time before the skies completely opened to dash on the rain fly and find solace in the tent. The rain pelted on the tent in a disparate but comforting rhythm, the delicate rivulets decorated the outside walls haphazardly in a veiny and translucent roadmap. Our new tent was being water tested within an hour of its debut, and we laughed at the impeccable timing of a surprise storm when the weather had shown no chance of rain.

Like the tent, I was also being tested within an hour of our arrival. This camping trip was the beginning of a different story I’m choosing to tell myself. Different than what I believed was capable of doing on my own. Different from the story I had been telling myself for years. A story that has had a rigid perimeter and a stringent middle. A story that says the idyllic, the ideal, the normal is the only definition of success and happiness.

It’s so easy to get absorbed in the caricatures of life we see every day, so easy to become enamored with the vision of a curated life, an exacting script to follow, a carefully plotted beginning, middle, and end. What I’m beginning to learn, what I’ve been learning over and over, is that there is no such script, no such predetermined plot line for a perfect life. Our decisions, our actions, and our desires form the plot line as we go, and it becomes perfect in its own design. It leads us to where we are meant to be.

And so I found myself alone with my children in a tent, during a thunderstorm in the mountains, making shadow puppets on the tent’s walls, laughing about the gibberish the lines of rain created, telling scary stories. I felt myself relax into this space just a little, the rain slowly peeling away the murky layers I’ve carried in a futile attempt to control and create a life that fit my exacting mold.

The storm finally waned but the rain drops deposited on the trees’ leaves relentlessly pelted the tent’s roof throughout the night, and it left me feeling raw and vulnerable, cracked open and exposed. My nerves were already on edge from venturing into this space on my own, and in the thick darkness I could hear Gage stir, sniffle, and then turn with a garbled release of sleepy words. In turn my emotions ran rampant and fluctuated between courageous and terrified. We knew no one else in the campground, my cell phone defiantly displayed No Service, there was word that a bear had been nosing around campsites at night in search of food, and within an hour of our arrival my story of how our weekend would go had been changed, wetted, and shifted.

Suddenly I had an intense and almost uncontrollable urge to go home, to frantically disassemble the drenched tent, pack my sleepy children into the car, and crash through the closed park gate, leaving the rain and the bear behind. I questioned my purpose in bringing us here, alone, without another adult to lean on for support. The sense of being utterly alone and unmoored in the world for that moment was inescapable and oppressive. I wondered: was I really interested in bringing us closer to nature and an easier way of living, if just for a few days, or was I trying to prove something?

Without the mind-numbing escape of social media or games on my phone, I found that my only way through this rainy, restless night was to breathe through the panic and to hold my fear gently. The soaked leaves finally dried, and we emerged from our soggy cocoon to face a new day, the fears of the night before fell away as we set to the morning duties of drying off chairs, making coffee, setting up the stove and making breakfast. The frantic questioning of the night before was silenced, quieted in the way that mountain mornings can hush most stress, and I trusted that we were here, in this magical place, amidst strangers and maybe a roaming bear, for exactly the reason we needed to be.

There was nothing left to prove because in the uncomplicated morning air, it was clear that this exodus from our normal lives was simply about us being together in this space that felt magical. It was about creating the plot line for our lives, in all of its messiness and unexpected turns and soggy tents. Rather than living in a desperate attempt to prove myself and create and curate my identity and our lives to others, what was brought into sharp focus was a need to simply be, to exist together in this splendid slice of time, a halcyon way to close the summer out, unfettered and free.



Today I held Jon tightly and had my first teary-eyed goodbye at an airport gate. Strangers walked by and smiled gently as I wiped the tears that traced my cheeks, and I had to almost laugh at the subtext of my story because I was only going to be away for 48 hours. Still those tears have been pooling, nudging, wanting to fall for more than just today.

I don’t know if it’s the heavy, heat of summer, the prospects of a short visit to parts of my past life this weekend, or just my nature that has me splashing messily around in my emotions. Maybe it’s part of the journey, maybe it’s the two-to-one intervals of making progress and stepping back: the ebb and flow of growth.

And while it’s incredibly easy to slip into auto-pilot mode and float along on the surface of my life, it’s not how I’m built. The more I avoid the deep, sometimes murky parts of life, the more dark and murky and confused I become. In the last few years, I’ve felt pressure— internal and external— to carefully curate what I present to the world. Because this has become less of a purely personal blog and more of a blog for my business, I’ve held back from writing. From sharing, from thinking, from really being who I am. Because what would people think? What would clients think? What would colleagues think? Shouldn’t I be building my brand first and use my blog for a different purpose than I once have? And while everyone says that branding should be personal, I feel like there’s an asterisk: *but not that personal.

