When Special Things Get Broken

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On Friday afternoon, I went out for a photography job. My friend Carrie was watching the boys, and when I got back home, Adlai ran to the door as I opened it. His face looked so worried, as he blurted out, “Mom, we broke your starfish! It got stuck in the door and we broke it.”

The starfish in question was one we found on the best holiday of my life – in North Norfolk when Adlai was 18 months old. It was one of those amazing God moments…we were sitting on Salthouse Beach, which has since become one of my favourite places in the world. It’s one of those pebbly British beaches, and it was one of those perfect English summer days – cool when the wind blew, but warm in the sun. I sat on that pebbly beach with Simon while we watched Adlai toddle around, picking up stones. We were drinking americanos made by the quiet, kind man who serves real espresso out of the back of a white van in the parking lot adjacent to Salthouse Beach. Life was so, so sweet.

And then I saw it.

I don’t know how I saw it – it was the same colour as the millions of smooth tan stones on the beach. But it felt like what my friend Amaris calls a “God wink.” I’ve always wanted to find a whole, unbroken starfish. And on that perfect day, I did. I felt like God was saying, “Hey, I love you.”

The starfish has been sitting on our mantel ever since. As a reminder of our perfect holiday, and a reminder to me that my life is so full of blessing. Adlai knows how much I love it. He doesn’t remember the day we found it, but I’ve told him about it lots of times, and told him how special it is to me. It’s no wonder he was worried when I opened the door.

I don’t know how it got upstairs, but when you live in a house with two small boys, things move around. They get lost. And it was in the bathroom and they were playing hide and seek, and it got squished in the cupboard door and smashed into a million pieces. Carrie told me that Adlai cried when it happened. And that he said, “Mommy is going to be mad.”

So I had a choice right then. I could get mad, because something special to me got broken. I’ve done that before. Or I could bend down, hug my beautiful son, and tell him it was okay. That I was disappointed to lose it, but that it was an accident, and accidents happen, and we can look for another one. I’m glad to say that this time, I made the right choice.

Special things often get broken in our house. But we can find another starfish, or buy another lamp, or save up for another set of mixing bowls.

If I break my kids’ hearts, it’s going to take more than a few pounds to repair the damage.

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Be your best boss ever.

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I follow a lot of creative people on Instagram: photographers, illustrators, entrepreneurs.

I was scrolling through a few weeks ago on what the English call a “Bank Holiday” (Americans, read: Memorial Day, MLK day, something like that), and one of the freelance illustrators I follow posted a picture of herself working, with the caption:

“No bank holidays when you work for yourself.”

Now, excuse me, but…no.

I understand deadlines – probably more than most people (I used to be a journalist, don’t you know.). But probably 50% of the reason I started my own business was so that I could have more flexible time to spend with my family, to spend on my life.

Have you ever heard about workplaces like Google and SAS – how they offer amazing benefits like gourmet meals and on-site massages and flexible hours and bringing your kids to work? Wouldn’t you love to work somewhere like that? Me too! And guess what? I DO. I have an amazing boss, and her name is Faith Dwight.

Here are just a few ways I be an awesome boss for myself:

  • I impose a strict policy of no work phone calls in the evenings. Let me tell you something: if you answer a phone call from a client at 9pm on a Tuesday evening, you are setting a precedent of Always Available. Do you want to be Always Available? I don’t (unless you’re my kids – and even then, I like to go to the bathroom by myself sometimes).
  • I only take a limited number of bookings a year. Part of the reason I started a business is because I want more time for my family, so what’s the point of working every single Saturday? I shoot one wedding a month. If a second wedding comes up that looks like something I just can’t miss, I talk to Simon about it. If he’s happy and I’m not going to miss anything important, I will take it on. But if he’s not – or even if I’m not 100% sure I have the capacity to shoot it and still cover all my other responsibilities, I pass. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s a Bohemian wedding on a ranch with gypsy caravans in the Cornish countryside. (But seriously, if you have a wedding like that, talk to me now because I really want to shoot it.)
  • I have a cleaner. A while back, I had the realisation that I can’t do everything. I am not a supermom or a superwoman or a super anything (except maybe a super brownie maker. My brownies are legit.). You know that episode of FRIENDS where Monica has the crazy closet full of junk, but the rest of her life looks immaculate? I have a literal junk closet, but I think we all have a figurative one, too. You cannot do everything: work, family, housekeeping, your health…something always has to give. For me, it was my housekeeping (and my health a little bit too, but that’s a story for another day). And because I’m not great at it, and I don’t enjoy doing it, but I want my kids and my husband and myself to live (and work!) in a clean, safe environment, I hired a cleaner. No shame.
  • I embrace holidays. This means Christmas, Easter, and all the other no-name bank holidays. If I wouldn’t be working as a bank teller, I sure as heck am not going to be working as a self-employed person. Why would I allow myself to be a more demanding, less flexible boss than someone who doesn’t even care about me? I. Love. Holidays.

