Five seemingly short years ago last month, we pulled our jam-packed truck into the parking garage of our new home in Boulder, Colorado. Sixteen hundred miles in our rearview was the only home I had really ever known.
What happens when you think you’re living the life you were meant to live? Going along day after day in the same direction because that’s what you’ve always done? But you’re happy and successful (however you define that) and as for the future, well, it will take care of itself, won’t it? Except when it doesn’t. Life throws you a curve ball and you have to decide whether you’re going to take a swing or head back to the batter’s box with your head held low. You just might get lucky and hit that ball out of the park, but it’s also called a curve ball for a reason.
Thump, thump, THUMP. Suddenly your heart is racing and trying to tell you something uncomfortable. Something you maybe don’t want to hear. But the heart cannot be ignored forever and if we stop long enough to be quiet and start to examine why this cortisol is Indy 500’ing it thorough our veins, it might just lead us to something even better.
I know because it happened to us. We knew when we moved to Colorado in 2013, we wanted to ramp down our photography business and only do a handful of weddings a year and that’s what we were lucky enough to be able to do. Moving here was a huge life decision and one we didn’t make lightly. But we also kinda did.
My brother and his wife had been looking for a change too, so when the opportunity presented itself to head west so that our nephew (then 4) could be closer to his grandparents, they rightly embraced it. Sure, we were going to miss them, but I don’t think I realized just how much until their U-haul actually pulled away, brake lights dimmed. No longer were they just a three-hour jaunt from Charlottesville. Now they were 2,000 miles away (a three day drive), but it might as well have been 10,000 miles.
I found myself lying awake softly crying at night because I missed them so much. I never thought, nor wanted, to only see them now the once or twice a year we likely would. And on the other nights, I lay awake softly crying because I didn’t want to think about what I was thinking about–uprooting our whole lives, our business, leaving so many wonderful friends, and following them out west, as well. But the thump-thump-THUMPING in my chest only grew louder. And I could no longer ignore it.
Once we talked about it, Bill was thankfully, all for it. I shouldn’t have been surprised because he had always wanted to live further west, closer to California where he was born. The west is where we both (ironically for me), felt most at home. So the decision was made and while it was all super scary it was also super exciting. While we hadn’t foreseen that we’d be taking such a leap of faith, we knew in our heart of hearts that we were doing the right thing. But that doesn’t make it easier. In fact, sometimes (a lot of the time), it makes the transition even harder.
So you see, we were used to listening to our hearts in some areas, but not all. Why? Again out of fear. We liked our life the way it was and feared and didn’t understand why it “should be” different.
It kept nagging us though. It sat on our shoulder and we would shoo it away, not wanting to listen to what it might have to say. Because deep down, we probably already knew. In 2015 we finally opened our hearts once again…to ourselves and to each other and after many discussions over (maybe) not enough cocktails, we knew what our souls were trying to tell us. It was time.
It was time to say goodbye to photographing weddings and to all those future wonderful couples that we would never get to know. Of course, we knew that this time would come, but it was always someday in the future. We’ve always had so many passions and we were excited to explore them someday before we were knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. Someday.
Well, that someday had now found us.
So once again we jumped into the fear of the unknown, after taking the leap almost 20 years ago to go into business for ourselves. Only this time I’m a good bit older, a little more tired and definitely smarter.
But I’m also unmoored.
They say if you love something, set it free. Of course, they probably weren’t talking about one’s boobs. Or working with your partner.
Well, in 2017, I lost both of those things. (Or should I say, all three of those things?!)
Bill knew immediately what he wanted to move on to, but unfortunately I’ve had a harder time. What was my life going to look like now? I say “my life” because it wouldn’t just be my professional life changing, it would be *everything* in my life. We’ve been married nearly 17 years and 15 of those were spent not only being life partners, but business partners, as well. So when we realized that it was time for us to step away from photographing weddings, that also meant saying goodbye to working together.
Not only was so much of my identity and worth wrapped up in my profession, now I had also lost my partner in crime. We had lived, ate, breathed weddings. We used to joke with our friends that they could talk about their kids all they wanted, as long as we could talk about our “baby”. Of course, they’re still parents even when their kids grow up and are out of their house. What were we now? What am I? Who am I if I’m no longer a wedding photographer?
As artists, we (unfortunately) feed on ego and suddenly we no longer had the joy or stimulation of creating lasting memories for those couples, their families, and friends-how could our identity not be wrapped up in that? And we weren’t with them just for one day, but for many months pre- and post-wedding for many months (oftentimes, years). Suddenly the life I’d known for 15 years disappeared. Seemingly gone in a puff of smoke that I hadn’t seen drifting my way.
And we never, ever wanted to go to a couple’s wedding dreading it. That can be a little tricky when you book weddings so far in advance, of course, which is why we knew in early 2015 that we needed to listen to that heart thumping even when we didn’t think we wanted to. At the very least, we owed it to our clients, current and future.
People marveled at how we could work together, because they felt working with their spouse was a surefire track to divorce. Yet for us, working together just worked. We loved it actually. And now that Bill is out of the house during the day pursuing other passions, I miss him and our “old” work life. Terribly. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? For us, not so much. We thrived working together.
