August 16, 2013


Something really big happens when we get out from behind our desks and our iPhones, our Instagram apps and the back end of our blogs.

We realize that our words and our choices have power.

We realize that the things that we choose to share or not to share, and the way that we go about sharing them….matters.

Over the past few days of being out in Chicago & Columbus, of being able to get out from behind my computer screen and actually sit and look people in the eye, I randomly found myself in a bunch of different conversations (five to be exact) that really all boiled down to one thing. It sort of became the overarching theme of the trip and made it really clear that this is on the hearts of a lot of people right now. That theme that I was hearing across all five of those conversations was basically: We’re all so tired of looking to people and following people who just make us feel bad about our own lives.

Marketing experts will tell us that there are two really basic types of marketing that people use to promote themselves: Aspirational & Relational.

The first one says, look at ME! Look at this amazing life that I have where everything is perfect. My business is perfect, my house is perfect, my hair is perfect, my clothes are perfect, my vacations are perfect, my dog is perfect, and my marriage is most definitely perfect. And while we’re at it, let me tell you about much I charge for everything, how much I can afford to spend on everything, and how many zeros line up behind my income at the end of the year. Because the more I can make my life seem perfect, the more I can make my business seem wildly successful….the more you’re going to want to be like me, follow me, and invest in me to show you how to do it too.

It’s exhausting.

Just writing that paragraph was exhausting. Let alone trying to live it.

And yet, so many leaders are getting pulled right into that trap because it feels like it works. People, especially new people, want to hear about the good stuff. They want to hear that this scary new adventure they are embarking on can actually work out & that they too can become a HUGE success in it. Right in the beginning, we don’t necessarily want to hear about all the hard work, the tough times, and the “it takes time” to make it happen. We want to hear from the people who became wildly successful and who did it the FASTEST. Because in the world of new photographers (business owners, writers, and well, human beings) fast & wildly successful will always win out over struggle and it took time.

I know because I’ve been one of those new photographers myself. And that was exactly what I was looking for in the people I looked up to too.

So leaders become tempted. They know that the perfect stuff gets them followers. They know that talking about how much they make & charge for stuff will make people ask “Oh what would {fill in the blank, photographer I look up to do}?” And they know that will make people sign up to learn from them too. In short, the aspirational model of marketing & leadership says “hey, I know what’s working.” But it doesn’t stop long enough to ask, “ok, but SHOULD it?”

I get it. It is really tempting to want to make people listen to you quickly and to build up a huge following as fast as you can. But the fact is, the world needs better leaders than that. We need leaders who are willing to sit across from people. To look them in the eyes and see how much pain & hurt is behind them. To see that these are people who are facing real, hard struggles. And that talking about designer sunglasses, fancy vacations, or how many figures are in our income does nothing to help that.

We need leaders who are willing to minister. To counsel. To serve. To help close over and stitch up the gaping heart wounds of people whose dreams are disintegrating right before their very eyes. We need leaders who are willing to get REAL-ational, not aspirational. To take the good with the bad. To be honest about the struggle, and talk more about the things that might actually help people than the things they hope will impress people.

And in the end, we need to be willing to sacrifice a following… if it means what we did, was actually help people.

Let’s do this,

***And because this topic was really important to me & close to my heart, I wanted to do something to make sure that as many people as possible got to read it. I get it, I know life is super busy right now & it’s not possible to click over and read every post. And I also know that a contest always seems to grab some good attention. :) But the same time, I wanted to make this a contest that COUNTS. And a $25 Starbucks card for leaving a comment just didn’t seem to cut it on something as important as this. Instead, we wanted to do something that would help us all get closer to the kind of leadership we talked about above. So here’s the deal: leave us a comment below telling us how you’re going to lift up just one other person in your area. That you’re going to take them out to coffee or set up a shoot with them or just send an email/give them a call to encourage them & let them know you’re thinking about them. And then in turn for our part, we’re going to pick one of you guys to win a free Mentoring Session + Mini Headshot session with us for free (a $750 value). So there it is. Let’s do this. And…..GO!!

  1. Isaac Stott

    This couldn’t be more true! Thank you so much for walking out real! Love you guys.

  2. Christy Tyler

    I cannot say YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES to this ENOUGH times!!!!!! So wishing I had been able to make it to dinner with you the other night so we could have chatted about this in person!!! YESSSSSSSS. XOXOXO

  3. Katharina

    Mary, thankyou so much for this!!! So truly spoken! It’s like you spoke from the bottom of my ❤

  4. Katie Jane

    Yes to this. Well said. This has been in my heart for a while now. Something in me recently snapped, and I just want to take a step away from social media and start connecting with people – my clients, other photographers, my friends – in a much more authentic way.