I have my own asterisks.

*I’m tired of branding myself.

*I’m tired of curating myself.

This summer has been full and active and filled with layers that I know I need, but it has also felt dark and heavy, and I think that is a culmination of over two years of layerless living. I threw myself so fully into building a business, into becoming successful, into learning, into fitting in that I gave up on the dimensions of my own story beyond photography. When that happens it’s incredibly easy to slip into old habits of self-criticism, of feeling eternally less than, of never measuring up to self-imposed notions of perfection.

I clipped my own wings.

Is it any wonder that now I feel stuck? I know this place well. It’s a cycle that I’ve perfected since childhood, and for the past two weeks, I’ve hidden. I’ve managed only the bare minimum of social media business tasks. I’ve really wanted to stay under the covers, and a bad cold gave me the excuse to do that some of the time.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
-Brene Brown

My story may not be tidy and exceedingly peppy all of the time. It’s true that sometimes I think “too much” about life, and I will always prefer a deep, whole-hearted conversation over small talk. I could choose to continue running from my story, but instead I’m ready to own it, to share it, to layer it with what fits, and to ruthlessly extract the parts that don’t so that I can authentically and carefully


Live in the Layers

The noise of life always seeps in. It gnaws away at my edges and creates its familiar and distinct anxiety. Year after year, I’ve looked around and wondered when life really begins. When will I have arrived at the life I’ve yearned for. The life that will be wholly fulfilling. One where I’m not restless. Not second guessing. Not wondering what else or why.

It’s an overwhelming process that ranges from an incredibly joyful satisfaction to an increasingly uncomfortable restlessness.

I’m tired of the restlessness.

Hyperfocusing on only one part of my life and then floating along on the rest is exhausting. I’m convinced that a perfectly balanced life doesn’t exist. But I believe there is a recipe to the perfect balance we need at any point in our lives if we are disciplined enough to search it out and live it.

If you want to measure the level of happiness in your life, measure the level of discipline in your life. You will never have more happiness than you have discipline. The two are directly related. […] Whether those experiences are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, discipline elevates them to their ultimate reality. It heightens every human experience and increases every human ability. –Matthew Kelly

It’s been a challenging awareness to accept that in many ways, I have lacked the discipline to really create the life that will be wholly fulfilling to me: the discipline to consistently commit to all of the layers that I know I need. Oh there has been plenty of discipline surrounding them in very concentrated areas. I’ve completed challenging physical goals. I’ve written for hours and hours. I’ve gone to church. I’ve built a business and grown as a photographer. I’ve devoured books. But all of those have happened in isolation. There has been a stark lack of dimension, so where I’ve very intently focused on one, the rest have faltered.

In photography, composition is crucial. The foreground, background, the edges matter. The negative space is as important as the weighty presence of the subject. Each layer of the image has a responsibility to the whole. In some moments, different layers hold more importance than others, but it is a conscious choice we make each time we press the shutter.

And I’m learning it is a conscious choice in life.

Live in the layers, not on the litter. Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. –Stanley Kunitz

It’s time to live in the layers. This is my reentry. Because I am not done. Because I’m more than a photographer. And a mother. And a wife. Because I’m a writer. A runner. A triathlete. I’m more than I’ve even begun to discover.


Hiking and Natural Waterslides

A few weeks ago we took our yearly family vacation to my home, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Virginia Beach for nearly 30 years, but the mountains will always feel like home.  I know the exact spot on Route 17 in Virginia when we hit the crest of a hill and the mountains come into view for the very first time. I get excited every time, and Jon might possibly call me a tree hugger every time. Just maybe.

I’ve always wanted to take the kids to Ohiopyle State Park that is about thirty minutes from my parents’ house that has hiking, white water rafting, waterfalls, and natural water slides, but it seems like we always run out of time. Sometimes it’s really easy to slip into wishing that I did things but never taking the time to plan them out and make them happen. It’s such a bad habit to get stuck in, so this year, I made Ohiopyle a priority, and my mountain loving heart was in heaven.


We went my sister and her family, which made the entire day even sweeter! And if they look familiar (minus the blue fohawks), theirs is the epic session I shot when I was there!


