Five years ago, I was shooting my first family portrait session at the nearby park with absolutely no clue what I was doing but full of excitement for this hobby that would eventually become my full-time job. It was the year I would graduate high school and move off to college, meet a friend who had worked with a professional wedding photographer, and be introduced to an entirely new world called the creative industry. I was quickly enraptured by the beautiful websites, the blogs, the photos, the personas. The successful creatives I followed were almost mini-celebrities. To my 18-year-old mind, there was no cooler job than being a wedding photographer. Travel the world. Take pretty photos. Gain a following. Make money. Build my dream home. Never work for anyone but myself ever again.
The industry was full of promise. It took the fame-and-fortune American pipe dream and made it a reality. The impossible was now possible. I could have everything I ever wanted… if I just believed in my business and did what they told me to do.
What they didn’t let on was just how easily this dream could take so much more than it would give.
These past five years have been a roller coaster of learning curves, mistakes, triumphs, successes, and failures. This past year, I began to question everything. It was like I woke up one day and asked myself what it was, exactly, that I was chasing. I lost sight of the “why.” Or maybe I never really knew “the why” at all. All I know is what I saw from others who had gone before me and achieved what our industry/world would define as success – thousands of followers, hundreds of clients, dozens of trips and just a pinch of luxury. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things, I just didn’t realize the sacrifices that would be required of me in order to gain them. Once I did, I started to wonder whether this promise of fame and fortune was what I wanted after all.
The Spring 2016 Pursuit Conference was a first and last of sorts for me. I had heard of this conference for years. Every Fall since 2013, I’ve wanted so badly to spend 3 days on a mountain with other creatives who loved Jesus, worshipped together, sat on the lawn having deep theological discussions with each other, and indulged in Chickfila ice cream and sweet tea to their hearts’ content. (Sounds like heaven on Earth, right?!) Countless times I’d experienced the “Fear Of Missing Out” feeling that inevitably comes with today’s obsession over social media. Every time I saw a picture or read a blog post about Pursuit, that feeling would come rushing back to the front of my mind. I convinced myself that someday, I had to be there. That day came just a couple of weeks ago.
I had signed up for this conference in May of 2015, almost a year before it would actually arrive. I figured that being with other Christian married women couldn’t be a terrible place to be the month before my wedding. It was this thought that finally pushed me to press the Buy button for the conference ticket last spring. We didn’t know at the time that this would indefinitely be the last Pursuit Conference. I was definitely meant to be there.
I’m not sure what I expected to gain from Pursuit. To be honest, I just wanted to be a part of what I felt like I’d been missing out on all these years. Was there something in the water at Winshape making everyone who attended that much more awesome after they came back home? Obviously, the answer is Jesus, but nevermind that I could encounter him at home! I wanted to meet God here on this mountaintop with all the successful creatives I’d been following since the beginning. I wanted to be a part of IT. What “it” was, I wasn’t sure… I just knew I had to be there.
One of the first conversations I had after stepping foot on Winshape grounds included the words, “We live in a bubble.” Over and over again throughout the next three days I’d hear these words… We live in a bubble. I knew what it meant right away because I’d been hearing the same words in my head and my heart before coming to Pursuit. You live in a bubble and not the real world. It’s like Tris during the Divergent simulation when she shakes her head and realizes that none of this is real. The Instagram followers, blog readers, pinned images, magazine features, the six-figure income… none of it is REAL. Although I’ve spent years welcoming them with open arms into the deepest caverns of my heart, none of these things are real.
None of them lay down in my bed with me when I go to sleep at night, and none of them will be laying beside me in the morning. None of them will offer the comfort of a warm embrace in my darkest hour. None of these things will make my life more worth living. In fact, they steal the most precious gift of what life has to offer us. Time.
How much time have I spent scrolling and liking yet hating who I am and thinking less of myself because I’m not doing what so-and-so is at this place with this person? How much time have I spent worring about staying “relevant” and interesting? How much time have I spent telling someone to hold on as I edited an iPhone photo to the perfect amount of brightness and color so that it would be “consistent” with the rest of my feed? How much time have I spent getting the perfect shot, writing the perfect blog post, designing the perfect website, delivering the perfect wedding gallery, developing the perfect brand, entertaining the perfect amount of social media followers?
How much time have I sacrificed at the altar of fame and fortune?
There was a lot of talk about dirt at the Pursuit Conference. What kind of dirt were we walking in the doors with? What did we need to let go of? What were we clinging on to that was holding us back? These types of questions abounded throughout the days of the conference. For me, the question I couldn’t seem to get out of my head was, “What are you building?” Was I toiling in soil that would produce a lasting result? Or was I pouring my soul into work that would only produce an empty, hollow life? What was it that I was building? It was a kingdom in my own name… my own empire. But it was an empire made of dirt.
We live in a bubble. The real, living, breathing world doesn’t have a “like” button or follower count or filter to make everything look pretty and perfectly cohesive. The real world is full of face-to-face and not face-to-screen. And it’s hard and beautiful and always worth it because you’re filling your life with friends and not followers. Social media wears a pretty face to hide its ugly, empty promises. When your livelihood revolves around this monster that is the social media world… it’s a dangerous, slippery slope.
Pursuit was the ending of an era in so many ways for so many people. For me, it meant the end of my chase for that promise of fame and fortune and a kingdom of my own. Now all I want is time. The day after I left Pursuit, Johnny Cash flashed on a screen in front of me as I walked through the Country Music Hall of Fame, singing about his empire of dirt. What have I become? What have I laid down at the altar full of empty promises to get here? I’d give it all back. You can have it all. Because now all I want is time.
I want time with my husband, my sisters, my dad, my future-in-law’s, my grandparents, my friends. I want TIME! I can never get those thousands of hours back that I spent staring at my laptop screen, wishing I was friends with this person and wanting to be on that vacation and shooting this wedding and speaking at that conference. Those people I put on a pedastal in my heart turned out to be just like me – lost, broken, imperfect people just trying to live what they would define as a full life.
That definition for me has changed. All I want is time. A life full of lazy Saturdays in bed, Sunday adventures, coffee-fueled Monday mornings, wine-night Wednesdays, Friday afternoons spent getting excited for a night out and Saturday mornings full of pancake breakfasts and messy bedrooms. I want imperfection and grace and a life full of people I love. But more than anything, I just want time. And I’ll do anything it takes now in order for me to get it.