  5. Shauna Ploeger

    Thank you! I think the problem is we focus way to much on social media as a means to attract new clients and grow our businesses. Really we are missing that personal connection with people. It’s not about $$ Do you really want to be the richest stiff in the graveyard? I know I don’t. Life is way to short. Embrace every moment, good and bad and learn, progress, become better, help others. I love this so much Mary.

  6. Sarah G

    Whoa girl this hits home thank you for that. In many aspects of my life, not just business I am wanting to get back to these real connections and break free from the social media/blogging/etc pressures that I have placed on myself.

  7. Julie

    One of the most valuable things we can do for people is empower them with our words. We can tell them who they actually are, how God sees them and in turn have the power to unlock things in their souls simply by telling them the truth. The truth is.. lies push out what’s real. Lies become invitations to hold onto and become a reality. To often we take these invitations… in our own mind and from other people. We can, with our words speak life.. and breaks bondage.. and let the true fly. We can be a breath of God.. right form His heart. Our words can change nations, they can change people, and hearing our own words can change us. Lifting people, means we have to get low. It means we had to get under them and elevate them. It means we have to be humble. So while we lift… we are changed… <3

  8. Megan Chase

    SO refreshing to hear! Hard work isn’t pretty and the road to success isn’t glamorous! As a new photographer, I admire those that blog their true story and instagram a picture of their messy desk! These sweat and tears are what inspire me the most! I am getting coffee with a fellow photographer tomorrow. I can’t wait to be honest about my business and the struggles I am having! I know I’m not alone! It’s time to bless eachother!

  9. Leah Curry

    This post is amazing & so inspiring. I often think about where to start, how to build my audience, what to do to become a "well known photographer" & how to fit that in to my busy life. However, sometimes, when I step back, I realize how blessed I am to have a passion for photography… It gives me a in-road to bless people’s lives (whether that be on their wedding day, celebrating an engagement, an addition to the family, a birthday, etc.). When I understand that my job is to be blessing, the "hussle & bussle" or the distractions of being a photographer don’t take hold anymore. This post has inspired me to be more proactive with being a blessing and I plan on doing that for my cousin this week. I’m going to forget about myself & my business & make time to bless others. You’ve inspired me! My cousin and his wife have been going through 5 years of hardship trying to start a family. They tried everything & invested many resources (time, money, emotion, etc.) into creating a new life. Joyfully, they got pregnant with TWINS 9 months ago. Throughout this pregnancy, they almost lost one of the babies. More trials. More heartache. More stress. By the grace of God alone, my cousin’s wife just gave birth to two, beautiful, healthy babies this week. I am excited to set up a time to celebrate in the two little blessings that have come into their lives by blessing them with beautiful photographs of these two angels. They don’t have the money to hire a professional photographer, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have photographs to cherish for the rest of their lives. I’m hoping to be just an added little blessing to their lives & celebrate coming through so many hard times.

    Thanks for "kicking me in the butt" to be proactive about being a blessing & readjusting my focus on what’s important.

    Love what you are doing! :)

  10. Deborah Zoe

    Thank you for this honesty, thank you for this post. We need more love, more grace, more patience, more acceptance. Especially in this industry. We need more people being REAL and transparent, more people interested in creating real and lasting relationships that build each other up TOGETHER than just one singular person. Mary you’ve got me all fired up;) Thanks for having the guts to right this post, because I think there are a lot of people out there who feel exactly this way:)!

  11. Heather Dunnigan

    I have a group of women that I connected with last April when I attended my first Pursuit 31 TriState Retreat here in NJ. What those 11 women did for me can never be expressed in words and I am forever grateful for it. It’s something I’ve already been doing, but I’m making it a promise publicly here right now.

    Every Monday, I’m going to stop and to reach out to one woman via phone, every week, to let them know that I am thinking of them, ask them what I can do for them, and ask them how I may lift them up in prayer for that week.

    Prayer is powerful and the P31 women have been so positively influential in my growth professionally as much as spiritually these last few month. It’s time that I give even an ounce back to what they’ve already given in pounds to me.

    Thank you Mary for writing this. It was perfectly written at a time that our industry needs lifting up most.

  12. Elizabeth Langford

    Mary, this post was AWESOME. It hits at the heart of being truly authentic, an idea that you so gracefully shared at UNITED this year. Just the other day I was thinking how nice it would be to be honest about the struggle, the good and the bad. You’ve inspired me to "lift the veil" and share the scars. Thanks for being a true leader and lifting… even when the load is heavy.

  13. Tara

    I am only two years into my business and I am daily humbled by (sometimes that is read more specifically as I compare myself to) other photographers. But when I stop comparing and allow myself to just be inspired, amazing things happen. I find myself starting to just walk that line of being able to help and lead others. I also know that one of the most important things about being a leader/teacher is knowing when to learn from others and ask questions. Which is always. I am doing a very mini, no cost, afternoon workshop at my home with a few people who are just starting out and have had questions for me. On one hand I feel ill-equipped, and on the other hand I feel it is my privilege and responsibility to help lift them up. And I am excited.

