When you really begin doing charity work, you start to realize something that just about anyone who has ever given philanthropically will come to realize: it is never enough. There is always more to do, or a more effective way of doing it. There is always a bigger issue or someone in more need or someone less selfish to do the giving. The problems are always deeper than originally thought, much more complicated, and require huge thinking shifts to occur to be properly solved. What can I do? Who am I to be helping? Is this good or is this just making the problem worse?
You will ask yourself those questions if you are giving with purpose. You will realize that you are so small compared to the problems of the world. You will grapple with the social responsibility of your actions. You will wonder if what you are doing is worth it.
I’m on a trip to Thailand and India currently. I will be gone for almost one month to teach self-portraiture and self-expression workshops to survivors of human trafficking. That sentence alone will bring me praise. Someone will read this and write to me and tell me how amazing the work I’m doing is, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel good. What needs to happen though is checks and balances, a true and honest look into the work we, and I, do to try and make the world better.
I have struggled on this trip, more than before, with the question of if what I am doing is truly helping others, or if it is self-serving. I know that it is both, logically, as most actions we partake in are. What are the long-term effects? Are there meant to be long-term effects? I am not solving the world hunger issue, stopping animal abuse, or truly rescuing someone from being trafficked. I am trying to heal with the love and self-awareness I have.
Part of my struggle is learning how much deeper the problem is. I returned from Thailand a couple of days ago and felt both uplifted and downtrodden from the trip. It was incredible – beautiful, adventurous, hard-working, emotional. It was also eye-opening. One of my great passions is animal welfare. If you know me you know that this is something I am unwavering on and I live a lifestyle fully committed to ending the use of animals for our personal gain. Being in Chiang Mai, a region that largely makes it’s money on elephant tourism, showed me the depth of the struggle. You see a “sanctuary” and learn it isn’t a sanctuary at all. You see elephants chained and made to blow into sound-making machines for entertainment and realize that it is better than other tour companies letting their tourists ride in baskets on their backs. You see their ears torn up from hooks digging into their skin and realize that the tradition goes too far back to stop it right now.
Why do I bring this up, if I am there to help young women and not elephants? Because being a philanthropist does not mean doing work in the area of your expertise and turning a blind eye to anything that doesn’t fall directly under your jurisdiction. If we see injustice, shouldn’t we speak about it?
I met the most inspiring person while visiting the Mae Wong region outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her name is Alexa. She went to Thailand to help at-risk girls from being trafficked. She opened a small resort and uses the money she makes from tourists staying at her establishment to pay for housing, food, and education for rescued girls. She speaks out against those who would mistreat any living being. She puts her life on the line for what she believes in. Certainly we won’t all go to the lengths Alexa has to stop the injustice we see, but what can we do?
It is too easy to see all of the corruption and say that there is nothing we can do, or nothing effective enough, or nothing long-lasting enough. I called my husband when I was feeling really sad about the elephants and all the people who still need help in Thailand and I said: “Maybe I should just come home. Maybe I’m not doing enough good here.” He told me what I already knew in my heart. He told me that all I can do is try, and that trying is so much more than what too many do, which is to turn a blind eye.
I’m back in India now. Today I begin a workshop for women who have aged out of the sex-trafficking trade. I have never worked in this capacity before and I am nervous. I am nervous that I won’t say anything useful, that I won’t be able to relate, that they will be uninterested. I am scared. I am hesitant. But this is what I have learned:
You can never know the impact you have on someone, so you might as well try.
You can never know how lives will be changed because of your actions, so do.
You can never know how the inspiration of doing will inspire others to try.
The cycle is a beautiful one. All we can do is try. All we can do is find our unique gift and give it freely. It might not help everyone. It might not solve the world’s problems. I may not be able to free the elephants or rescue all of those in need. I may not have a gift that everyone needs to receive. But I will still give it. I will still give it. No, the actions we take are rarely enough. I will continue to question these experiences. It will never be enough, but it is something and I would take something over nothing any day.
