This has been on my mind for quite some time now. since early 2014 (thought venturing into film photography and trying new things was what I needed but I was wrong).
When I decided to go full-time in 2012 it was a scary time and yet very exciting. I understand the up and downs of starting a business and owning a business but looking back I feel that where the damage and suffering happened most was in my family life and relationships.
It’s really hard to go over everything that’s been on my mind and heart but the very main reason above all is that wedding photography takes away my time from my family.
At first I thought, I could take on limited weddings so I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my Saturdays. Vu has a busy schedule already and trying to save 1 or 2 Saturday a month just for us ended up being such a struggle. In the process, I neglected a lot of friends and other true relationships because I wanted to spend time with my husband and family. Well yes, I should want to spend more time with my family but after working out my schedule it just seemed friends came last on my list. However, I found that during the weekday, while most of my friends were at work or meeting up with each other for coffee or just lunch, I was busy homeschooling and fitting in coffee dates with other photographers or creative artist in the industry so I could ‘expand’ my networking or just be around like-minded folks. I found this left more empty and lonely then I had started out. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting people. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many talented and inspiring people. I love building relationships. But I found that it was void and empty when it was always centered on ‘photography’ and what was the latest thing I was shooting. I started to feel resentment towards my own work because I gave more time to the industry than my very own family!
Not only that, but during the day when I should be focused on my son, I was worried about emails, when I would get editing done and then before I knew it, the afternoon came and the next worry on the list was getting a meal together before Vu got home. I know it sounds a lot like whining and complaining and these are just some of the sacrifices we make when owning a business. I should point out that I’ve tried many many different ways to make my schedule work, even taking on an associate position contracted job so I could still be shooting, living out my passion and not having to deal with so much computer work, but I found that still…I missed and craved for those weekends back that I missed out on. In the end, TIME is what I missed and cannot have back. The joy of meeting new people, and creating memories that people will hold on to forever, seeing the celebration of other people’s lives and their special moments deep down inside made me really really sad because I was missing out on my own life and my own moments. I’m finding that each day that I wake up I am craving the simple life. Of just enjoying my son’s smile and his never-ending chat on his pokemon cards. To enjoy the simplicity of making my husband breakfast and not feeling overwhelmed because by 8am I needed to get Jordan’s lesson started and by 10am I needed to answer emails then by 12pm to make Jordan’s lunch and while he had recess, get some editing done and back to lessons by 1pm. And from there, taking him to tae kwon do and preparing dinner. Having a little less than 2 hours of family time, this included sitting down together for dinner and quiet time before sending Jordan off to bed. And instead of spending another hour with my husband chatting and seeing how his day was, I would rush to the computer so I could get ‘more’ work done. This was my life DAILY. And by Friday, preparing to shoot a wedding for Saturday. I was also keeping up with social media because I needed to give my fans ‘content’ to follow. It was just too much for me.
Vu would encourage me and tell me all the time, you have to start somewhere and it’s challenging but no one said it was easy. I’m up to the challenge. Believe me. I’ve invested so much money into the business, advertising, building my portfolio, finally getting into the demographic that I’d dream of. Vu has supported me the entire time. The very few weddings that I took on was priceless. Because I took on so few and was able to give my full attention ,which I meant whole heartedly but I was still feeling voided and empty. The very one thing I gave up and miss the most is just my time. Interpret it as you will but I’m tired of fighting for time and weekends. I feel like a stranger among my friends, I feel out of place among big crowds. Photography is such a lonely job. During the day, If I’m not teaching my son, I’m sitting in front of my computer, void of all human contact unless I force myself to call someone and check up on them. I never had anxieties until this past year cause I became so awkward around people. Well, that was never so cause I use to be around people ALL the TIME! Sometimes I found more happiness in work because I was so exhausted from homeschooling that I soaked up every minute I was out working and being around people. But that was still under the ‘photographer’ hat. Being around people, just being myself, without my camera made me feel awkward. I tell myself constantly now, I just want a day where I do absolutely nothing. So even though I wanted to be around people like before because of being overwhelmed and trying not to be ‘burnout’ I would retreat to solitude and quietness by myself.
