Super long, stream of consciousness post, about this Woman.
I wanted to write a bit about my journey and how I am where I am TODAY.
8 1/2 years ago I decided to move to a new city. To open a new chapter in my life and try out something new. I was met with pretty harsh criticism and doubt. People I knew would say “ why would you move there?” “you don’t even know anyone” “why give up your life for someone you don’t even know” “i give your relationship 6 months tops”
These comments were from women. My guy friends were all supportive and ready to come visit.
My goal when moving to STL was to start my own business. With all of my ‘things’ stored between a warehouse, my car and my old apartment. I was on my own with what clothes I could carry with me. I started a new job downtown STL as a waitress. I made it clear when I started that job that I could only work Monday - Friday during the day. (which is pretty much unheard of in the service industry) When I was interviewed, I told them this was a job that was going to pay my bills while I created my own business. So at 4pm every weekday and weekends I started creating that business. Thanks to Katie Temple who was the first woman in St Louis to open a door for me, to see that I was serious about what i wanted to do and to give me the opportunity to be a daytime server Monday- Friday.
For three years I hustled. I created a base of regulars that came in on their set day of the week (sometimes multiple days) These regulars knew my dreams. They knew my entire life story. They came back in to hear the next “random Jenna Story.” They believed in what I was building. At the same time that I was surrounded by support, I had other people around me introducing me as “This is Jenna, she works at LPG, she does photography on the side” Or “she takes photos sometimes”
This may not seem like a negative comment but I promise you the intentions behind these statements was anything but positive. When people would talk about me or say what I did for a living, they wouldn’t introduce me as the Entrepreneur or the Photographer or the Artist, they would introduce me as a server. As if that was supposed to be a bad thing.
*Let me point something out. Servers, Bartenders, and most people in the industry, hustle harder than most people I know. They put up with the most ridiculous things all while make sure than every penny they receive was well earned. There are people like myself and everyone’s favorite guy Kellan, who fucking slay at serving. People drive hours to see their favorite server. They are loyal when they find a server they like and sometimes, we get those super special regulars that tip a ridiculous amount because they see the hustle and they support what we are about. There is NOTHING wrong with being a server.
Three years. I worked full time as a daytime server and full time with my main goal of having my own business. Here’s where I think it gets good. My main goal of having my own business is always evolving, but at that time, my goal was to be able to pay my bills by taking photos. I took on every job I could find and had a hard time saying no. I charged pennies to every dollar other people were charging, not realizing I was hurting myself as well as the industry. But I had to start somewhere and had no one to guide me. I was swimming all alone with no direction but I was getting somewhere.
The day came where it was time for me to leave the restaurant industry. This was tough for me because I had loved it for so long and it was a major part of me and how I engaged with other people. I was greeted with bittersweet support from all of my regulars. They didn't want me to leave but they knew I had been planning on this day for a while and that I had taken my time to make sure it was what I wanted. I was also greeted with cynicism and doubt. From people who really never supported me in the first place. From the same people who never understood that my serving job was about paying bills and creating a network. This time this negativity was coming from mostly men. Men who doubted me and my goals and couldn’t understand that a woman could make her own dreams come true and could hustle just as hard as they could. These men didn’t comprehend that change is needed to grow and continue to this day to do the same things over and over only to gain the same result.
The next few years are a blur. The rollercoaster of owning your own business but being a service based luxury item is something only other people in the same boat understand. When I try to explain the thrill or the exhaustion sometimes people shrug and say “but isn’t this what you wanted” which I quickly always respond with “HELL YES.” When I moved to this new city I knew I wanted to create a new life for myself. But that meant so much more than finding a new job or starting a new business. That meant I needed to grow too. I was in a new relationship and wanted to be a good partner. I wanted to be the best version of myself that I could be. I knew I needed to be 100% myself at all times and this is intense to most people. I also knew that a lot of the habits that I learned between 2004 & 2008 needed to be squashed immediately. The main habit was seeing other people as competition. Other photographers, other people working, other women. When you are first taught something you assume you are being taught correctly. This isn’t always the case. Luckily, I had parents who “raised me right” My basic principles were spot on. The one about treating others how you want to be treated always stuck with me. However this got a little tricky when I was told that other photographers were competition or other women were too. I didn’t want to be like that. So I stopped.
