I Fell In Love at Portrait Masters 2022

I've gone to every Portrait Masters event since 2018. I've always had goals, but this year I was a little more intentional. What I wasn't expecting was that I would fall in Love.
Portrait Masters 2022 - I Fell In Love
I fell in Love at Portrait Masters 2022.
 
I’ve attended every Portrait Masters event since 2018 and have always had the same agenda: meet some new people, take some photos for my portfolio, network, learn, and perhaps find some new business ideas for the studio.
 
Invariably, I accomplish all of those things, and on my return home I get filled with what I call “joyful melancholy.” It’s that wonderful emotion you experience when you feel you left everything on the table and are overwhelmingly happy, but are simultaneously a bit sad that those brief moments need to come to a defined end.
 
Over the past 4 years, I’ve built (and continue to build) a successful business, serving wonderful clients and living a life I never would have imagined 10 years ago. I live alone in a wonderful home, with incredible privacy, in an idyllic area.
 
But there is a longing in me.
 
I’m always looking for the next level in my career and relationships. But I couldn’t put my finger on what it was I needed.
 
So for The Portrait Masters 2022, I wanted to approach things differently.
 
My goals this year were threefold [all weirdly capitalized for effect]:
  1. Connect Deeply to Others
  2. Observe Without Judgment
  3. Stay Present in Every Moment
That was it.
 
Like everyone, I’m a flawed human, and in the past I would find myself in conversations where I was looking for my chance to talk, rather than listening to what was being said. I would judge others based on appearance or status, telling myself stories that they would or wouldn’t want to interact with me because of whatever insecurity I was feeling or false narrative I created at the time. I was living in this place of ego and it was so totally unfulfilling.
 
It was time for a change.
 
I believe that every conversation is an opportunity to learn, and share; a chance to give openly of myself and in return help others feel seen and heard. This year I leaned into that, promising myself that I would attend TPM with absolutely no agenda other than the three goals.
 
What I wasn’t expecting was that I would fall in Love.
 
It’s been years since I have had the good fortune to be in a loving relationship. You know, that classically defined perfection of being with a partner. But Love is so much more than that.
 
Falling in Love wasn’t instant. It was this slow-burn emotion that grew throughout the week until I found myself blindsided by the magnitude of it. It was the absolute last thing I expected.
 
You see, I fell in Love with every person I had the good fortune to meet. People from all over the world with incredible stories. People I admire that inspire me to work, to dream, and to grow in the direction my heart feels is right. There was no judgement. There was no imposter syndrome. There was no comparison. Just observance and compassion and laughter and Love.
 
I fell in Love with the speakers on stage that spoke often to the theme of the “Big Picture,” finding the reasons for why we are photographers, finding our unique individual voice, and giving us permission to do what feels right regardless of what is trendy or expected. To shoot from the heart and trust our inner artist.
 
I fell in Love with the staff that worked tirelessly to create a conference that is not only a place to learn and grow, but to feel safe, and celebrated, and comfortable in your own skin. I fell in Love with their commitment to selflessly serving so many others.
 
I fell in Love with being present. With not being a slave to my calendar or feeling like I needed to be everywhere at once, pleasing people, and sacrificing my own enjoyment. I let the week unfold before me, flowing from moment to moment, not giving into anxiety or anticipation or regret but instead making every interaction a delicious chance to engage at a deeper level. To find the soul of the person in front of me.
 
But most importantly, I fell in Love with me.
 
And that was the most unexpected feeling of all.
 
For years, amongst this group of incredible peers, I never felt good enough; not equal; not worthy. Mind you, NO ONE made me feel that way except for me. But I kept up the mask, tried to play the part, and be the person I thought people wanted me to be.
 
So I let it all go.
 
I Loved observing myself and my interactions: connecting at incredibly intimate levels, without agenda or expectation, helping others find their “why” by digging deep and asking sometimes uncomfortable questions.
 
I loved providing counsel, helping friends and strangers find solutions to problems large and small.
 
I Loved staying present and following my instincts that led me to engage so differently than in years past.
 
I Loved the feelings of community.
 
I Loved watching the face of Portrait Photography shift from technique and gear, and become focused on connection, and soul, and heart.
 
I Loved the late night conversations.
 
I Loved hugging friends.
 
I Loved observing others grow right before my eyes as they unlocked parts of themselves that had been left neglected.
 
I Loved that I was seen for being me. Not some version of me, but Me.
 
I let the Love flow through me but also redirected Love towards myself. Telling myself that I belong. That despite my deeply-rooted body shame, or feelings of inadequacy, or professional and personal struggles I may face day in and day out, I am still worthy of loving myself. I would often find myself unconsciously touching my bracelet I made that simply says “I Am” and felt instantly grounded.
 
I saw that I can be a positive influence on a community and not expect an outcome or reward.
 
I realized The Love is the reward.
 
So I’m sitting here at home, a few days after the dust of the Portrait Masters 2022 has settled and am, for the first time in a long time, truly and unequivocally content.
 
Falling in Love would not have happened without the life-changing experience that is The Portrait Masters.
 
Thank you to everyone that I met, however briefly, for allowing me into your life.
 
I Love you all.
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