Scriptures says “Do not dwell in the past” Isaiah 43:18 but was it not my own doing that life became a faster pace? I’m not wishing for the way things were before but my heart has changed a lot over the past couple years and how I see my business. So please again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate my job. I love my job! I love being a creative. I love being able to create with a purpose. I’ve grown a lot because of the business and have really come to figure out who I am and where I want to be. I love creating works of art that reaches out to people. But I just see things so differently now. And it’s really hard to come out and say it but I don’t want to go another year or two knowing walking away from the business is still what I prefer to do. I trust that God will lead me to new dreams. And I trust that God will open doors for me to be just as creative and passionate. He has always been so so good to me and it’s a blessing each day that I get to wake up and see even the sun (something we easily take for granted) to see my family and just have another opportunity to live life. And that’s what I want to do. LIVE LIFE. I don’t want to live that fast paced life being influenced by the industry because I need to ‘keep’ up. But I want to live life with my family, growing with them, creating my own memories with them instead of stressing over the monthly calendar to see where I can ‘fit’ in a family day outing. It’s just too much for me. Wedding photography is not for everyone. And as much as it breaks my heart to say this, but I have to do what’s best for me. I’m tired of the anxiety I get before I go to bed and the anxiety I have when waking up. I just want to breathe without feeling the world caving in on me. There’s definitely a lot more as to why I’m calling it quits, but like I stated earlier, the most important reason is time. It stands above everything else and is enough for me to realize what I’ve been missing. Thank you to everyone who has taken this journey with me when I first started out. Thank you to all who’ve watched me grow and evolved and stuck with me. For those of you who love my work, I’m not putting my camera away permanently. God will open new doors for me! So far I’ve really enjoyed the One on One mentor which I’m finding that it not only allows me to put purpose into what I do beyond creating beautiful works, but it’s helping someone. God is definitely already working on something new for me already. But right now I’m focusing on what matters the most to me. My family. My time. My relationships. Being authentic and that means being myself. Without the pressure, anxiety, unsettledness and stress.
When I wrote the above, I was having a hard hard time. A couple years ago I did a book study on loneliness and walking through the desert of it. It was a good ready and good reflection. It helped me to see that loneliness is not the same thing as being alone. When I was feeling lonely in my relationships, I needed to seek God’s answers and comfort. That He wanted me to be alone so that I could declutter and hear his voice.
Then I wrote a piece of article that I wanted to publish and immediately walk away from the photography business. I wrote it in the middle of the night, 2 or 3 in the morning, when sleep wasn’t welcoming me.
In my times of loneliness God has always comforted me in unmeasurable ways I can’t even describe it. It’s an inner peace that comes from truth. After I cut if off and stop entertaining negative thoughts about myself, I quickly realize I have so much to be thankful for. It’s true, the cure for unhappiness is GRATEFULNESS.
Shortly after writing the quitting article, yes I titled it quitting and I even posted it on my blog and hit published!!! I then shut my computer off and went to sleep. I woke up and nearly jumped out of bed so that I could quickly undo it. The thought of sharing such intimate and private feelings to the whole world, to my potential clients and followers scared the hell out of me. What would people think? What would people say? Oh damn social media. Why are the things that we put out there so curated and fluffed up? When I finished writing down my thoughts and reading it back to myself, I heard it. I heard my voice…I heard my pain…I understood my loneliness. What I see on social media and how many other photographers connect and use their business to grow, to explore, to meet new people, make new friends, to do so many things that are beyond the ordinary life…I wanted that. I really thought that’s what I had. I really thought, that’s what I could do. Oh the back and forth. I honestly believe that if I could make a real life drama show based on the content of my own thoughts…I think the world would have a great drama show called “There she goes again, running wild with those crazy thoughts.”
Earlier on in the business I once asked a close friend, how do you know when it’s time to walk away and pursue something else? And she told me, because God straightens the path. When she pursued one career it was a lot of hardships. Not that pursuing your dreams doesn’t come with its challenges, but the hardships were internal. There was not peace about it and it put her in a place of ‘want’
This resonated with me. I felt the same kind of urge—the desire that I needed to do something more, something bigger, something greater. But not because it was a passion or a dream I wanted to chase, because I wanted to be heard.
Family counseling taught me that I have a deep desire to connect—to be heard. Telling myself this makes me sound so pathetic. But talking it out with the counselor didn’t sound so bad. What’s wrong with wanting to connect? What’s wrong with wanting to be heard? What’s wrong with wanting to be a part of someone else’s life and sharing my own? It’s called humanity. We are not islands. We were not created to be alone. There is a need within us, each one of us, that longs to connect with that someone so that we can feel as if we have some kind of purpose in this world.
