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I have been telling my husband the same thing for almost 20 years. I tell him, “Honey, you never need to worry about me looking at other men. I’ll be too busy looking at the women with them.” Some of you women know exactly what I’m talking about. But for those who might not, let me set the scene for you.
You’re with your husband (or boyfriend, or partner), and you enter the party. Maybe it’s an office party, so you recognize some of the faces and smile hello. Maybe it’s a birthday party for a friend’s spouse, and so most of the faces look unfamiliar. That’s not what’s important here. What’s important is where your eyes go. And where your mind goes. Because from the minute you walk into that party, your eyes leap from woman to woman. Her gorgeous dress. Wow, I wish I looked that gorgeous in a dress like that. Ooh, her hair. Is that her natural color? How is her hair so shiny? I’m already hiding way too many grays. Or how about her smile? Her teeth are so white, so gorgeous. She must have had braces as a kid. No way can teeth naturally look that beautiful. Yikes, I can’t smile at her, or anywhere near her. All night long, your eyes bounce from woman to woman, from gorgeous figure to beautiful skin, to impeccable taste. And your mind jumps from judgement to judgement. Not at them. At yourself. Every time your eyes fall on another woman, a judgement falls on you. You cannot stand with her, or her, or her. You fall short over and over and over again.
Does this sound familiar to you?
This is what many of us women do every single day. Comparison. We spend day after day comparing our bodies, our jobs, our families, our minds, to other women. And we come up short.
This quote by Teddy Roosevelt sums up most women perfectly. So much, so that I almost want to pretend that maybe he first heard it from his wife. Too many women know the painful truth of these words. The joy of any moment can be stolen by our comparing ourselves to other women around us. Once the comparison is made, the joy is gone. The fun outing at the pool with the family? Gone in one glance at the mom with 4 kids and a fantastic figure. The afternoon trip to get ice cream? Gone in one moment as you spot another mom whose kids are much better behaved than yours. Lunch with the girlfriends? Stolen away in self-judgement after self-judgement.
OK, let me stop here and turn to you, reader. Are you finding yourself agreeing with every point I’m making here? Are you nodding your head with every sentence, murmuring in your heart and mind, “Oh my goodness, yes! This is me. I do this all the time.”? Can you relate to my story? To the stories of so many other women who live this life of comparison?
Well, there it is. The fork in the road. The crossroads where we women stand, right now. The crossroads of comparison and connection. Of isolation vs. relation.
If comparison is where you always find yourself, perhaps it’s time to consider the other path. Where comparison isolates you from the women around you, connection brings you closer. While comparison hurts both you and “the other woman”, connection benefits you both, through encouragement and compassion (for both you and her). Comparison is a losing battle. Connection is a win/win for sure.
But how can we move from comparison to connection? I ask this with all sincerity and honesty, as I all too often find myself stuck on the rocky, downhill, comparison road. How can we stop comparing ourselves to others and start connecting with them? How can we move from self-judgement and self-loathing, to self-compassion, and self-kindness? How can we stop seeing those other women as unapproachable, unrealistically ideal, or completely separate from who we are?
Let’s brainstorm a few ideas.
1. Exercise Vulnerability
I think the first thing we can do to move away from comparison and toward connection is to look inward. Be courageously honest with yourself. Call yourself out on your comparison, as soon as you recognize it. I have been catching myself a lot in these moments, and am trying to call myself out. It’s not easy! And it doesn’t mean I miraculously move forward, away from self-judgement and into self-compassion. I wish! No, it’s not always that easy, but I think, like anything else, practice is making perfect. And so I’d encourage you to try the same thing. Try to recognize in yourself the specific moments when you find yourself comparing. Is it at the park surrounded by other moms and kids? Is it at the office, surrounded by other creative professionals? Take a look inward, and recognize where you tend to self-judge. Then gently call yourself out when you do.
