This blog post has been taking shape in my head for a little while now and I decided it was time to share. Those of you who know me and have known me for awhile probably know that the last year and a half-ish has been an ever-shifting journey for me of figuring out what, exactly, it is that I "do." The thing I'm learning is that this life is not linear and a lot of time things look NOTHING like how you think they will. So I just wanted to share a bit about what things will look like starting in early January, and how I got here.
You probably know (or maybe you don't) that I started a photography "business" when I was a senior in high school. One of my best friends (thanks, Maria!) paid me fifty bucks to take her senior photos and give her the edited photos on a CD. More friends asked me throughout the course of the year and by the summer after graduation, I was 18 years old, headed to college at Ball State University in Muncie and had a growing business under my belt. My dad started his business when he was 19 (maybe 17? I forget) and my mom works right alongside him, so I was super blessed to have that entrepreneurial spirit in my blood, along with having some super wise mentors to help me make this business thing a reality.
I went to college at Ball State and started out in a bunch of art classes first semester of my freshman year. I was dead set on getting an art degree with a concentration in photography. I had big dreams for my photography business--I knew I only wanted to work for myself and be my own boss, and fantasized about shooting beautiful weddings and getting flown to destination events all over the world. One semester into art school, I realized I was in the wrong place. I couldn't/didn't want to draw and paint and sculpt, and the photography projects that were displayed in the halls of the art wing were not the kind of photographs I wanted to take. I seriously considered dropping out of school altogether. My high school boyfriend and I had broken up after almost a year together (I had chosen that university because he was going there too -- sorry, mom and dad) and I didn't like the art program and didn't know what else to do. I was making good money (or so I thought) doing photography already, neither of my parents went to college, why bother? After many fights and tears, I settled on staying in school but decided to switch schools. I applied two two schools in Indianapolis and was determined I was NOT going to stay at Ball State. I got into both schools but quickly realized there was no way I could make the switch happen. My parents weren't on board with me transferring and I was going to have to figure out tuition and housing and everything on my own. And in hindsight, I am SO GRATEFUL that they wanted me to stick it out and wouldn't let me run away when it got tough. As freshman year came to a close, we had reached a compromise--I would live at home my sophomore year and commute (campus was about an hour away) and also work. I packed a full 18 credit hours into two days on campus so I could work the rest of the week. I waited tables and did sessions for people any chance I could. I took every single photography job that came my way. I shot my first wedding the summer after freshman year and although I look back at those photos and cringe at the quality, I had my foot in the door. I switched my major to photojournalism after my dad convinced me that I have always loved to write and tell stories and that photojournalism was a natural fit. Sophomore year got underway and although the commuting, working and growing my little business was HARD, I am so so so thankful for that year. It was lonely and hard to be without community--when I was at home I wanted to be back on campus so badly, but when I was on campus I felt out of place because I hadn't made super strong friends since I was constantly back and forth. It was a weird, hard, lonely in-between year but I truly believe it paved the way for what came after. It was my sophomore year that I met my sweet husband. He would text and call when he thought I was going through a hard time (thanks to my angsty Facebook statuses) and having him to talk to and listen was so instrumental in getting through that year. And now, obviously, we're married, so it worked out well on all fronts :)
Junior year I decided to move back to campus. I had switched my major from photojournalism to journalism graphics, which concentrates on news design and information visualization. We learned about basic design principles and concepts, color theory and typography. We studied newspaper and magazine layout, did interactive design for iPad apps, designed ads and personal websites and everything in between. We also listened to a lot of Ingrid Michaelson and brought puppies to class sometimes :) I met people who, to this day, are some of my very dearest friends (hi, Katelin and Chelsea and Tessa!) I had professors who impacted my life deeply and who I am so thankful for (hi Ryan, Jenn and Pam!) I loved being back on campus and finally felt like I had community. And, designing set my heart on fire. My senior year of high school I was the yearbook editor, and because we were a tiny, brand-new school with a super tiny yearbook staff, I basically laid out the entire publication by myself. I had to learn how to work InDesign and how to line up photos and text and captions and graphics. I had NO idea what I was doing, but I loved doing it. I guess at the time, as I headed to college, I didn't realize there was such a thing as "professional yearbook designer." And there's not, really, but the passion and excitement I had working on my yearbook senior year came back as I worked through my degree as a journalism graphics major, and I had an inkling that maybe I wanted designing to be my job. So, to all of you who think I got a degree in photography, surprise! I've taken three photography classes total in my life and that's it!
Matt and I dated long distance all throughout my junior and senior year. I continued to build my photography business outside of my classes. I came home almost every weekend to babysit and shoot sessions and weddings. I assisted my friend Tessa, who had also started a photography business, shooting weddings. I missed almost every single football game, tailgate, house party and university event those junior and senior years. But I made a name for myself as a photographer, built up a pretty decent portfolio and made really good money, for a college kid. Matt and I got engaged in May of 2012, and I started to think realistically about life after graduation. I graduated in December, moved back home with my parents for the 7 months leading up to our July wedding, and took a paid internship with Indiana Humanities. The goal was to start working for myself full-time as soon as we got married, but have a "real job" (meaning: steady paycheck) until the wedding so we could save money. The internship for Indiana Humanities was amazing, super fun, and I met some great people and learned a lot. It was super eye-opening to work for a non-profit and see the ins and outs of how these organizations operate. I got to do photography and design for them, had a steady income and continued to build my business.
