In the early part of 2010, before I quit my job in financial services, before I thought about photography as more than a hobby (and long before Tales from the Moors Country), I took an online class called Unravelling.
Run by the very lovely Susannah Conway, Unravelling was part photography, part self discovery.
This was perfect for me as I was already well aware that my life was not going to plan and I was desperately searching for the things to change to get me somewhere….anywhere else.
Somewhere near the beginning of the class we had a module on personal appearance. You know, the things we like, the things we don’t like, learning to see and photograph the parts of our bodies we are less comfortable with. We were even encouraged to make a video and post it in our private Flickr group.
This was really my first taste of the incredibly deep connections that can be made online by people taking online courses. I was suddenly in a group of really lovely people – and people who were like me. This was most definitely not the norm in my life at this point, so I was thrilled about the experience and wanted to join in with a video.
Terrified of my housemates overhearing me talking “to myself” I waited until everyone was in bed and then recorded my grainy, dimly lit video in my bedroom.
I can’t bring myself to post it here – it’s too painful for me to watch now. I simpered and equivocated my way through two or three minutes of content, rambling about how I might, sort of, think that I could be okay with my eyes, but that I thought my profile might kinda, you know, be not quite my best, you know, angle and stuff.
I was so insipid, so bland, so unwilling to own my own feelings, even about something as personal as my own appearance.
And I know why. I had struggled for seven years in a career I was more than capable of doing, but which wasn’t a good fit for my personality. I was too emotional, too forthright, too Yorkshire (yes – someone actually said to me once!). People would go quiet when I spoke, and I always felt wrong somehow.
So I shaved off the edges. I pulled back a little more, and a little more and a little more. I lost confidence in my voice. Trying to be me, only less me, was exhausting and confusing and I felt rudderless.
Watching it now, I want to wrap my arms around my 32 year old self and tell her the things I know now. Tell her that she didn’t have to try so hard. She didn’t have to struggle to fit into someone else’s world, but could remake her world the way she wanted it to be. That she could stop apologising and just simply leave a world that was asking her to be less than herself.
That video was a wake up call. I saw how much of my power I was giving away. I saw that by being less of who I was, I was really just….less.
I know that there’s a good chance that you have felt this way before too. It doesn’t always take a career you’re not suited for to knock off those edges. Life has a way of doing it, whether we know it or not. One day we wake up and we wonder how we got from there to here.
If you are feeling that way now, say this with me……
“I will not be less than I am. I will not round my corners, or dilute myself. I will trust that being no less than who I truly am, will lead me to where I need to be, and where I need to be is the place I can make my greatest contribution.”
As it happens, six weeks after I made that video, I was on my way to Bali, six months later I was starting a photography course at the London College of Communication, and one year later I was creating the first “Tales from the Moors Country” images, the work that most expresses me as I really am.
I guess all you need to do is make the first change.