As I move into my 10th year of business as an arts entrepreneur, I am reflecting on the lessons this past decade has taught me. Last month I described the significance of acting and being with confidence. And the month before that I shared the importance of Being a Yes.
This month I want to discuss the delicate nature of Being A Yes. You see, being a yes, doesn’t mean literally saying yes to every perceived opportunity or request. Being a yes means accepting that life does what life does. Life is imperfect, messy, and far beyond our control. That doesn’t mean, though, that we cannot temper our reactions to life. Cultivating an impulse to accept, rather than resist, what comes our way can reap benefits far beyond measure. This is the nature of Being a Yes.
However as entrepreneurs, business owners, visionaries, engaged citizens, and/or participants in life, there is something to be said about selecting what you’ll put your brand on and what you won’t.
When I started my photography business in the fall of 2010, one of my very first clients asked me to do something I thought I would never do. She promised me money and favor if I would do this thing I didn’t think I should. I relented. I thought, “Well, I can, why shouldn’t I?”
I refuse to share the visual results of this unbelievable thing I did because it was so misaligned with me and the brand I was trying to elevate. What did I do?
I “put” fairy wings on a newborn baby.
I cringe just thinking about it now. The mother wanted her baby to have wings so we did this whole song and dance to create this image she wanted. It has taken 10 years for me to solidly grasp this notion that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
I stopped marketing for newborn photography pretty soon after this experience – there are many reasons why. But even as recently as 2018, I did a newborn session for a returning client, who asked so nicely, and the results were great but I despised every second of it. I calculated the time it took for me to create the images of the baby plus post production plus the administrative aspects of that particular shoot and I asked myself if I felt good about the return – whether it was making quality art or making quality money or spending quality time with quality people. I determined the the return wasn’t worth the investment. I’ve never been a fan of babies in pumpkins, jars, boots, hats or…wings. Why on earth would I sell myself out to create a genre of images that I don’t even like?
It seems elementary but I challenge you to ask yourself: Where are you selling out? Where are you doing what you do just because you can? What is your version of fairy wings on babies?
I am sensing a turn in the tide for everyone as we grow through this pandemic, personally and professionally. We are experiencing a clarity that before was, perhaps, unnecessary. People are pivoting in their lives to really spend time doing what they need and want to – not just what they can and should do.
It is, without doubt, a luxury to be able to pivot right now. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to refine, clarify, and elevate what they want out of life. But for those who can, there is an obligation, I believe, to do so. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to live our lives with 100% commitment to connection, workability, communication, and cooperation.
I’ve spent the last 2.5 quarters analyzing what that 100% commitment looks like for me and change, or evolution, is in the works. I want a life that creates for people perspective shifts, opportunity, engagement, and inspires participation in our communities. I am releasing the pursuit of doing many things so that I can relish the important things.
I don’t deny that I made a difference for that Mom who wanted fairy wings on her newborn baby but in doing so, with halfheartedness and doubt, I deprived another photographer, who would have relished what to me was a bizarre opportunity, their time to shine. Not every open door is made for us. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
About Elaine Kessler
My childhood home was multigenerational, bilingual, bicultural, biracial, bi-religious and bi-national. I pursued a variety of endeavors to flesh out, refine, and balance the narratives I learned in public education and in my home. Ask any mixed race individual and they will tell the story of what it is to be a pioneer. When you are unlike the people who made you, you learn to lead and you learn to negotiate. I have found inspiration in the stories of other mixed race and mixed heritage artists and, like them, I’ve been able to organize my beliefs and my endeavors to align with my passions. Cherrie Moraga, Maria Campbell, and Gloria Anzaldua were sources of inspiration as I learned to navigate my mixed-ness in a world ofttimes hostile to the ambiguous. They explore the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality in their work and are some of my biggest heroes. They capture the essence of complicated human experiences and make them accessible through their beautiful and candid writing. I hope to achieve the same in my artistic expressions.