  14. Tiffany

    Mary – I love this and Cody & I love your hearts. And we love John Maxwell – so this spoke to my heart especially. It is hard to try and be everything cool to everyone – but in the end all we take with us is people – and our impact is felt in the hearts of people. There is a great couple in our area that are a husband/wife photography team. They have 3 biological children and just adopted a 4th child. The husband also goes to school and works another job on top of their photography business and the mom homeschools. We brought them dinner recently when they brought their new son home, but I need to check in on her again – see if she’s holding it all together and what she needs help with 0r if she’d just like a nice cup of delivery Starbucks from me and someone to watch the kids while she gets a shower- alone. As a mother – I know how precious a shower becomes. On top of being a mother – but a wife, a housekeeper, a teacher, a business owner and she shoots too! :) Thanks for the reminder Mary! We loved seeing you and Justin in Orlando and hope we get a chance to see you again!

  15. Salena Catron

    Wow…It’s funny you post this. I have a friend that is just like you say. It is exhausting and most of the time I just leave because she doesn’t care about what others are going through just how she has more of what some of us want. I sometimes need to talk about things but all she thinks or talks about is herself, business, things…I never can get a real true ear to listen. She and others think I am jealous but honestly, they just don’t see that I just want a real friend that cares to hear what I have to say. Sometimes I just have to stay quiet and walk myself through my pain. I am pretty use to it now. But, my inspiration is an every day occurrence. My life and facebook is about inspiring someone, making someone happy, smile and to see positive out of the negativity they may be going through. I choose to touch people with my inspiration, because I have been there. I can see pain in others eyes and I can tell by the way they speak that they are too in need of a friend or just someone to talk to so, I just ask. "Are you okay"? I don’t think people know how much their eyes speak.
    I Love to photograph as well but I do it for free…Anyone who wants pictures done I do it. This is fun for me and time to have one on one with friends or a new friend. I love lifting spirits and showing others what I see in them. A friend of mine had lost a lot of weight, but she still was not comfortable with herself because of the loose skin and more weight that needed to come off. I asked her if I could take pictures of her to show her what I see…she agreed. After that she was amazed. When she got her pictures she saw what I saw… A beautiful woman. After many years of being alone and depressed of her weight she has finally feel in Love. She is so super happy and her confidence has grown, she now knows how beautiful she is, in and out and doesn’t even speak of her weight anymore. I don’t take any credit for any of this except letting her see what others saw of her. I love people and I believe that God has me here to help others because I too have been exactly where they find themselves. Thank you for this post. :) Blessings, Salena

  16. Alli McWhinney

    Thanks for sharing this, M! Just recently I did some soul searching and decided that I needed to follow where my heart was telling me to go. I have a business degree with a specialization in marketing, and a law degree, and I feel like I have so much information to share with others out there, but quite frankly was scared of what others would think. I didn’t want to be accused of "just trying to sell things to photographers." So, starting last week and moving forward, I started freely sharing business and law advice on my blog as it relates to photographers and small businesses. I can only hope that sharing this information will help others excel in their businesses!

  17. Megan

    This same thing has been on my heart lately and I’ve been praying about the best way to go about it. Thank you for this post and thanks for always encouraging others. I sent an encouraging email to a new photographer yesterday and thinking about offering a mentoring session to her, too. I think I’ll do that right now. Thanks again.

    It’s also so encouraging to read the other comments on your posts. Thank you to all who have left a comment.

  18. Devon

    I’m one of those photographers who is still in the beginning years of my business, still looking up to many others (such as J&M), and still knowing "it takes time". I really appreciate people like you guys who share so much. Although I’m still "newer", I know there are people who are newer in this industry than me, who I could teach or mentor to. I am going to really spend some time with a girl named Victoria who sometimes asks me what kind of equipment I use and what aperture means. I’ll take her along on an upcoming shoot and lead with actions this time instead of the occasional response of a text to her questions. Thanks for this! :)

  19. Maddie

    I love this so much. Every time I come together with colleagues and we share the dirty secrets of this industry (like client angst and not having gone to bed before midnight all season, and stuff like that) it gives me such comfort, because only then do I feel like I can keep forging ahead and trying to make this business what I want it to be. So it’s with this in mind that I always try to be as transparent as possible when talking with people about how I’ve accomplished what I’ve done so far and how I plan to accomplish what I want to. I plan on having as many of these conversations with people just starting out so that they know what they are up against and can make the decisions that best suit their business. Because that’s what helped me when I first started.

