Inspire 2015: For a Reason

Alternate Title: ALL THE FEELINGS.

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Hi blog friends! Welcome to this novel of a post. Please, sit, stay a while.

I spent the first three days of last week up in Portland, Maine, at photography retreat/conference called Inspire. I signed up for this well-attended event understanding three things: 1) that I would learn a lot 2) that I would meet some awesome people and 3) that I would probably (read: definitely) be overwhelmed. When the week actually arrived, I was 25% excited, 75% terrified… But you know me. You know I believe that everything happens for a reason. So I drove up to Portland in a blizzard to figure out what that reason was.

If the only reason was that I was going to eat lunch at Otto’s Pizza (with Kate from the opposite Portland 😉 ) the moment I arrived, that’s a good enough reason (seriously). After lunch was my first class, a 4 hour intensive called Living Life Forward taught by Spencer Lum. Spencer talked about being ahead of the game, authentic brands, creating value and finding that one thing that is special about ME and how to use that in my business. One of my favorite points was “Be the person you ARE, so like-people will choose you.” That’s huge, and that quote alone gave me so many things to think about in regards to my brand. (For those of you who couldn’t make it to his class, definitely read Spencer’s blog, Ground Glass.)

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The rest of day one was for networking and hanging out with friends. Of which I had none (and was very lonely)(like, “I’ll just skip cocktail hour and doodle by myself in my room” lonely). But I chose to be talkative and after a while found some friendly people in the same boat. We chatted about life, snow, music and business over some yummy hors d’oeuvres. There was assigned seating for the Welcome Dinner that night. Phewww. My ‘friendly face’ was already getting tired. (I’m so not good with small talk and inserting myself into other people’s conversations (also known as networking). It scares the crap outta me.) Thankfully, the guys and gals at my table happened to be some of the coolest people I met during the retreat, especially after all those ‘get to know you’ questions, like revealing our childhood nicknames. We even cried together, when Russ, Jared and many others shared some pretty emotional photojournalism stories with all 250 of us.

Later that night, the tug of knowing I “should” go chat and take photo booth pictures and join the dance party was strong, but I also knew that those are the types of things you do with friends. And a lot of these people had been friends for a long time. And I didn’t need to force myself into their friendships. So, I went to bed. And I’m almost tearing up just thinking about it because I was lonely. And also because, holy crap, why am I telling you this…

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The next day I was privileged to learn from two talented women: Jen Thoreson and Anne Almasy. Jen spoke about ‘the process’ – from dreaming up an idea and working all the way through to the end. I related. When I start new projects, I usually tend to let them fizzle out once reality of the hard work sets in. But Jen reminded us not to turn around once we’re already halfway there. Jen generously took us through her process of setting up and posing the models of her fine art photo shoots, which gave me some good pointers for future maternity and portrait shoots. By the way, Jen’s work is stunning.

And Anne’s class. Anne’s claasssss. What can I say. This session rocked my core the most. Maybe because I was already feeling feelings or maybe because she is a powerful, honest speaker. As soon as class started, Anne invited us to move our chairs closer and told us her incredible story. She reminded us that people are drawn to truth and vulnerability and that making an effort to write what matters is worth it. If we are ourselves, our clients can be themselves, and how much better is an image if the person in it feels comfortable enough being totally true? I’ll be honest, I’m prone to wanting to convince everyone that everything is going right. But hey, it doesn’t always. So what if we stopped saving face and were really real with our clients and blog readers. What if we were real. ANNE. You are a gem and I can’t thank you enough for sharing and showing us who you are. And for saying hi every time we crossed paths, even in the bathroom. 😉

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Day two was halfway over, and after a short walk for coffee with Amber, and even more caffeine from Espresso Dave, it was time for mentoring! (HOLD UP, can you just imagine, it’s only 1pm and I already have all this info and all these doodlenotes swirling in my head, yet I still know I have MORE STUFF TO LEARN. Overwhelm. It still hasn’t all processed. This blog post is actually helping a lot.) Ok back to mentoring: with the ridiculously talented and sweet Ashley and Graham Scobey! There were four of us mentees and we all went around the table discussing the tough stuff: productivity, making time for what’s important, and reaching your target clients (among other things). As these two hours flew by, the main thing I took from it was HUSTLE. Let each day be a hustle. Work on refining your process and always swallow the frog (do the stuff you hate first). In business, one really great year does not automatically qualify you for another great year and HELLO that’s what I’m experiencing right now. (Sidenote: I heard the word HUSTLE a total of 4 times in the course of maybe 6 hours. It’s a siiiign.)

