A year ago during our WPPI Platform we showed this video that told Sonya & Steven's story of how he was deployed in Afghanistan when she was pregnant and gave birth without him back in the States to their first child, baby Grace. Then we surprised everyone in the room and brought them up on stage.
These guys knew they were there to surprise everyone in the room, but what they didn't know is that once they were up there....we had a surprise for them. We said that since they had missed out on the magic of sharing the first few months of Grace's life together, we thought we would do something to bring a little magic back. So we gave them 4 days & 3 nights in Walt Disney World, and Justin & I would fly down to do a shoot of them while they were there.
We scheduled the trip for this year right before the What's Next Tour, and right before Steven had to deploy again. When we saw them, it turns out that Sonya is now pregnant with their second child. And everything- the deployment, the due date, how long he'll be gone after- is lining up to be just like the first time. That Steven will be out serving his country when he misses the birth of now his second child. When I asked them why they would do this, knowing how hard it was to be apart the first time....they both simply said, "Because we want our kids to know our life was about something bigger than ourselves."
Gah! I LOVE these guys! And for me, I think the best surprise that came out of all of this had nothing to do with WPPI or Platform talks. It didn't even have anything to do with Disney World or mouse ears. The best surprise for me is the friends for life we've found in these two. And what an honor it is to know them. Because honestly, they make us want to be better people! Ladies & Gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you, Officer Steven Verblaauw, his wife Sonya & (not quite a baby anymore!) Little Miss Grace!!
It's been a week to the day since I stood at the front of ballrooms 309-310 and got ready to take the stage.
Ten minutes earlier, one of the projectors had gone out. I don't know what it is about me & technical issues at WPPI, but I'm beginning to think I have some sort of conference curse. Because last year about five minutes before I was supposed to go on stage, the left speaker blew out and died. I don't know, maybe I have some sort of magnetic field around me like that guy in X-men that makes all technology within a fifty yard radius fail. That would be a really terrible super power. :)
But thankfully, like it always does, it got fixed at the last minute and the show did go on!
I'm pretty sure this is me saying, So this projector and this speaker walk into a bar...
We led off my talk this year with a video of some of our favorite people in the world telling us the difference between making a living and making a LIFE.
After that, I told the story of my new (but destined to be lifelong friend) Hannah Brencher. Hannah is the founder of "The World Needs More Love Letters" movement, which she started when she was just 22. She had just moved to NYC to chase a dream of writing and instead found herself very alone & lost. So one day she picked up a pen & started writing a letter to a stranger on the subway. 50 countries and 12,000 letter writers later, it's safe to say the world is better because she's in it. I'll let her tell you more of her story.
Near the end of the talk, we told the story of another new (and destined to be lifelong!) friend, Baltimore photographer Natalie Franke . For now, we're going to leave her story with just the people who were in that room until Natalie is ready to tell it herself. But let's just leave it at this girl is amazing. Even through some incredibly scary & hard times, her biggest goal in life is to "Help other people sparkle." And that's exactly what she does.
After we showed her video, we surprised Natalie & brought her up on stage. Where I read a letter to her from Hannah.
Truth told, I don t know you apart from pieces of a story I’ve gathered along the way on the path towards finding the courage to write you this letter. Surprisingly, even after writing hundreds upon hundreds of letters, there is still an anxiousness that rises from my stomach every time I sit down to the page. There is still this hope stirring that I will write the right thing, that I will somehow find a way to stitch together the words you need to hear in this moment.
You are a bright one in this world. I know that much is true. There are just some people who are called to be lights and lanterns and guides for others who have lost their way or need to know there is a reason to push on. I don’t need to know the laughter lines of your yesterday or the places where scars are still living inside of you to know that you bring other people out of the dark. Your story speaks of it. Your heart radiates of a goodness that makes the world blush and the stars grow jealous at how you outshine them so effortlessly.
I know it’s not easy to believe this. I know, I know, that there are days where you want to curl up in a ball and curl your hands into fists at the disbelief of it all. We all go through that. We all doubt our impact. We all want to unfurl from our calling sometimes and chalk it up to never doing enough, never touching enough people, never saying the right things.
Please, in this very moment, know yourself for what you truly are: a miracle. A rare presence in an overcrowded room. A Someone who shakes souls, and tests the heartstrings of adversity, and makes others fall in love with a life that had previously been seeping and sopping with grey. You are the kind of person that stirs people into a thick brew of gratitude, and faith, and anticipation for the beauty of what tomorrow will bring.