  20. Katharina

    For some reason I did not read that contest part earlier – but as I read your post today I was thinking how last night, out of the blue, me and my love had a 2 hour phone conversation with a (girl)friend of mine who is unsure about her new boyfriend because she is missing some key things she is looking for in a guy – and we as a couple could have pretended that everything is nice and lovely and fluffy….but instead we took the time and shared how much work a relationship can be, how 2 total strangers with 2 total different backgrounds that fall in love have to make things work together, to get to know the other one deep down inside and how much work that can be. How painful it can be to open up and stumble upon each others old hurts and wounds from past relationships or the way they were brought up….but how much closer it brings you together to actually let that happen. We call our relationship our "construction site" ( from day 1, really ;) ) and she was totally grateful for our open and honest words. I know this is not photography related, but I had to think of it right away. :) sending a hug over to both of you ❤

  21. Kate Roberts

    I am a seminary student in Durham, NC. It has been during my time here I started to dabble in using my photographic skills for weddings, portraits, etc. Particularly to use those skills to help my fellow students who are in the same financial situation that I am in. So this year I’ve decided to set aside 1 wedding, a few engagement sessions for my friends I know have exciting changes in their lives. I see my job as a photographer and my life as a seminary student not mutually exclusive, but mutually informing each other. I’m almost bumbling off my seat in excitement to go and surprise my friend who recently had a baby (through the help of her husband) in creating their first family portraits.

    Lovely and refreshing post.

  22. Jennefer Wilson

    You know, this is something my incredible pastor touched on a few months ago and I will never forget what he said. He said, "Our standard for self worth is being dictated by a world full of highlight reels. No one posts the things that happen behind the scenes; missing deadlines, a death in the family, the disgusting kitchen, a drive to school on a day when you’re late. We MUST stop comparing our WHOLE life to everyone else’s highlight reel and begin sharing our behind the scenes." I think that this applies directly to our industry in so many ways…it is AMAZING to see how deep the roots go regarding photographers who not only follow, but linger on each other’s advice and guidance in social media. I think the best thing we can do, and something I strive to do daily is to encourage my fellow photographers. Always answering messages, checking in on progress and encouraging each other. I’ve already committed myself to reaching out, reaching further, and reaching more honestly out to the deep roots of our industry. Garnering new friendships and being REAL HONEST about life is the only way ANY of us can succeed. No foundation built on unrealistic expectation is going to withstand the weight of lofty goals. THIS WEEK I’ll post my behind the scenes and be really honest with the people who reach out to me for help. I’ll post images I learned from, and discuss the times I failed and got back up…Thank you for challenging us to be genuine. The recent onslaught of our fellow creatives online has been really deflating. :) Also..can’t wait for our flash class in the big D!

  23. Darci Hook

    This is such a poignant post about truly be authentic to yourself and your business. I am extremely new to the business side of photography and have really been struggling with how to market myself but still be true to who I am and give back to not only my clients but the photographic community. My Full Time job is an instructor in the Navy so I LOVE to share my knowledge and have learned so much about how to be a true leader from my military experience. I’ve seen good, bad, selfish, demeaning, inspiring and every other type of leader you can image. It is truly a selfless persone that inspires and teaches people to be the best of themselves. With that said, even being new to running a photography business I still have knoweldge to share with fellow photographers. I have recently organized a group in the San Diego area to bring aspiring wedding and portrait photographers together to shoot, learn and help grow each other’s businesses. We are currently planning a headshot/photo shoot next week and I hope to teach some of the other photographers what I’ve been learning about classic portrait posing and lighting. It should be a great experience and I really look forward to teaching what I know and always learning from others. Thanks again for the honest post and keep it REAL!

  24. Justine Cirullo

    This is so great! And so true! And I had the amazing opportunity just yesterday to help a dear friend who is getting her antique rental biz up and running. She needs help with social media, (how to do it all) and how to write blog posts on her new wordpress blog. So we sat down yesterday and I took her through a step by step of what I do and how I do it as well as what plugin’s I use for my blog. I am in no way an expert at this, by any means, but she needed some direction and I had the answers and loved helping out! It definitely feels so great to get out from behind the computer, put the phone away, and spend good quality time with the people who matter most!! Wonderful words, Mary! XOXO

  25. Stephanie

    The supposed "perfect-ness" of some people’s lives led me to unfollow a lot of blogs/instas/twitters. And it refreshed me for a while, knowing I didn’t need to keep up. But lately I’ve been feeling like I should only share the good, "professional" side of things, even though my heart wants to share EVERYTHING, the good and the ugly. So that’s why your post came at the perfect time! I am motivated to share the real parts of life. Also, to make this comment even longer, I’ve had on my heart for a long time to start a women’s ministry focused around painting and creating with the gifts God gave us. We’re finally starting it in September and I couldn’t be more excited! So hanging out with creative ladies in REAL LIFE is something I’m looking forward to! :) -Stephanie

  26. Jil

    i’ve thought a lot about what "winning" looks like since our convo last week. this post definitely winning in my book! love you guys!!