Tuesday night was dinner with our Supper Club. 4 other ladies and I went to the most delicious Greek restaurant where we shared a family style dinner. Duck! And lamb! And octopus ravioli! We talked for THREE HOURS about art and photography and healthy eating and yoga and traveling and interior design. And even more, if you can believe it. We also celebrated our new friend Lauren‘s birthday with a surprise chocolate cake! The whole night was something I couldn’t have put together in my mind, but it ended up being really refreshing.

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Day three. I slept through breakfast (whoops) and then wandered a few blocks over to Speckled Ax coffee roasters right before my morning class. The class I’d been anxiously anticipating ever since I signed up for Inspire. Not even kidding. Jane Ammon has the biggest heart and it shows through both her personality and her incredible photos of children and families. Jane brought the introverts vs. extroverts, feelers vs. thinkers subject to the front of my mind. As she was explaining to characteristics of each, I was picturing certain children I’ve photographed in the past and how I can photograph them even BETTER knowing all of this information. It was so eye-opening. You what this class did? It got me PUMPED UP for this spring and fall with all my amazing family clients. Jane, thanks for sitting down and chatting with me after lunch and not judging me for passionate-crying in front of you. And for standing next to me in the big group picture. You are lovely.

I played hooky from the afternoon classes to go on a walk and find some quiet. This was the first ‘big’ conference I’ve ever been to, and boy did it make my head buzz. I stumbled upon a cute bookstore and found the furthest-from-the-door corner to plop down in. Ironically, it was in the Bible section, so I prayed for a long time. It was good to have quiet.

unnamed-10On my way back to the hotel, I ran into David Apuzzo taking a few portraits of Jeff, so I stopped to watch the action. David even convinced me to get in front of his camera, my coffee, cool gloves, and hesitant eyes all in. And guess what, I don’t think I’ve loved a photo of my self more than this one.

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So. WOW THAT WAS LONG. I don’t know how to close this.

Ok, I’ll be honest, I needed Inspire. I needed to be shaken out of my comfort zone and to feel some feelings. I guess you have to feel stuff to make stuff happen, right? There’s that reason. I can’t say I looooved the experience, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to other photographers, I really would. And heck, I’ll probably even go back next year.

Over and out.

~S

9 notes + Add comment
  • Stephanie Sullivan

    on February 19, 2015  3:30 pm

    All. The. Feels. Tearing up on my shuttle to work because I know you will come out stronger from that experience. Xoxo

  • Jane Ammon

    on February 19, 2015  4:21 pm

    So much courage. So. Much. Courage. To show up, be seen, and share your heart. You did that, 100%. I'm forever grateful you came to my class and even more grateful you came and talked to me at lunch. Own your courage girl, it's freaking gorgeous.

  • Joanne Minor

    on February 19, 2015  4:44 pm

    Hi Stephanie. Wish I had met you. I live local, so I went home instead of the dance party. I attended the same two classes as you on Tuesday. I too have a very hard time jumping into others conversations. I will be your friend :)

  • Stacie Kirkwood

    on February 20, 2015  6:52 pm

    Hi Stephanie! I'm so glad we met at Inspire and wish we had met sooner. I traveled to Inspire solo as well and even though I'm categorized as an extrovert, walking into a cocktail hour not knowing anyone is indeed challenging! Glad we made a connection, found out we are neighbors and hope to hang out with you in Newport at Inspire 2016 solo! (Let's get together before then too!)

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  • Emily

    on February 24, 2015  8:00 am

    I loved this post! What a great sounding weekend away and I will definitely check out Ground Glass. I also struggle posting feelings on my blog but I'm trying to open up more. Feelings are weird but they do make stuff happen. I've grown the most in times of immense vulnerability. All the best :)

  • Tia

    on March 10, 2015  1:41 pm

    Steph,
    So proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to experience something new and different. Glad you learned so much, about yourself and your craft.
    Love you lots!!!

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