When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'. / Emma Bombeck
I've been a photographer for ten years. (Wowza.) I think once you do anything consistently over an extended period of time, it starts to become second nature. It becomes comfortable, like a natural extension of yourself. With something like running a photography business, there is a very real danger of it becoming entangled in your personal life. Like a vine that wraps around anything in its path if you don't prune it back every once in a while.
Turns out I'm not super great at pruning.
I started my business in middle-school. (I use the word business loosely.) It was on the side, super casual, a hobby turned money-making opportunity while I was still in school. I loved photography and I loved the fulfillment I got in taking photos. In high-school, I was "the girl with the camera." I would photograph church events, had regular photo sessions with friends, and eventually ended up doing senior photos for half of the people in my grade. (#homeschooled) At this point, I knew I wasn't going to go to college but instead, I was going to pursue a full time career in photography. It was part of my identity. I was, and am, a photographer.
Late last year, I noticed a tired quality to my photos. They seemed rehearsed, comfortable, safe. I was going through the same motions I had been for the last ten years and I was weary. My Instagram was mostly wedding photos, just because I felt like I needed to market my business somehow. I had been burned out before (I ended up in the hospital with a panic attack so, no bueno) but this felt different. I just felt tired. I had been calling myself a photographer for so long that it was just a cemented part of my identity. "What do you do?" "I'm a photographer!" And that was it. I realized I didn't do anything else. I was a photographer first, business owner second. No wonder I was tired. I had no hobbies, no life outside of photography except for the occasional church event or time spent with friends who weren't in the creative industry. I, for the first time, despised the thought of doing photography for the rest of my life.
And you know why? You know why I was tired and confused? Because I am a human first. I am not a photographer first. My business should not be my everything. It should be a very small part of who I am as a whole. And it was my everything. It was my entire identity. Pruning shears, nowhere to be found.
This doesn't mean that my business or my clients or photography aren't important. Photography has shaped my life in such a way that without it, I would be a completely different person. It has been woven into the threads of my life, throughout my growing years, and I would never take that back. I love it. I'm still passionate about people and telling stories. But I believe that it's not the most important thing in my life.
For the past five months, I have been pruning. Looking at and praying through my life and asking God, "What is the work that YOU want me to do?" Turns out that the answer isn't simply photography. It's a lot deeper and wider than that. My work is loving humanity. I am called to be faithful with today so that means photographing my little heart out, sharing Jesus with the world, and investing in the incredible community that I have here in Tulsa.
When I take a step back and think of myself in 10, 20, 30 years, I don't want to still be doing photography as a full-time business. I will always be photographing (there's no way it's going away forever) but I hope I will have moved on to other things for those new seasons of my life. As I change as a human, I want to grow deeper and wider and experience different, new, things. Not the same thing over and over again. That's what I believe being human is. Changing. Growing. Not holding on to things that need to be let go.
I am a human being first. So are you. Whatever it may be that is threatening to take over your life, I'm handing you some shears and giving you permission to cut it back. It may be painful (especially if you're like me and didn't pick up the tools until my work was cut out for me) but it's worth it. It's worth it to put things in their place and prioritize what is most important.
Hey, human. We're all in this together.
Photos by Monica Johnson