  27. Alex Hinders

    Wow. This post is so humbling. It’s so easy to get into the habit of only showing the good things. (not only for your business, but your life in general) I recently had the thought launching mentoring sessions for those just starting out, and I couldn’t have read this post at a greater time.
    This post has inspired me to reach out to another photographer who I have been tempted to view as competition. Although, I’m not sure yet what this will look like; I would really love to bless her. I think a coffee date and a chat about life and the real sides of business, not just the the good side, could be a great start.
    Thank you for this inspiring post.

  28. Laura

    What an incredibly real post–you always cut right to the heart of the matter, Mary. :)

    I got my start as a wedding photographer by learning from other wedding photographers while I was in college. I couldn’t be where I am now without the help of some incredibly talented people along the way (that includes you guys!!), teaching me what I needed to know without holding back any information. There are a lot of aspects to this business that you can’t learn in college, even more so in a college photography program that focuses on conceptuality over technical knowledge.

    Though I can only do so much as one person, I’ve started teaching college photography students at my alma mater the same way that I was taught: no holds barred. I try to walk them through things, answer all their questions, and make outlines of things for them to keep in a binder–I hope that it will prove useful for them someday if they ever want to pursue their own dreams of wedding photography.

    I currently have two students learning from me and I start teaching a third girl in the spring! It may not be the scope of a workshop or seminar, but even if I can pass on what I know to a few people, I feel like it’s a good thing! :)

  29. Sarah Wamuhiu

    That is a really inspirational post. Its been hard for me to want to share "MY" photography with others…even with my husband. However I know how selfish that is of me. Starting no later than Jan ’14 I want to bring interns into our business. To help us yes, but more importantly to teach and encourage others. Sharing with them our business plan, teaching them editing and having them working along side us during our shoots to learn to shoot.

    Apart from that as wedding photographers we have a huge passion to offer our clients an intimate and real look into our marriage as a way of encouraging them to build the strongest marriage we can. Specifically, most of our couples have no one that they can talk to about the intimate areas of marriage, so we have made the choice to be open books about that aspect of our marriage in hopes that sharing our ups and downs will help other couples enjoy their marriage to the fullest.

  30. Sabrina

    The reason I became a wedding photographer was because someone had faith in me and my work and asked me to second shoot with her. I began working with others after that and soon realized that I loved it and wanted to do more. I’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go too. But regardless of where I am in what I’m doing, I wouldn’t be here if not for others who have opened their business practices, their hearts, their ideas, their thoughts and their passion for what they do. So when I began receiving emails from others who were getting started I was a little blown away. Who am I to answer any kind of questions about photography?? But I realized that while I still feel new to the biz, there are girls who are newer and who are seeking help, affirmation, and direction. And I love giving back what I’ve been given! And after reading your post today, I feel the weight of that responsibility even more and am setting up that coffee date instead of leaving it as "let’s get together sometime!" Excited for this… thanks for the extra push, Mary.

  31. Cecilia Burgos

    Last year around Christmas time I received an anonymous email from another photographer telling me not to give up and fellow my dreams. This could not had come at a better time because I was feeling discourage and was about to quit photography all together. I think am going go ahead and do the same thing for another local photographer, send them an email like the one I received : )

  32. Misha

    One thing I’m really trying to do to help newer photographers is finding unsung talent and featuring it on my blog – I love giving someone the "OMG, you want to feature little old MEEE?" boost of confidence feeling. It’s so worth it. And I have and will continue to mentor shooters who want a little more experience by inviting them on test shoots to see how I do what I do.

  33. Paulina

    Hi Mary,

    As someone who has been the one with pain and hurt behind her eyes, I understand the importance of being able to use those weaknesses as a strength in relating to others. I’m still treading the delicate waters of deciding what to share vs. what should be personal, but I’ve found that putting your heart on the line and sharing the good stuff– that’s what helps readers connect to you. You are *so* right in the difference between aspirational & relational marketing.

