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.

Rebuilding

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 rebuild.blog

 

Trust the Flight

On every flight, I grip the armrests pulling my knuckles tight. Impulsively, I resist the lift of the plane into the air. I push myself down into the seat and grasp for the safety of the ground below. My fear of flying, my tendency to expect the worst, to stress the possible and terrifying outcomes, makes the lift the worst moment of the flight.

But eventually, the plane pulls off of the ground, fighting gravity and the weight of passengers, luggage, and the sheer heft of itself. It’s a familiar struggle between the momentum generated to take flight and find lift and the desperate pull of gravity, of the earth’s roots, and the safety of the ground.

Three weeks ago, white-knuckled, I pressed myself down into the airplane seat, resisting the lift. I tensed, held my breath, and closed my eyes all while attempting to appear completely calm. I was on the way to Connecticut for a visit with a dear friend and a mentoring session with the wonderful photography team, Justin & Mary. Within that tension and breath holding, were many questions about my future dreams and goals, overwhelming fears about moving forward along a given path, and doubts regarding the choices I wanted to make.

I walked into my mentoring session the same way I boarded the plane: anxious, nervous, and afraid. We talked finances, we talked about dreams and a vision for my business, and we reviewed my website and social media accounts. Little by little I felt myself approaching take off. I felt myself impulsively pulling back; I heard myself making statements that were safe because I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to fly in the direction I thought I might want to.

I knew then that I had two options. I could walk away, stay grounded. Or I could trust the flight.

When Mary told me that she could tell just from my galleries that my true heart and soul was with my families, that because I choose to see and honor the beauty and complex imperfection of my own family’s blended history, I can also see and capture the beauty in the imperfection of the families I work with, tears filled my eyes. Mary saw my heart, and at that moment I felt safe enough to finally acknowledge it. I knew at that moment that I was finding the trust to finally lift off.

For months, I had been stuck in the moment before the lift, of fighting the flight. The moment just before the tires release their hold on the earth. I was struggling to stay grounded, safe, and rooted because choosing anything else felt too risky, too lofty, and too unknown.

But in the midst of this struggle there comes a point where the plane must fly. And we must too. We have to trust the flight and relax into the lift. Whether they are small, quiet changes or big, scary dreams, there’s a point where the fight to stay safe is no longer worth the struggle. We must grow.

We must fly.Mentoring with Justin and Mary

Choose Courage

We’ve been living in our new house for about three months, and there are still boxes. Flattened boxes. Half-unpacked boxes. Still tightly-taped boxes full of random bits and pieces that I can’t quite find a place for. It’s a funny thing about boxes. They are at once useful and confining. We can pack away those bits and pieces. Store them later for different times of the year. Useful!

Boxes become confining when you create them for yourself. At first it seems a safe way to live: compartmentalizing and packing emotions and thoughts into neatly cushioned boxes. By defining so clearly the expectations of the world and our place in it, it seems safer and more sensical. Until suddenly it’s not and the packing materials and styrofoam peanuts become suffocating. The neatly placed and taped boxed world you’ve created for yourself no longer functions as it once did. You scratch at the underside of the taped flaps, aching for new light and new air.

The world can feel overwhelming without the limits we create. For me it becomes a loud static and some days I wish for a pause button, a chance to stop and organize and plan. Functioning in the midst of life’s speedy timeline is quite challenging and my protective response, my styrofoam, is to function minimally. To exist rather than live and create boxes of space to define what I believe and do.

My word this year has been limitless: a chance to see if I can break out of the boxes and live more fully in this world. A chance to believe I’m capable of a multifaceted approach to life and a chance to trust in the order of the universe. The process of building a successful photography business has been at once exhilarating and terrifying. It has highlighted a confidence I would have never believed I could muster. And in the way things have of bringing along a counter balance, it has also exposed my lack of belief in myself, the fear of being visionary, and my tendency to exist in one space. I’ve realized recently that for most of my life I have lived believing that my voice isn’t worthy to be heard. That my ideas must be silly. That story has filled the empty spaces in my head and my heart. I’ve woven it into the tapestry of me, and it is so hard to break those threads.

I’ll stare blankly at the computer screen hoping for the words to find me (like today). I’ll have moments of terror behind the lens wishing for inspiration to come. Sometimes I’ll shut down, believing in the boxes, but lately I’ve begun to scratch through the cardboard flaps and see the light beyond them. The more I grasp at that light, the more I see that it takes courage to live a limitless life. It takes trust to believe that life will bring what is meant to be here for me.

Brene Brown believes that, “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” I may have had a comfortable life before this adventure, safe within my boxes. It might have been a lot less scary, though a lot sadder, enviously watching other people do amazing things and building the life of their dreams. Some days I might feel slightly paralyzed by all of the options, by the wish that grand ideas will find me more quickly and easily, by the notion that by putting myself so bravely out there that now things are expected of me. That now I can’t so easily retreat into my quiet box. And I’m finding more and more that that’s okay.

My new impulse is to push forward, to thrive, to grow, to dream. And happily the boxes aren’t quite so appealing anymore.

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Love this image that is now a part of Elizabeth Henson’s Live Happy Creative Stock shop on Etsy! Check it out– lots of great stock images for blog use and more!

