Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Accidental Accomplishments

I was almost thirty years old when I took my first really good picture. My oldest son had been born about six months before, and I had taken him to a photographer to do newborn portraits. I was sorely disappointed with the proofs she showed me. I kept thinking, "this baby is so beautiful, how hard is it to take a beautiful picture of a beautiful baby?!?" I decided to find out.

After my maternity leave ended, I wanted to stay home with my baby rather than return to work full time. At the time I was the Political Action Committee (PAC) Manager for a wireless telecom company. This meant I lobbied legislation, held political fundraisers, managed the PAC funds and most importantly, was responsible for accurate PAC reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. What it really meant was, due to the upcoming election year it would be pretty difficult for the company to replace me immediately, so instead they hired me as a consultant doing my same job, but working from home rather than my office. At first this seemed like the most brilliant idea ever. Conference calls in my pajamas! Reading legislation while rocking my baby! Fighting Washington DC traffic once a week to attend a fundraiser rather than twice a day commuting to the office! And all the while I was getting paid more money than when I was as an employee since they didn't have to pay my insurance or benefits. What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?!?

I missed interacting with people on a regular basis. As much as I loved that little baby- and boy did I love him- mentally stimulating conversations just weren't happening with a six month old. I felt my brain turning to mush and I wanted something, anything, that allowed me to use my brain. The contract I signed as a consultant was for a one year period and I had about seven months left.

I decided to use the time I had to do something for myself since I may never have this gift of time again. I enrolled in the Smithsonian's Joy of Photography class. It was a ten week course that taught a different element of photography each class. One week we learned about composition and then had an assignment to shoot a specifically composed image to bring to class the following week. The next week, shutter speed, the next aperture and so on.

At first I looked forward to the class for the little break it gave me in the week to get out of the house, an excuse to get out of my pajamas even and interact with other adults. But as it continued, I found myself more and more eager to learn something new that I found exciting and anxiously awaited the new assignment each week.

I still have the framed picture that I presented as my assignment for lighting. It is of my son (my favorite subject at the time) with his head laying on his daddy's belly. I thought it was a beautiful image of my son, with a sweet little content face, being so close to his father. The professor flipping through my slides (that's the way we shot the assignments so all in class could see and critique) stopped at this particular image and said, "now this is a perfect example of light used not only properly, but beautifully. And your composition is spot on too." I floated out of class that day.

I decided that day to enroll in the next level photography class offered by the Smithsonian and then the next. Initially I thought this will be a nice creative outlet for me. But by the time my company came to renew my consulting contract for the fourth year, I knew my lobbying days were behind me.

This is how I became an "accidental photographer" Now that little beautiful baby boy is ten years old and joined by a younger brother 8 and a little sister 4. Since then, I only attend fundraisers I want to attend. I traded in my dry clean only dress suit wardrobe for jeans and tennis shoes since I spend a lot of time on the ground to get eye to eye with my subjects and I own my own baby & children's boutique photography studio.

If you had told me ten years ago this would be my life today, I would have laughed. I had zero aspirations to own my own business and to my knowledge at the time, zero talent. I thought I knew myself pretty well at that point, but not well enough to know the God-given talent that lay dormant within me.

I think sometimes we become okay with mediocrity in our lives, our jobs and ourselves rather than expecting more for ourselves. We always do what we've always done so we always get what we've always got. We don't recognize within us the power to change. It doesn't have to be a change in career to be life changing.

"Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be" - Abraham Lincoln. This is one of my favorite quotes and all the more powerful knowing that he struggled with severe depression. Changing your attitude from begrudging to grateful is truly powerful, Being grateful for what you have keeps you from fixating on what you don't have- and may not even need.

This past summer some really hard things were going on in my life. I tried my best to deal with them, but there are things that are beyond our control and all we can do is choose how we will respond and react in these situations.

My response to these things was to go running. I am not a runner and I don't enjoy running. But as I ran away from my problems I felt a relief, albeit temporary, from what was going on at home. Eventually I would return home, the endorphins would wear off and my problems were still there. I would get up the next day and go run some more. Six weeks ago, one of my best friends asked me to run a half-marathon with her. At first I said no. I'd never even run a 5k race and I had no desire to run 13 miles (I thought it was 10 miles at the time and I still had no desire to run it). But while looking through the weekly training session and knowing that fall is my crazy busy time of year with work, I thought, it might be helpful to have a daily release through running to keep me sane.

I'll let you in on a little secret- I had no intentions of running the half marathon. I wanted to train for it, but to actually run it, no thanks. But the more I trained for the race, the more the thought crept into my mind, " you can do this!" Yesterday, I became a runner completing 13.1 miles. I may only be a runner for that one day, but I did something that six weeks ago I never would have thought possible. Just because you've never done something before doesn't mean you can't do it now.

Probably the best thing to come from training for the half-marathon, besides some seriously toned calves and thighs is the list of things I've always wanted to do that I'm now working on accomplishing. Because the only thing holding any of us back from accomplishing what we want in life is ourselves.

you can do this

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