    Today I sent an encouraging email to my second shooter for an upcoming wedding we have (still a few months away). In the past few months, I’ve also found that a few other photographers have reached out to me (or have even been referred to me!) for advice, which is surprising to me given my relatively short amount of time involved in our industry. I was able to have honest conversations with the first two photogs, and I’m excited to meet with the last one who reached out to me in a few weeks. My goal–as far as being a leader goes– is to not underestimate the experience I do have, despite how far my dreams tell me I need to go. I think confidence with a mix of reality is the best way to encourage someone. =)

  34. Nancy Barnhart

    Amazing. Just today, I heard from a friend who wants to start doing portraits/weddings and she was asking me for advice. I wrote her a short note back and wished her luck. THEN I read your blog. Now I am going to write her back. This time I will take the time to encourage her and lift her up. I want to give her a boost. Thank-you so very much for nudging us fellow photographers to this healthy exercise! Gratefully, Nancy

  35. Eryn Kesler

    I love this post. You inspired me to pull something off my back burner that I’ve been meaning to do all summer. A young gal in my area (and her dad was my first youth pastor-love these people) reached out to me, telling me she is inspired by my wedding work (which was a first for me!) and that she was shooting her first wedding this summer. I invited her to coffee and to tag along to a wedding with me and assist me (not shoot, just assist). However, our summer schedules have not yet aligned and I’ve let it slip to the back burner. I’m sending her an email right now, re-inviting her. I want to listen to where she is and where she hopes to go and see how I can encourage, help, inspire. As you know from our mini-chat during the big next, I LONG, and I mean LONG for my relationships to matter. In my life, with my clients, with peers. I want nothing else than for my legacy to my children be that…do something that matters to OTHER people, not just ourselves. Since the Big Next, my heart has been stirring even more. Praying, thinking, OVER thinking, trying to be inspired by others-but sometimes feeling bad about where I am-Trying to figure out what this thing I’m doing is FOR. I’d love love love a mentoring session with you guys. :)

  36. Minh Hussey

    You’ve inspired me since the What’s Next Tour in Baltimore!

    Now, I want to help others, even though they’re not humans. I’m talking to my local SPCA to photograph some of their pets up for adoption. A good portrait can help them being adopted :)

  37. Nikki Santerre

    I’ve thought about this post all day Mary. From the moment I first read your words, all day at work, until the moment I returned home again. I thought about the things I choose to blog about, and the appearance I’ve tried to uphold this year as I try to grow my business in it’s first year. The first year isn’t supposed to be glamorous. It isn’t supposed to be wildly successful. It’s the year you’re supposed to jump in and make mistakes and learn and do the work. Hard work. But I’ve really tried to focus on the appearance of my business. Thank you for making me dig deeper into what I want the meaning behind my business to be, to remember my purpose, a purpose much bigger than Facebook likes and comments on my blog.

    This year, I was blessed beyond belief when I hosted my first event for other photographers, an event called The Shoot Share. I collaborated with some incredible industry peers to style a shoot for those who are just getting started in order to help them network and build their portfolios. I’ve been where they have, wanting so desperately to be a part of the industry and not knowing how to build my image collection or how to network with others. I hope, in some small way, this event blessed my attendees. I know meeting them all was a huge blessing to me. I’m anxious to begin planning a second event for newer photographers soon! Thanks for always being so incredibly inspirational! <3

  38. Gabrielle Halle

    I’ve never spent this much time reading through the comments – they really are inspiring. Thanks everyone for sharing. Thank you J&M for taking the time to write this post then backing your words with such an honest generous gift. You two stand out in the industry for your whole-heart, leave-a-legacy commitment to both clients and photographers. I’ve gotten so caught up in the what-am-I-doing stress of the first year and worrying if my Instagram will ever look as good as those other photographers or obsess over each like my page gets.

    I realized this Monday all my goals were wrapped around stuff – how to make more, have more – and no longer about how to live more, and give more. I wrote a letter to myself at the beginning of all this that I wouldn’t want to ever pursue this for things. That I had no reasons to pour my life into building a studio unless the founding reason was that it would pour into others and compel them forward in their own lives. In the mess of it all, I lost sight of my own rules and was swallowed up into how to make a business successful. I often forget it is even possible to still have a higher purpose…until I come visit your blog again :-). Thanks again.

  39. Tira J

    YES! Such an awesome post Mary! Thank you. This summer, I’ve been working on the biggest and most humbling project I could have ever done with a non-profit in my area. It was never about the money at all for me, in fact, I didn’t make any money for about 2 months because I was pouring my heart and soul into women who opted not to have an abortion and made the decision to parent their child. While I am not quite ready to share all of the details about this project, I will say, that the most important lesson I learned this summer is this: the most valuable thing you can give a person is your time, your kind heart and a listening ear. Being able to truly take a step back and understand why I am a photographer has made this summer unforgettable. Love ya Mary!!!!