In March of 2013, while I was still interning for Indiana Humanities and full-on wedding planning, I relaunched my business as Vallarina Creative. I wanted to focus on boutique-style photography, take on only clients that really meshed with me and my style, and also offer design products to my photography clients such as holiday cards, birth announcements, etc. I wanted to blend my love and talent for photography with my love and talent for design, and Vallarina Creative was born. "Vallarina" is what my dad called me when I was little, because I LOVED ballerinas and wanted to be one, and my name lends itself well to meshing, so he called me "his little vallarina girl." I opened my Etsy shop, selling invitation templates and other products and it started to take off. I was still doing sessions and weddings all the time, but I LOVED getting to design for people, too.
Matt and I got married in July 2013 and life went a little differently than we'd planned. He didn't have a job as a police officer yet, so our finances looked a lot different than we thought they would. We felt that it just wasn't wise for me to JUST pursue my business with all the uncertainty that being a small business owner brings, so with the Indiana Humanities internship over, I took on nannying pretty much full-time after our honeymoon. I did sessions and weddings and designed in all my free time, but as 2013 came to a close I really felt this deep discontent down in my soul, like I just wasn't giving myself room to REALLY try my hand at this business thing and work my butt off at it, and see what happened. I was using nannying as a safety net so that I didn't have to give my business 100% and I didn't have to really believe in myself all that much, because who cares if the business failed, I had the income from nannying. After a lot of prayer and soul-searching and conversation, Matt and I decided that it was time for me to take a chance and just pursue being my own boss and running Vallarina Creative. This all happened over the course of a few months, so in early May of this year, I let my sweet families know that I wouldn't be continuing to nanny anymore.
Around this same time came the opportunity to work for The Archibald Project. You may (or may not) know that in March of this year, I traveled to Uganda with The Archibald Project on their first-ever Media Mission. We went to love on the babies and staff of a babies home in Jinja, Uganda and document the stories of the people there. This was truly the fulfillment of a dream that had taken root in my heart years earlier, when I traveled to Haiti on a mission trip as a junior in college. I took tons of photos on that trip and when I shared those photos with people back home, they were moved to jump in and help raise money for the school we had worked at during our stay. For the first time it occurred to me that I could, and deeply desired, to use my photography for something other than family portraits and weddings. I don't want to say "something bigger" or "something more meaningful" because something I've come to realize over the last several months is that ALL our giftings and ALL our callings matter and are equal in the sight of the Lord. Working overseas with orphans is not more meaningful than playing endless games of Uno day after day as you stay home with your kids. Being a family photographer is not less meaningful or important than being a documentary photographer in Africa. It is ALL the same to the Lord and all that matters is that we follow the call that HE gives us. That has been a huge, and very freeing, realization. I used to say things like "I just don't feel like I'm doing anything important" and "I want to do something more meaningful than just shooting weddings. I want my life to mean something." And looking back, I realize that family and wedding photography isn't inherently not meaningful. What I mean is, if your calling is to be a family and wedding photographer, and you are doing that with all your heart and walking in the calling the Lord has for you, that calling means everything!! What I realize now is that I felt that deep discontent because I wasn't walking in the plan God had for me. I had MY plan, my perfect little entrepreneur life mapped out, and I was living it, and yet I felt that discontentment, and I know it's because I never asked God what He desired for me and from me, and that disconnect was palpable.
So anyway. Back when I got home from Haiti, I started furiously googling how to become a documentary photographer and came up empty-handed. Everyone I emailed either lived in the country where they worked, wasn't married or moved overseas and worked as a volunteer for awhile before getting paid jobs. None of that seemed feasible for me as I was a) still in college b) seriously dating my now-husband with the intent of marriage and c) had only traveled overseas once, on that Haiti trip, with a very experienced and knowledgable trip leader. I gave that dream up to God and chalked it up as a "this is not meant for you" blip on the radar.
So fast forward to March 2014. I'm in Uganda, serving with The Archibald Project, and just overwhelmed with the way God works things together and accomplishes His plan for our lives. It felt like I was starting to see the plan God had for me and was dipping my big toe into it. I returned home from that trip and shared about it with everyone I could. I talked to friends and family, I gave presentations at Rotary clubs around Hamilton County. I wanted everyone to know about The Archibald Project and the work they were doing because I deeply believed that it mattered. Whitney Runyon, who founded The Archibald Project along with her husband, Nick, called me one day and we were chatting about some things and she mentioned that they were considering adding an employee "sometime in the future." A Creative Director, she said, who would be responsible for a whole slew of things that sounded right up my alley. She mentioned that they had thought of me for the job when they were brainstorming, but I kind of wrote it off as a "maybe someday in the future" type thing. Well, the future came pretty quick and in late April/early May, they officially offered me the job as Creative Director, and I accepted. With it came the task of fundraising my salary (no easy feat) with the goal of actually starting work in 2015.