God comforted me by opening a door to a new friendship. I gave it my all. I kind of went diving in head first, eyes closed. As quickly as it began, it faded. Like so many other friendships in my life. It just faded. But for that short short time, I felt like I could be myself and I belonged. I totally understand clique and why many people kind of herd together. It’s that sense of belonging, of wanting to belong and not feel left out.
When my friendship slowly faded it made me take a good hard look at the business again. That’s my cycle guys. When things go well I tend to go with the flow and the real issue was never resolve so God brings it back on my plate. This was not my first heartache and friendship lesson I had to go through. no it wasn’t. But this one hurt me to the core. It also happened during the time when a friend of mine and Vu’s had lost his partner to cancer. I was filled with two kinds of grievances. One for the faded friendship and the other—death. For a couple weeks I was drenched in sorrow. I saw the loss parallel to one another. The issue was not the friendship. The issue was, am I really being myself outside of the business.
I use my business as a tool and a way to connect with other people. And I thought, my goodness, I prayed so hard about this and God opened so many doors! There was no doubt that God didn’t want me to use my talents this way. But that was all me. Yes, God answered so many prayers but not because he wanted me to keep going in this direction, but because my heart wanted it so badly, it was want I needed to experience and go through to finally make up my mind.
I attended this photography workshop in Texas mid-April, that I thought was going to help me fine tune my mentorship program. NOPE. God had other plans. I came home and told my friend I no longer wanted to be a photographer and she was totally surprised.
After spilling the beans, she understood. It took me 5 long years to see that I had lost a part of who I am. Before I had Jordan, I was Noi. Before I married Vu, I was Noi. Being a mother and wife is such a blessing and it changes who you are. You discover a kind of inner strength when you feel all hope is lost. Being a mother and wife pushed me to do better—challenged me to sacrifice and give up of myself, to let down my pride because they come first—and yet, in so many ways, I struggled because I felt like I was drowning and losing my voice. Losing Noi. It suddenly felt as if I was Noi + Jordan’s mom. Like I was Noi + Vu’s wife. Noi + photographer. And yes…it’s all true, it’s who I am…it’s a part of me—but my struggle was that I was letting the failure, lack of relationships define me. I want to be Noi. When I’m with Jordan, I’m always in mommy mode—teaching wrong from right, how to do this, how to say this, on and on and on. When I’m with Vu, it’s “we need to take care of this, we need to do that…did you call your mom and check on her, did you tell the office you need this day off, can you help me with the laundry, what do you want to eat for dinner?” This is life, I get it!!! I know!!! But when I was in Texas… I was Noi. Yes it’s great to get away with other people now and then and have some space but truly, when I was in Texas I remembered the youth of my time. When I was 18—before all the responsibilities hit. I’m not saying I want to toss it and walk away from this life I created…but that 18 year old girl resurfaced. When I was 18, I left my parents house (again) and told myself I wanted a life different from my parents. That if I have my own family, I was not going to be like them. When I was 18, I was determined, strong willed, and set out to make it happen no matter what challenges got in my way. And when I came home from Texas and got off that plane in Atlanta, I saw Vu get out of the car, Jordan didn’t come, and something crazy hit me. I saw my life in slow motion—and saw that nothing about this life right now was going how I wanted it.
I started the photography business because it was something I was good at. It was also something I had that made me feel like I could accomplish something beyond being a mother and wife. It was also a great career option since I wanted to be at home more for my son. But what grew out of it was selfish ambition. Not everything about the business was hard. There were many great discoveries and victories, great connections that I did get to make—but it still wasn’t me. Jordan is now 13 and our relationship goes up and down, great to awful, close and to almost strangers in the snap of a finger. I’m constantly on my toes with this man child. And Vu…he is a hard working man who would give me the world if he could—I just felt as if I was dragging him along while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Getting back from Texas I realized…why the hell do I travel for work and not with my family? Why the hell do I spend so much damn money on the business and lose so many friendships along the way? Why the hell do I put so much emphasis on social media? Why am I making decisions based off how someone else is running their business? It never ends! The hamster wheel never cease.