  40. Cathy

    Hi J & M-thank you so much for this post. In an area full of people that seem to have a difficult time encouraging each other, Jeff & I have been trying to build bridges with the couple of photographers that seem interested. We’re all busy of course, but we have fun going out and getting lunch and talking about life outside of the photography world as well as encouraging each other in our businesses. We’re chatting right now with another couple that just moved here a few months ago and she has a photography business she’s trying to get off the ground. We’ve been recommending her on weekends we’ve been booked, but we haven’t been able to just hang out with her and her hubby so we’re making a "date night" to do that :-) I was also super lucky to stumble onto Pursuit 31 and have two amazing women who are early in their careers that we’ve been helping, encouraging, "mentoring" I guess-but mostly just living life with even though one lives 3 hours away and other now lives 9 hours away. It’s beautiful to be able to create meaningful friendships in ways like that. One of those awesome ladies is doing a wedding today and we are SOOO excited for her and her business! Have hardly been able to sit still because I’ve been thinking about her all day and cannot wait to her how amazing it was for her. Anyway, sorry for the long comment, but wanted to thank you for encouraging this kind of mindset in our world. Everyone needs more love and encouragement and it needs to start today. :-)

  41. Catherine Massey

    Hi Mary and Justin,
    Thanks for the wonderful words today. I don’t work in the photography business, so I come to your blog from one of your clients, Hannah Brencher, whom I read regularly. She’s great, too!
    Your thoughts resonate with me as I work in a leadership role in the Episcopal Church, and often observe and counsel folks who feel much the way you mention: perfection on the surface and looking for MORE. What most folks truly crave is openness and connection with others and the only way to get this is to be presnt and vulnerable: this applies even more to our leaders. Hard to do (being VERY real in front of those who look to you for leadership), but once you give it a shot, you’ll find it to be freeing and life giving…and you’ll be a BETTER leader for it! Peace.

  42. Lauren Kaczmarski

    What a great post. Thank you for sharing. I am just starting a photography business. It can be so easy to get caught up in the details – creating the perfect logo and packaging, figuring out how I can charge more for my services, brainstorming on how to book more sessions, etc. I was reminded last week of what matters and what originally drew me to photography. A friend of mine is going through a nasty divorce. She has two kids and it looks like it could turn into a dirty custody battle. I asked her how I could support her and love her during this time. She shared with me that she had no pictures of her with her kids. All she wanted was some photos in her home to remind her of her biggest blessing – her children. She does not own a camera. She had recently lost all the photos on her phone. She had nothing to work with. I knew I wanted to take some photos for her. The next week she and her children came over and I took photos. It wasn’t a fancy location (my weed-ridden backyard). There were no make up artists or stylists. No money was exchanged. The photos may not have been my most creative. But they mattered. I asked some mutual friends to help me out and donate any unused frames they had laying around. I’ve put together a colorful gallery wall to brighten up her white bare walls. I can’t wait to see her reaction when I install it later this week. However my business grows in the next few years, I never want to lose sight of lifting others up and taking photos that matter.

  43. Karen

    An interesting post to reflect upon. Interestingly, the first person who came to mind was not an industry peer, but my son. It’s been a full summer and this fall will be CRAZY … with sessions an an unexpected surgery coming up. Even though he’s barely 15 months, I make a point to be on his level daily. To get on the floor, look in his eyes, play and be silly … I know this does more for not only me, but him, than any social/media following ever will.

  44. Sandra Fazzino Photography

    Woops… somehow my screen went wacky…. what I wanted to add is that in the SF Bay Area, there are several other women and myself who have created a private FB group, and we post or instant message just about daily on anything and everything that pertains to growing our businesses. We second shoot for each other, give advice, lend a compassionate ear when needed, or simply banter. Since we each work from home, it’s almost like we work in a cyber office together. What I like most is that we are very honest with each other and don’t sugar coat. If someone is working with a tough client, we encourage the other to look at her part and how she can use this opportunity to improve communication or whatever the matter may be. We lift each other up not just by giving compliments but by pushing each other, sharing helpful resources, and recounting the good, the bad, and the ugly. Just recently, a couple of us got together to take headshots of each other. Then, we went out for a drink and dinner. In October, we’re planning a trip/retreat to Tahoe to tackle a couple topics on our minds. I highly recommend forming a group like this. It’s been a tremendous gift. One I value greatly.

  45. Abby Grace

    I really needed to read this. I get really caught up in the "showmanship" sometimes- as in, it doesn’t really matter how successful I am actually am, just as long as people THINK I’m doing well. Like obsessing over how many or how few weddings I have for 2014 so far, vs. focusing on loving the heck out of my couples. And wallowing in self-pity when I’m feeling dejected, instead of finding someone to pour encouragement into so that they DON’T have to experience the same feelings of dejection. Today I’m going to send three handwritten notes to photographers in need of a bit of a boost :).