No joke. I made the decision one day and that same day, I reached out to other photographers in the area. Some remember the super awkward way that I did it but I found my way as time went on. I emailed photographers, I met up with them for coffee. We brainstormed on how to make the industry better in the area. I joined groups for networking. I commented like a crazy person on everyone’s pretty photos. I was a fan of their work and wanted them to be a fan of mine. I realized that my main goal was to be inclusive and that sometimes that thought of “these photographers aren’t really your friends, they are competition, they are taking your business” would creep up, but not even in my own head. It would appear in the form of GOSSIP. At networking and photography meet ups, I could hear it from across the room. That negativity creeping into the conversation and making it’s way towards me. And remember how I told myself to always be 100% authentically me. This is one of those moments. I stopped the conversation in a group of people and said, “ I’m sorry, I can’t be a part of a conversation like this. I came here to uplift and encourage the photographers around me” and I picked myself up and moved to the other side of the table where I began to engage in positive conversations about growing our businesses and working together. Some people think my actions were bitchy or rude. I look at it like this: Year after year you are surrounded by negativity and gossip and doubt, the only way to make a difference is to start with yourself. So I did. People started to notice. and BAM!!! after a few times of excusing myself from the table, others around me started to focus their energy and conversation on being part of the change and growth, not getting sucked into the the wormhole of negativity.
Over the years some of my best friends that I have made are photographers all around the world. Men and Women that uplift each other. Listen to each other on the rough days and are the biggest cheerleaders on the good ones.
Owning your own business isn’t for everyone and it definitely isn’t for the lazy. As your business grows you grow and you have to make changes. Pricing has to evolve and grow with the times, you can’t charge $100 to take photos and give every photo away. I could spend time now breaking down the costs of business or explain how much my actual take home is or why it’s important I make enough to feed myself, etc. But I’m not going to do that. As the business grows, just like as I have grown as a person, some people have to be let go. For those who know me at all, it’s pretty clear that I am passionate about what I do, I adore each client that I get and basically make everyone my best friend. However as my business has grown I have lost clients to other photographers in the industry that are charging $100 or free. BUT on the other hand as I’ve grown and my business has blossomed. I’ve gained new clients that understand the value in what I do and provide. For every person who writes and says “ you charge too much” or “ well, so and so charged X can you do the same for that amount” instead of writing back and saying “I don’t even charge what I’m supposed to be charging you are getting a steal and you don’t even know it” I focus on the positive people around me. In 2014 I realized this for the first time, value is key. I had a client (who is now one of my favorite people ever) come to me and tell me “ I’m going to do a session with you one day, I just had to save up for it” A few months later she came to me for her session. She paid in cash, small bills. She had made it her main intention to save up and set a goal. She saw the value in what I was providing. Much more than a click of a button. She wanted the experience and she earned it. After yard sales and skipping a few Starbucks here and there, she had saved up and rewarded herself. It is still one of my favorite experiences as a business owner. People were understanding the value of all the time, blood, sweat, and tears that I had poured into this business. This is success right? I say yes it is. However success isn’t always measured on all of the good things that happen but also how to overcome the shitty stuff.
*adding a few photos to give your eyes a break:)
As a woman, I hear things every day that make me cringe. and that brings me to 2016.
This is the year I gave my everything and was rewarded in a few different ways. 2016 was the busiest year to date. That sounds good, it was good, but it was also a bit chaotic. I knew starting in 2016 I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time in my relationship. I wanted to see more concerts and travel and do things I wanted to do. To do this I had to master my schedule. So all of the fun stuff came first. Family time was put on the schedule way in advance. No impromptu hang outs or visits. I was MAKING time for my family and that was that. Next Concerts. these were easy to plan because they schedule in advance. Oh that relationship thing. We’ve been together for so many years it’s easy to become complacent or too comfortable. So I scheduled off weekends. BIG X through those dates. Nothing would be able to interrupt my time with my love. Travel… well if it wasn’t for work, it wasn’t happening. Finally. the rest of the days were for work. and by the rest I mean every, single one of them. If i wanted to see Beyonce, I needed to work for it. If I wanted to take 3 days off to visit my parents, well, you better work twice as hard Jenna. So I did. and I was killing it. I heard wedding guests ask me “ how much do you charge for a wedding?” I would respond and they would gasp and say “well damn, if I’d known that I would have been a photographer” or other guests would come up to me and comment on my hair and state they are more conservative than I am. As if they could tell anything about my by the fact that my hair was a rainbow ;) But although I laugh at the last comment it was the way people spoke to me that started to cut a little deeper last year. Didn’t they see how hard I was working? How can I make them understand that I’m working twice sometimes three times as hard to be taken seriously than my male counterparts? And for some of those comments I had to respond with, they will never change.
