Tammy Guest posted an interesting video blog a week or two ago. It was about remembering your strengths, the things that make you special and of which you should be proud. About remembering your achievements. About remembering the things that you might gloss over in an effort to not stand out, not sound arrogant or simply because you don’t think they’re important enough to share. The things that you might hide from others for fear of being different or not accepted. Tammy asked people to own their achievements and remember that “you are amazing” (I actually have a beautiful business card with that same statement on it, handed to me one day out of the blue by a member of The Sista Code).
Tammy’s words resonated with me because lately I’ve been second guessing a LOT of my photography. Recently I was ill, stuck in bed, miserable and with a lot of time on my hands. I took the opportunity to revisit my early photography. Mistake! I was shaking my head at shots I thought were OK at the time but I found unsatisfying. I started beating myself up about this blog and my credentials to write it; how could I think I had something worthwhile to share with others? What made me any sort of expert? I’m in awe of the talent of so many others, what makes me so special?
Tammy’s advice about remembering “all the pieces of your life and letting them shine” was very timely for me. When I thought about what those things were, I realised that I had my own unique story to tell, a blend of experiences that’s completely different to anyone else. And that this would come through in anything I chose to do, including my photography.
In that vein – I choose to share the following things about me. These are things that I often gloss over but that are important parts of me, a unique blend to me, my own life thumb-print. I should add here that I found this exercise quite difficult. Sharing things about yourself is hard because it’s a little scary. It’s embracing vulnerability. But I need to get my mojo back and my written word is, in a way, a commitment to that – so here goes:
- Nerd-dom. I am (and like) being a science nerd. I have a Science degree and a Graduate Diploma in Natural Resources. I wrote a paper at Uni on parthenogenesis that received a near-perfect score and blew my lecturer away; I still smile thinking about it. And I love Doctor Who and Star Trek (live long and prosper peeps).
- Exploration. Halfway through my Uni degree, in support of a passion to ‘save the environment’, I applied to attend an ANZSES (Australia and New Zealand Scientific Exploration Society) expedition to the Daintree region in Queensland. The 6 week expedition entailed studying native flora and fauna in relatively remote forest areas: hiking with backpacks, camping without tents, isolation, fortnightly mail drops. My family weren’t ‘outdoorsy’ so at that point in my life I’d never really been camping at all, let alone roughing it. To my surprise I was accepted. I spent the next few months anxiously pondering what I’d gotten myself into and how I would survive it. But I survived and thrived. There were a lot of firsts: first time travelling solo, first camping experience, first Christmas away from family. Having always struggled with confidence (before the expedition it was at an all time low) I think I applied to go because deep down I knew I needed to do something to believe in myself again. It worked. It was a massive achievement for me and a major turning point in my life.
- First job. My first job out of Uni took me to the inland NSW town of Moree. I worked for the Australian Agricultural Health Unit based in the local hospital grounds and so moved temporarily into the nurse’s quarters when I arrived. I enjoyed it so much I never left. I made friends and embraced the opportunity to explore the countryside. I was on a steep learning curve, having no experience of rural life yet required to work with the farming community. My amazing boss gave me the freedom to find my own path and I got there. So much so that I presented our program to the 12th Congress of the International Association of Agricultural Medicine and Rural Health in Stockholm, Sweden and was subsequently published in the Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine. I went from a Novocastrian nerd to an authority on working with the farming community on pesticides and human health issues. Those four and a half years were incredibly special. I discovered I was not too shabby at educating grown-ups and I experienced my first love. I learned, I grew, I conquered lots of fears and did some really good work. It was a fantastic time in my life.
- Solo travel. Travelling to Stockholm was the first time I’d been overseas. It was too good an opportunity not to stay longer and explore beyond Sweden, so I did. I travelled solo to Greece and the Greek Islands, then onward to Europe. There were some challenges along the way (passport, anyone?) but it was the best thing I could have done. My highlights? The Greek Islands – everything, everywhere, beautiful. The Greek Islands II – to save money I bought only bread and tzatziki for dinner each night. At every dining establishment, without fail I was asked if I was alone (“yes”), given a sad smile (“really, it’s OK”) and free ouzo (“wow, thanks!”). I shared drinks with the staff at most places after closing time and had a ball. Greece – In Athens I was taken under the wing of two self-professed Italian mafia men who were hilarious. England – Kew Gardens were amazing. I spent an entire day strolling, taking photos and even napped under a tree for an hour or two between reading my book. Bliss. Paris – the left bank, the cafes, Montmatre, the list is long.
- Resilience. I survived a marriage breakdown. Unless you’ve been through it, it’s hard to explain this one. No-one ever grows up planning to get divorced. Despite my self-professed ‘smarts’ I married a pathological liar who only revealed his true self when I discovered he was seeing someone else. I was absolutely devastated and would have done anything to make it work because I signed up for life. He left me. Looking back, I will admit that I’m lucky he did, because I would have kept trying to make it work and it would have destroyed me. Through my grief, I learned how resilient and strong I really am. And I am so, so, so much happier now.
- My blended family. I’m really proud of my blended family and how it works. My partner and I have a daughter together and he has a son from his first marriage. I have known my step-son since he was born and he has been part of my own family since he was 2. His mother, my partner and I are friends and committed to co-parenting. We even had a combined family dinner at our place recently in honour of his soccer final. Our daughter knows only this family life and simply accepts that families are a mix of people and relationships. My extended family embraces my step-son as part of their own and our daughter regularly includes her brother’s Mum in her family drawings. We make it work and it’s one of my proudest achievements.
- My creative self. In previous jobs I’ve managed creative projects (art competitions, education project design, partnership work). I’ve really enjoyed the work and the projects have all achieved good outcomes. In my current working life I have more freedom than ever to be creative; I manage marketing for a statewide agency, despite not having a formal marketing background or qualifications. I still have moments where I feel like a fraud, when I worry people will realise that I don’t know what I’m doing at all. When I shared this fear with Tara O’Connell (entrepreneur and creator of The Baby Diaries) she said to me “So what? Just because you don’t have a piece of paper doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You’re winning awards. You have so much experience. You’re doing it.” Point taken. Thanks Tara!
- Awards. I think a lot of people (women in particular) tend to gloss over their formal accolades for fear of being perceived as too proud, too egotistical or just “full of themselves”. Why do we do that? So here goes. I manage a marketing campaign that has won ‘excellence in marketing” awards for three consecutive years and received a Hall of Fame induction this year. That’s big! And of course, there’s the award that started this blog, the Herald Summer Photography award. I’m pretty proud of that one. It was a big boost to my confidence and a reminder to keep doing what I love.
Which brings me to:
- Photography. I am my worst critic here, but I am learning that I’m also allowed to be proud. There are many, many better photographers out there than me. Of course there is! Professionals, amateurs alike – so many photographers to be admired and whose work is inspirational. Some of them I work with, some are friends or family, some I admire from afar. But every now and again I take a damn good photo too, one that “just works” and its pure happiness.
So I will continue to write this blog and take lots of photos (sooo many photos!). I’m proud of feeling brave enough to put my voice out there amongst the tens of thousands of others in blog-land. I’m grateful someone encouraged me to revisit some of the things that make me special. And just at the right time too. The universe is funny like that.