If I want to get driven into the ground by work – to miss my kids’ school plays, to be dog-tired all the time, to sit inside on the computer while the rest of the world is outside in the sunshine – I’m sure I can find a magazine in the city that will happily abuse me and call it a job. But that’s not what I choose.

I choose bank holidays, and restful weekends, and five weeks of vacation a year (and I’m working on that on-site massages thing).

I choose a life.

(And you should, too.)

I’d love to hear from you in the comments: How do you be your best boss ever?

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In case you’ve ever wondered what the heck it is I do.

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The past year has been a different season for me. After a year-long maternity leave with Koa, I started taking on work last March. The work built up slowly over the following months, but in this new phase of life – with Adlai in preschool three days a week (and starting school in September! *sniff*) and Koa much happier and more independent coming up to his second birthday – I have a renewed focus and passion for my work.

I spend so much of my time on it – my business – in fact, that I’ve been thinking for a long time that I want to start writing about it more, to share what I’ve learned over the past few years. In case you’re not sure what I do (you’re not the only one), here’s a run-down:

  • I blog here. I don’t get paid directly for doing that, but I’m planning changes to this site that you’ll be seeing over the next few weeks that will include me selling workshops and resources for dreamers and entrepreneurs and people who want to start something.
  • I’m a wedding + lifestyle photographer. I love this work. Love, love, love it. I’m based in England, but have shot weddings in Scotland and France as well. I have dreams of shooting in America too, since I’m from North Carolina and like to visit there about once a year, and I’ll be writing more about that in the future.
  • I still do a little bit of copywriting and editing. I’m a writer for sure, but mostly a storyteller. So the writing I do here on my blog is my first love. People ask me all the time what copywriting is – they tend to get it confused with a “copyright”, which is a completely different thing. Here’s an example of some copywriting: You know how, if you support a charity, for instance, you might get a magazine through the post that says: “Thanks so much for your continued support! Thanks to you, we’ve been able to continue our work with the vulnerable children of Kenya…” and then goes on to tell lots of stories about everything you’ve helped make happen? I write those. Basically, I take boring or technical information and make it interesting for normal people. In the past, this has been my main source of income, but photography has slowly overtaken it and now I only take on a couple of these projects every year.

While I’ve been growing (and continue to grow) my business, I’ve been incredibly blessed by other creatives and entrepreneurs who share their time and knowledge generously. It’s inspired and convicted me so much that I’m desperate to give away what I’ve learned to others, too. I already have posts in the works about work/life “balance” (ha), being a working mom, overcoming fear, and some resources that I’ve found helpful. If there’s something you’d love me to blog on, please tell me in the comments. I’d really love to answer your questions.

*headshots by my gorgeous friend Cat Lane, one of those generous souls I was talking about.

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My Goals for 2015

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I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions. If I say, “I’m going to run every day!” I will most certainly fail.

But a goal? I can do a goal. It’s a nuance I’ve learned in the past few years, the difference between a resolution and a goal. A resolution is a grand statement about how things are going to be better from now on; a goal is a concrete thing that I can pursue and, when I’m done, check off my list. I like lists. And I like being done with things.

Last year, I didn’t really have any goals. Koa was a baby and I wasn’t sleeping and mostly my goal was just to make it through 2014 without having a nervous breakdown. (I did it! Yay!)

But things are a bit more calm and steady now, and I’ve got a list of goals for 2015. They’re a mix of business and personal, and I like it that way.

Here they are:

  • buy a new camera and lens
  • buy a house (That’s right, guys. We’re looking for our first ever house. To own. Like grownups. I can’t.)
  • book six weddings
  • launch an ebook (You heard me.)
  • redesign my blog
  • run a 5k
  • join the gym or take a weekly Pilates class
  • take a photography workshop
  • take a family camping trip
  • start a blog newsletter
  • build a capsule wardrobe (more on this later)
  • take a photo of each of the boys once a week
  • have a monthly date night
  • host a webinar
  • book six Storm Sessions

In the past – like, before I had kids – I haven’t been great at follow-through. But setting goals for myself has really helped in recent years, and there’s nothing like the feeling of crossing something off a list. It rivals only taking a box of unwanted stuff to the charity shop on the scale of euphoria.

I’ll be writing about all these things in the coming year, and hopefully it’ll be mostly good news. Want to help me meet some of my goals? Book a Storm Session. Or send your engaged friends to faithdwightphotography.com.

What are your goals for 2015? Hit me in the comments.

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Filed under Do Your Dream, workin' it

My Favourite Photographs from 2014

When Koa was born in 2013, I took a break from all paid writing and photography work for what I expected to be a few months, but turned into a year. I wouldn’t change it now. It was what our family needed. But early in 2014, when it was time for me to start working again, I felt like I was starting from scratch.