Did I mention I hustled last year? With every single day filled with work, I couldn’t actually get ahead. But that was ok because I was managing it. Most photographers will tell you that once fall arrives in the midwest, we need a bit more patience and understanding. Our jobs are so much more than taking photos, but that’s for a different post. I made it through the year. I saw Beyonce, I drove 5 hours after dancing and singing at the top of my lungs for hours so that I could shoot a wedding in Chicago the next day. I did it. It was awesome. In fact that wedding is being published on a blog soon and I killed it it was so great. I came home and went right back to work. I made it a full 10 months.
Then October hit.
The Election was coming up. Everyone around me had lost all sense of sanity it seemed and the negativity was palpable. It was exhausting. I could let it suck me in or I could power through it. I chose, what I thought was to power through it. I am a strong, motivated very independent woman. I make goals and I kick ass to achieve it. I do this because women before me have blazed the trail for me. Instead of continuously getting involved in Facebook wars, ( I left that to CLFCS) I engaged in real life conversations and was listening to everything as if it was a drug I couldn’t get enough of. I didn't want to me misinformed. I wanted to know why everyone was fighting and where it was all coming from. At the same time I had a business to run. October was awesome. I had 23 sessions and 3 weddings. I was editing till 3 am and loving every second. I was in full throttle hustle mode. Then November came and the universe was like… you aren’t going to book any shoots after November 5th because something’s about to happen. In reality I had 2 shoots after November 8th. It wasn’t easy. and NO THIS IS NOT ABOUT A TEAM LOSING. It was about something else. Right now as I type this the knot is building up in my stomach because it’s so hard to explain what happened to me. This is me trying. I have been taught my entire life that if I worked hard I could do whatever it was I wanted to do. It’s going to be hard. You will fight for everything. You will see other people succeed down a much easier path. You will doubt yourself as others around you rise up. BUT you will congratulate them on their success and continue to work harder, because you don’t give up on your dreams. You shouldn’t get emotional because you need to pick yourself up and work harder. So year after year, comment after comment that is what I did. That’s who I am. I fight for what I believe in. I fight for those I love. I fight for those I don’t even know. I work hard because I like to feel that my work has paid off and that my goals are reached because of my dedication. I think that no matter how many setbacks I endure that one day, I will look at what I’ve accomplished and feel proud of what I’ve done without the guilt that comes with it for some reason. That day was yesterday by the way, but Im not quite ready to tell you about it.
Just like that the world seemed different. again, not because a team lost or won. For me, if I’m completely honest. OF COURSE SHE HAD FAULTS. but that’s politics and we aren’t going there because this isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that no matter the scandal or whatever negativity was around it all. I was shown that no matter how qualified or how hard a woman worked, no matter how hard a woman played in a mans world… well it still wasn't enough.
I was crushed. It’s like someone just told me to my face “that’s cute you want to be a lady entrepreneur, but be real, men are better” I heard people actually say to my face “there’s just some jobs that men do better than women” and to that person I caved and asked “please tell me… what jobs do men do better than women” To which they replied… “ I dunno, like investment banking” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH This was real life. A “man” told ME that women couldn’t be good at investments? I mean for a second i was hoping he was going to say fire fighter or penis model to which I would have shown him some bad ass women fire fighters and conceded to the comment of penis model.
It was all around me. The comments never stopped. and it wasn’t just men. Women around me were saying the same thing. “well maybe a woman can’t do (x) “ My world was spinning out of control. What in the world are people talking about? Women have literally brought every single human to this planet and you are tell me that we can’t do something. What is happening?
I witnessed a friend of mine be one of the strongest women I have ever met. Her parents died within weeks of each other. She has a two year old at home. She’s pregnant with their second child. Her husband get’s hit by a car in a hit and run just a few weeks before the baby is due. With her Husband unable to walk, in an out of hospital and surgeries and home therapy. She has their second child. 4 days later I run into her at Target and cannot believe my eyes. She’s walking through target baby in cart because “who else is going to help her” she is incredible and no one could make her believe she isn’t powerful. K- you inspire more people that you know!
Then I see families being torn apart of the polar opposite feelings about things I thought were already common sense.
Over the years I have been good about cutting out the negativity in my life. I consider myself a realist. I look at things from multiple angles. I make decisions based on facts and research. I give people too many chances, because I am always hopeful that reason will win in any disagreement. I don’t look for the negative but acknowledge when it is there and I am active at making changes to conquer it. Sometimes that means that people have to be cut out or a break needs to be taken from a person or group. Since high school I’ve been quick to get negative draining people out of my life. Ask Hilary. We have gotten rid of a lot of crappy people in our lives over the years.