  46. Lois Bourget

    I just want to add a comment on here. I am not a professional photographer, but a casual one. I spend my spare time taking photos of rescue dogs, at the local dog park and taking photos at friends weddings and of their newborn babies so that they don’t have to leave the house. Some people can’t afford fantastic professional photographers for their special events and occasions and I warn them that I am far from a pro. But – I know people.. I try to get the shots that I see and that catch my heart. It isn’t about what you can afford in life… it’s about what you have to offer. Your blog is the truth… and your photos are top notch.. Thanks for keeping the love in your work. It inspires more people than you know. :)

  47. Jennifer Bacchiocchi

    This is why I love you guys! While you wouldn’t find me teaching or speaking, I feel like my gift is the gift of encouragement. I love to give someone a kind word. It takes so little and is so rewarding!

  48. Caili

    I couldn’t love this concept any more. Since I am relatively new to this journey, I always think that I have nothing to give back that would be worth anything to anyone. But I am going to give like I have a world of answers moving forward. I know a lot of people who have a dream and don’t know how to get there. I am going to listen, help when I can and offer support and an open ear where I can’t. :) You guys are making the world a better place! Thanks for the push.

  49. Heather

    Mary, I can tell you that as much as I learned in both your lighting intensive and your class at SCU, I don’t think any of it really reached my soul so much as sitting down and sharing lunch and conversation at the end of our trip to Chicago. (Thanks for letting me crash your table!) I went home which a whole new perspective that has altered whom I will continue to follow and aspire to learn from, how I want to structure my business, and most importantly how I want to connect with other photographers in my area. Right after getting home, I shot a wedding. I spent some time chatting with the DJ and learned his wife has, in the last year, started a new photography business. I gave him my card and said to please, please tell his wife to get ahold of me. I was honest and explained that I am only a couple years into this crazy, wonderful industry, but I would love to share in the journey with her and offer any wisdom I have picked up that may help her too. So thank you for the amazing way you have helped the roots of my WHY get amazingly stronger and my heart for the industry much more hopeful!

  50. Marta V

    This kind of attitude is one of the reasons I admire the work that you both do. Both in your approach to wedding photography and in your approach to helping others you are coming from the right direction/motivation. I find it so refreshing. Even though I’m not sure that I have much to offer I offer what I have willingly and I will continue to do so. I am currently helping two local ladies who are wanting to improve their photography. I am hoping that in addition to technical knowledge I am imparting to them an attitude of sharing and kindness that want to see continue on and grow to even others.

  51. Marcelle

    I’ve been thinking about this post all weekend Mary. I couldn’t agree more with your insights and am glad to know that others are feeling the same way that I am-that they’re tired of looking at people who pose to have the perfect life. I’m still trying to find my place in the industry and working hard day after day despite the roadblocks I run into-which seem to be happening quite often. I just invited a fellow photographer to attend a local workshop with me tomorrow. She said she feels inadequate because her business is still young and she feels inexperienced as a photographer. I gave her some encouragement and told her that it would be fun to go together since we both don’t know anyone who will be there. Life’s too short to be focused only on ourselves. I think we learn, grow, and develop into a better person by serving those around us. Thanks for this great real life reminder!

  52. Annamarie

    This is an amazing post! I had been wrestling with the same struggle…so often it feels like success in this industry is how others perceive you instead of the deeper meaning of success that really matters and is actually fulfilling. Until a few weeks ago I felt like I was twirling about looking for others approval instead of resting in the Lord and how He defines success. It’s about priorities to me and making decisions for my business based on the best interest of the people I love…not on how it will look to others. Because that brings way more happiness than a facade! I will definitely be encouraging others to examine what the deeper meaning of success looks like for them! Thank you so much for the amazing opportunity to win time with you two! You both are wonderful and I really appreciated this post!!

  53. Kate

    I am not sure if the contest is still open, but I have been thinking of ways to reach out in my community since I returned from SCU last week. I love the closeness of the SCU community and wanted to bring that home. I am hoping to create a group for local photographers to come together to have a community based connection. So that being said, I am reaching out to a few local photographers to see if they would like to join me for coffee to discuss the idea of meeting others in the industry and to build a connection with them. I would love to meet on a monthly or quarterly basis to discuss our businesses and share our talents and resources to help eachother out.

  54. Ali

    the other day my husband told me that i had an obsession. he called me out as i settled in for the night and, per my routine, flipped open instagram. i looked at sweet fluffy puppies, swanky date nights, palm trees, and my mind drifted to my left overs served in our unfinished kitchen as we settled in for another re-run of duck dynasty… and if i’m honest with myself, it was a little bit of a let down. ugh. so, specifically, i’m going to put a call out to some local photogs to see if they want to go on that $25 starbucks date and just chat about our $750 dreams. Yes. Let’s DO this.

  55. Caitlin

    Thank you for being so real! The past couple of months have been much busier for me than the beginning of this year and I’ve let a lot of my relational goals slide. I wanted to genuinely invest in people and network with them in a way that would help both of us. And somewhere along the way I lost that. My to do list will always be a mile long. But I need to make some things a priority. Thanks for the encouragement!

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