It was just over a week ago that I flew out to Denver. I'd be staying with my brother, whom I rarely get to see more than a few times a year, but with two photo sessions, a rehearsal dinner and a wedding to shoot; it was to be a fairly busy five days. My first stop and order of business was seeing an old friend I hadn't seen in over five years. I got to meet her baby boy, exchange life updates and catch up. It was so fulfilling and an incredible reminder that some souls are friends through and through. You can go half a decade without seeing one another and the moment you reconnect it's as if no time had passed at all.
After saying goodbye and promising not to allow another five years pass before seeing one another again, I found myself caught up in mixed emotions. It was early afternoon and the perfect sunny early fall day - which meant, there was plenty of daylight left to go on that hike my brother and I spoke about the night before. Oh bother.
It was less than 24 hours since I touched down in Denver and already the breathtaking scenery I found myself surrounded in seemed de-saturated in my mind's eye. The vexing guilt of "I haven't gotten enough work done today" had begun to haunt me and it plagued my every move. It's something I struggle with daily and have been wrestling to cure for quite some time. However, this day, I was present enough. Temporarily pushing my worry aside, I told myself, "it's ok to take some time off - how often do you get to see your brother?!?" Answer, rarely. So my brother, his trusty four-legged side-kick, Tela, and I all shared the limited oxygenated air with gorgeous views and beautiful conversation. It was an escape, mentally and physically as we both sat free as a bird at the top of Chief Mountain.
The excitement and utter fulfillment of having one-on-one time with my brother carried over into the night, as I continued to push work aside and cooked dinner for us both. Over carefully poured libations, red wine in a pint cup for me and a tall boy cider for him, we had the grandest collection of adult conversations and shared laughs; laughs over things that only a brother and sister would find hilarious. It was nice ... really nice. That hike and dinner will be one of those memories forever kept close to the heart. I could cry about it now.
But the beauty was short lived. The following day, Thursday, featured me up before the sun, computer in lap, stressed out and feeling guilty about the work I hadn't accomplished the day before. The guilt had caught up with me. It's a very thin and arduous line. On one hand I'm my own boss, I can take all the time off I need -- on the other hand, I'm my own boss, if I don't get the work done, who will?!?! No work today means more work tomorrow. It becomes a downward-spiraling stream of consciousness. By 9 a.m. I have become my own worst enemy and am immensely down on myself.
How much work is enough work?!? How much work is too much work?!? At what point am I doing my business and, my clients a disservice?!? At what point am I doing myself a disservice?!? Where is the line?!? Where is the balance?!?
Friday consisted of a few hours of work in the morning, a two hour drive up to the mountains, an hour of location scouting for the wedding the next day and photographing a rehearsal dinner. Saturday was the wedding; a full day of beautiful and amazing shooting, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. A truly great wedding weekend to be a part of and a reminder of why I chose the life I did.
Sunday morning my husband and I started the gorgeous trek back from the wedding down I-70, toward Denver. An awe-inspiring drive with gorgeous views, pit-stops, farmers market visits and good conversation; unfortunately my mind was preoccupied with faraway thoughts. As the miles passed on, I found myself relocated to a wooden bench at a minimally-decored, wood accented coffee shop in downtown Denver, editing photos and answering emails, all the while sipping on an organic hot tea - wishing it was some version of a caramel mocha latte instead. As we got closer to Denver, I began concocting various arbitrary excuses in my head as to why I needed to cancel our afternoon plans and make my coffee shop dreams a reality.
I couldn't stop myself. I couldn't stop thinking about all the work I hadn't completed over the past few days. I couldn't stop thinking about how much work I still have yet to get done. I couldn't stop thinking about all the travel and moving that is happening in the near future. Mentally, just watching my days waste away, leaving little to no time to actually get work done. How was I ever going to "catch-up". I was angry with myself for not doing "enough". I felt selfish.