*remember when Kodak was this small
In November & December it wasn’t so easy. So many people were fighting for what they believed in and no matter how much I listened or tried to understand I couldn’t find a way. I was told that I had disappointed people. I was told that Marching wouldn’t solve anything. I was told that I wasn’t taking responsibility for my actions or that women should know better. All from behind a computer. I was told that my real life interactions with other human beings was cute but that people don’t change. If you have read this far, you know that I don't believe that. That I’ve tried to make a difference and I have succeeded in small ways. But small ways are how change starts so why doesn’t that count?
So what happened? Jenna…. get to the point! Well you wont believe it but more shitty stuff happened. My anxiety started to return. In a way that some people wont understand. November, December, January. Consumed with stress, anxiety, doubt, and fear. Not just a little bit but to the point I was 12 years ago when I allowed “doctors” to prescribe me a million different meds at once because I thought I was going crazy. It was rising up and I was starting to be unable to channel my anxiety into a positive outcome. I was giving in to the occasional Facebook fight. I couldn’t take a compliment without biting someone’s head off. My house was a mess and every single thing that was out of place was weighing down on me. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I had a family member pass away and I couldn’t even mourn the right way. My cat accidentally sliced through my lip leaving a scar on my face and it became a complex. I have obsessed and panicked about how this scar will forever mark my face. I felt defeated. Every day wanting to stay in bed. Wanting to give up and figure out something else to do with my life because what I’m doing doesn’t even matter. I was consumed with the Pale blue dot that we live on being minuscule and meaningless. I worked YEARS to build my skin up thick to power through everything to hustle to no end and then Winter came. The dark gloomy skies of the midwest in winter. drained me. The sun went down at 4pm and i was ready for bed. The people closest to me understood. They sort of felt the same way. I caught myself only talking about negative stuff and drifting into this world that I jumped out of years ago. It was exhausting. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted this life that I had created for myself. I wanted to keep it because I had earned it.
I knew I was better. I treat people with more kindness than I ever expect to receive in return. (except for bad drivers and people that are rude to their servers) I didn’t want to be mean spirited or hateful like so many others. I wanted to remain realistic but hopeful. I wanted to see the best in other and do my best.
I decided to dive back in.
My house felt like the walls were caving in around me. The paint was ugly and outdated and there was too much stuff all around me. You know that book “The Art of Tidying up”? well i haven’t read it. I don't need to read it. I already know that it’s something that would inspire me but also overwhelm my other half. You know that show Hoarders? Sometimes I put it on so I realize our mess isn’t that bad, I think it motivates me more than seeing the possibility of a heavenly OCD clean house. I had this great idea of repainting our place, to take on 9 years of clutter and “collection”. And guess what happened? The universe said…. “HAHAHAHAH you want to start a house project guess what else you have to do” It happened.
The weather in St Louis jumped to 70 degrees. for like 3 full weeks. My schedule filled with sessions. It was incredible but I wasn’t ready. I had to finish my office, I wanted my kitchen to be organized. I wanted my closet to be put back together and to stop living out of luggage. But that wasn’t going to happen. My February became my October. I couldn't believe it. With the sun shining and the air not hurting my face, I started to feel like myself. My conversations became motivated and purposeful. I was engaging in activities to move things forward instead of back. I was Resisting the urge to give in to the anxiety and go to the dark side. I was fighting again for what I wanted in my life and for others. It was a slow turn, but a turn of events for sure. The weather helped. Winter gets so most people and they don’t even realize it. I always prepare for the Winters, but had no idea this one was going to be so bad. Can I also state that I love snow but we (STL) haven’t gotten a single snow to play in all winter which bums me out.
I started looking for a new assistant. I thought I found the perfect one. Then it didn’t work out. The timing wasn’t right. She is incredible and WILL be part of my team some day when the timing is a bit better. I didn’t feel as defeated as I thought I would.
I can do this. I’ve done it for years on my own. I’ll be fine. I just have to find my rhythm again. But this time I’m not alone. Remember I told you that over the years, the negative people have been excluded from my life…. well that means that the positive influencers are still here. And oh do I have an arsenal. My Partner. My Family. My team. My squad. My Wellness Entourage. They let me have my moment. I took a moment. Maybe a few months longer than I had planned. But they stayed with me. They might not have even understood what was going on, but they could feel it. They answered calls when I made them and they let me be when I needed to be alone. They let me cry and some made fun of me for doing it so often. (as a person who doesn’t normally cry that often the last few months have been draining to say the least) There were angry tears, sad from loss tears, scared tears, tears over someone else’s success. Tears because someone I love, finally began putting her artwork into a book and it’s so beautiful that I couldn't contain myself. I let myself be in my feelings and writing this now is a reminder that it’s really important to feel whatever you are feeling because it’s the only way you will really heal.
