You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

For months I’ve asked myself the same question countless times. “Why can’t you just do it?” I’m certain that without saying that outright, several of my friends and family have thought the same things. I’m clearly a very privileged, white woman who has the resources and support system to achieve my biggest dreams. So why was it that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find it in me to take the first step?

Coming from a lifetime of believing that happiness was ultimately a choice you made when you woke up each day (hint: sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance), I labeled myself as lazy. I labeled myself as a failure of self motivation and determination. The real home run was when I began to label myself as someone who was no longer passionate about the things I once deemed important. This started with friendships, stories and human connection and stretched its way to photography and even culinary arts. Just like day falls swiftly into night, I found it a gruelling task to even get off my couch or hop out of bed some mornings. My life was bereft of the purpose I thought it once had and therefore, the energy I once had vanished too.

I’ve taken a good, hard look at the life I’ve lived over the past five years. It’s been filled with the most spontaneous choices. Some have had a purpose and some have been left to fate. Backpack around the world for five months? Sure! Move to Halifax for no reason what so ever? Absolutely. Attend an internship in Bali? Well, it sure will connect me with some important people. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t one thing present in my mind during each of these adventures. Photography has always been there. That word has set up camp in my brain and convinced me that if I wasn’t making every life move in the name of my good ol’ career advancement then what did it matter anyway? Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about my passion for photography. I’ve worked with some really amazing mentors and built a portfolio I’m proud of. What came along with those moments were many, many times when I felt like I was failing. Moments when I felt like I wasn’t moving anywhere. Moments when I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough or grinding enough or sacrificing enough. Moments when I felt like I wasn’t good enough. So, when I look back on what I’ve done, I struggle to remember that those leaps of faith were taken to help me grow. Honestly, for one second, screw the whole career thing. What does that even mean to me anyway? Sure, I want to be successful. I want to make a difference but it’s crippling sometimes to think about the metric for success that many of us look up to. Sometimes I think that all success means to me is that I’ve reached the little GIF in my head where I’m strutting around an office wearing heels with a latte in hand. My photography journey so far may not have included a ton of huge jumps upward but it’s certainly provided me with many leaps forward. Personal leaps mainly, but shouldn’t that always be enough?

Throughout the last little while, I, like a vast majority of the population, have been struggling with anxiety and depression. I am unfortunately not a special case. August was especially hard and I felt like every single day that I wasn’t doing anything that I thought of as “productive”, I was wasting it all away. “Each day is a gift, Sam,” I would mumble to myself. That statement is, in fact, incredibly true. What I noticed though was that even on days when I would take a walk to my favourite coffee shop, bike to the library, read a chapter of a good book, clean my apartment or have tea with a good friend, I was still cursing to myself for letting another day slip by. I felt like this a lot when I was in Halifax too. When I spent a day doing simple things that made me happy, it was never enough. It’s almost as if I wanted to be overworking myself. I wanted to be desperate for free time, not wishing I had less of it. Knowing myself, that would have done more harm than good but the comparison game is a fierce beast and I couldn’t bring myself to realize that these simple days mattered too. These simple days are sometimes what life is all about.

I am by far my worst critic. Woah! Shocker. Aren’t we all? I think that fact has taken its toll on me over these last few years more than I’m willing to admit. Yes, I’ve cherished the memories I’ve made and yes, I’m glad that I took those risks. That being said, this ever-present need to be focusing on my photography career at all times has prevented me from seeing the joy in that journey. Taking photos used to bring me joy. Especially before I realized that I wanted to pursue it professionally. The pressure I’ve placed on myself has stopped me from being proud of my photography accomplishments no matter their size and that is a huge problem. It’s taken me far too long to face this issue but it feels like a huge “a-ha” moment in my life.

For the next month, I’ve decided to take that pressure away. It’s crucial for me to focus on loving myself first and believing that I’m worthy of success and happiness. You know that phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” Man, that is my favourite sentence. How can you possibly give your best self to others if you’ve forgotten who that is? If your well is dry? Once I realized that the pressure I was putting on myself  to succeed was only coming from me and absolutely no one else, I was able to breathe. Big, deep breaths. If I don’t feel like I have the power to get out of bed in the morning, that’s okay. I can at least scrounge up the power to take that pressure off my shoulders. The steps I take with my photography will never be genuine if I lose myself and my mission in the process.

I just wanted to reiterate the importance of finding joy in your life and in your passions so that the steps to further your knowledge and expertise come from real love and not from the need to feel like you’re making a big enough splash in this world. So the next time I want to spend a day reading under a tree or writing in my journal, it won’t be a waste. It will be a step in the right direction. The rest will follow suit.

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