How can you help Alexa? Purchase gifts from Daughter’s Rising, her organization that aids trafficked or at-risk girls.
This was a tremendous year of growth or me and I can’t help but feel like, even on this second-to-last day of the year, I am still learning lessons that 2016 wanted to teach me. For example, I started my morning before the sun rose climbing a mountain with my love, remembering the importance of connection, vulnerability and bliss.
Here is a look at my highlights from the year:
- You can never know your impact on someone else, not fully. I was reminded of that during some personal hardships that I will not detail, but taught me how to grieve, how to be stronger, and how to more closely embody empathy.
- I realized that I have too much, and that I would rather downsize, sell my house, live a more minimalist life and be debt-free completely. 2017 should be interesting in that sense!
- I lessened my “victim” response. I started to react to situations from a stronger, more decisive place that allowed me to feel less like a victim and more in control.
- I traveled to: California, India, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, New York, Pennsylvania, England, Florida, Illinios, Peru, Colorado, and Washington, several of them several times!
- I started doing yoga and hiking 3-5 times a week (though still thought I might die climbing Machu Picchu in 90 minutes flat!).
- I finished writing my novel!
- I got to meet the Doctor Who cast IN PERSON. Enough said. I can die happy now. My husband is the greatest!
For those inquiring minds: Matt Smith, Alex Kingston, Arthur Darvill (and watched John Barrowman speak…phenomenally inspiring!)
My top 3 personal favorite images!
- At the end of 2015 I had a brutal portfolio review, the gist of it being that I’ll likely never be a serious artist, my images lack depth and meaning, and that a solo show in NYC would be unlikely. I wallowed for 2 hours and then conceived of a new series, complete with many layers and meanings, that I began working on in December 2015. By September 2016 I finished the series, booked a solo show in NYC to debut that series, won a grand prize award for it, printed it, and the show opens in early January. I do not, in any way, say this to brag. I say this to prove that someone’s opinions of you should never define your future. Take control of what you do and you will control your life. I see myself as the kind of person who doesn’t win things, who doesn’t come out on top – very much an underdog mentality. But I am starting to change my narrative.
- I partook in a December self-portrait challenge that I allowed to consume me. It brought me out of a slump (personally and professionally) and added half a dozen new images to my portfolio when I thought the year was finished. Challenge yourself to create. It can never hurt. Never.
- I know I put finishing my novel in the personal category, because it was a massive personal triumph, but I put it here, too. I learned this year so much about commitment through the 30 day self-portrait challenge, finishing my novel, and finishing my series. I can say, without much doubt, that I lack natural talent in many ways – but what I have is commitment in abundance, and that makes all the difference. I learned how to outline plot and characters, how to structure a novel, and how to let go of something so personal. My husband will be proofing my novel in January and then it’s off to my darling Editor.
My very-close-to-being-favorite images!
- Big changes happened this year, as I will continue into the new year with a drastic lessening of help in my business. At first I was nervous until I started doing everything on my own. I realized that I had grown up a lot since I felt I needed help. This year I learned how to set guidelines, goals, and a great routine to allow me to achieve my objectives. My routine: emails, creative time, daily business goals, writing, yoga, cooking, and snuggles. Always snuggles.
- I finished 100 weeks of Promoting Passion videos and started a 10-video series called White Wall Wednesday (most likely TBC in 2017!). They are all on my YouTube where you can subscribe to get new content!
- I started two “pay-what-you-can” challenges that have allowed me to create content from home and share it with others for whatever they want to pay for it. This allows those who can’t participate in other events to have a chance. The 20 Day Portfolio Renovation Challenge is still open for registration until tomorrow evening! Begins Jan 1!
- I auditioned for a TED talk and didn’t get it. This was the biggest blow of the year for me in business. It is my greatest dream. But I’m not done. I will work harder for it than ever before, hopefully finding a conference theme that is more in line with what I do.
- I designed a portfolio case to produce and met with several prototype companies, but as of yet cannot afford to personally fund the project. I will continue to pursue this in 2017.