Jon isn’t what you’d call a nature lover, but even though I had to convince him that he would like hiking (really, I promise, you’ll love it!), he had a good time. And he saw his first waterfall in real life! (What? Really?! Yes, really. Sad.)virginia-beach-family-photographer_0064virginia-beach-family-photographer_0063

This would be the fallen tree we either had to go over or crouch under. virginia-beach-family-photographer_0065virginia-beach-family-photographer_0068

I just love my crew! And Jon can take a good picture with instructions!


I had to laugh when I saw this. This kid would sit down anywhere. Even on the side of a mountain!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0066

Cucumber Fallsvirginia-beach-family-photographer_0075virginia-beach-family-photographer_0076

One of my favorites from the day!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0074

After we hiked back over Meadow Run Trail, we arrived at the natural water slides. Yes! I was tempted to try it, but then I remembered my back probably wouldn’t be happy with that, so Rowan and I watched from the edge.


The boys were brave enough to give it a go, and they both said it was pretty rough banging against all of the rock!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0072virginia-beach-family-photographer_0073

It was such a great morning, and sitting there along the rocks and water, I’ve never felt more at home. The beach maybe my home now, but my heart is always in the mountains. <3


How to be Amazing

Rowan has always been incredibly strong and flexible. She learned to do headstands against the wall when she was two and can easily do splits, straddles, and backbends. It isn’t something she’s ever had to practice. It’s always been a skill set she’s naturally had.

Recently we decided to put her in gymnastics, and she has loved every second and has grown in leaps and bounds. Two weeks ago she had a chance to watch the “big girls” in the gym. They were practicing for their next competition, and Rowan saw them doing their floor routine, which included walkovers, handsprings, round-offs, and leaps. She hasn’t stopped talking about it, and she’s always wondering, “Are the big girls in the gym right now, Mama?” I catch her practicing leaps and splits in her room, but she’s getting frustrated with her limitations. She is seeing a big, new world of gymnastics, and she’s ready to do those amazing things, too.

But she’s not ready. Her little body is strong and is doing amazing things already, and she’s been selected to move to the pre-competitive team this summer. She has a natural talent and skill that the coaches want to build on and foster into something more. I love that she’s learning at such a young age that to reach for amazing isn’t by chance or without hard work.

Last year, I had a long-time, very loved client ask me how I was so amazing after I delivered her images. I’ve thought about that comment often since then, and the truth is, I do not consider myself to be amazing. I don’t ever want to feel amazing or that I’ve arrived or reached my goal, and since then I’ve considered what it takes to truly become what you dream of being? To stretch and reach towards that pinnacle?

Instead of that pinnacle in the last several months, I’ve surprisingly found a space of relative comfort and confidence. I’ve written before about conquering the gap that Ira Glass so eloquently described. The chasm that beginners find when embarking on a dream is intimidating; it’s frightening. The self-doubt and the frustration can be incredibly overwhelming, and it’s easy to get lost in the muck, to splash around in it and get stuck.

Comfort and confidence is a welcome shift from anxiousness, fear, and frustration. After endless hours of practicing, of analyzing, of studying. Endless hours of searching for my heart inside of my images and style. It’s incredibly satisfying to finally exhale. I enjoy feeling more confident about my work and my style. But it’s also nice to know I’m not amazing. Because that means there is still so much more to do, room to grow, and progress to make.

One day I’m sure Rowan will do a walkover and handspring. She will be one of the big girls in the gym and will find so much more comfort and confidence. And I hope that she understands that amazing isn’t a destination. Amazing is a reaching, a longing, and a desire for more that is never quite achieved, and that’s what makes it beautiful.

how to be amazing lifestyle photography girl jumping

Finding Purpose

Today I had the honor of speaking at my alma mater to a group of students who achieved principal’s list during the last quarter. I definitely had a mix of nerves and excitement. Even though my background is teaching, this does not equate to being a gifted or comfortable public speaker. I gradually found comfort in my classrooms, but the big difference is they become safe places. Each of my classes would become more like a big, somewhat dysfunctional family. In contrast, a cafeteria full of 60 teenagers staring at me talk into a microphone is vastly different.

I was asked to talk about passion, life goals, and purpose. My life’s path has definitely not been a straight and simple one, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time (over) thinking about what I was meant to do with my life and always coming up short with finding a clear answer.

