Birds Of A Feather

I was looking through a box of old journals and photos earlier today and found a bunch of pictures I took using my old point and shoot camera back in 2001. I was living abroad and I took SO MANY photos as I went - not knowing, obviously, if they would turn out since I had to take the film to the pharmacy, wait to get them developed, and then hope I had managed to nail a few shots. I took photos all over Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Egypt and I'm SO GLAD I DID. 

That love for photography has never left me. When I was 26, my boyfriend let me use his Canon Rebel. It was the first DSLR I had ever shot with. It felt bulky and complicated to me at the time but I loved how the images turned out and I loved even more that I could immediately upload them onto my computer and edit. 

Four years later I had a baby. When my baby was born I used my iPhone to take a hundred pictures a day. Every move he made I was busy documenting. I took photos of him running around the backyard with our chickens, smiling in the sunlight streaming through our bedroom windows, grabbing the dog's tail... it was total delight to be able to scroll through them all later and post them online to share with friends and family.

Nowadays I take photos in a more professional manner (still with a Canon Rebel!) for families and small business owners. I've been doing that for the past three years off and on and it's such an incredible opportunity for me to be creative and also contribute to earning a living. You may have noticed, however, that there are hundreds of people all around you who seem to have the same idea these days. As I scroll through Instagram I'm constantly inspired by others who are just like me. They're taking their handy DSLRs out into the world and making a living (or at least a little extra pocket change) too. And here's the thing: I've never once had the thought, "OH NO! LESS FOR ME!!!" It's honest-to-god never occurred to me.

I think every person has a voice and that their voice is unique to them. It's not something others can replicate - even if they try. There have been only about a zillion Elvis impersonators over the past 60 years and only one Elvis.

In addition, I think being surrounded by creatives helps me up my game. I don't have the luxury of being complacent. I can't just "let things come to me". I have to work hard, do my best, and show the world who I am as an individual and why my work is special.

I've had the pleasure of knowing (and hiring) many of Cleveland's most creative photographers and I often find myself recommending them to people if someone comes to me with a job I don't feel up to for some reason or it isn't in my wheelhouse. Suzuran Photography, in my opinion, does some of the best (if not THE best photography around) and I hired them to shoot my wedding. So did my sister (because she loved my photos!). So did my hairdresser (again, because she loved my photos!). If I know someone who's getting married I immediately recommend Suzanne and Dan.

A few years ago I was working for a yoga studio and all of our teachers needed images of themselves for the website. This was a job that needed a professional studio setting and experienced team. We called on Suzuran. They nailed it.

I also have a lovely friend named, Naida, whom I've known for years. We worked together about six years ago and she's helped me look after my son from time to time as well. She recently started her own business called Milk Shop Photography and is doing photoshoots for (mostly) moms, babies, and families. I've never had a photoshoot done with myself and my son so you better believe I'll be scheduling one with her verrry soon. Her style is SO different from mine and that's what draws me to her. Her images are delicate. So pretty they're almost heart-breaking. She captures light and tenderness in such an intimate way that I can't stop looking at her photos. If you don't follow her yet on social media then that should FOR SURE be your next "add".

And then there's also Juli of Julianna Arendash Photography. Juli took the photos I posted above. I recently hired her to do a social media shoot with me for The Upspeak Collective at one of my favorite (sadly, now closed) little tea shops in Cleveland called Coquette. She does all kinds of photography but recently seems mostly focused on boudoir and small businesses. Her shots are moody and rich. The colors feel like gold to me. It's just gorgeous, honest work. She's actually the other lady you see pictured above. Doing a shoot with Juli is so painless. I actually loathe having my picture taken so it's amazing to collaborate with a person who make it feel like you're just hanging out and getting shit done. There's no posing. No direction. No fuss. The results feel true to life.

I'm telling you all of this because in life we often find ourselves surrounded by people who are similar to us. It's just human nature. We are drawn to those who share similar ideas, values, and interests. It's that whole "birds of a feather, flock together" mentality. It stands to reason then that a creative small business owner would find herself connected to lots of other women who do similar things!

Some people find people who are similar to them in any way to be threatening. Especially if they perceive that person may be better at certain aspect of that "thing" than they are. While I understand that human instinct, I find it to be one that we need to commit to not entertaining.

I am enriched by women who are like me as well as those who are not. This is because I CHOOSE TO BE.

