A few months ago, I had the opportunity to return to the annual Professional Photographer's of American conference, called Imaging USA. Having been once before, I was thrilled at what I knew was in store for me: dozens of fantastic seminars and workshops to enjoy, thousands of people just like me, in love with photography and trying to make a go of it in business, and of course the Expo, where endless rows of booths filled with delightful photographic treats beckoned me (and my wallet). I was a good girl, spending the bulk of my time learning and not spending. I also enjoyed the company of my dear dear friend, Lori, who joined me at the conference.
Looking back on those few days, I love the lessons that I took from the conference. Some obviously centered on the technique and skill involved in photography, but others went deeper than the craft. Regardless of whether you own a camera or run a business, these lessons might resonate with you too.
1. YOUR BUSINESS IS NOT JUST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO
I am learning this lesson slowly but surely. I love photography and love calling myself a photographer. But the day I "hung up my JLP shingle", I became much more than that. Jen Lebo Photography means I do more than just take pictures, and my days at Imaging confirmed that for me. Each morning, as Lori and I poured over the workshops offered at each time slot, I found myself torn over whether to attend the workshop on lighting and posing, or the one on branding for business. There were workshops in every area from business, to technique, to post-editing, to sales, and everything in between. It was a bit overwhelming, but in a good way. And I suppose this is true for all of us, perhaps especially us moms. We are so much more than one role, one hat we wear. We are mom, we are teacher, we are chef, we are business owner, counselor, boo-boo fixer, professional hugger, housekeeper, collaborator, friend, listener, lover, and so much more. Some moments can be overwhelming and we don't know what to focus on, what to "study". Should we work on being a better mom, or study up on how to improve our marriages, or maybe spend some time bettering our skills in the office? We are so much more than "what we do". But oh, we wouldn't have it any other way.
2. YOU CAN FIND LESSONS EVERYWHERE IF YOU LOOK
This idea hit me hard on our first day at Imaging. The very first workshop I chose to attend was a big fat flop. I found myself sitting in the audience, fidgety and frustrated, angry at the speaker in front of me. He was speaking at Imaging for the first time, and he spent almost two thirds of the entire time telling us about his path to "photography stardom". What did he have to teach us? Why was I sitting here, wasting my time looking at portrait after portrait from this guy's portfolio? Why was he wasting my time? I left angry and anxious, thinking I had learned nothing and had spent my first workshop time there in vain. And then it hit me, a great lesson that I will always carry with me. A lesson I probably would not have truly learned had I not been in that room. Never waste a person's time. Especially in business, or in the workplace, it's important to remember that a person's time is one of her most valuable possessions. Once a person gives her time to you, she cannot get it back. What a valuable lesson to learn! There are always lessons to take away from each day, from each experience. We can stress and complain, and jump into the pit of self-pity, or we can stop and see the lessons in the good AND the bad.
3. BEING YOU IS ALL YOU CAN BE... AND THAT'S OK
One of the workshops that Lori and I attended together was about branding. It was fun and peppy. The young lady who presented was good at what she taught. She herself was everything her brand represented. She was sparkly, and bubbly, and all things pink. I enjoyed her workshop, and got some strong "take aways" from it, one of which was "I am NOT her". A few years ago, I might have sat in on this workshop and fallen into the trap of thinking success would come if I did exactly what she did. But that wouldn't be me. Sure, it would be fun to try my hand at sparkly and glittery and bubbly, but how difficult would that be for me? How do I even do that? No, the joy of being Jen Lebo Photography is being Jen Lebo. Whatever that means, this is the journey. Who am I and how does that serve others in my work? If I can be authentic in my business, then I can work with clients who want someone like me. That sounds like fun to me. What about you? Have you ever considered who YOU are, and how that serves to help others? Ever try to be someone else in your business? Or in your work? How did that turn out?
4. LIFE IS BETTER WITH FRIENDS
I love that I was able to learn this lesson at Imaging. I had planned to go alone this year. I asked a few photographer friends to join me, but schedules and circumstances had me going alone. Until one unlikely friend accepted my invitation. Lori is not a professional photographer. Her own AMAZING business (DESIGNING FOR HOPE) means she is always striving to improve her photographic skills (see point 1!), but I'm not sure she would have considered attending the conference if I wasn't going. Having just moved from PA too, I had been missing Lori and hadn't seen her in months. Meeting in Atlanta to spend a few days with Lori was just what I needed. We spent hours talking, catching up, sharing meals, sharing struggles, sharing hopes and plans and dreams. We laughed a lot, and we cried a bit (saying goodbye), and it was all wonderful. I still can't believe Lori agreed to meet me for this conference. Sharing that time with her was a wonderful reminder that life is always better when shared with those you love.
5. WE ARE ALL EDUCATORS AND WE ARE ALL STUDENTS
I love the truth of this lesson. What I love most about attending conferences like Imaging is spendind every minute of three days as a student. I love walking from classroom to classroom, taking endless notes, soaking in great ideas in so many subjects, connecting with others, learning from well known photographers, and from the lady I happen to end up sitting next to one day. I love learning. But I cannot spend everyday learning. I have to go out and do. I have to share my knowledge, to educate moms on how to take their own photos, to teach clients how to pose and connect with each other, to share what I have with others. I can never learn enough. I will always be a student. But I can never be satisfied with learning. I must do. I must teach. And so the cycle go on and on. Learn, then share. Then learn, and then share. In photography, in business, in motherhood and marriage, in life. The beautiful balancing act of learning and living, of taking in and teaching, goes on and on.
What a gift to spend a few days at a photography conference and come away with lessons that extend much farther than my JLP business. Hopefully, a few of these lessons will resonate with you too, whether you call yourself a photographer, or an accountant, a mom or a musician. What lessons hold meaning with you? What lessons have you learned from your own experiences? Share them with us here. Let's all be students and educators today!