Fuck the Box! Listen to your gut.

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Gut instinct. So often we ignore it and do what others tell us we should be doing, molding ourselves into a box we just don’t fit inside. I say fuck the box. Get out there, listen to your gut, and breathe it all in.

So many business experts preach that, in order to be successful in running a business, you have to specialize in one area. I call bullshit!

When I was hip deep in running a photography business, every business class I took (with extremely successful photographers turned business coaches) repeated the same mantra “you must specialize to be successful”. I wasn’t nearly as successful as they were, but I wanted to be, so I ignored my gut instinct and followed their advice.

There were some glaring issues with their teachings (that I won’t even get into here because, seriously, there are too many to even touch on), but at the time I ignored my intuitive doubts in my hungry pursuit to be great.

I just wanted to be like them, so I followed their models and narrowed my focus from a wide range of photography to Wedding, Family, and Boudoir and, eventually, to just Boudoir. I trusted that if I specialized like they advised, I would find extreme success. After too many years of struggling (and still ignoring my gut instinct) to make the specialization work and being ridiculously bored and stagnant because of such a narrow focus, I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was forced to give myself a harsh reality check and completely revamp my career goals, but it was during this much-needed revamp that I had a huge epiphany.

Why should a person, like me (who has developed such a wide variety of skills in my 42 years and has such a huge amount of creative energy), have to narrow down anything in order to be successful? Why should I limit myself to only one kind of photography or, even better, to ONLY photography, just because others say that is the only way I will find success?

I finally just said fuck it to that line of thinking. It certainly wasn’t working for me and it was stifling, so I decided to toss it out and start from scratch. I took stock of all my skills and choose the ones I was both best at and enjoyed the most and allowed a business to naturally develop around them.

The way I saw it, if I wanted to be a photographer and a writer and an editor and many other things (because I was good at all of them), that’s exactly what I was going to be.

I’m just not made to fit into any kind of box.

It’s now April and I am currently still shooting (weddings, families, boudoir, commercial…whatever I fancy), writing (blogs and articles for other businesses and myself), editing (two novels), AND marketing social media for some local businesses in the Health & Wellness industry.

And guess what? I’m killing it! I’m not even remotely specialized now. In fact, I’m all over the fucking map and I have never felt so strong and confident in my work or so motivated and challenged.

  • My brain is happy with the constant stimulation;
  • I am still shooting hilarious and interesting people;
  • I am constantly increasing my knowledge of all things social media marketing (and understanding how much easier it is to market someone else’s business than my own);
  • I have learned how to build effective, kick ass websites;
  • I can read Google Analytics and Facebook/IG insights like a boss (and apply them to my marketing campaigns and Ads);
  • I am learning how to adjust my editing from the proper English of my youth to the modern English we are now immersed in (and, trust me, this is a tough but satisfying experience for me); and
  • I am earning money doing a bunch of different jobs, all of which I thoroughly enjoy.

Basically, I’m following my gut and heart and pursuing ALL of the things I love the most and I’m finally able to let my creative lungs fully expand.

So my message to all of you peeps out there–who are feeling stuffed into a box that just doesn’t quite fit–is to listen to your gut, not the so-called experts, to be able to take a fully freeing, creative breath again.

Fuck the box. Get out there and breathe it all in.

Joy Should Never Have Guilt Attached To It.

NOTE: Originally posted in January 2017

ritchie-valens-43343I’ve been mostly MIA on my blog for nearly two years, but up until a week ago, I really didn’t know how to explain my absence to anyone. I wasn’t ready…until now.

Let me backtrack a bit:

On June 3, 2010, our beloved newborn, Cora Jane, died after picking up nosocomial pneumonia in the hospital and my life was turned upside down and sideways. The road of grief was long and winding and lasted years for both my husband and me. It fundamentally changed both of us but we eventually found solace on different paths – me in roller derby, he in motorcycle adventures. We lost each other somewhere in the meleeand I never quite found my way back.

On March 14, 2014, nearly four years after losing Cora, the stress of grief and life got to me and became really sick. I died a little bit and had one hell of a wickedly, wickedly, wickedly, awesome Near Death Experience (NDE) where I hung out with my dearly departed mom for an entire day and we chatted about the meaning of life and soul contracts. I learned more about myself in that brief blip in time than I had learned in nearly 40 years.

During that experience, mama told me something that I inherently knew but didn’t want to admit to myself: I was not in love with my husband any longer and our relationship was no longer viable. When she said it, I knew it as truth.