Not only is it important to recognize our own personal tendencies to compare and self-judge, but it is equally important to look outwardly toward those “other women”. Chances are they have their own tendencies to compare and self-judge. You might see a perfect waistline, but what she might see in herself is her lack of patience with her kids. Where you might see her power in the office, she might only see her self-doubt with her financial capability. Remember that many of us women tend to compare. So chances are high that the woman you’re putting yourself down to is doing the same somewhere else.
Take the time to recognize the struggle for all of us. This will help you see other women less as stars on pedestals, and more as women just like you. Ah, the connecting has begun.
3. Be Beautifully Brave
We’ve all heard that saying, “The most important thing a girl can wear is her smile”. Cheesy, maybe. But consider it here. How brave would it be to stare right into the eyes of that woman you just compared yourself to, and smiled? How kind to both of you, to make her less an object of comparison, and more a fellow woman? Your smile is beautiful. I know it is. I’ve never seen a smile that’s not. So share yours with other women. Even the gorgeous ones. Even the powerful ones. Even the best moms. Chances are you need to offer it. Chances are they need to see it.
What other ways can we women move away from comparison and closer to connection? How do you help yourself move away from self-judgement and toward self-compassion? Help us women grow more connected by sharing your ideas in the comment section below.
And remember, next week I’ll be sharing my new Self-Compassion Startup Workbook right here on the blog. And it will be FREE! Make sure you’re subscribed here so you don’t miss it.
Have you ever had an idea that felt so outrageous, you knew you had to pursue it?
Ever felt a stirring so deep in your heart to pursue that outrageous idea, that you believed the only really outrageous thing would be not pursuing it?
Ever heard that voice in your head whispering, “This doesn’t matter. It won’t succeed. Don’t do it. It’s a failure waiting to happen.”
Well, I have too. I’ve been hearing it every day for the past several months, Today is the day that I tell that voice to SHUT UP and move on, because I’ve got important work to do.
Maybe I should back up a little, and tell you a bit of my story.
In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t written a blog post in quite a while. I haven’t shared but one or two portrait sessions in the last few months. Haven’t posted that much on social media, nor shared too much about Jen Lebo Photography. Because I had been preparing to walk away from it. I had been planning to give up my portrait business and quit calling myself a photographer.
A lot contributed to this decision, but the gist of it was that I felt like a fraud. Over the past few months, I took a look outside my own little bubble, and discovered that the portrait photography industry was so over-saturated, that I could find more than a dozen photographers in a 5 mile radius from my own home. I began comparing my work (no, let’s be honest here- comparing myself) to them all, and I would constantly come up short. It became a journey toward self-loathing. It grew old fast, and I was ready to quit.
I shared this struggle with a good friend, who completely understood, being a portrait photographer herself, and having walked a similar road. For weeks after, she would touch base with me and gently ask how I was doing with the decision, and whether I needed to talk. We would meet and share our stories, and even though I wouldn’t leave her any closer to a decision, I always left feeling encouraged, and feeling better. My discussions with her always resurfaced when I would toy with that decision to quit.
I realized that I was comparing myself to all the other amazing photographers around me. Constantly comparing. Never connecting. Never enjoying. Just comparing. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was doing this in almost every area of my life. I compared myself to other women, and saw myself as less beautiful. I compared myself to other moms, and saw myself as less gracious, loving, or nurturing. I compared myself to other teachers, to other friends, to other wives, and I always came up short.
But then a beautiful thing happened. I shared that pain with that friend. And with a few other precious girlfriends. And they all said the same thing. They said “Me too”. They said, “I understand. I feel those things too. I struggle with comparison. I struggle with my aging body. I struggle with being a better mom, with being a smarter professional, with being a closer friend, a more loving wife. I know how you feel.” Being vulnerable with each other connected us, and gave us a bit of courage.
