Name: Kelsey C.
Tell us your story:
When I started my photography business five years ago, I had the picture perfect situation for a wedding photographer. I married my high school sweetheart and loved being able to relate to my brides, having just gone through the wedding process myself. I documented love stories because I had my own one waiting at home for me, and this was the cornerstone of my business “why.” Then in November 2015, everything changed– and not through an illness or accident or tragedy (though, honestly, some days I thought that narrative would have been easier). My husband told me out of the blue that he didn’t love me any more and was gone before I even had a grasp on what was happening. Within a two week window I went from happily married to separated, and felt like the rug of life had been yanked so quickly from underneath me that I didn’t even know where to begin with picking up the pieces.
It was only two weeks after my husband left, amidst the confusion & devastation of it all, that I made the tough decision to attend an industry conference I was already signed up for. Though going and trying to be social was the last thing I wanted to do, it was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself and for my business. It was at this conference that some of the industry’s leaders, some of whom I had never met, wrapped me up in prayer & kind words. When I expressed my wavering confidence to still be able to be an effective photographer of love, a mentor & friend took me by the hands and told me “Your worth as a wedding photographer is not based in your own marriage.” It was through this experience that I learned two things: the first is just how important and how real the power of this community really is. This community and their encouragement helped me get back on my feet, slowly but surely, and find a way to continue on in my career.
The second lesson that I discovered is that your passion & your purpose need to come from somewhere deeper than your circumstance. When you’re running a creative business, your circumstances will inevitably change in one way or the other: you will move, you will make more money, you will make less money, different people will enter & exit your life– and through it all your business doesn’t stop just because hardships come along in your life. When you run your own business, you also, unfortunately, don’t get the luxury of asking for time off of work. The time that followed my divorce was obviously difficult, and I spent many months just trying to keep my business afloat and take care of myself, let alone take steps to grow my business. Figuring out how to navigate the world of social media, client relations, and brand, when everything under the surface was falling apart, was a daunting task at every turn. I was left trying to navigate how to re-narrate the perfect story that once was, and how to be my most authentic self online when I often felt like a walking irony: a divorced wedding photographer. It wasn’t until I could really grab a hold of the belief that my identity and ability to be successful as a wedding photographer was not reliant upon whether I was married or not, that I could confidently move forward in my business. Through it all, if your purpose comes from somewhere greater, you will have the passion, strength & courage to push through as life throws you curveballs.
What advice would you give another woman who is going through a similar experience?
Divorce can be a messy & ugly and is a process that’s full of all the emotions on the human spectrum. I knew that I needed to take care of myself first before I could successfully try to run a business. So whatever that is for you– asking for help from a mental health professional, seeking comfort in your faith, reaching out your family, friends & community– make sure you take care of yourself in times of trials. Learn to be authentic with your clients & your peers so that when you need to take personal time, you’re okay with admitting that you might need help with something or a task might take a little longer than usual. However, being authentic does not mean that you have to be transparent. You only need to share as much as you feel comfortable with sharing. To my clients, I was dealing with a “personal emergency” because I certainly didn’t need to lay out the details of my divorce in every email I sent. On social media, I posted less often when I was in the thick of the storm and the posts I did make either didn’t touch on my personal life, or they were uplifting and hopeful messages– but none were trying to make it seem like I was okay when I really wasn’t. It’s okay to not be fine. I think social media is a wonderful tool to connect with each other, but can also lead us to believe that everyone is always their happy social media self that is portrayed in their feed. I would just encourage us to all be a little more authentic, with the permission that it doesn’t mean you have to lay it all out for your followers.
The other big lesson I learned is to not try to rush through your story & your struggle. As I was going through my divorce, I knew that I would have to change my name and thus my business name as well. I was so wrapped up in what people would think and how it would effect my business. I just wanted to lay out my story so that people knew and I could move on. Yet, one of the best pieces I got in the midst of everything was to not rush through my story. I could change my business name and my last name, and not owe anyone the story or an explanation. Your story is your own, and it should be shared at your own pace & comfort. For me, it is two years later and I’m just beginning to feel like I have the perspective of hindsight. Allowing yourself to feel every pain and learn every lesson will make you stronger as a person, and more well equipped to pursue your passion as a creative entrepreneur.