Again, I was walking that thin and arduous line. I've had an incredible past few days spending much needed quality time with some remarkable people, witnessing the most beautiful scenery, documenting a wonderful wedding in the mountains of Colorado - my heart was full, my soul was alive! However, somewhere, somewhere deep down, it felt wrong. Like I was betraying my own productivity by not sitting in that coffee shop, chipping away at the loads of editing I had and the piles of emails I have yet to answer.
But what about all the living I did these past few days?!? Doesn't that count for something?!?! Suddenly, the guilt of not working, compounded with the guilt of not adequately appreciating the experiences I had, got the best of me. White knuckled with my hands at 10 and 2, I was a driving ball of anxiety. Was I sacrificing my client's happiness for my own?!? Am I letting my business down if I go for hikes and visit friends?!? Will I wake up one day haunted by the time I didn't put into my business?!?!
Parker, my husband, is generally very good at talking me down off the mental ledge I place myself upon. It's ONE of the many many reasons why I love him. It was pretty obvious to him I was "in my head" and after rattling off my worries to him, the rest of the drive consisted of him putting into perspective how important it is to take care of myself, especially since I have my own business. He reminded me that even beyond being a business owner, I am a creative - even more reason to take time to replenish the heart. "You can't work 24/7, you'll inevitably burn out and grow to dread the very thing you were once passionate about." he added. He talked about how it's important to take time for yourself and the ones that you love, "that's what feeds your soul. That's what fuels your creativity."
He was right. These were all things I've been told before, but that didn't make them any easier to accept.
The drive carried on and although I felt a little better, the thoughts of guilt and disappointment in myself lingered on. The planned schedule of meeting with friends, who just so happened to be visiting Denver, and then meeting up with my cousin (Cousin Bobby, as we call him), who was only to be in town for one night, didn't help. More pleasure, less work, more guilt.
Nonetheless, I carried on, fulfilling the first half of our plans. Aside from the occasional and unreasoned bouts of lingering guilt, I was having a glorious afternoon, sharing the best kinds of laughs with some of our greatest friends. My heart felt so warmed.
That's when that thin and arduous line reared it's ugly head again. How can my heart be warm, but still I feel disappointment and shame?!? How has happiness translated to guilt?!?! Guilt for not doing work. Guilt for thinking about work while I am spending quality time with the ones that I love. Why is it so hard to be satisfied, knowing I am doing my best?!? I put my heart and soul into life and work; some days I work more, other days I play more. Why do I not find comfort in that?!?! Why can't that be enough?!?
Caught up in my head, but excited at the proposition of the group wanting to go to a museum (that's considered work, right?!) I received a phone call from my mother. She was frantic and not making much sense. It was so sudden; coupled feelings of happiness and guilt began transitioning into worry and concern. She seemed unsure of the situation at hand, but asked, "have you heard from Cousin Bobby?" knowing I was to see him later that day. As the words, "no, I haven't" left my mouth a stiff lump abruptly grew in my throat.
I wouldn't be seeing Cousin Bobby later that day - or anytime soon. He had suddenly passed away, only hours before.
It was as if all at once the world was slapping me across the head, while simultaneously crushing my heart. The walls faded away, my group of friends vanished, my mom's voice suddenly seemed distant. For a moment I felt alone, hoping to wake up from this moment, as if it wasn't real. I was lost.
I'm unclear as to how much time passed, but the next thing I remember was my phone lying on my lap, "Mom? Is she still there? I hope I said good-bye." Slowly, I became more aware of my surroundings as the heartache and confusion began to set in. I looked around the room finding four pairs of concerned eyes staring back at me. As the tears strolled down my cheek, I thought to myself "this, Jenelle. This is why. This is why it's ok to take time for yourself to be with the ones you love. This is why it's not ok to drown yourself in worry day in and day out. This is the reason why you spend the majority of your days being non-stop busy; traveling, meeting up with friends, seeing family members, making new friends - because, the memories count. This life counts. The love you receive and are able to give to people, count. Because, you never know the next chance you'll have to see that brother, or that friend or that Cousin Bobby."
