8 years ago, I changed the course of my life and decided to pursue a creative path. It was beating on my heart for so long, but I had barely listened to it. Then, after a season of questioning and wrestling, I started hearing the voice inside – the voice that wanted to create.
I didn’t know what I was doing – but after getting to this point – the point of taking a leap – I just started taking one step at a time. I didn’t even know if it would be successful. But all I knew is, something in my heart wanted to be free – and this was the path I had to walk on. So I did. One step at a time.
The journey I’ve been on is a journey that so many people are taking. The road less traveled. Awakening the soul. Trying something new. And I know it’s scary.
But only a few years ago, I sat across the table in New York City from other young women asking me how I got to the place that I did, and what was the best advice I had? And here is the advice that I came up with, my best advice for creative hearts:
1. Find Courage to Create
THIS may be the scariest part and the first step, like always, starts inside ourselves. Henri Matisse is quoted with saying “Creativity Takes Courage” and it’s so true. Everything we create is a risk. Will it look the way I envisioned? What if I’m not that good at it? Will it be received? Will people like it? Am I really equipped to do this? This is some of the internal dialogue we need to battle…and of course there’s so much more.
My journey 8 years ago took me through a really tough season where I quit the path I was on toward a safe career as an elementary education teacher, toward this less known path. I went through a lot of pain and a very dark time before I could emerge into the light of the courage to take the risk and do something creative. When I was finally able to take the risk, I had already felt the pain of not being where I was meant to be, and I was more than ready to be free to try something new in my life. From THIS space, I was able to take small risks even though I didn’t know where it would lead.
Small risks for me looked like taking on jobs photographing weddings, publishing portraits I took on a service trip to Haiti, joining a business group, and shooting a lot of other subjects before I became a wedding photographer. I tried a lot of things. Put myself out there and just kept photographing.
The hardest thing but the most important thing, is to begin something.
What lights a fire in your heart? If you never make a living from this, what would you do anyway? Go do that!
2. Take Calculated Risks
I didn’t quit my job to be a full time wedding photographer for a few years after I started my own business. I worked at a law office, and at a clothing store, all while balancing shoots, business meetings, and marketing. It was a LOT for a season of my life. And on so many days I just couldn’t wait to be free.
My advice is to not miss the reason you create. The reason isn’t to make money, the reason is something deep in your heart. There is a WHY that drives you. A WHY that will sustain your passion when you feel like it’s nearly impossible. Focus on that WHY.
I realize that some people’s passions do not become their full time jobs. And that’s okay. My passion became my job, and that’s my story. But yours may be different. Don’t let that distract you from filling your heart with the thing you love. I hope that if it’s your wish to have a full time creative job that it can be…and I know from experience there will be a lot of hustling to get there. But take calculated risks – don’t quit all your jobs until you’re in a good space. The best thing that helped me set my business up right was that sense of security from having another job – so I didn’t have to project any emotion from not having “enough” onto my business. And when it was time, I was able to make the jump and know I would be okay. It will still be a risk when that day comes, but trust me, you’ll feel better about it!
3. Follow People who Inspire You
I still remember the day where I found one of my dearest mentors. I was sitting in an office space ready to photograph some portraits with my studio light, and I was scrolling on my phone. I happened upon Katelyn James’ photography blog, and I saw portraits that for some reason connected so deeply with my heart. I saw JOY, I saw LIGHT, I saw everything I wanted to show in people. And that moment changed the course of my life and business. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So I followed Katelyn and photographers like her, and it helped me to stay on course.
When you find quality people to follow, they’re like your beacons of light. They help you not lose your way. It’s like looking at the stars that help guide you in the direction you want to go, and not being distracted by all the things you think you should be doing, and remember what’s important to you and what connects to your heart.
We all need mentors and people to help us, and for me, seeing what my mentors were doing always helped me to make decisions, know what kind of risks to take and what to try.
Find your stars. And follow them.
4. Find Creative Community
We KNOW we’re not islands…but for some reason when we’re uncertain there is a temptation to draw back to ourselves until we know we’re doing okay. Fight that temptation, because we need each other so much more than we know.
4 years after starting my business, I found a conference in Rome, GA called Pursuit which had photographers from around the country, all with similar hearts and passions to serve God with their business. I went to their conference a year later…and I remember the feeling of being in a room with 150 women and thinking WOW, these are my people. ALL these women are like me.
It was so encouraging to know that I wasn’t alone, and there were other women I could talk to and be encouraged by. To this day, because of that conference, I have friends from around the country that I call, some of my closest friends, and others that I know I could reach out to anytime.
And only 2 years ago, when I moved from the market that I had worked so hard to establish myself, to be with my fiancé in Central New York, I knew that my portfolio and all I had worked so hard to build wasn’t enough. I needed people. So I decided to start a chapter of The Rising Tide Society in Syracuse, and man was I shocked when I discovered there were amazing people here who were also so hungry for community!
Community is good for our hearts – good to connect with other creatives living through the same journey, to encourage us when we need it, or give us practical advice. But community isn’t only a good idea – it’s the very basis of our businesses, and the very way creativity thrives. Our businesses thrive through genuine connections. And the more connected we are, the better our businesses serve and are served.
If it’s hard to make it to in-person meet ups, there are SO many groups out there on Facebook, The Rising Tide Society, Shoot and Share, Better Together, and other local chapters for photographers. I dabble in Facebook groups here and there, but still prefer showing up in person. There’s something about shaking someone’s hand and having a good conversation, that makes you feel more connected and less alone.
It’s helpful to know that we’re not the only ones trying to figure this out, and there are tons more creative hearts trying to navigate this world together.
5. Embrace the Mess
I’m a perfectionist by nature, and taking risks doesn’t come naturally to me. I like to do all I can to know that I’ll excel before I try something. That’s why I didn’t cook for a really long time, I wanted to know I could measure it and it would all turn out okay. But life isn’t like that – at least, any life that is meaningful and life-giving isn’t like that. Any life that’s meaningful has some degree of mess.
Years ago, I discovered pretty quickly that the world isn’t like college. There isn’t a linear to do list in life that says, take this step next, then do, and then do this, and that will set you up for success. Life is seasonal and circular and up and down.
But I promise you that following your heart and embracing the mess of risk will be rewarding. Challenging at times, challenging often, yes. But you’ll never look back.
6. Be Tenacious, One Step at a Time
You’ve probably heard it said that when you find something you love you, will find a way to be successful at it. And it’s true. You will find a way if you keep that tenacious spirit. What can I try next? What can I create for fun? What can I buy to help me? Who can I talk to? Who can I work with?
Tenacity will take you far. Keep fighting for it. Keep that fire in your heart. And always, always, do it for love.