The first person I photographed this year was my boys’ 16-year-old babysitter, Jess. She was a perfect choice, because she didn’t mind if I hmmed and hawed over my camera, over the light, over where and how to make her sit while I tried to get comfortable again.

I went on to shoot four weddings and fourteen (or maybe it was sixteen? I keep losing count.) portrait sessions in 2014. Through every one of those weddings and sessions, I’ve learned an exponential amount, and I’m incredibly excited to start 2015, and to see where it takes me. As I prepare and plan and pray for what’s ahead, I’ve been looking through my work, and seeing how it’s changing, how I’m growing and finding out who I am as an artist, and I thought I’d share some photos with you that I’ve taken over the last year. Thanks so much for coming on this journey with me.

If you want to see more of my work (or even hire me!), you can visit my website.

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My Christmas Manifesto

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This Christmas, I’m trading in stress for rest.

I’m boycotting emotional eating, and taking up joyful toasting.

I’m going to stop worrying if my tree/cards/kids look like anyone else’s in the world, and just let them be what they are: beautiful.

I’m going to hang up any dreams of Pinterest-worthy gingerbread houses and let my boys smear their fingers in the icing and eat all the gumdrops. I’m going to let them wear mis-matched jammies to open their presents, and draw Spiderman on their Christmas cookies instead of snowmen, if that’s what they want to do.

I’m going to stop freaking out that I haven’t read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, or worse, the King James Version of The Nativity Story, and rest in the knowledge that I have told my boys a thousand times that Jesus loves them (and I will tell them a thousand more), and they are going to figure it out.

I’m going to take so many photos – not for posting on Instagram, for saying, “Look how idyllic it all is”, but for framing and hanging on the walls of our home, so we can remember what joy we found in each other, in celebrating.

When my mind starts drifting away from everything in front of me to what we haven’t got, I’m going to reel it back in. Because I am rich, rich, rich beyond my wildest dreams. Because there is so much sadness in the world. So much heartbreak. But there is so much good, too. So much joy. And I hold it in my hands, in my heart. When my children hug me, when they sing the wrong lyrics to Joy to the World in the backseat of the car. When my husband rests his hand on my hip as we fall asleep.

And I am rich, rich, rich – no matter what lies I have been told about subway tiles and Eames chairs and Winter’s Latest Trends.

Just stop. Step away from the internet (but not quite yet). First, raise your glass with me:

Here’s to a Christmas of peace and joy and rest. Here’s to a Christmas of really celebrating, maybe for the first time since we were small and oblivious to all the reasons not to; maybe for the first time ever.

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Filed under family, holidays, simplicity

Heartbreak makes you crazy.

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She sat on a chair in my kitchen while I made brownies, and told me the story of him. Of how they’d fallen in love six years ago, of how he’d walked out on her the week before.

“I was a mess,” she said. “Crying on the floor, begging him not to go.”

“Don’t you think twice about it,” I said. “Heartbreak makes you crazy.”

And I told her about 12 years ago, when my first serious boyfriend told me it was over and I lost my mind. I cried and begged. I screamed and slammed down the phone. I called his mother and drove to his apartment and showed up at his college classes, waiting for him outside. I drove him further and further away and by the end it was all ruined and I was humiliated and exhausted from all the crazy.

And then, two years later, when I’d moved on and recovered my mind, I lost it all over again. I left England with a broken heart. I cried for eight hours on an airplane, and I told the flight attendant I was having a panic attack. And when I got back to North Carolina, I swung like a pendulum, back and forth on the spectrum of sanity. From moments of complete clarity and declarations of Moving On and Waiting for Him to Come Around to midnight phone calls and crazy emails and jogging around the park while sobbing like a maniac. I must’ve had a reputation in my neighbourhood.

“Watch out for that crying girl. She’s a bit of a loose cannon.”

In the midst of it, you scream and cry. You lose the ability to make decisions. You act like a fool, and you know the whole time that the way you’re behaving is the opposite of what will work, of what will make him stay, but there’s nothing you can do about it. When your heart gets broken, your brain does too. Heartbreak makes you crazy.

But there’s hope. (There always is.) After all the cry-driving and night-sobbing and crazy-calling, you come back. You get your head back together and – eventually – your heart back together. And maybe it’s more delicate than it was before. Maybe you feel like you’re walking on a thin layer of glass. But you’re back. And you can do it again, maybe even do it better than you did before.

And eventually, there will be someone who sees your crazy and doesn’t turn away. Someone who sees you tottering near the deep end and walks in your direction, who resists the urge to run and steps in close to you instead.

Then, ten years later, when you’re standing in your kitchen with a girl with a broken heart, and she’s sad and desperate and humiliated, you can see right through her. And you can tell her with complete assurance:

“Don’t you think twice about it…heartbreak makes you crazy, but in the end it makes you sane.”

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Filed under confessions