It was so powerful to realize I wasn’t alone in this struggle. Powerful, also, to discover that this struggle seemed to grow in us women a bit later in our lives, as we moved into our 40s and 50s. A little less naive and confident, and a little more worn down but wise, walking through these mid-life years is not easy, but discovering I didn’t need to walk the road alone made the hard beautiful.
And then I realized something more. I discovered my purpose, my passion. To create a place where all of these beautiful women might share their stories, through word and portrait, in order to connect, encourage, and empower each other.
That’s when the voice showed up. The one that said “You are absolutely INSANE!”.
I know that if you are one of these women, you are probably thinking it too. It is insane! Very few women my age (myself included) have the confidence or the courage to step in front of a camera, especially on their own. Very few of us feel courageous enough to share our stories, to be vulnerable.
It should be noted that this is also insane from the viewpoint of most photographers. Older women are not a sought after target market. High school seniors, weddings, newborns, families- that’s where it’s at. Not older women!
But it’s that exact mindset that has me wanting to pursue it. As we women grow older, we become less sought after, almost invisible, if not to society, then at least to our very own selves. And I want to change that.
I want to show women my age that they are still beautiful today, maybe even more beautiful than they were yesterday. I want to teach older women that vulnerability takes courage, and that it is never weak. It is always beautiful. I want to connect women like me to other women like them, so that as we share our stories, and hear those precious words, “Me too.”, we will stop comparing ourselves, and start connecting.
And so here I am, standing at the bottom of this beautiful, powerful, tremendous mountain. I have so many ideas, so many plans, and I will create, and build, and share them, one step at a time. This is just the first step up the mountain. Telling that voice of doubt to go away, and sharing my story with you.
The changes are already starting. Jen Lebo Photography will become something new, both in name and in purpose. It will have passion and connection and a powerful vision.
Sure, it might fail. It might be my greatest failure yet. But I’ll be ok with that, because to me, the only failure would be in not pursuing it.
Please stay with me through this journey.
And connect with me if you want to be a part of this new endeavor (either locally or online), or if you know someone who might. I can’t wait to walk this journey with friends.
As I began planning to write this blog post, the question occurred to me, “How in the world is this blog post going to help anyone?” A blog post about powerful beauty traits that we all possess? Really? Who needs this?
But see? That’s my doubt, creeping in already, telling me that the things I have to share will make no difference to anyone. And you know, maybe that’s true. Maybe this is not the blog post to shatter all others, to revolutionize the minds of women everywhere. Maybe it will just help one person to read through these simple ideas of mine and feel less alone, maybe a bit more comforted, empowered, beautiful. Maybe that person is just me. Maybe it’s you. Either way, that makes the writing worth it.
So back to the point. How many of us have moments where we look in the mirror and cannot, for the life of us, find one thing that we think is beautiful. I have those days. Ugh, what was I thinking with this haircut? And when was the last time I got any sleep? What’s up with those dark circles? Good grief. Some days, we are just not very nice to that poor girl in the mirror.
Maybe today is that day for you. Maybe you have that day more often than not. Or maybe you do see the amazing and beautiful qualities that you possess (and oh, there are so many!), but someone you love has trouble seeing theirs, or someone they know has trouble. Or maybe there may come a day in the future when the girl in the mirror is not looking her best to you. Whatever the case, there will come a time to be reminded of these traits that ALL of us possess on any given day, and to harness the power to pour these beautiful traits over all who cross our paths.
Wait, did I just start a list of powerful beauty traits with IMPERFECTIONS? Absolutely. Everyone has imperfections, and they are what make us uniquely beautiful. What we see as imperfections we should recognize as the things that make us special.
Let’s take one of my own personal favorite “imperfections”. I have the most random hair. It’s very thick, and there’s a ton of it, but it’s neither straight nor wavy. I’ve got this sort of half wave, half frizz, with a little bit of curl wrapped up in there for good measure. It causes me hours of blow drying and straightening, only to end up with it in a ponytail by lunchtime. But this is what I feel forced to do, because I refuse to let my hair dry on its own. I refuse to embrace the natural beauty of my hair, seeing it instead as an imperfection.
