It was about a year ago when it all started.
We were in the car and Cole was tired from eleven hours of shooting, but was somehow still excited to evaluate the wedding day we had just finished photographing.
“I think that ended up being a great day! I was worried about the weather, but the clouds held out and gave the perfect lighting for the bride/groom photos. I think we should switch up how we do bridal party photos; they are feeling kind-of ‘blah’ to me lately. We also need to think more creatively on our composure. How did the ‘walking down the aisle’ shots go? The lighting was really rough in that church. I think we could …. wait, Ash?”
I was staring blankly through the window, almost unaware that my fingertips were at my temples, massaging away the headache. I could hear him going on about the past eleven hours, but I quit caring about the words a long time ago. I was drained, empty of ideas.
And that’s the way the end of every wedding day started to feel. Even through all the pleasantries and “you guys are so much fun on the dance floor” comments, I didn’t feel like I was “fun” inside.
I felt like I was dead.
I knew a wedding day required Cole and me to be energetic, playful, and light-hearted. A testy married photography couple isn’t exactly good for business when you’re in the wedding industry. And we are energetic and playful a lot of the time. But while it remained authentic to Cole, it had all become a show to me. And after a year of shooting alongside him, I was tired of all the acting. I was tired of pretending to love this.
We’d bicker in the car before and after the wedding. We’d disagree on almost every point. I felt trapped in a job and he felt deceived by me. It came out in almost every conversation. But when it came time to step out of the car, boy, did we know how to look like the happiest couple in America.
I had known for a while that I didn’t love this job, but starting a business together required both of our time, attention…well, everything. It required everything we had—every weekend, every conversation over dinner, every weeknight, every email, every interrupting phone call, every moment… everything. That’s what you do when you start to build your dream so it can get off the ground. It can’t fly on its own; you give your everything to build wings and finally let it soar.
And, as selfish as it is, I was tired of giving my everything to a dream that wasn’t mine. While Blest was getting higher in the sky, I felt like my own wings were becoming more and more clipped.
We should’ve started making changes right there, in that car ride. I wish I could say we did. But “Cole and Ashley” had become the foundation of the business. When you booked Blest, you got both of us. And as a pair, we truly did work well together on a wedding day—we could read each other well and I could always anticipate his next move, which camera he’d need or which lens he’d use. We didn’t even really have to communicate more than a couple words in each stretch of the wedding day. We had a system down. And that’s worth everything in the photography world.
But as year number two rounded the corner, I realized that I was stealing from Cole. I was robbing him of his happiness, his creativity, his love for this job on each wedding weekend that passed. He was torn.
I thought I was “serving” my husband and “supporting” the family business by sucking it up and sticking it out. In reality, I was ruining my husband’s dream by staying in it at the level I was. He’d go from elated to distracted all day long— happy to be shooting, but catering to my (embarrassingly) bad moods. I was losing the ability to hide my burnout, and he’d have to stop what he was doing to address what was wrong. He’d want to be boss and husband, and it was tearing him in half.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like photography. It’s not that I hate shooting a wedding, it’s that I don’t have the capacity to do it every weekend. I was burning out, but I was confused. Didn’t I like this before? I thought over the past two years.
As Cole taught me life behind the lens, I picked it up quickly and got excited about shooting. It was fun. It gave me a creative outlet. But to pull the hours and the people-management that wedding photography requires, you have to love it. As in really, truly love it. Telling a story with pictures has to be one of the most intense passions of your heart to pull off what Cole pulls off every weekend.
And I had to come clean with myself: I didn’t love it. Not like that.
I wanted to tell stories, and I think that’s why I jumped on board so quickly with Blest. But I didn’t realize something early enough: what I really want is to tell stories with words, not pictures.
I had to confront myself. I had to look around my life and make some decisions. And you know what I found when I looked around?
Scribblings. Pieces of paper. Journals for days. Post-it notes with ideas for articles that I never got around to completing. A Macbook desktop arrayed with half-written thoughts. A forgotten corner with books stacked-—a book that I wrote. Notepads with song lyrics. It seemed that everywhere I looked, I left a cluttering of unfinished words around me. And I hadn’t really completed anything worth reading in a year. The truth was clear as day.
Ash. You’re a writer.
Not a photographer.
My heart jumped up in relief that I had finally given a name to my passion. And then sank in the disappointment. What am I going to tell Cole?
I thought and thought and thought for days. And then, using my new-found confidence, I did what I love to do. I wrote. I wrote a perfectly packaged speech for him. I was going to tell him something rather poetic—that I’m a person that uses photos to supplement the word-stories, not a person who uses words to supplement the photo-stories. I fluffed up the words and made them palatable and he’d have no choice but to let me fly once more! And, as always, God had other plans.
Cole and his wife got in a tiff.
The argument got the best of me and before I could remember my elegant little plan, I did something awful! I blurted it out, mid-argument—“I can’t do this every weekend like you! I’m exhausted and running out of energy. I can write for days and feel no lack of stamina, but after a day of shooting I feel so drained! I’ve given everything for this company to thrive, but I’ve given no attention to the things that I actually love!”
So much for the perfectly packaged speech. I immediately berated myself in my head. Way to go Ash. “I am angry woman, hear me roar.” That’s the way to approach this subject. Great idea.
Cole was surprisingly understanding. I had underestimated him—he already knew this was coming. He had observed it for a while and was waiting for me to finally come out with it. And he said something beautiful and very true.
“Ash, you’re good at photography. But your heart isn’t in it, which will always keep you from being great at photography. You’ve given everything you had to give to get this company off the ground. And it’s off the ground now. We can hire second shooters. Sure, some of the couples may be bummed that you won’t be there, but I’d rather see you thrive in an area you love than live like a trapped bird.”
And then he said the most freeing words I’ve ever heard in our marriage: “If you want to write, write.” He started laughing and finished, “I think it’s time we fire you from Blest. What do you say?”
I had never felt freer. Firing myself was the best promotion I could ever ask for in that moment.
Now, I’ll still be fulfilling my contracts for the rest of 2014, and I will do it with all I have to give. But starting in 2015, I’ll be giving my weekends to honing my craft of writing. I want to get better with words, and I can’t wait to try.
Through it all, I learned something huge from that whole experience: Being good at something does not mean you should give your life to it. There is a trajectory-changing difference between what you’re able to do and what you’re made to do. Now, we will all have seasons where we are in a job that isn’t our dream job, and I firmly believe God develops our character in those seasons. We shouldn’t live in the delusion that we’ll always be doing what we truly love to do. Sometimes life requires otherwise, and I believe you have to show up to life in those seasons, too. I’m simply thankful that in this small season, God is transitioning me from something I can do to something I really love.
It will feel different and strange and not as instantly-gratifying. I will have to spend long seasons behind my keyboard without anyone seeing. There’s no posting a major project to Instagram everyday. Capturing a story and editing it takes longer with words than it does with pictures. And I have a lot to learn, a lot of classes to take, a lot of books to read, a lot of pieces of horrible work to throw in the trash. But I’m okay with that.
I have no idea what will come of it or how long it will last, but I can’t wait to jump into the craft of telling stories with words.
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.” -Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
What’s your dream? What are you made to do? What’s your passion and your story of pursuing it? I’d love to hear it! Comment below and share it, or use the contact form to share!