- I hosted my 2nd annual Promoting Passion Convention! This year saw an increase of participants, incredibly inspiring speakers and educators, as well as the most authentic, genuine connections. It was a glorious sight, that is to be certain. I can’t wait to share the video with you!
- I directed two music videos! They were mostly for fun, but taught me a lot about film and I can’t wait to do more!
- I photographed this kick-butt opera singer in London and then got to see the pictures on a bus. Super awesome moment!
- I finally embraced Instagram!
- <Insert exciting thing that I can’t share until the new year>
Giant print for my newest exhibition!
The launch of The Light Space!
- The Light Space had it’s first successful year running!!! TLS is a practical photography training program for survivors of human trafficking in India.
- I raised over $13,000 for The Light Space through the pay-what-you-can challenges as well as the Promoting Passion Convention!
- I raised over $2,000 for Blossomy, my partner organization for TLS.
- I donated to over 25 charities this year for causes I believe in greatly.
- I started the process of turning Promoting Passion into a nonprofit! More on that in the new year!
- I began teaching self-expression workshops to underprivileged communities here in the United States.
- Thanks to new equipment donations, I’ve got a whole suitcase of new equipment to take to India in just 5 DAYS!!
All released images from 2016!
I am beginning 2017 with a flight to NYC to attend my show opening, and then I’m off to India and Thailand to teach 4 workshops for survivors of human trafficking about photography and self-expression. I’ll be gone for 3 1/2 weeks, and when I return, I’ll be diving into so many exciting projects!
Thank you endlessly for a year I will treasure and continue to learn from. It is thanks to you that I have a business that I love, a community that I cherish, and notably, together we are changing the world by helping charitable efforts.
2017 is going to be a year of power. That is my dedication. However I choose to grow, help others, change, or shed light, I will do so with as much power as I can. In doing so, I can only hope I will find others who are radically dedicated to living in their power.
HUGS and LOVE,
For years I have listened to too many people around me blame the limits of their potential for why they aren’t living the life of their dreams. I choose to believe in a limitless world where we can do anything or be anything we want, but not without a lot of really hard work. I don’t believe in anything be handed over freely; that kind of success takes work even where there is no natural talent, and practice, and heartache. Those are all things that I value. How can we know the depth of our potential if we do not take risks that threaten to scrape the bottom?
These perceived limits are what hold most people back. We have setbacks, hardships, pain, and circumstances that do not always lend themselves to success. Some people are predisposed to be optimistic and others are not. There is no denying that the universe appears to line up from time to time in such a way that raises the hurdle too high. While we encounter problems and roll with the setbacks, none of those things interfere with what we could achieve. Our future might not look the way we imagined, but there is always another way to view your dreams that will turn them into reality.
“Nothing can be inside an edgeless universe.” ― Toba Beta
Limits are a funny thing; they exist if we believe they do, and they disappear when we stop believing in them. They are a construct of our insecurities. The most successful people in the world live a life without limits. It is clear in how they create new boundaries that no one thought was previously possible. They expand our ways of thinking and thrust us into a new reality.
You will find that when you let go of your constraints, there will be no ledge you won’t jump off.
I wanted to channel this idea in my self-portrait today. I was thinking about being limitless and how powerful it is to embody that. I try to do it everyday. I am not always successful, but I do try. I started to look around my house to challenge myself to use an old object in a new way – to remove the limits that the object is perceived to have and repurpose it.
I found this old metal tool box and it felt perfect for a good makeover. I started looking at what it could be instead of what it is. The utility of the box is where I started: “What more could I put in this box?” But soon I felt that I was keeping with the constraints of the object. I started turning it over and looking at it from afar, wondering what else it looks like instead of just what else it can be used for. That was when I decided to use it as a futuristic cliff (for lack of a better description) and see what I could create with my little tool box.