However, when I awoke in the hospital and my husband welcomed me back with a floodgate of tears and love, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept my mom’s revelation.

I was full to the brim with love and peace. My experience had opened up my soul so completely that I couldn’t fathom not loving my husband (and everyone else in my life), so I put those thoughts to the very back of my mind and got to work on loving everything. I spent the following six or seven months living life in a bubble of pure bliss, loving everyone and everything and understanding everything about the world. I was in a state of euphoria and it was the most magical feeling, aside from being dead, that I have ever known.

Then, one day in October 2014, it all crashed down around me when I opened the front door and was blasted by a shock wave of negativity that left me sitting on the floor, panting and panicked. It was the first time in my life I had what would later be described to me as a major anxiety attack, and so began the boomerang of the NDE survivor spectrum, extreme empathy. I began sucking up all the energy around me, especially the negativity.

For months, negativity plagued me. I would feel it everywhere I went and it would just keep building up inside. Anger would “jump ship” from someone else to me as I passed them on the street. Frustration would creep up on me if someone in the vicinity was frustrated about something. Despair, antagonism, fear, worry, stress, anxiety…you name it, I absorbed it. I was a Sham Wow for any kind of crappy feeling or emotion and just kept pulling it all in with no means of wringing it out until I was nearly bursting. It was debilitating. I started staying in the house for long periods of time (sometimes up to two weeks), shutting out the world and completely at a loss as to how to stop it.

I stopped working. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I basically stopped living. I was stressed out and afraid all the time. I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two each night and I was so moody that I would erupt like a volcano over nothing on a regular basis.

I actually thought I might be going crazy and I thought I needed meds to bring me back to sanity.

Through all of it, my husband was really understanding and took care of me —working all day and then stopping for groceries, cleaning the house, making excuses for our friends and family for my constantly skipping functions —and the entire time, I felt resentful of him. I resented him for being so nice and kind to me. I resented him for loving me so much. I resented him for being so nice when I was being such a stone cold bitch and didn’t really appreciate any effort he was putting into our relationship. Nothing he did was good enough or, well…enough, period. I couldn’t understand why he was such a huge source of my anger when he was doing everything he could to make me happy. The guilt of it was all-consuming.

I was more despondent than I have ever been in my entire life, even after Cora died, and everything became a downward spiral. I started losing friends because I couldn’t keep up relationships. I lost business because I couldn’t find the energy to shoot anymore. I alienated my husband and kept him at arm’s length at all times. I just shut down.

At the time, I didn’t understand anything that was happening to me and I didn’t know how to clear the energy out of me or block it from getting in, so I just retreated into myself and grew more miserable every day. I was stuck in a dead end and I felt like I was constantly beating my head against a wall.

One night while my husband was on a motorcycle trip to Mexico, I was laying in bed asking my soul guides for help and my mom’s voice came through loud and clear. “Jo, remember what I said? It’s time to stop pretending and get moving.”

And just like that, something clicked. During my NDE, my mom had also told me that those moments in life when we feel like we are at a dead end and are beating our head against a wall are moments when our soul guides are trying to steer our feet onto a new path and we are resisting. She said that when this happens and we continue to resist, life gets harder and harder until our vibration gets so low, nothing but pain and misery get in. Sometimes we find our way back—if we realize what we’re doing and trust our guides to help us out of it—and sometimes we don’t. Laying there, in that moment, I realized that everything I was feeling and experiencing was coming from my own resistance to the truth —I was no longer in love with my husband. I loved him, yes, but only as a friend. I had been forcing my heart, in vain, to find its way back to something that no longer existed. I had denied the truth in my heart and it had finally caught up with me and kicked my ass. My own resistance had backed me into a corner and forced me to face up to my fears or stay lost forever.

And just like that, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. When he called me the following day, even though I knew I was going to hurt him so much, I told him that I was leaving him.

Not only was it an awful feeling, but it was also, remarkably, a great feeling too. The moment I got the words out, I felt the weight of all of that negativity shift and begin to dissipate and I knew that I was doing what I needed to do to save my own sanity. The entire situation sucked moldy ass crackers, but for the first time in a few years, being honest with myself, and him, felt so liberating.

And, suddenly, the world came back to life for me. My vibrations started to rise and I started surfacing from the mire.

Fast forward 20 months to where I’ve gone through some hugely significant changes, all good for me.

I have moved to another city and slowly begun to establish myself here. I have learned how to control the way I take in or block other people’s energy and I no longer get bogged down with it. I also pay close attention to thoughts and feelings that come up within me and I honor and acknowledge all of them.