Here’s the thing though. There are inevitably days when the mornings get chaotic, or something comes up, and I’m forced to skip the blow dryer, and let my hair dry naturally. And it is ALWAYS on those days that my husband will at some point say to me, “Wow. Your hair looks really pretty today.” I usually roll my eyes at him, and dismiss his complement. But why? My hair is unique to me, and my husband is wonderful enough to recognize that and point it out to me. I need to see myself more like he sees me. I need to see my imperfections as special features that make me “me”. You should do the same.
None of us lives in a vacuum. We all know at least one other person. Dare I say we all love someone. I would like to pose that it is often these other people in our lives who make us beautiful. That’s not to say that we need to rely on others for our worth, or for our value or beauty. Rather, let’s consider the possibility that a portion of our beauty comes from the way we relate to those around us, from the connections we form with other people. The way we love others is what makes us lovable, precious, and beautiful in return.
Take a moment now to close your eyes and think about someone special in your life. WAIT! Forget that. Don’t close your eyes or you won’t be able to keep reading. Just stop and think of someone special. Your favorite person. Your baby boy. Your best friend. Your sister. Whoever it is, think about that person, maybe about the last time you were with her, the last time you saw her face, a special moment you had with her. How beautiful is that connection you have with her? How thankful are you for her? Does your face automatically break into a smile at the thought of her? Does your heart fill up? Shoulders relax a bit? That connection is beautiful. And it makes the two of you beautiful too. I love that about the people I love.
I thought this should be the last trait of the blog post because I want it to be the one you really take away with you today. Kindness. The ability to be kind. It may not be something that comes easy to us. It may not be something we can offer to everyone we meet, or even to many, but might I be so bold as to say that we all have one person who receives our kindness. We all have someone for whom it comes naturally to show kindness. That kindness might be the most beautiful thing about us.
Can you think of that person now? How does it feel to pour kindness over him? Are you aware of how beautiful you are when your kindness overflows onto others? Do you feel it? Are you willing to let it flow more regularly?
I would love for this to be the “take away” for this blog post. We are so beautiful when we are showing kindness, whether people deserve it or not, whether they receive it or not. Women like Mother Teresa, perhaps not seen as beautiful in a worldly sense, but who could be deemed one of the most beautiful women ever known. Women like Princess Diana. Sure she was stunning on the outside, but her inner beauty was unmatched. Kindness poured from women like this. Beauty flowed from their hearts.
This is the beauty we all possess. This is powerful beauty. Contagious beauty. Let’s spread an epidemic of this kind of beauty today and everyday.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This quote, by Mother Teresa, is one of my favorites. All too often, I have nagging thoughts that I am only one person, and that I cannot make a difference. Perhaps that is true, but this quote reminds me that I don’t have to do big things to make a difference. Doing small, everyday things with great love can make a difference.
That’s what I’m hoping to do with my photography. As I mentioned in my last post, the desire to serve others is leading me to make some important changes to my business and to my work. And as I work through these changes, and the ideas and plans that come to mind each day, one thing remains the same. I want to serve women.
This has always been a constant for me. While I have always been open to photographing and teaching both genders, I am consistently drawn to connecting and giving to women. The reasons are countless, but the foundation of my new plans are based on these three points.
Every woman knows that her family is the most special, that her children are the most beautiful, her sisters the most fabulous, her girlfriends the most amazing. And I would go so far as to say that every woman should have tangible reminders of that.
Think back to your college days. All of us ladies had our walls covered with photos of our besties, of our sisters and brothers, of our special people. Framed or not, taped up on cinder block walls, the faces of our loved ones reminded us of our blessings and made our dorm rooms our “happy place”. Meanwhile the guys had posters of professional athletes, or movies, or even posters of their favorite beers. No photos, no framed memories. No way.