The first couple years, I know the business was exciting and on the right track as I discovered my niche and style and what I truly wanted to offer as a product and service. The it mixed with homeschool, hardships in the relationship, the tossing and wavering of my faith, the strain on my relationship with God, family issues, wondering if people truly wanted to connect with me because they wanted to know me or they wanted to connect with my business. Crazy crazy thoughts. Why am I this way? Counseling has taught me that growing up as a child I associated “doing” with the feeling of belonging. And that if I didn’t “do” I wouldn’t feel accepted. Unfortunately I’ve been hurt by some of my friendships who made me feel as if I was in the wrong for feeling the way that I felt. Upon discovering this, I knew I couldn’t mix business with personal. And as hard as I try to make it work so that I could serve with my talents, I still just could not get past the creeping thoughts of “does this friend really love me or do they just want my business” The counselor helped me to see that it’s likely a combination of both. And yes, it can be. But I, me myself and I…I have to tell myself over and over again, that I—Noi—cannot mix business with friendships, with personal because it makes me question my worth.
There you have it.
Hanging on the last piece of thread. I don’t think I can handle any more heartaches but somehow, I make it through. The business was there for me when I wanted a change of career. The business was there for me when I felt alone. I poured into it when I needed an escape, I poured into it when I wanted to prove something—when I wanted to create, when I wanted to make new friends, travel, celebrate, make memories, accomplish something. The business has been a lot of things. It has also been a source of my loneliness and a leading role in losing a piece of who I really am.
Since this discovery, it’s been kind of hard trying to stay motivated. I keep up with social media but not much. My clients are not affected at all. They still deserve the best out of me. But I am ready to move on. And I’m so thankful God has open the door for me to do that. I’m happy to be getting back out there and working a regular set schedule again. These four walls can only say so much. I’m naturally an introvert so it’s twice as hard to force myself to get out there and be around people. I’m the type that if I feel you don’t care or that I’m the only one making the effort to connect, I just tend to stay back and not say much. I wasn’t always that way. But failed friendships have made me more aware of what it means to be ‘mutual’ and ‘putting in the effort’. I don’t consider this keeping score or ‘what’s in it for me?’ kind of thing. But in all honesty, who wants to be in a relationship where it’s just one person making all the effort. I don’t ever understand why friendships are this way when clearly, when you’re in a romantic relationship, that’s the last thing you would want. So why would this be okay in a friendship? No…it’s not okay. I have definitely thought over my contribution and what role I played in my failed friendships but it doesn’t mean the pain of isn’t real.
No one likes questioning their worth or if they’re good enough. It’s definitely not a part of me that I like very much. But you know what, it has made me really grateful for the life long friends that I do have, way before I begin the photography business. Unfortunately…many of the friends I made after the business has faded away. I still get bitter sweet thinking about it. I mean, I miss the friendships but I’m also torn because I can’t really tell if it was on a real foundation or just built up in fluff.
So am I quitting the business? No. But I’m quitting the cycle. Getting off the hamster wheel. I’m ready to start this new chapter in my life. Where I’m part of a team in a work setting and not a one man show. Where I’m Noi… and not just Jordan’s mom, Vu’s wife or “Hey this is Noi—she’s a photographer. We should hang out sometimes.” Getting off the crazy cycle where my thoughts have too much freedom beyond that introduction. Lets hang out sometimes…yes sure…because you want to hang out or because you want something from me regarding the business. It’s not as if I want to announce to the whole world my shift in directions cause the last thing I want to do is alarm my clients or be a turn off to potential clients. I’m not quitting but I’m not investing any more energy into it either. It doesn’t change the way I provide service but it does change the way I book clients—the kind of clients I’m willing to book and how I interact on social media. I still go back on forth between my business account and personal, asking myself why not just merge the two. But I feel as if the business should just be left alone. In my personal instagram account, I have a different voice. I am a different person. Not because I have to keep the two accounts separate, but because it serves two different purpose. I want to keep the business account as it is, as a reminder that I built up this very personage… this image—this portrayal of how I wanted life to look like and when I got it…realized the grass is not always greener on the other side.
The cure to unhappiness is GRATEFULNESS. Through it all, I have to keep reminding myself and believing that heartache is not always the result in friendship or any relationship. The love, the joy, the companionship, the bond, connection you receive—the enrichment of life. And that’s what relationships do for us—it enriches us. Even the ones that teach us hard hard lessons. I am hopeful and open and more so, ever so grateful for new relationships as I continue to make them. I am hopeful and open and more so, filled with a deep sense of gratitude for those who spend their time with me, who take time out to hear me, those who send even the smallest gesture of kindness…I’m truly grateful. I’m taking this perspective with me to my new part time job. Being at home for 5 years has made me truly grateful for what God has decided to put across my path.