PART EIGHT: 365? Challenge Accepted – Round 2
On my twenty-fifth birthday in April, I decided I was going to return to my roots if I was going to get serious about photography again.
365? Challenge accepted.
This time around, I was a little more forgiving with the boundaries around the project. All I had to do was take a photo. It could be with my phone, my big camera, Snapchat… it didn’t really matter to me as long as I had at least one photo to document my day. For an entire year, I documented my morning walks, pretty flowers, sunsets out the drive thru window at Hardee’s, and all the mundane and ordinary things in between. Most of the time, my daily photo ended up being one of my coffee cup.
Ah yes, 2017 was the year that my Facebook friends got let in on my #annalovesmornings series. (And to those of you still wondering why I take photos of my coffee, I recommend going back to Part Six!)
Day 1 started with me drinking my morning coffee on the deck. I snapped a photo of my mug with a bunch of fake flowers from the Dollar store.
“Here we go,” I said to myself. “Round 2.”
I knew subconsciously that this project was once again going to change my life forever. I wanted to make photography a bigger part of my life again, so I returned to my roots, one day at a time.
It took me a few months to get in the swing of things. For the most part, I was taking pictures with my phone. I finally purchased a new laptop after being without one for almost 4 years about a month into my new project. Bought a new battery charger, a few new batteries, and a USB cord off of Amazon for my big camera and I was off and running again.
All of those same feelings of joy came rushing back to me, even if my photo for the day just ended up being of my coffee cup somewhere pretty during my walk around the backyard in the morning before I went to work. I started reaching out to my friends again, all with the same message.
“Hey, will you let me come over and take your picture with my big camera?”
Slowly but surely, I got comfortable behind the camera again. Something I hadn’t felt since at least 2011, before I started photographing at the studio full time. I felt that calling on my heart again, that maybe I was supposed to be doing this after all. I asked one of my friends that majored in Graphic Design in college to design a logo for me, made a new Instagram account for my photography, and I decided to jump straight in this time.
There was no going back.
If I was going to do this, I was going to do this this time.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t lose this type of joy again. The joy that comes every time I pick up my camera. And that I wouldn’t quit because of fear. One of the major things I learned in 2017, by doing this 365 project and picking up my camera again and saying “yes” when a couple of my Hardee’s co-workers asked me to photograph their weddings the next year — one of the major things I learned was, “Nervous means do it.”
I can’t take credit for that phrase at all. Mei Ratz, an awesome lady, mama, and all around badass I’ve been following on Instagram for years, is the mastermind behind that phrase.
I adopted it as my mantra in those early days when I was still finding my footing again. It helped me to push through the fear and all the growing pains that often come with a project like this. My 365 project turned into a pep talk to myself.
Didn’t like your picture for that day? You always get another chance tomorrow.
If you want change to happen in your life, you have to make it happen.
You can do this.
You can pick up the pieces and rise like a phoenix from the ashes, stronger because of what you have been through, not in spite of it.
You can turn all of this grief and suffering that has wrought its way through your life into drive instead of destruction.
One night, sitting in my car in the parking lot at Hardee’s, I snapped a photo of the parking lot light through my rainy car window. Star dust, I thought. It looks like a comet.
“I used to want to be an astronaut when I was little,” I wrote on Instagram. “Now all I can do is write about the stars and how magic they are.”
Through my second 365, combined with the later stages of grief, taught me how to harness my words again. Suddenly, I was taking a photo every day and blogging more than I had in years. I was churning out essays about my dad and about my grandma and how much they changed my life. Essays about grief and suffering and how damn hard it was everyday, to build a life without them and the joy they brought to my life.
It felt like starting from scratch.
And when you have to start something from scratch, you return to what you know.
Starting from scratch felt like coming home, coming back to my seventeen-year-old self and saying, “Okay. Show me the magic one more time.”
It was me taking a chance on myself. Something that I was too afraid to do all the way back in 2012 and 2013, the last times I had attempted and quit previous 365 projects. I was afraid of the transformation. The growing pains. That moment when your heart splits wide open and says, “Hey, here’s your dream. Are you going to grab it and do whatever it takes, or are you going to run?”
I had to learn how to let fear motivate me instead of always running away from it.
I spent so much time from 2012 through 2017 feeling like I was underwater. Like I was watching my life happen to me from behind a screen. Somewhere in 365 days, I broke open. My friends were making big changes in their lives and I wanted changes to happen in mine too. I said yes to three weddings for 2018. I organized a spring portrait event with a couple of my friends who run a small business in my small town.
I recognized the power of dreaming and goals and planning and the work that has to go into each and every one of those things. I recognized the power of discipline and setting boundaries and saying no and meaning it.
The gears were spinning in my head. I started to dream of a life without my day job in it. Honestly, the prospect of waking up every day and not smelling like stale French fries and Hardee’s grease felt like the best goal to work toward. I started applying for different jobs, interviewing a few places here and there.
Everything seemed to boil down to passion.
Just like it had at my JC Penney interview all those years ago, I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to be happy anywhere unless I had a camera in my hand.
My 365 ended on the day before I turned 26, on April 14, 2018.
I photographed my first wedding back in the photography game, my first wedding in over 5 years, on May 5.
I kept texting my friends freaking out, anxiety is the beast that never sleeps, until my best friend finally said it.
“Nervous means do it?”
Nervous means freaking do it.