Of course there's a desire within all of us to protect ourselves and hide our work from others and hoard resources and clients. Of course that's also a pretty gross way to exist in the world - for you and for everyone else. Byron Katie is fond of saying, "Everyone is a mirror image of yourself - your own thinking coming back at you". If you navigate the world with the feeling or idea, "I need to protect myself. Others are out to get me. People are stealing my ideas. People are trying to take something from me." then it should be absolutely no surprise that you'll see those things all around you. The reality, however, is that you are seeing reflections of your THOUGHTS. That is all.

On the flip side, if you navigate the world believing, "I have so much to offer. My voice is unique. Everyone is inspired by everyone. I learn and grow so much from those around me and they are doing the same. There's enough for everyone. Clients and ideas cannot be stolen. That is just a painful thought that I'm not willing to attach to. I see abundance everywhere and everyone is trying to find their way just like me" then it should be no surprise to you that you'll find evidence for that wherever you look. You'll find your "competition" sending clients your way. You'll find them complimenting your work or sharing it with others. You'll find their clients may come to you in a few months or a few years for something different and special that only you have to offer. The same will be true for your competition. Your world - the world you are creating for yourself with your thoughts - will be one where people are supporting people and there's no hoarding or comparison or fear. It will feel light and joyful and kind... to you and to them.

"No, Meg. You don't get it. I work hard for myself and not everyone has that mindset. Some people ARE actually out to get me and not playing by the rules (aka: my rules)." In response to that, I just have a few questions for you:

1. Is that true? 

2. Are you CERTAIN that is true?

3. Can you know how others think and feel and what motivates them?

4. How does it feel to you to believe that thought? To me, believing "people are out to get me" feels awful. It doesn't serve me.

5. Can you reframe or shift your thought to something that feels softer, kinder or more open to possibility? Maybe, "I feel sometimes like it's true that people are not playing by the rules but I can't know that for sure and it hurts to believe that. I choose instead to believe that we are all trying our best and I will be part of the solution and not the problem as I see it."

These principles are all taken directly from Byron Katie's teachings which are called "The Work" and which changed my life completely when I first got ahold of them about 5 years ago. I highly recommend her book, "Loving What Is" if you struggle with negative thought patterns.

In the not-so-distant-past I worked for a flea market where hundreds of small business owners would gather to share their work with the city of Cleveland. SO MANY of them are generous souls who dance through life joyfully creating and busily working to do their very best and absolutely love connecting with other makers - even those you may call "competition". Having said that, there were always those who felt threatened by anyone doing something similar and would create a story around how that person was copying them or somehow working against them. As a result, they would operate in a stingy manner and from a place of "protectiveness" which can result in isolation. It's not fun for anyone.

Remember the old gem: Let others make you better... not bitter. 

If you're a business owner of any kind, my challenge to you is to encourage your competition. Identify who is doing similar things to you within your realm and send them flowers. Say, "Hey - saw your work recently. So lucky to be in a similar business with inspiring creatives. Let me know if there's any way I can ever offer you support." Can't afford to send flowers? Write a handwritten note and mail it. There's not much better than snail mail arriving at your doorstep when you're not expecting it. Even better - take someone out to tea. Tell them you want to connect with similar spirits and you would love to buy them a drink sometime. Maybe they'll take you up on it. Maybe they won't. It doesn't matter. I think it was the great buddhist monk, Pema Chodron, who said, "Your freedom was never about them anyway." At the end of the day, even if you're not ready to take big steps like sending a note or having a cup of tea, you can always lend your experience. This is called mentorship. If you've done something for longer than you likely know more. Share that knowledge. People will take it and put their own twist on it. Sharing and giving and supporting will not cause you to lose your job if you are working hard and focused on the right things. I promise.

Serve others. Serve the fucking competition sometimes. It will only make you stronger, wiser, and more valuable within your field.

I am a photographer. So are hundreds (thousands?) of others in this city we all love. Some of us are super successful and do it full-time and have teams that work for us and some of us do it on the side as a creative outlet. We are all talented. We are all passionate about what we do. We are all trying our best. "How do you know that's true, Meg?" I don't. But when I choose to see the world that way, I feel at peace.

I love you.


PS - I'm teaching a workshop on communication on May 31st with my best friend who is also teaching a yoga class. It's a night for the ladies and it's called "Speak Easy". There are a few tickets left if you are interested in joining. It's going to be an actual blast. I can promise you that. We're having champagne at the end and sending everyone home with a killer gift bag. xo

Meg WittComment