We women have always treasured visual reminders of the ones we love. And I love providing that for women everywhere. But my eyes have been opened to the reality that not every woman can afford the luxury of beautiful portraits of her loved ones. And that’s not ok. This is one small thing I can do with great love.
Deciding to provide more women with portraits of their loved ones, whether they can afford it or not- it kind of flies in the face of everything I learned about business. I’ve been reading and hearing for years that the secret to a successful business is to create a “boutique experience”, to keep the volume of clients low, and the prices high, because if your work is good, and the experience is customized and luxurious, you’ll find that target market that can afford it and will pay for it.
This might be the secret to some kind of “successful” business, but my ideas of success have changed.
My vision of success includes reaching more women everywhere, providing an opportunity for all women to enjoy the experience of creating beautiful memories with her loved ones, giving that joy to more women, no matter who they are.
This vision means that I will return to a “shoot and burn” style of photography, where I offer digital files rather than fancy prints, packages, and custom pieces. This will allow me to reduce my prices and photograph more women, moms, and families.
I also plan to get back to my teaching roots, to create a variety of valuable resources (some free, all affordable) to women everywhere so they can use their own cameras and create their own memories every day.
Finally, I would like to offer monthly events where I take a day to donate all of my time and resources to mothers who have never experienced the joy of owning portraits of their children because they have never had the money. More on that to come.
This will all mean much more work for me, but this is what it means to me to do small things with great love. My hope is to provide something tangible to ALL women. Now THAT’S my idea of success.
I have struggled with beauty all of my life, and the older I get, the more I discover that I’m not the only woman who has. It seems we all struggle with it. Some of struggle with weight. Some of us struggle with our skin, or the color of our hair, or our height or the way our shoulders or hips are shaped. Too many of us live with this struggle. And we are all so very beautiful.
I have always wanted to use my photography as some sort of platform to encourage and inspire women to celebrate the beautiful people that they are, but I have often struggled with how to do that. In some ways I am still figuring this out, but my hope is to use this blog and this business of mine to build a community of beautiful women, who come together to encourage each other, and to find support in knowing we do not struggle alone.
I also want to create and teach lessons on how women can benefit from connecting rather than competing, from encouraging rather than envying. I believe women are most beautiful when they are loving others, when they are seeing the beauty in others. We women need to take care of each other. We need to build each other up rather than push each other down. I would like to create a community like that here.
The final piece of this journey involves wanting to serve women of faith. I am a Christian, and some of my best friends are sisters in Christ. But other cherished friends are Jewish, and Muslim, and Buddhist, and some might call themselves agnostic or atheist. I want this space to be for them too.
I am on a journey to seek the truth. For me that means searching the Bible and spending time with my Jesus. It also means loving my neighbors. ALL of my neighbors.
I would like for this space to become a safe place for all voices. In a world where disagreement often means dehumanizing and disparaging words, wouldn’t it be lovely to create a place to speak freely with respect, love, and grace? I would love for this to be a place like that, and so my hope is to serve women of all faiths, colors, and beliefs with love and compassion, and to create an opportunity for other women to do the same.
I would love for you to join me on this journey. Let me serve you. Or come alongside me and serve with me. Together we can do small things with great love.
It’s been awhile since I sat down to write a blog post, and even longer since I tried to write one this meaningful. Perhaps, like so many others, I have come to the end of one year, preparing to start the next, and have these deep moments of reflection and planning. This year seems so similar to past ones in that sense, and yet it feels so completely unlike anything I’ve felt in past years.
The last time I wrote here, I spoke of a new journey I felt led to start. At the time, I had very little idea about that journey, only that it involved a desire to give and to serve. That was about five months ago.
A lot has happened since then, both in my business, in our home, and in our country and world. I’m sure you could say the same. Five months gives a person a lot of time to think, to live, to experience, to grow. Our family experienced the joy of moving into our “long term” home. We lived through a few bumps and bruises, and were grateful for nothing too serious. Business got busy through the beautiful autumn months, and we celebrated another holiday season together, thankful for each other and for the many gifts we all gave and received.