To be honest, getting to run a business with Bill allowed me a lot of slack, though. I didn’t have to communicate to clients on the phone, he gladly did so. I didn’t have to do the majority of the talking in client meetings; I could take notes and concentrate on the details of each client relationship, while already imagining what their wedding was going to look like. We were the perfect match in that he was an extrovert and wonderful storyteller, who I have no doubt is a big reason we booked a lot of gigs. He was my business half. I, as an introvert, focused on the creative aspects of our business, keeping detailed client notes, branding, album design, etc. He took the lead during the “formal” photographs and got the “safe” shot which freed me up to disappear into the background and get the “money” shot. I was his creative half. We made a great team. But it also allowed me the freedom to slip further into that introversion, staying quiet. Staying small.
In large part thanks to writing, meditation, and rereading some of my blog posts, I recently came to the realization that it’s actually more than just analysis paralysis. Before I can decide what I want to do in this next chapter, I need to process my grief. I knew I was grieving the loss of physical parts of myself last year (see: mastectomy), but I realized that I had been oblivious to the bigger picture – what I lost of myself emotionally.
Even though it was time and we knew it was the right decision, I’m feeling that loss more intensely than I ever believed I would. Being a professional wedding photographer for almost 15 years (ie. the majority of my working life) was what I knew. I loved it. And I was good at it. But I thought once we decided to pack away our gear, most likely, for good, I would be more then ready to turn to the next chapter. The Universe, however, had different plans.
Our last wedding was in late Fall 2016 and then the holidays hit. After that I was getting ready for my mastectomy in early Feb 2017. And admittedly, freaking out a little bit that I was actually, really, truly, no going back now, going to have this surgery. I no longer had an unforgiving and crazy wedding schedule to “hide” behind.
Given the stress and pain of my long recovery into late last year, I guess it’s little wonder I didn’t realize that I had not only lost my business partner and my breasts, but also myself. And not in the good HPA way. (You know, Lose Yourself, We’ll Find You®. Still pretty proud of that one.) The true impact of the last five years hit me like a ton of bricks. And it knocked me flat.
Another thing I realized is that leaving wedding photography, also meant leaving many of our friends behind as a result. A large majority of our friends are still in the wedding world and suddenly we don’t have as much in common with anymore. The industry continues to evolve and change and we’re no longer along for the ride. You start to feel that you can’t as easily relate to the people who you were once closest to, at least for those friendships based on business relationships. Add to that being two thousand miles away now from most of them and it’s no wonder that many of those close relationships begin to, sadly, fade away. Understandable, certainly and no one’s fault, but still, difficult.
So I no longer fit in that world, but I also feel completely out of place because I’m not yet in another world.
The good news is now that I know why I’ve been feeling so stuck, I’m doing the work (internal and external) and each day I get the gears get a little more greased up and it’s easier and easier to move forward. I’ve been dipping my toe, okay, maybe a whole foot, into the interior design world and absolutely loving the transformations I’m creating, not only in people’s spaces, but, as a result, their lives. I’m learning completely different tools in PhotoShop and experimenting with mood boards and floor plan software. I’m working on a personal (maybe business) labor of love that I look forward to sharing more about in the coming months. I’m also writing, taking it all Bird by Bird. And, as I sit typing this on my laptop, looking at the beautiful and inviting spaces I’ve created in our home, Callie sleeping by my side, instead of focusing on missing my work husband, I find myself grateful. Grateful for the wonderful years we shared working side by side on a shared passion. Grateful for what we taught each other. Grateful for all the amazing opportunities we’ve had to be a part of each others lives.
And who knows, perhaps someday the opportunity shall present itself again to once again team up. Never say never.
Plus, we now have way more to talk about on date night other than whose album we’re working on, when were so & so’s prints coming in and why the F self-employed health insurance has to cost so damn much!
Not only did we arrive in Boulder that day with 3k sq ft of stuff that we were pretty sure wasn’t going to all fit in our new 735 sq ft condo, we also weren’t sure how we were going to fit into our new lives here. We couldn’t have foreseen how our first five years here would play out, but we have no regrets. We know in our hearts we’ve made the right choices for us, even if it took our “heads” a little while to catch up.
And while there are a lot of things we haven’t been able to replace, like great Ethiopian food and my beloved Maryland blue crabs, it’s mostly hard to see pictures of “home”, because it reminds us how many friends we had to say goodbye to. We’ve been lucky enough to make some great friends now out here, but it’s definitely a little harder not having our trusty Client-to-Friend Generator.
Home will always be where Bill and Callie are, but as we toast to our five years here (hey, we’re almost natives now, right?), we know without a shadow of a doubt that Colorado is our home. And will be for the foreseeable future. But who knows. Maybe (likely), we’ll hear that thump, thump, THUMPING again someday. And we will listen. With any luck, we’ll hit another home run.
Photo by our wedding photographer, Johnny Chauvin! I surprised Bill with a “17th anniversary session” when we were in New Orleans earlier this year for his birthday. Feels like a lifetime ago and yet, like yesterday.