My inner voice rang clearly, "no one is guaranteed a tomorrow, they're not even guaranteed the rest of today. This morning, and every morning, is a gift" and I realized then; I was burdening that gift with guilt. Why?!? Guilt should not even enter the equation - guilt instantly seemed very insignificant.
Missing a few hours of work or not responding to that email within twenty-four hours or delaying the delivery of images to clients by a few days seemed frivolous. It seemed silly. I would have done anything different in order to see Cousin Bobby one last time.
Although, I'm lucky to have the ability to make my own hours; to have the choice to take the time out of my weekly schedule to spend with the ones that I love, to not have to pause life just to fulfill my work day - it's not easy to do. Yes, I've worked hard to create this life and this freedom and while this is not something to be shameful of - it's still not easy.
But the truth is, the work: the work will be waiting for you tomorrow. Your loved ones, friends and family members?!? They don't have that same guarantee.
Two months ago was the last time I got to hug Cousin Bobby and share a smile with him. It was at our wedding. We were fortunate enough to have him open our ceremony with a blessing and a Native American smudging ritual. It was an honor to begin one of life's most significant journeys with such a miraculous man leading the way.
A warrior among men, it was a privilege to have had Cousin Bobby, and his positive influence in my life. He too was "non-stop", constantly traveling, perpetually visiting friends and family. His accomplishments were many and his "friends-list" endless.
Bobby founded and worked tirelessly at Intertribal COUP (a Native American non-profit that works with various tribes through the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming) addressing the energy, telecommunications and environmental issues Native American communities face everyday. He was the senior advisor of NativeEnergy, provider of carbon offsets, renewable energy credits and carbon counting software, as well as the director at NativeWind, a group facilitating the development of wind power and renewable energy resources on tribal lands. Spending the vast majority, nearly 20 years, of his life in higher education, he's received a masters in Sociology, an ABD in Cultural Ecology and a JD in Federal Indian and Tribal Law. Bobby knew his place in this world and fought heart and soul for what he truly believed in: being an advocate for bettering the lives of Native Americans and their tribes and pushing the population to care for this delicate earth we live on.
The lives he touched throughout his life and through his work was monumental. The influence he instilled upon others, especially me and my life, will be forever treasured. It's safe to say, I am the woman I am today because of the courage I saw that man face each day with; and for that - I am eternally grateful.
Now, having written all this out, having the means to share those last three images with you (which were exquisitely captured by Oli Sansom), I now realize - I lost sight of the reasons I am in this profession. It wasn't for the contractual deadlines or to be the photographer with the quickest turn-around time. I chose to be here to share my talent; to eternally capture the love, the tears, the laughs and the silent moments between my clients and the ones they love. Those moments speak to me: it's those moments I cherish and live to seize and deliver to my clients. It's a cruel bit of irony, then, that those precise moments are the ones I am inadvertently denying in my own life.
It's going to be a journey; not losing sight of all this - that I know. But that fine arduous line just broadened a bit. For, in honor of one of the most influential people that I have ever met, Cousin Bobby, today I pledge to myself and to you dear reader, to lead life with my heart. I will do my best to honor my clients and my business alike, but I vow to keep in perspective why I have chosen this profession. I give myself permission to allow myself the time to experience those fleeting moments of laughter, tears and silence in life in order to fulfill my own soul and warm my own heart. It's re-discovering those moments like the hikes and the scenic drives that will empower me as a photographer, business owner and individual and those moments that will ultimately put that lingering guilt to bed.
A thank you to you, Bob Gough, for being the quintessential and immortal embodiment of fighting The Good Fight.
For more information or to contribute to his FINAL tour, please click here: https://www.gofundme.com/BobGoughFinalTour