But up until last week, I wasn’t ready to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying around for so long.

I couldn’t shake the guilt of not being able to love my ex the way he wanted me to and of disrupting both of our lives to follow my heart. I knew we were both better off because it is so unfair to pretend you feel something for someone that you don’t, but it was still eating me up inside.

Last week, Greg (my new guy) and I had a conversation about how I seem to keep my life with him on the down low. He also said he thought it was because I was trying really hard to be sensitive to my ex’s feelings. Even though I didn’t actually realize that I was doing that, as soon as he said it, I knew it for truth and I acknowledged and sat with it for a couple days.

I, indeed, stopped blogging about most things in my life because they have involved Greg and I was being sensitive to my ex’s feelings and didn’t want him to think I was throwing my happy moments in his face. It had been 20 months since we officially separated and I was still trying to censor my life to avoid hurting his feelings. I was, in essence, subconsciously suppressing myself because I was unsure if my ex was happy and I didn’t want to hurt him more by admitting to my own happiness.

My ex is a good man and I want him to be happy too, but his happiness isn’t my or anyone else’s responsibility. His happiness depends solely on his outlook. I have been burdening myself with too much guilt for following my heart, something that has brought me great joy and anything that causes a person joy should never have guilt attached to it.

So 
I have only just chosen to forgive myself and embrace my new life and all that it is.

I feel like I am home, in all ways, since I moved to the Okanagan. Back in a small town, living with the guy I fell in love with the moment I laid eyes on him when I was 17 (true story), and happily struggling through the ups and downs of the day-to-day.

Chugging forward with an open heart full of gratitude and newly lightened shoulders, I can’t wait to see what amazing things this year will bring for me, my life, and my relationship with my new guy.

I wish you all dragonflies and let the blogging begin again!

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Change your thoughts now! Your 40-year-old boobs will thank you!

NOTE: Repost from 2016.

40 somethingIn a video I posted last week (which you can watch here) I spoke about how our thoughts affect our lives and I wholeheartedly believe that if you change your thoughts, you can change your life.

Today, as I stood naked in the bathroom mirror, lamenting the altered state of my 41-year old boobs, a memory popped up from childhood.

I must have been about 12 or 13, and I was sitting on the edge of my mom’s bed, chatting with her as she stood naked, applying makeup, in the big mirror above her dresser. I don’t remember the full conversation, but I remember her laying down her eyelash curler, grabbing her boobs, smiling and saying, “I may not be crazy about the way my ass looks right now, but at least I have nice boobs and a beautiful smile.” She was around 34 or 35 at the time and she did have both of those things! At that time, though, I didn’t realize how profound her words were, but years later, after hearing her say stuff like that on a regular basis, I know how blessed I was to grow up with a mom who kept it real. She didn’t always love every part of her body or all of who she was as a person, but she made damn sure she could always find something she loved about herself (and me) and always made it known.

I should probably disclose that my mama had implants. She was diagnosed with Fibrocystic disease in her early 30’s and, as mammograms weren’t popular then, the recommended treatment was to remove breast tissue and get implants. That’s exactly what she did. Not only did it alleviate her fears of developing Breast Cancer, but it also made for one fantastic set of Ta Ta’s! When she died suddenly in 1999, I joked with one of my friends that mom would have been super jacked that she’d still had a great rack, at 47, when she died. LOL. Using humor while grieving is a legit coping mechanism!

All this came to me this morning, as I stood looking at my boobs and struggling to find anything appealing about them. I, too, used to have a great rack when I was younger. However, after 41 years, an invasive breast reduction surgery that left them heavily scarred, a noticeable drop after my milk dried up after pregnancy, and well, the old boobies ain’t looking 20 anymore. They aren’t awful, but they are most definitely my least favorite part of my anatomy. For the first time in my life, I can completely understand why so many women feel the need to have their breasts done – be it with implants or lifting or whatever else.

However, I understand something else so much more: I am NEVER going to love every aspect of my body or myself, so it’s critically important that I make time to focus on those parts of myself that I do love- like my arms or my ass or my great smile!

When we spend time picking ourselves apart, it eats away at our souls – it kills our confidence, depresses us, make us feel ugly and undesirable, causes us to compare ourselves to others because we don’t feel comfortable in our skins. I was BLESSED to have a kick-ass mom who ALWAYS found something to love about herself and her body (even on days when she wasn’t crazy about the whole package), but, even with her positive influence, I still struggle with self-love sometimes.

