Time Can Change So Much
Do you know how Facebook occasionally pops up posts “On This Day” a year ago? Three years ago. Eight years ago.
This past week, it has shown me how much my life has changed.
Eight years ago, I was still working for the phone company. I was in the middle of strike duty training, which meant as a middle management employee I needed to learn how to take over the job of a field technician in case the union went on strike. Much of the training was simulated on computers. There was hundreds of hours of that training that needed to be completed on top of my normal job duties in supporting Fortune 100 and 500 clients. During this particular week eight years ago, I was in California learning how to safely descend into manholes after testing for deadly gases that collect underground. A few months later and I was in Dallas learning how to climb phone poles (with ladders propped against the poles or in the middle of a stretch of wire), drive the big phone company vans, take ladders off the top of the vans (queue the clown music as you imagine my short self reaching high above my head), and operate bucket trucks to reach the telephone wires.
Throughout my time at the phone company, I was a hobbiest lampworker and sold the beads I made on Etsy. I followed a dozen or more blogs. One of them was written by Meg Duerksen. She was crafty and shared beautiful photographs of color and rainbows and creativity. She posted about Blue Lilyand how they made her family portraits. How Wendy and Tyler were fabulous souls and were now offering a GoPro photography workshop. She said she was signing up for one in San Diego and there were still a few seats available. It seemed crazy to sign up for a photography workshop on the other side of the country when I wasn’t terribly serious about photography. But I was a big fangirl of Meg’s and I was dying to meet her. I spent more money on that workshop than I had on my camera, which seemed really crazy. I’m still surprised at what a supportive husband I had who encouraged me to go.
During that workshop, I saw Wendy and Tyler interact with couples, kids, and families. I watched in awe as they made it look easy. And fun. They were down to earth and answered so many of my silly questions about operating a camera and making it do what I wanted it to do. They never made me feel stupid and were super encouraging. Gears were turning. New daydreams were starting over that workshop. When I left, I met up with two friends and we walked through the San Diego Zoo. I shared this new and crazy dream of being a photographer. I felt silly. It was a childhood dream of a five year old to be a photographer. It was absolutely ridiculous for a thirty something with a fantastically paying corporate job to even say out loud, “I want to be a photographer.”
But I said it. And the three of us talked about possible business names if I did try to make it happen. It didn’t feel real. It was just talk. Just daydreams for another life that wasn’t possible. I flew home and back to reality. Yet this dream wouldn’t leave me alone. It wouldn’t let me sleep. It occupied the majority of the daylight hours in the back of my head. I was only half present for work. For family. Friends. I posed What If questions to my honeys. And he didn’t tell me I was being absolutely ridiculous. He said, “Let’s see how we can make this happen.” We looked at finances. We paid off debts. We cut costs. By the end of our family vacation to Minnesota in July, I was writing my resignation to hand into the phone company.
I was excited. And thrilled. I couldn’t believe I was so fortunate to have an incredibly supportive husband who said, “Yes! Follow your dreams! At least one of us should do something that fulfills us passionately!”
And I was terrified. I had no client base. I knew nothing about operating a truly profitable business. Melting glass and making beads was fun, but it was by no means an income that could help with paying the bills the way I needed to be able to contribute. I was a Psych major and had never taken any type of business administration or marketing classes. I dove head first into as much photography education as I could get my hands on. Whether it was virtual online training or in-person workshops. I made mistakes. I made photographs that had no business being shared publicly and proudly shared my tilted images with crazy filters and white balance. The first three years were filled with highs and lows. Emotionally. Financially. Technically. I learned what worked and I learned about a lot of things that didn’t.
Almost every year, I flew somewhere across the country to attend a Blue Lily reunion which was open to all past workshop attendees. I saw old faces and met new souls I had seen in the facebook group. I learned. I was encouraged. I was in awe of the positive atmosphere created by Blue Lily and that so surprisingly continues to grow. There were no superiority complexes to be found. Only encouragement. And I continued to learn and value these people who have become friends I enjoy. So much.
I have learned how to treat my business like a business. How to create opportunities for people to feel like it’s ok to be themselves. To be silly. To be joyful. To be open and share emotions and feelings that aren’t normally shared with complete strangers on the first meeting. To provide products that will last for generations to come. That tell the stories of others in the way that I wish I had photographs telling various points of my own story.