So now, here we are. It's December 15, 2014, and I'm "officially" starting my new job in three weeks. I know a lot of you have been confused, since I started talking about this job back in May. Since accepting, I've been strategizing and brainstorming about fundraising and then actually fundraising, and doing a tiny bit of work for The Archibald Project as things came up, but mostly I've been running Vallarina Creative full-time, yet knowing that this new job was on the horizon. Over the summer, I sat down to really think through what my days and life would look like once I began working for The Archibald Project formally come January. What would I ACTUALLY have time for? And furthermore, with my limited time, where was my heart, really? What was I most passionate about? What did I want to pursue with my work hours outside of TAP? The answer was pretty clear: not photography. I have LOVED photographing families and seniors and couples and events over the last 6 years. I am humbled, thankful and amazed that so many people welcomed me in to document some of the sweetest moments and seasons of their lives. Being a photographer has been one of the greatest gifts and I am THANKFUL. But I also understand now that hearts change, and passions change, and that's okay. My heart for portrait photography has been fading for awhile and I was trying and trying to fight it, thinking "But this is who I AM. This is what I DO. I'm just in a slump." But the slump lasted, and lasted, and lasted, and I realized that I was doing my clients a huge disservice by trying to pretend my heart was in it when it wasn't. Furthermore, there was a ton of stress thinking about booking weddings, while also remaining open and available to photograph adoptions and orphan care stories for The Archibald Project, which often come up with very short notice. Meanwhile, my heart soared every time someone purchased a listing from my Etsy shop or emails flew back and forth about a custom design project. I decided over the summer to stop pursuing photography, and focus solely on design. Invitation design, branding, websites, corporate design, whatever. Bring it on.
And then a funny thing happened. In September, my friend Chelsea and I launched a little print business to help me raise money for The Archibald Project and it TOOK OFF. It took off, and I discovered how much I LOVED designing the prints and products we offer. And because of its success, it was demanding a lot more time than I expected. So back to the drawing board I went, to try and figure out how to mesh Vallarina Creative, Chelsea and I's new shop Love By Design, AND The Archibald Project, along with being a wife and friend and sister and daughter and running a home and being a human. I thought about all the design work I'd been doing, and what had made me the happiest and feel the most passionate. I realized it was 1) the prints and products I was creating for Love By Design and 2) it was the invitations and event design I was doing for people's weddings, birthdays, bridal showers, etc. I LOVE celebrating life and all it entails, and I have realized I have a HUGE passion for helping others do the same.
So, in 2015, life is going to look a LOT different than I thought it would when I graduated college two years ago. 20 hours of my week will be spent working for The Archibald Project as their Creative Director. This will include designing, website management, blogging, social media, outreach, collaborating with organizations, event planning and design, brainstorming and strategizing, storytelling, and a whole bunch of stuff that Nick, Whitney and I probably haven't realized yet. I went to Austin in November to dream and plan with Nick and Whitney about TAP's future and as we talked about my job responsibilities, it was hard to keep from just jumping up and yelling with joy. I truly feel like this job encompasses everything I LOVE to do, everything I am passionate about and utilizes all my skills. It is hilarious and amazing to see how God has been preparing me for this role for a long time, and giving me opportunities to hone skills and learn things that will be super beneficial as I step into this role.
Additionally, I'm going to continue to be half of Love By Design, and see where that goes. I love love love running a business with my best friend and am so excited about everything we have planned.
And finally, I will continue to run Vallarina Creative, but just as a boutique shop for invitations and paper goods. I will not longer be taking on any kind of freelance design, be it logos, websites, flyers, etc. This is hard to type because the go-getter in me wants to do it all and be all things to all people, but I simply can't. And at the end of the day what I MOST want to be is a loving and present wife (and daughter, sister and friend), so all of these commitments and responsibilities are 100% framed within the question "how will this impact my family and my marriage?" And when you start to ask that question, it is EYE-OPENING.
So, whew. This was a doozy of a blog post, but I wanted to share. I'm completely in awe of the way life is turning out and so grateful. There's certainly been moments of doubt, and questioning if taking this job with The Archibald Project means I'm giving up on my entrepreneurship dream, or if stepping away from photography makes me a quitter, but amidst all the doubt there have been such sweet reminders that THIS life, this hodge podge of businesses and roles, THIS is exactly what God has for me in this season. Matt and I are still fervently praying and discerning about God's plan for our family and when we might start growing our family (and what that looks like, maybe adoption, maybe biological kids, we have no idea) and we're also still at a crossroads with Matt's job, with him in paramedic school and still pursuing a career as a police officer. There are SO many unknowns. And that can be scary (and it is) but it's also been a really cool season of just clinging to God and the plans He has for us--whatever they may be.
So, I'm busy, yes. My hands are full, yes. But my heart is also SO full that I get to live this beautiful life and that my God has gone before me in all of this and is, day by day with tons of forgiveness and grace, showing me the way.