This is why I dig shooting Boudoir so much; it gives me a great opportunity to teach someone else how to start focusing on the parts of herself that are radtastical. It’s so easy to show a woman what a superbabe she is when she’s standing naked before me and I’m truthfully expressing admiration for her beautiful legs or her to-die-for hair or her smooth skin or her killer ass or, well, you get the picture…pun intended!

Growing up with a mom who could see all sides of herself taught me that it’s important to check your thoughts when you’re, for example, standing naked in front of the mirror, wishing your boobs were perkier and prettier. It’s important to learn how to smack yourself upside the head as soon as you start to fall into that rabbit hole of negativity. It’s important to develop the presence of mind to regularly tell yourself to snap the fuck out of it and take a closer look at the superbabe who stands before you. Maybe you have pretty, toned arms or a beautiful curve in your waist or a perky ass. Perhaps you have naturally white teeth or gorgeous hazel eyes with a wicked pattern of greens and golds in them. Whatever you have, it sure as shit is more than the not-so-perky boobs you’re focusing on and whining about. 🙂

Changing our negative thoughts about ourselves, both inwardly and outwardly, is a tough habit to break, but the effort is so worth it. If you aren’t happy with something about yourself, it’s up to you to either find a way to change it or, if you can’t change it, to find a way to accept it and focus on the things that do make you happy.

But how, Jo? How do I change my thoughts???

Start by taking one minute out of your day, every day, to talk yourself up. If you can’t find one thing every day that you love about yourself, I believe you are simply not trying hard enough. Finding ONE thing to appreciate about yourself every day is easy peasy- maybe it’s the shape of your toes, your ability to get shit done, being kind to people, how awesomely loud your farts are…whatevs.

If you have to put a sticky note on the mirror to remind you to look for the good stuff, then do it. If you have to ask your friends or significant other to smack you every time you say something negative about yourself, then do it (I’m sure they would be happy to do this for you…haha). Whatever you do, find a way to recognize and brag to yourself about the parts that you like or admire.

I may not be over the top about my boobs today, but I’m pretty in love with my lips, my muscular legs and arms, my ability to look for humor in any situation, my knack for not giving a fuck about things that aren’t vitally important, and my innate ability to see when I’m being a douche to myself (and others) and snap myself out of it. That’s a lot of good stuff to make me happy.

Change your thoughts, change your life.

Get on it.

Oh, and speaking of 40 something superbabes…
superbabe

Celebrate the Journey: Learning to Love Your Body!

NOTE: Repost from 2016untitled-29

How often in our lives – especially in this age of being constantly bombarded by fake, photoshopped BS ads in the media – do girls or women look in the mirror and say, “Damn, girl! You got it going on!”? Do you know how to love your body and yourself in general?

When is the last time you looked in the mirror and just accepted yourself for who you are – even if you are on a physical or mental journey to improve yourself and learn and grow?

It’s a tough question for a lot of us women because we tend to concentrate on the negative aspects of our personalities or the flaws we see in our bodies. Many of us don’t know how to accept where we are at this moment in our journey through life (even when we’re working hard to improve aspects of ourselves) and instead of going with the present flow, we concentrate on the future, not the here and now.

And it’s so easy to do – ignore who we are right now because we’re so focused on who we want to be later (after we do the work to improve ourselves). I grew up with a beautiful and ridiculously outspoken mom who constantly told me to love and accept myself for who I am – even when I didn’t like who I was at the moment – and I STILL fall down that steep slope of comparing myself to others. It’s so easy to conveniently forget that to learn and grow ourselves (and our souls), we MUST learn to love the process, the entire process, including the downright shitty parts.

We conveniently forget that we are all different and multi-layered for a reason. We forget to celebrate the beauty that shines from our unique characteristics that develop as we learn and grow through life. We forget to celebrate all that we are and all that we will become while we focus on the end game instead of the journey.

Accepting where you are right now is as simple as waking up in the morning and telling yourself that you probably won’t do or say all the right things and you may not look exactly how you want to look or behave in the best possible manner, but no matter what comes with the day, you love and accept yourself and where you’re at in your journey.

I declare that from this point onward, I will help all the women I already know, and all those I will meet, learn how to celebrate their journeys through this life. Of course, I would love to do this by using my camera to capture all that you are at this moment, but I promise to do it any way I can, camera or not.

Don’t you think it’s time that you learn how to celebrate your journey?