Sea Island, GA -- Turnipseed Wedding -- September 2012

A professor of mine from Berry recently contacted me to ask if I would come back to speak for her Entrepreneurship class again this fall.  I gladly accepted and last week I stood in front of classroom full of business-minded undergrads to share my perspective on what it has been like to be my own boss as a single twenty-something.   Of course I covered the main topics like taxes, marketing and the use of social networks, but I realized that what I found myself spending the majority of the time talking about was relationships and what it means to care for people.   I answered a few questions and talked with a few of the students, and as I left the building I realized something about the whole thing felt really....vulnerable.

Following the class, I met up with an aspiring photographer at my new favorite coffee shop to discuss her business and I found myself in a conversation about the protectiveness we feel about our work.  The discussion flowed into questions about how to handle the desire we have to put up walls around our businesses -- around the tools we have, the knowledge we've acquired and the skills we've honed -- to keep them for ourselves out of fear that someone might steal them or, worse, use those tools against us as a competitor.

I acknowledged that those emotions are real, they're human.  But do our businesses and talents belong to just us?

Knoxville, TN -- DeBord Wedding -- September 2012

There are so many different ways to go about being in business for yourself.  Very early on I did my best to pursue learning a few of those ways from other photographers, but honestly, getting help wasn't as easy as I had hoped.  I was able to find a few mentors here and there -- and to those people I am EXTREMELY grateful -- but overall, the response I got wasn't a very warm one.  I was so baffled by the resistance I felt then... and honestly, I still am.

For those of you who have been in this industry for a while and even for those of you who are just attempting to put your toes in the water, you have all probably ridden a few of the waves I'm talking about -- waves of jealousy, protectiveness, pride, competitiveness, envy, anger, and most of all... fear.

If I share with you what I know, will you run away with it?  You might. Will I survive?  Probably. Will my business survive?  Honestly, I've learned that it might thrive as a result of being willing to share.

Atlanta, GA -- Polous Wedding -- May 2012

After realizing how difficult it was to find people who would share their knowledge and creativity to help me, I vowed early on that I would do my best to always share what I had learned.  As a result I have had many different photographers and graphic designers come and go.  They have participated in the process of serving people alongside me. We've shared our own stories while telling the stories of others together. We've learned together.  There is a vulnerability to it - similar to sharing what you know with a room full of strangers - but I can't let that fear drive me to lock my gifts and ideas in a box and hope that no one ever steals them. Why? Because the joy that comes with sharing with others is so GOOD and so worth it.

Sharing the adventures of telling stories for others WITH others is one thing, but there is so much more to the business that I just accepted I would have to do alone.   I almost always have a friend to shoot with, but what about the time spent editing, driving, planning, researching, accounting, mailing, moving files, purchasing gear, editing more, designing albums, meeting with clients, driving more, editing more... did I mention editing?

Kingston, TN -- Bock Wedding -- August 2012

Last September I had a wedding a few hours from Knoxville and it would be an overnight adventure, therefore a female to share a hotel room with would be ideal.  A friend from church had been offering to join me if I ever need a companion/assistant for a wedding, so I took her up on the offer.  She accepted and soon we found ourselves on a road trip through the mountains in the new "space car" (as she so lovingly named my vehicle).

I'd like to say it was love at first sight, but honestly, I wasn't getting my hopes up.  I was used to doing most of this alone and I was planning to continue to do so. I didn't think I had any other options.  I did what I usually would and shared what I knew with Jess...and meanwhile I waited for the day when she would begin asking how she could do this on her own.  I figured we might even talk at some point about what she could name her business.  In the meantime she was really learning, and of course it felt vulnerable... it always does.  It's risky.  I could be training my competition.  Jess kept volunteering to help me shoot yet another wedding and I was always surprised.  Over time she began offering to help with other, more tedious things.  As I began teaching her how to edit I realized she had been paying attention for a lot longer than I realized.

I am learning something HUGE as a result of interacting with Jess: When you give, sometimes it's given back to you.

Rome, GA -- Wilker Wedding -- June 2012                                                      Knoxville, TN -- Thornbury Wedding -- May 2012

It's been right at a year since that first road trip with Jess and she is teaching me what loyalty looks like.  She's been my sidekick to a few dozen weddings now.  We have spent hundreds of hours together driving to weddings, preparing for weddings, editing weddings.  We've done lots of photo sessions together, we've shared ideas about how to do business better, we've eaten WAY more Chick-fil-A than we should (I'll have to tell you about the "52 Chicken Nugget Challenge" sometime soon...yes, we actually ate 52 nuggets in one wedding day).  We've gotten to know each others families and we've met old friends.  We've shared countless meals, thousands of road miles (she even splits the driving with me!), music libraries, tears, favorite tv shows, complaints, celebrations, uncontrollable laughter, embarrassing stories, awkward moments...

We've been living life together, practicing what it looks like to share what we've been given.  And as a result, we're learning what it looks like to receive.

Knoxville, TN -- Connor Wedding -- June 2012

For those of you who have found yourselves putting up walls (in business or in your personal life), the process of tearing them down feels incredibly risky, but it is SO worth it.  Jess may just start up her own business one day, and some part of me really hopes she does because she'd be KILLER at it.  But in the mean time, I get to do this with her for as long as the Lord gives us the opportunity to.

So fellow photografriends, meet Jess.

She's quiet at first but don't let her fool you, she's full of spunk and whit.  She can rock a 70-200mm lens like no other and even though she can't understand my love of sweet tea, she's the best at making sure I always have it to get through every wedding day.   She also has a few mad skills in Lightroom, not to mention what she can do with a 60D, so be on the lookout for blog posts from Jess.

As far as I know, she's a Texture gal for now.  I'm claiming her as long as she'll let me and I hope you will too.

Rome, GA -- Wilker Wedding -- June 2012

Knoxville, TN -- April 2012                           Knoxville, TN -- June 2011                          Sea Island, GA -- September 2012

Rome, GA -- Pierce Wedding -- March 2012

Jess, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for you.  You are a gift from the Lord. Thank you for using your own story to tell the stories of others.