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Success + Heart & Connectedness

DISCLAIMER: Long post ahead. I’ve been working on getting up the nerve to share this for the past couple years. After a day of writing, riding, and a tall glass of wine, I am letting go and just going for it. Giddy up.


What is the difference between success and failure? I’ve struggled with that question quite a bit the last couple years, trying to search and find an answer that didn’t make me frustrated but instead motivated. What I have noticed in my industry of photographers especially here in the materialistic OC is that there is a certain lifestyle associated with being successful, or attitude, or number whether it be in dollars or clients. My problem is that none of those things drive me or motivate me… its always been a matter of the people I am surrounded by that make my days worth it. I could be working in a boring financial analyst position and be happy as long as I have great people to work with. (I used to work in the financial industry before becoming a photographer. Hello 180.) The people thing is just always how I’ve been wired and feels sometimes like a blessing and sometimes like a curse.

So when photography fell into my lap I went with it with equal parts fear and excitement knowing it was some sort of a calling on my life. I love creating something beautiful while making people happy at the same time. I built a pretty strong business right away with the first three years averaging about 26 weddings a year. The business was supporting me full-time, I had an office in the beautiful Turnip Rose venue, and the phone was ringing off the hook. I had old friends call me to tell me congratulations and that they were so proud of my success. But the strangest thing was I didn’t feel successful.. I felt burned OUT and miserable. I was so crisply burned that I couldn’t pick up the phone to book someone who just raved about me on my voice-mail, let alone even pick up my camera. Something was wrong.

What I have since realized is that I was performing for people rather than simply letting my joy of what I do guide my work. I even had a quote on my website saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” so needless to say I felt a bit conflicted. I read this book by Rob Bell called Velvet Elvis and that was the start to my healing… he has this way with words that put a finger on my feelings when I didn’t even know what they were yet. He was talking about his experience of burn out [Chapter 4, Tassels] and shared that no amount of success can heal a persons soul and that in fact, success makes it worse. There was this moment that he couldn’t go on, and I thought woah, I am not alone in this. Anne Lamott shared once that the strongest words in the English language are “Me too.” Side note, I think she is brilliant. So anyways, he said in that moment he couldn’t go on and it was the best thing that happened to him. Usually we want to suck it up, put on a mask and “keep calm and carry on.” To stop and face the pain is gnarly. But, it can be the best thing we’ll ever do for ourselves. My favorite points he shared:

~”Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God made you to be. And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.” The relentless pursuit of who God made me to be. I started identifying how much of my life was about making sure the right people were pleased with me. And as this became more and more clear, I realized how less and less pleased I was with myself. What happens is our lives become so heavily oriented around the expectations of others that we become more and more like them and less and less like ourselves. We become split. I was split. I had this person I knew I was made to be, yet it was mixed in with all of these other… people. As the lights were turned on, I saw I had all of this guilt and shame because I wasn’t measuring up to the image of the perfect person I had in my head….” [p 114]

~”I am not defined by what I am not. And understanding this truth is a huge part of becoming whole. I had to stop living in reaction and start letting a vision for what lies ahead pull me forward.” [p 115]

~”I’m learning that very few people actually live from their heart. Very few live connected to their soul. And those few who do the difficult work, who stare their junk in the face, who get counsel, who let Jesus into all of the rooms in their soul that no one ever goes in, they make a difference. They are so different; they’re coming from such a different place that their voices inevitably get heard above the others. They are pursing wholeness and shalom, and it’s contagious. They inspire me to keep going.” [p 120]

These are the words that finally motivated me, spoke to my soul, and gave me a vision of what I want to be. I had hoped to be able to share this one day from the “other side” of healing where I’ve finally conquered some of my issues buuuuuuttt now I know that was silly thinking. I’ll always be in the process of learning this, each year taking baby steps of learning the lesson in a deeper way and living in grace. I’ve learned that I can only extend grace to others in the same breadth I give it to myself, and sheesh, giving it to yourself is hard work but worth it. I’m learning my definition of success, slowly. I know that 26 weddings a year is too much for me. I know that I LOVE taking family and baby portraits and scenics. I know that I want to bring in enough income to help support my hopeful future family and those in need. I want my life and business to be a light of wholeness and shalom for others, to inspire and encourage. That is why I’m sharing this, so that those who are in something similar can have that sense of “me too!” and know they are not alone.

That is my heart. And somewhere in there will be my success. I can’t wait to watch it unfold now that I know what to look for. Thank you for being on this journey with me and for me, those of you here.  It means the world.

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Jayson - March 14, 2013 - 8:15 am

Thanks for sharing, Karey! I appreciate your heart. I feel like my own view of myself is my biggest stumbling block to understanding how God sees me.

Karey Michelle - March 14, 2013 - 8:43 am

Thank you Jays! Totally know what you mean. We really do get in our own way more often than anyone or anything else.

elizabeth - March 14, 2013 - 9:46 am

hey girl, beautifully expressed! thanks for sharing your heart and where you are on the journey.

Amy - March 14, 2013 - 3:53 pm

So proud of you friend and love you lots!!!

Jen Disney - March 14, 2013 - 10:29 pm

So well written! Thanks for being vulnerable.

Shaun Andrews - March 15, 2013 - 10:39 am

Karey, so amazing to hear your story and journey. So encouraging and enlightening. Thank you so much for sharing!