*Shout out to Shannon Duggan Photography for making us look cool
Then the magic happened. That moment of feeling empowered and motivated to conquer anything and everything. To be the baddest boss bitch there ever was. It’s happening. A few weeks ago a friend reached out and offered to try to become my new assistant. It’s a task for sure and not the easiest one. When I am motivated to succeed and work hard it’s hard for people to keep up and even harder for them not to be overwhelmed. I need someone to keep me focused and on track and manage all of the million things I am trying to do at once. With Paint swatches painted all over the house, boxes everywhere, shelves fill to the point you feel like they will crash down around you. She stepped up. I will be introducing everyone to her in a few weeks. The first time I overwhelmed her. She stopped. She told me. We figured out a way to confront this issue and we moved forward. It was unreal. We have challenges ahead but we are tackling them one at a time.
Everything got moved out of my office, the new coat of paint went up and Chris and I (mainly chris) built so much furniture over the weekend. I organized everything to the standards that every OCD person would love. Down to every paper clip in it’s correct place. Chris made sure that the outlet covers were screwed on and that every screw was aligned the same direction throughout the room. It was magical. It was coming together. Was I really going to have a grown up office to run my empire from? Monday I spent the entire day finishing up the details. Some people noticed my absence and emailed me checking in. I just needed a couple of days. I knew I could accomplish it if I worked day and night to get it done.
And now we are at yesterday. The day that I revealed my new office to the people who help me. This may seem trivial or silly but it’s pretty freaking symbolic to me and here is why. I don’t do that many things for myself and I'm not being humble or trying to brag. What I mean is, I was perfectly content with my tiny desk in a messy office surrounded by stuff that should be in a storage locker. I would focus my eyes on my computer and work. Some days it would get to me but I would power through and say it wasn’t worth the trouble to get rid of the mess or make the change or take the time to deal with it. Well the day came and I hit that breaking point and it was time for a change and a bit one. By having a new color of paint, daylight lightbulbs, a stand or sit desk, a desk for an assistant, a fuzzy rug for the kitties and a shelving unit fit for any level of OCD. It made a difference. When I revealed the office to the girls yesterday they couldn’t contain themselves. Hugging me for changing the office seemed odd until it sunk in that this small change was HUGE for us. It was something we needed. Something to show that we have come so far and still have so far to go. Do I still have a dream that Ill have a different office one day, yes, but holy shit let me tell you that this is a dream that came true. And it was possible because I made it happen. I put in the work. I figured it out. I cried through the struggle and it’s working.
I feel strong and empowered and am ready to kick ass at everything I do. The negativity is fading and the realistic motivated queen that I know I am is coming back. I am ready to empower other women and surround myself with women and men that do the same. And to the men out there who read this, it’s ok to empower the women around you. In fact I challenge you to do it. Be mindful of how you speak to the women in your life because we are listening. I am lucky enough to have a partner who is the biggest feminist I know and even he is still learning. Women can do better too! I am ready to empower other women and don’t worry I will still call out those who try to keep us down. Those lovely misogynist women out there, I’ll call you on it and I’m happy to do so. It’s not a time to fight each other. It’s time to stick together and resist the temptation to be ok with the status quo. There will be ups and downs and even further downs but we will rise up. There will be passive comments that don’t sink in until later. There will be hatefulness and negativity all around us but we will be fine.
So to the Women at work today that think that this Women’s Day is silly. I work hard and I fight for you too. I lead by example so that maybe, I can make a difference in some ONE’s life. I don’t need to change everyone nor do I want to. I want to make a tangible difference in those who interact with me in the real world and I will continue to do so in my work and in my life. It is a privilege to be able to share my story with those who want to read it. Now I am off to tell other peoples’ stories through the photos that I capture for them.
Feel free to stick around and look through more pretty photos if you need a break from all of this reading:)
and for those curious to know who has had the biggest impact on my life in the most positive ways here is a start at that
My Mom, Jean
My Dad, Guy
My Grandmother, Shelby
My Sister, Jessie
My Love, Christopher
My Besties: Hilary, Samantha, Shannon, Heather, Rebecca, Sammi Jo, Linda, Katie C., Maddy, Joe K, Joe W.
My Wellness Entourage: Emily S. , Dr Matt Smith, Mandy G. Elizabeth R.
The Inlaws and my other family:
Debi, Bob, Katherine, Ryan, Brian, Stacey
Cathy & Rick,
Cynthia & Cindy
and those who didn't know they had an impact here's to you
JJ, Sarah, J Lo and Amanda
Evie & Jude
and this list could go on forever. if you feel left out of this list im sorry but i've been typing for like 2.5 hours and I'm hungry so I'm sure I missed someone.