I have a rising freshman of my own at home, and he and I often have conversations about careers, life goals, and exactly what he wants to be when he grows up. And right now, he doesn’t have an idea and he tells me he’s too young to plan for the rest of his life… Wise words! Because I think back to always wondering what I wanted to be. What did I want to do with my life? And I never knew for sure. I changed my mind quite a bit, and I might have had five different majors in college. Five! And they really varied: in my 4.5 years in undergraduate school, I spent time as an English, history, art history, early childhood education, and a nursing major. (Hence the extra semester needed to actually finish my final major choice!)

Because of this constant indecision, I have always looked around and wondered how people get to where they are. On the surface it has often appeared like luck, a golden thread randomly woven into their fabric of life. There were many years of my adult life where I sat back in a protective cocoon, wondering when that thread of luck might weave its way into my life, too. It was a frustrating place, one of observation and envy, one of an almost consuming powerlessness.

And it always came back to that overwhelming question: what do I want to really do? I remember being captivated by my senior high school English teacher and her passion for literature and writing and the craft of teaching. She filled the room and shone an incandescent sort of light for us— a weary lot of overachieving seniors, but in the midst she drew out our creativity, our depth of thinking, and the writers we could one day be.

She was the reason I finally decided to teach English. I wanted to be like her; I wanted to fill a classroom with my passion. I wanted to read and write and teach. At least that’s what I thought. I’m an introvert by nature, a fairly quiet person. I work hard to not fill any room, so my experience in the classroom always felt flat. It wasn’t one of passion, but struggle; not a time of joy, but frustration and regret. From that first year of teaching, I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be, yet I stayed for ten years hoping to one day understand that it was what I was meant to do. If I wanted to be like my teacher, I had to.

But that burning question persistently loomed well into my 30s. Two years ago, I was talking to my stepdaughter, then a college freshman, and she was embarking on a similar search as she tried to decide on a major and internships and big life questions. I found myself recanting my choices and paths.

I described my admiration of my teacher; I explained my frustration with the reality of teaching, and my perceived failures there. And what usually happens when we are helping others with their worries is that we help ourselves, too. I found myself explaining to her that admiring my teacher all those years ago did not mean that I was to teach.

Instead it was her passion I should have emulated: the way her eyes sparkled, the joy she held for her work, the momentum she created, the work she gladly put into making a happy space in her life.

I took myself by so much surprise in that statement that I had to pause to allow it to register. I had never thought about my own choices in that light. Rather than living with a sense of listlessness and confusion in what the future holds, I realized that it was up to me to bravely mark the trail towards what will make me most happy. And it didn’t have to look like anyone else’s path. Some people know what they want to do all along the way and some people, like me, might have to try a few things on before they realize what really fits. And neither way is wrong.

At that point in my life, I knew I loved photography. I knew I loved taking pictures of my children and family and capturing our life’s story. There was a quiet part of my heart that thought just maybe I could actually do this as something more than for our family, but it felt so large and frightening that I often tucked it away. Typically I wasn’t in the business of large and frightening decisions.

But immediately after that conversation, I realized my eyes sparkled when I was absorbed in photography. I would gladly put hours of work into learning and understanding the craft, the creative aspect, and the technical requirements. Finally! It was my own interpretation of my English teacher’s incredible passion for her craft. I realized that finally, at 35, I had found what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, and I certainly didn’t realize how hard it would be, but I knew I didn’t have to wonder anymore. It was up to me to take that golden thread and weave it through my own life, build a business, and create something wonderfully fulfilling.

Today has been full circle in many ways. To my surprise my Timehop app showed me this morning that I published parts of this blog two years ago today. And even though I honestly wanted to be sick driving to speak this morning, knowing that it was two years ago that I was brave enough to set into motion my photography dream made me feel a little braver in encouraging others to stay the course towards their dreams.

I ended my brief and somewhat shaky-voiced speech like this:

Some of you in this room may know without a doubt what you want to do. You might have a path plotted out from here until you’re my age, and that is amazing. Some of you might be more like I always was. You just might not know for sure what will be next for you after this chapter in your life is over. What I’ve learned along the way is that there isn’t one right path for any of us. Whichever place you find yourself, I urge you to search for the thing that makes your eyes light up and build your life around it. Fill the room with the part of you that shines and inspires others, and all of us will end up exactly where we are meant to be.

And I think that’s applicable no matter our age, no matter our place in life. No matter how lost or restless we feel, there’s a path for us to follow. It might be straight and simple or it could be convoluted and winding. Neither is more successful; neither is better; neither is correct. Because there’s beauty to be found in both the decisive and the indecisive.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. -Rumi