What I Learned By Giving Up
I was talking with a sweet friend the other day, and as we were reminiscing about how we met, she made a comment about “how far you have jumped in just a few years”… And I couldn’t help but laugh a bit.
She’s absolutely right – I’ve been blessed beyond measure to see my hard work pay off in so many tangible and intangible ways over the past two years. Since late 2013, while I’ve still seen my fair share of disappointments and setbacks, I’ve also seen many dreams realized – namely, the one where I’m able to continue staying at home with my children, while contributing some very much needed funds to our family budget by doing a job I absolutely love.
Usually in these types of “I made it, and you can, too” posts, the take away message is some variation on “don’t give up”. And while that is so very true in so many ways, I have a slightly different perspective I want to share with you:
Sometimes, it’s ok to quit.
Although I suppose I should actually take you back a bit further in my journey, in order for that comment to make sense.
Since 2013, I have indeed seen my hard work starting to pay off. I’ve seen a number of goals accomplished and doors open, and I’ve found my comfortable niche in this industry.
But I didn’t pick up my camera in 2013. I didn’t get started that year – not by a long shot. I first “went into business” in 2009, two years after I bought my first dSLR. If you do the math – yeah, that’s a four year gap. Most people don’t know about those early years of mine – in large part because I hadn’t discovered a photography community to be apart of yet. It was just me trying to figure it out on my own, with lots of internet stalking and a few real life photography friends charitably helping me when I asked. That first year that I was in “business”, I shot lots of portfolio building sessions, and even got paid for a couple of them. I enjoyed it tremendously, but I had no idea what I was doing, and I was met with frustration at every turn.
We made a major move across the country in 2010, leaving our home state of Colorado for the wild Pacific coast of Washington. My goal was to land in our new home and start a real photography business with no more portfolio building, just clients who love what I do.
We got here, I looked around and settled in, and I tried to generate business – but with the exception of one very sweet senior girl and two small, intimate weddings – there was nothing happening. I was also very pregnant with my first child, and around the time she was born, I basically quit. Well, there is no “basically” about it.
I kept my website and turned it into more of a family journal, and I said no to the odd inquiry that came my way. But I was pretty sad about it. It made me feel like I had failed. I had wanted to be a professional photographer for so long – as a kid I had always said that my dream job would be to be a photographer for National Geographic. As an adult I knew that was out of my reach, but I just wanted to take pretty pictures for other people. And it seems as though that just wasn’t going to happen.
I didn’t use my camera regularly for a long time. I wasn’t even much of a hobbyist at that point. For most of 2010 and 2011, it was just tucked away, gathering dust. I’d take it out every once in a while and halfheartedly use it, but I never even downloaded those images. I documented most of our life at that time with my iPhone.
But slowly, I found myself using it more, and this time, instead of worrying about clients and trying to find people to photograph, I turned it on my family and our environment. I started to find my why, my passion, and I finally learned all the things I didn’t the first time around.
I slowed down.
I took the time to not just grasp shooting in manual, but to actually get comfortable with it. I started thinking about composition as a thing, rather than a happy accident. I started learning about light, and fell in love with it. In 2012 I also finally found an online community of woman with whom to learn from and with. I was incredibly shy and just sat back and watched for a long time, but during late night nursing sessions I’d lurk on the threads from my phone and just soak it all in.
In early 2013 I found my tribe – the 22 women who would become the best friends I’d never met, as we came together as a group of hobbyists to support each other trying to make it into the CMPro program. While everything in my journey has been an important piece to making up the whole of where I am today, my group of 22 was one of the most important pieces. I had a place where my introverted, “always on the fringes” self could engage and ask questions and get responses from truly talented women. And we blossomed, together and as individuals. They were who encouraged me to write a workshop, to take on clients again, and to find my own mentor – they were who believed in me even though I thought I’d missed my chance.
So when the success did start coming my way? Well, yes, I suppose it did seem very sudden and serendipitous to others looking in. But I see the foundation of years of tenacity and lots of disappointments and frustrations that got me here.
For every “yes” I heard, there were dozens and dozens of “no’s”. And it’s still like that today. For every success that someone sees from the outside, there are a dozen behind-the-scenes failures and closed doors.
But the irony of my determination to now keep at it, no matter what, is that if I hadn’t quit long ago, I never would have succeeded today. Because I wasn’t yet ready – I hadn’t learned the necessary lessons and taken the necessary time to let my craft develop.
Those chunks of times where I walked completely away, not just from my “business” but also from my photography, were incredibly important in giving me a sense of development, and showing me that slow and steady is the best way for me to grow. While I certainly would never recommend that someone stops shooting, it happened to be one of the things that I needed to do, for my unique journey.
The foundation I have under me now will help me weather any storm – the next time business dries up, or my work leaves me feeling uninspired or is found to be lacking, or I hear a “no” in response to a quietly voiced dream, I know I’ll get through it.
Because I have before.
So yes, it’s ok to quit. But just always make sure you get back up. The lessons you will learn as a result are far more important than what any workshop or book could teach you. “Fall down seven times, get up eight”, as the saying goes. I have no idea what is in store for me, but I know whatever it is, I can overcome it.
And so can you.
*** This post was originally published on the One Twenty-Five blog - but it seems extra timely given the conversations I've had with so many of you, and the way I've been feeling myself. Success does not happen overnight.