The Timing of Dreams | Personal

Many years ago I remember telling people that I would love to know more about photography, but I didn’t really think I would be any good. I briefly considered taking a photography class somewhere, but something along the lines of fear and doubt held me back.

Three years ago, I had the quiet dream of completing a half-ironman. After successfully finishing several half-marathons and short triathlons over the years, I felt ready for a new challenge even if it terrified me. Speaking that dream aloud set into motion a path to follow, and suddenly signing up didn’t feel insurmountable. I found a coach, got a training plan, and lived and breathed triathlon for two solid years, completing three half-ironman races in twelve months.

Along that triathlon timeline, my photography dream began to take form. Maybe it was the courage and confidence conquering a seven hour, 70.3 mile race brings, maybe it was the hours of training each week, the early morning sunrise sessions on jello legs. But maybe it was just time.

I’m not certain of the timing of dreams. The doors and windows that open and close along a life’s path do not follow predictable routes, and the twists and turns and noodling seem to leave us no option but to surrender to the ride.

Seems to. But not really. Within the hazy timing of dreams and all of the curves and U-turns is an intricate tapestry, a singular thread making its way in time and space with us at the helm. We might not understand the path we are on or why a particular dream is too frightening to begin to face or even why one comes to fruition almost as soon as the words tumble from our lips. But within those moments we have the option to plot a course; we can set goals; we can grasp the dreams, put in the miles and cross the finish line. And most importantly, we can trust our life’s path.

Last October I signed up for a full ironman: 140.6 miles on a single day. This year, on October 10, 2015, I was supposed to be completing another dream– a huge, terrifying dream. One that brought tears of excitement and respect to my eyes. I knew there would be hours of training, but I believed I was ready to move towards that goal.

Life has had other plans. I’ve struggled with lower back issues since November. It waxes and wanes but still isn’t healed, and the thought of being on my bike for less than an hour, not to mention three or four or more right now is unimaginable. I haven’t been allowed to run for over a month. And while I’ve been through the injury cycle enough to not allow this to completely derail me, and while I’m trusting in where I am on my path, I’m still sad. I miss hot summer runs and long early morning bike rides. I miss racing and conquering goals. I miss that part of my identity even though I go to the gym and elliptical and strength train and swim.

But then I remember the noodling. Ironman isn’t on my life’s path this year, but my photography business is front and center. It’s time for that dream to grow, and I trust that my back issue is keeping me focused on that. I know I would not have had the time and energy to be in the middle of wedding season, second shooting more than fifteen times and having five of my own weddings, planning a successful styled shoot, taking on portrait sessions, and training fifteen or more hours a week. It just wouldn’t be feasible for my lifestyle, my personality, and my family goals.

This is the beauty of the timing of dreams, and I appreciate that I have grown enough to understand that seemingly random clockwork. I can embrace a season that is meant for this business because I see that I have been prepared for this dream over the years. In my mid-twenties when I would wonder and wish and whisper about photography, I simply wasn’t ready. Now I know that I am; the timing of my other dreams has brought me to this precipice of an amazing journey.

And I’m ready to run along this path (especially since no other running is happening right now). <3

 

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Sieze (Seas) the Day | Personal

Sometimes I find it hard to get going. Does anyone else feel that way? I have ideas or things to work on or things I want to do, but it’s hard to just start. I think much of my issue comes with being overwhelmed by the process and worrying something won’t work or that the result will be less than I wanted it to be. So it’s much safer to just hang out on Facebook and Instagram instead, right?

Tell me I’m not alone. 🙂

If I’ve learned anything over the last few years of training and racing long-course triathlons and starting a photography business, it’s that there isn’t time for lingering and there certainly isn’t time for too much fear and doubt.

Otherwise you stagnate. How many times have I stared at the start line of a triathlon, petrified to dip my toes in the water? Or even worse, 100 meters in, flailing around in a full fledged panic? When that begins, there isn’t much forward progress towards the swim exit.

The same is proving true in the hustle required to be a successful photographer and business owner. There have been many times I have wanted to climb under the covers, deactivate my business Facebook page, and just disappear from the entire scene because it has all felt too overwhelming. Luckily that only lasts for a few minutes before I calm down and take stock of why I love it despite how terrifying it can be.

Even still there are times when it feels like it takes all of the courage and energy I can muster to move forward with a project, a blog post, or even preparing for a session. I love this journey; I love meeting so many amazing clients and capturing memories for them, but I’m an introvert. It takes everything out of me, and it’s old habit to want to hide.

And this is why I absolutely adore the necklace giveaway I won from Amanda Hedgepeth Photography and All Washed Up Jewelry. Not only is it gorgeous and all things beachy, but it is a fantastic reminder for me to get to it, to keep hustling, to forget fear and keep moving forward.

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Because nothing at all will happen by hiding under the covers, and great and amazing things won’t happen without being fearless and taking risks and embracing limitlessness.

So there are a few fun things in the works! A uniquely beachy wedding styled shoot geared towards beginner photographers is what is coming up in July. Eek!! Stay tuned for details!

#seastheday (My new favorite hashtag!)

<3

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Henson Photos, and I LOVE this one. Happy!

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