(forewarning: It’s a long one today. :))

I was reminded last week of how critical some people can be when you are pursuing your passion. A number of you emailed me about how to deal with criticism, how to hang in there when you feel unwanted, unwelcome, and most of all, how to know whether or not you really have what it takes to pursue your passion.

First of all, everyone has the right to pursue their passion no matter how crazy it sounds or how high the odds are against you! I think of my Korean dad who came to America with a single briefcase.  Everything he owned was in that suitcase; an English dictionary, two pairs of underwear and a Bible.  Some would say he was completely crazy for coming to a foreign land to find success–he didn’t even know the language!  But he had a vision for something bigger, something that others called impossible, and he knew that even if he didn’t have a dollar to his name–he owned the right to step into the unknown and follow his impossible dreams.

Seven years ago, I walked into a camera store.  I was going to shoot my FIRST wedding that weekend.  I asked the man behind the counter if he could show me the external flashes.  Instead of saying “Sure!  Let me get some out for you.”  He looked at me and said, “What are you going to do with it?” Fair enough question.  I stood up with excitement in my eyes and said, “I’m going to shoot my first wedding!”  He shook his head, rolled his eyes and said “What makes you think you can shoot a wedding?  More importantly, what makes you think you have the right to try and document the most important day of some one’s life.”  I was speechless.  I walked out without a flash.  But, I still went on to shoot that first wedding and would later shoot million dollar weddings.  I had a vision, a passion burning inside me, and if I wanted to do the hard work to see it happen that was my choice.  I get to choose over and over again to aim for the impossible, and so do you!

When I was immersed in the writing world, I was told that once your first book was published, you had to write follow up books in a similar vein.  If you write historical fiction, you have to stick with historical fiction.  If you write self help, you have to stick with self help.  This was the only way to find success as a writer.  Makes sense.  Well, I wrote a follow up book to Beauty Restored.  I’ve got all two hundred and something odd pages in a file downstairs.  But there was one key problem.  The book didn’t ask me to write it, to give it life.  I did it because I thought I had to.  And when I submitted it to the publisher, I ended up withdrawing the submission, because I knew this book was not something that had asked to be created.

We all know that question when it comes.  You are minding your own business, going about day to day life, and something new and unfamiliar comes knocking on your door and says “Create me!  Let me live and breathe!”  And we say, “But I can’t because the time it takes to try and create you–with no guarantee of what you will give in return–doesn’t make any sense.”  We close the door, abandoning and ignoring our own dreams.

On March 20th, ten years ago, I published my first book, Beauty Restored.  On March 15th 2011, five days from the ten year anniversary of my first book, my second book, Your Baby in Pictures, was published.  One book is for women who have been sexually victimized and are desperate to know that healing is possible.  The other is for new moms who want to capture their precious babies.  Two totally different books with two different subjects.  But there is one message.  Empowering you.

Photography as a business, not hobby, came knocking one day on the heart of this little mama.  You want to talk about the knocking not making any sense!  I had spent the last ten years writing and speaking to women about restoration after sexual victimization.  Why would I set that all down and pursue the business of Family Portraits?  But you all know that knock, and I knew it too.  No matter how crazy it sounds, no matter how much it doesn’t make ANY sense at all, it comes and says “Create me.  Give me life.”  I knew I had to answer and so do  many of you.  And what I have found over and over again is that the answering is vital, not the end result.

You may answer the knocking at your heart and find that your predictable life has been turned upside down.  (You are in good company.  🙂 )  But losing your footing isn’t the only loss.  The day to day grind is lost too because you are stepping into the unknown and your heart is excited.  Terrified too?  Sure.  But EXCITED!!  You are stepping into a world that is full of possibility and wonder.  Life is all of a sudden infused with inspiration for your creation.  The path isn’t clear, but the excitement of what’s ahead–what’s to come–lifts you up.  And you get to answer if you want too.

Shoot, wouldn’t it be the perfect picture if those critics weren’t there?  But they are.  And guess what, they aren’t going anywhere.  They are camped out till the end, right next to your fears, doubt and lies.  Frustrating, huh?  So what are we going to do?  How are we going to endure all the fears, doubts, and criticism?  As someone who is working toward an impossible dream, can I share what I’ve found?  This way, when your storms hit (because they will) you will know you haven’t lost your way.