I chose a fluffy dress and ballerina shoes to contrast the sharpe edges and metallic finish. That combination provided a mixture of textures that I found really pleasing to pair together. After photographing the box from many different angles, I photographed myself to match. From the beginning I had a vision of a smoky/textured background, very foggy and mysterious. After the image was put together, I adjusted the colors and contrast to my signature liking, and stepped back.
It felt fantastic to see this metal box transform into something entirely different. As I was editing the image I forgot what it was and saw it only as what it could be. Is there any better lesson? To stop putting limits on ourselves, the people around us, and even as far as the things we see everyday? When we finally take that pressure off of ourselves to fit the definition of who we are we become free to be the person we could be.
I’m part of this wonderful little group of photographers who I travel with each year. We met in France, went to Iceland, and most recently met up in the U.S. The group proposed that we do a December self-portrait challenge – a self-portrait every day for the month of December. I enthusiastically said yes, and then when December first came I forgot all about it until there was almost no light left! I realized it was going to be much harder than I anticipated unless I really got my head in the game.
I took the challenge more seriously than most, as I do most things, wanting to create something unique, special and actually good every day. My favorite images that the group posted, though, were regular “selfies” just showing daily life. It was so nice to get a glimpse.
In my earnestness and complete dedication I have learned several things about myself during this challenge.
- Forcing creativity gets you to think a lot more.
I spent time every single day, either before I finished work or in the mornings, just sitting and staring at my blank wall. I did more research on my inspirations, I spent more time in my own head, and I really ruminated there. It felt amazing to carve time out to just think – dedicated time – and with intent. How often do you actually stop and think for an extended amount of time? How often do you force yourself to create? I was never a big fan of it until this challenge, and while I wouldn’t keep it up full time, it is nice to have an end date in sight and really commit. By spending that time thinking more deeply, I was able to remind myself day after day of how I create, why I create, what my inspirations are, and why those things are important. I was instantly happier, more connected to myself, and had more energy. I’m not just saying those things, either. I had spent all of October and November in a funk for personal reasons, and this challenge picked me up and gave me purpose again.
- Accomplishment feels better after commitment.
There was one day when I was road tripping out to California. I had stopped along the way to take some shots even though it was in direct sunlight in the desert – not my thing. When I got back in the car the images wouldn’t load in my computer, and I had to redo the shoot. I didn’t get that chance until about 8pm that night, and I had to scramble to figure out what to do. The more nervous I got the less inspired I got and time kept ticking on. My friends kept telling me to just let it go and skip a day, but I couldn’t. I’m not the type of person that can give up on a commitment. I ended up finishing my image that day at 11pm, and while it is definitely one of the worst in the bunch, I am so proud that I did it. Commitment should mean something, and too often it doesn’t. In fact, I don’t know many people who honestly and fully keep their commitments. I’m certainly no saint, but this project taught me a lot about the importance of keeping them not only for those you promised, but for yourself as well.
- Ideas really do come out of thin air…well, sort of.
As I was continuing on in the project (which is so much less than a 365 or something like that, but that’s another story), people kept asking me how I come up with a new idea every day. The fact is, that while each idea was conceived of within 24 hours of the image, they weren’t magical. They weren’t totally out of thin air. I am extremely in touch with my inspirations. I know what excites me. I know why I create, how I like to create, and what it means to me. I know myself and my creativity really, really well. And that has taken years of practice. I have studied myself like a scholar would study a book, so I understand each chapter and what it means. From that place, I can more easily pull ideas. I can look into the themes that I love, the symbolism that I connect with, and the more obvious things like the locations/wardrobe/props that I like, and put image ideas together from there. So while some days I stared at a blank wall until something came to me, it is only because a lot of work had been done up until that point that I was able to access it.
I still have another 4 days left in the challenge, but I wanted to share now in anticipation of an end-of-the-year post. I’ve got a major workload these next few days, but every day I am carving out time to be creative and have fun which makes life so worthwhile. Maybe one day I’ll start one of these publicly so that we can do it together. Until then, my loves.
If you want to follow along for the final days I’m posting all of the images on Instagram – the good, bad and ugly – along with Instagram stories about creating each day!