I am invited into some of the most intimate moments of others lives and asked to document the love shared between them. With complete trust that I will do them justice. It is an honor that I don’t take lightly. And one that often sends me to bed with a smile on my face and fulfillment in my heart that I’ve never known before. To be trusted with personal stories and histories that are not mine to share publicly. But entrusted with just the same.
Over the last five years of running Pear Tree Photography Atlanta, I have traveled to California, Texas, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Asheville, Tampa Bay and Fort Myers Beach for my clients. As well as the North Georgia Mountains and more routinely, downtown Atlanta. I look forward to the coming years and new cities that will be added to my map of places I have worked. I look forward to the new people I will meet and have the pleasure of photographing.
It was two complete strangers and a crazy dream from six years ago that catapulted me forward to a point where I feel like I am living in a dream. I have clients who are honest and kind and delightful in so many ways. Who value what I do. Who help continually confirm I am right where I need to be.
I still make mistakes, but not like I did at the start where there were probably too many to count. Most recently, I booked a Bat Mitzvah for a new client referred to me by others whom I’ve had the pleasure of photographing. I booked that Bat Mitzvah right in the middle of my kids’ winter break from middle school. During a cruise we had planned months prior. Something strange happened with my calendar. Dates and events fell out. And it was only after receiving the retainer and a signed contract that I realized I would be out of the country on the dates of the Bat Mitzvah I agreed to photograph. My stomach churned and I felt lower than low. I shared with a couple of friends and one said, I’ll shoot it for you. Which was totally crazy. It was in the middle of her three month vacation that is reserved for daily time snow boarding in the rocky mountains. She lives for this time. But she said she would fly from Salt Lake City to Atlanta and take my place.
With my humble hat in hand, I called my Bat Mitzvah client to share my mistake with my sincerest apologies. I gave her the option of a complete refund while tearing up the contract. Or. Having a talented photographer who’s work has been featured in national magazines, as well as on the Today Show and Oprah take my place. A photographer who graced the WPPI stages twice, which IS a big deal because it’s one of THE largest photography events in the world for wedding and portrait photographers. People don’t get invited to the WPPI stage just for being a sweet redhead. After a few days of contemplation and research, my client got back to me and said she would be thrilled to have my friend take my place.
So in the middle of my family’s cruise and while I was swimming with dolphins in Cozumel and dealing with seasickness in the Gulf of Mexico, my dear friend Wendy of Blue Lily flew across the country and saved my backside. She took my place and made my clients feel well cared for while documenting a fabulous life event for their youngest daughter. And I had the pleasure of joining her for the Saturday night celebration of the Bat Mitzvah at a Whirlyball location.
She offered to shoot it herself and let me stay home and relax after a day of driving from Mobile to Atlanta. But I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go to work with my friend Wendy. Who ignited a dream and changed my life path six years ago. With a woman who continues to encourage me to do better and maybe be a little wilder than is in my comfort zone while taking myself less seriously.
Six years ago. My life changed.
I trekked across the country to a photography workshop in San Diego because I was a fangirl of a blogger whom I’d never met.
I met photographers who showed me a different profession was attainable and entirely possible.
I could have done the adult thing and shut down that silly daydream.
My husband could have been unsupportive and reminded me of financial responsibilities that would be hard to meet if I gave up my corporate job.
I could have let it stay a dream.
The adult thing to do would have been to let it stay a daydream.
Six years ago, there were so many sleepless nights. Dreams of falling into nothingness. Of jumping and not knowing if there would be a net to catch me. Or a parachute that would open. There were no guarantees. No signed contracts promising success.
Only family and friends who seemed to believe in me more than I believed in myself.
I made the leap. My life changed.
Gone are the days of being on call 24×7 to deal with angry clients and outages. Gone are the days of creating monthly reports in Excel and Powerpoint detailing every transgression and success and repercussion. Gone are the days of increased heart rates caused by a blackberry ringtone meant to replicate the sound of old telephones, but instead ignited panic at their very sound.
If I hadn’t made that crazy leap, I’m certain I would still be in telecom. And likely a rather jaded and uncaring employee immune to outages and upset that came with a job that had a nice job title but didn’t really feel particularly important in the grand scheme of things. Although my 401K would likely be considerably bigger. But I’ll build that back up to where it should be. In time.
It is strange now, looking back. And knowing exactly when I chose a different path. Knowing when my life changed so drastically.
Which makes me wonder. Looking back, do you know exactly when your life changed?
Would you tell me about it?
I would love to know.
You can email me at love [at} photographyinatlanta [dot] com. Or click the contact button up at the top of this page.
Either way works.