As you pursue your passion, your impossible vision, you will experience storms as others stand up and say that you are crazy, offensive, silly, a disgrace and most of all, unqualified.  This is a storm that will come again and again.  So don’t be afraid.  Try your best to not let it take you off guard.  It’s just part of the journey.  And it’s okay to cry it out.  But promise me you’ll get up the next morning and try again.

Sometimes you will feel like the ship that carries your dreams is stuck in the middle of nowhere.  You will feel like you are going nowhere.  It will feel painful and at times, incredibly lonely?  This is when I play one of my favorite songs that says, “It’s okay to be lonely as long as you know you are free.”

You must also ask yourself if you are willing to accept the fact that trying to achieve the impossible may also ask the impossible of you?  If yes, there is good news.  ALL your fears and limitations will eventually be proven wrong!  But to know this–to REALLY know this for yourself and not just because I or someone else said it–you will be asked to face them one by one.

With this information in hand, if you still want to push forward, here is the incredible news.   You will find reward that is beyond anything you can fathom now.  Your initial dreams will flourish into something more powerful than you imagined.  You will find that you are much stronger than you realized.  You will have not only taught yourself how to build a dream, but your little ones too (as they witness your success but most of all, witness you endure the disheartening days too).

As time passes, the ship that carries your dreams will gain more ground.  This will take time.  As mothers trying to pursue a passion, we often feel like Time is our enemy.  Time is not your enemy.  Instead, Time is essential and strong.  You will try to speed up the process, but in her grace, She will not let you.  Trust Time.  She is trustworthy.

Trust the creative attempts that end up being a mess.

Stay humble because the creative process is a humbling journey that is meant to serve and endure.  For example, if you fail at a shoot, reschedule.  Let yourself be a beginner.  Let yourself be a learner.   An expert can never inspire the way a courageous beginner does.  Trust the process of “making a mess”.  You will need to make a mess to get out of your own box and limitations.

If you answer the knocking at your heart’s door, nothing will be easy.  But everything will be worthy.  Remember that…

Becoming a successful and confident artist is not about having it all together, but the strength to allow things to be messy enough to discover something new.

Becoming a successful and confident artist is not about mastering the art, but serving the art and those who encounter it.

Becoming a successful and confident artist is not about accolades and awards but witnessing your creations bring healing to you and then to others.

Becoming a successful and confident artist is not about living in security and familiarity, but growing accustomed to living in the dark–surrounded by mystery.

Becoming a successful and confident artist does not keep you safe from doubt, fear and criticism, but rather gives you the opportunity to face doubt, fear and criticism so that you can be strengthened–so that you can practice forgiveness–and in the end, be transformed.

Becoming a successful and confident artist is not about beating yourself up because of how far you still need to go.  It’s about pausing, looking back and celebrating how far you’ve come.  (Christina, that’s especially for you my dear.)

Becoming a successful and confident artist is about setting sail, even when the journey itself is unclear.

Becoming a successful and confident artist is about answering the door when the Creation comes knocking.

This week is going to be full of encouragement for you.  I want you to feel replenished this week in multiple ways.  In fact, set your DVRs for this Thursday on The Nate Berkus Show! It’s an inspiring, honest show about how to turn your passion into a paycheck. One of my heroes, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and it’s an incredible honor to be sharing a few of my own stories of how I got my photography passion off the ground and into a business.  For all of you who felt beat down and devalidated last week, and emailed me with a heavy heart…One, I’ve been praying for you.  Two, today’s blog is for you–know that you are not crazy and especially NOT alone.  Three, Thursday’s show is especially for you.  Four, you are loved.

Where are you at this morning–the Monday that faces a new week to be discovered?  Was there a line in today’s post that connected with how you feel.  If yes, here is an exercise that I have found helpful time and time again.  Write down the line(s) that spoke to your heart.  Copy them in your journal.  Then set the timer for five minutes and write how your hearts feels as you consider those lines.  Let your words be messy, jumbled, awkward–just let them come out–let the heaviness lift.  When the timer goes off, take a moment and thank yourself for taking the time to nurture your passion, your impossible dream.  Because little did you know, that’s exactly what you did.

May you feel a lift in your wings this week!