We also witnessed a lot in our city, in our country, and throughout the world. We watched the news, like all of you, and we discussed politics and current events with each other, and with our children. We saw wars continuing around the world, suffering endured by too many, and poverty striking everywhere and anywhere.
Throughout the past months, I have come to recognize a few things. Our lives are so blessed. Our children are healthy, we live in a beautiful home, in a beautiful community, with wonderful people- a place where our children run safely, and are free to speak their mind and be whoever they want to be. We are rich beyond our needs, so much richer than so much of the world. We never want for a meal, or for a bed, or for medicine when our babies are hurting.
Unlike so many, we are never questioned because of who we are, because of the color of our skin, or who we love, or what God we serve. We are free, safe, rich.
This is a gift, to be sure, but one that has led me to question a lot of my blessings. Why me? What can I do? How can I take who I am and what I have, and use it to serve those who are not as fortunate as I?
These are the questions that have met me on most mornings, the questions that have kept me from writing. Instead of writing, I’ve been reading. A lot. I’ve been praying. A lot. I’ve been studying, and seeking. After all, the God that I trust promises me that if I seek, I will find.
I am just at the beginning of this journey, but I have discovered this. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)
I believe there is a reason why I’ve been given so much, why we’ve all been given so much. We are not blessed simply to enjoy what we have. We are blessed so that we might become a blessing to others. We are given gifts so that we might then give to others. We are loved so that we might love others. Life is so much more wonderful when we give more of what we have.
So how? How can I use what I have to give to others? How can my gifts, my skills, my passions be used to help others, particularly with respect to my craft and my business?
First, I would like to change the way I run my business, logistically. My hope is to create a business that works to serve moms- all moms. There are too many moms out there who long to have beautiful portraits of their precious families, but who simply cannot afford the luxury of professional portraits. My desire is to create a way for ALL moms to have the portraits they can treasure. My heart longs to serve those moms who have never enjoyed the portrait experience, who could never afford such an indulgence. I have a plan to make that happen, through a complete commercial and production restructuring, and through special monthly events. More details are coming, but I have never felt better about the future of JLP. People will probably think I’m crazy, but maybe that means I’m heading in the right direction.
Next, I am planning to incorporate more of my teaching and coaching into the business. In the coming months, I will be working overtime to create a variety of teaching pieces for specific groups of women. Why women? More on that in the next blog post, but anyone who knows me knows that I have a heart for my girlfriends, young and old. I was made to connect with other women, and my heart longs to encourage my sisters. What specific types of women? Again, more in the next post.
As for what kinds of resources I’ll be creating, well that’s the exciting part. Again, looking to serve women who can’t afford the luxury of expensive portraits, fancy workshops or courses, my plan is to offer loads of free resources, along with plenty of invaluable yet affordable workshops, courses, communities, books, and more, all online and easy to access, all available to anyone. I can serve women, both locally and globally, by teaching them the things that I know. This idea makes me giddy! I can create, I can give, I can help.
I have already begun organizing my ideas, and I can’t wait to get started. I can't help but believe this is only the tip of the iceberg in what I can do to serve those around me, and I hope to come up with more and more ideas as the months go by. I anticipate a lot of late nights (or rather early mornings!) in the future as I begin writing and creating, but I’m so excited to give my time, my skills, and my knowledge to serve others, rather than myself.
Would you like to join me on this journey? Perhaps you might find help in what I hope to offer. Perhaps you might be inspired in some way to serve others in your own unique way. Or perhaps you’d like to come alongside me so we can serve together. Either way, come join me. Let’s help, and serve, and give to others so that we might all enjoy our gifts.
And don’t forget to check out the next blog post, where I’ll share a little more about the “why” and “who” behind my “what” and “how”.