pay for what you get.

{national gallery, london}

Three years ago I was sitting on a plane on the way home from Argentina reading the Millionaire Next Door. (or mill-a-nare as Brent always says it since seeing Slum Dog Millionaire). This was February 2009, right in the thick of the economic meltdown and I was slightly panicked after reading multiple newspaper articles about former CEO's and Executives who were now working at grocery stores and fast food chains, their million dollar houses being foreclosed on. Even though I was fine financially and working for a company that was growing at double digit percentage rates (actually benefiting from the down economy), the book got me into one of those 'be extremely frugal' moods that I sometimes find myself in (and then undoubtedly, completely ruin the next day with an online shopping spree).

One of my biggest expenses at the time was yoga. I absolutely loved it and couldn't figure out how to justify it financially within the constraints of my new 'budget'. So I made a decision on that plane ride to look into yoga teacher training when I got home, which would allow me to get free yoga classes once I was certified and also make some additional money on the side.

After we landed and the shock of returning from perfect South American summer to Wisconsin winter, wore off, I started looking into programs. The only reasonable one I could find started the following Wednesday in Chicago and consisted of 8 weeks of Wednesday nights and weekend classes. Why not? I thought.

I drove down there that first Wednesday afternoon to the beautiful South Loop studio that overlooks downtown (if you are into yoga and are ever in the Chicago area, I would highly recommend attending a class there because the view is absolutely breathtaking, especially at night). After the power flow class was over, the teaching session began and we all sat in a circle introducing ourselves and saying what our favorite and least favorite poses were. I watched everyone go around the room and grew more and more anxious as my turn approached. I pretty much abhor speaking in front of a group of strangers with all eyes on me. My throat gets cottony and my voice shakes, even at something as simple as saying my name and I started to wonder 'what in the world am I doing here?' If I can barely squeak my name out, how am I ever going to possibly get the nerve up to teach a class??

I drove home that night with such mixed emotions. I was elated on one hand, at the opportunity to practice in this beautiful studio, get to know these women (and one guy) and learn how to gain the confidence to teach. But I also had so many feelings of doubt at my ability and panic at wondering if driving 6 hours there and back, three times per week (for 8 weeks) was completely crazy, even for me. I was conflicted.

But I went back that weekend. And every Wednesday and weekend after, made the three hour trek there and back, often getting home way late into the night.

Over the course of those eight weeks, while winter turned into full on spring, I spent more time by myself than ever before (often singing my lungs out in my car somewhere on I-90). But I also became part of a community. I met and developed friendships with some truly amazing people who I still hold very close to my heart. I grew as a person and gained so much more from the training than I ever set out for. To this day, even though I have never actually taught a paid class (completely a decision on my part because they had offered me a job down there...and one of my goals for March is to finnnnalllly send in my certification), I hold that eight week experience as one of the most fulfilling and valued in my life.

Fast forward to last night, where I found myself at the Jasmine Star theFix photography 'seminar' (that makes it sound really boring and hotel conference roomy, which it totally wasn't), not too far from the South Loop yoga studio. If you don't know, Jasmine is a world renowned wedding photographer who, in many ways, has redefined the industry. She has such an engaging personality and is somewhat of a celebrity among budding photographers (one girl actually started crying at being so close to her). This was 'the' place to be for Midwest photogs.

I was able to score a last minute ticket to the sold out event and drove the well worn route down to that bookened city that I love. I was early and reveled in the amazing for March weather by walking around and getting dinner and wine at a small tapas restaurant where I easily chatted up the owner of a boutique investment firm, who was having a drink before he made his way to the Bulls game.

On the tingly high of the setting sun and a glass of Sauv Blanc, I walked the couple blocks to the venue, which was already completely packed despite arriving at the 'doors opening' time. I found a seat, pulled out my notebook and immediately felt a tsunami of self-doubt splash over me. What in the world am I doing here? I thought. I knew I had come to this event for me but I suddenly felt very isolated and like a complete poser. I'm not a wedding photographer. I'm not even a paid anything photographer right now. I started to wish that ticket hadn't become available after all.

I sat through the event (and even met a few photographers who offered me the option to third shoot with them if I ever wanted to drive to Minnesota for one of their weddings) but I bolted out of there at the end of the night, desperate for fresh air and a place where I felt once again confident in myself, the way I had talking business with the brokerage owner. The drive home was eerily reminiscent of the drive after that first yoga class. I felt conflicted : partially elated and wanting to pick up my camera as soon as I got home to practice and push myself into this business that I've aspired to in my mind. And partially wanting to eschew the entire notion as crazy, even for me, and put my Canon back in the box that it came in, give myself a few weeks break and then go back to having it be the hobby that I love and look to for creative release.

It's much easier to take a step back from the experience in the light of day and accept it for what it was worth : a learning opportunity. To remember that uncomfortable situations like this (and that first night of shakily admitting to people how much I hate camel pose) are often the necessary building blocks to something truly worthwhile. I'm hopeful that it pans out that way. I want to be able to look back and think, 'Man, that really kind of sucked. But I'm so glad I did it.'

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