Keep pushing on. Keep pressing on. Don’t let anyone in this wide, wide world ever try to snuff out the light you bring. Other people will find themselves coming home because of you, home to a life they used to find so much joy within until the days grew longer and the challenges grew thicker.
You are remarkable. You are needed. We—the ones who get to stand beside you, or read of you, or hear fragments of your journey from across the room—we are the lucky ones.
Sending light and love,
And then finally, at the very end of the talk- which was all about bottoms lines & how the REAL bottom line is what you do with it- we gave everyone in the room a $1 bill. And challenged them to go out and do something for someone else with it by the end of the week. To not wait before they've made a six-figure living before they go out and make a difference. But instead, to start with their very next dollar.
I am SO grateful for every single person who was in that room! You are the leaders of right now....and I can't wait to see where you lead this industry.
We were really lucky that there was no other talk in our room until the afternoon, which meant we got to hang out afterwards and talk to everyone until the last person was gone.
SO grateful to always have him by my side. And to the amazing Liz & Ryan for grabbing these pictures for us!
I'll end this like I ended the talk...
What if it was not about making an impression but a making a difference.
What if it was not about the take aways but the leave behinds
What if it was not about how many facebook friends you have but what kind of friend you are in real life
What if it wasn't about the cool kids table, but about sitting down at a table where there's room for everyone
What if it was not about being a celebrity, but being a leader
The first time we went to WPPI, I spent a lot of time lost.
No, like literally. I don't mean some deep, soul-searching, life-reflecting, what am I doing with this one wild & precious go round I've been given sort of lost. That came in the years to follow. But I mean, literally physically lost. When I was supposed to be on the second floor, I was on the fourth floor. When I was going up the escalator, 9,999 people were coming back down. And when I finally, finally found my way to the Starbucks, every last one of them was in line ahead of me.
Yea, that kind of lost.
I can remember Justin & I hearing about all the cool parties for the cool kids with the cool clothes that were supposedly going on at super secret and extra, you guessed it, COOL locations. And we've never felt so out of place. We, I kid you not, stood standing sheepishly by this one vendor's booth for about 45 minutes in the hopes that they would see us, feel bad for us, and give us one of their super-secret passes to their super-secret party that night. They did not.
It turned out later, they were actually giving them out to everyone who came by the booth. All we had to do was have the courage to walk up and ask. Annnnnd major life lesson #456 was learned right there.
This year we are going to WPPI for our sixth time and speaking for our fifth. And to be honest with you, I still feel pretty lost when we go. I still get nervous, I still get shy. And most of the time if you want to find me, it will not be out at some wild party in a super swanky suite....it will be in my hotel room wearing the fluffy robe they give you & ordering room service. Hey don't judge, the asparagus risotto is delicious!
Each year, we learn a little more about how to get the most out of WPPI and I think one of the biggest lessons we've learned is this: spend time with the people who actually want to be around you & who you actually enjoy being around. That's it. Don't worry about anybody else. Don't worry about where you should be. Or whose elbows you should be rubbing. Don't worry about the scene or being seen...just put your BS meter up and hang out with the people who don't set it off. Trust me if you do that, you'll be worlds ahead of that girl who sheepishly waited 45 minutes for someone to let her in on the secret.
This year, Justin & I will be speaking on Wednesday, March 13th from 8:30-10:00am. Yeaaaa that's right. The early morning slot after the biggest night of partying. Thanks for that, WPPI! :) We'll be giving a talk called The Bottom Line and if you've heard us speak before, you've probably already guessed that it has a double meaning. We'll be giving both practical, hard-hitting tips on how to increase your bottom line in a saturated, price-shopping market....but then we'll flip it to the other side: that the real bottom line is that it's what you do with it that counts. That it's not just making a living doing this thing you love that matters, but making a LIFE and leaving a LEGACY you can be proud of. Last year we gave away a trip to Disney to a deserving soldier in our Platform class...I can't WAIT to show you what we have up our sleeves this year!
And since we know first hand what it's like to go out to Vegas for the first time and not know where any of the cool parties are, we decided to put on a little soiree of our own just for the folks who are coming to WPPI for the very first time this year!! We're calling it the "J&M Newbie Soiree" :) and we're going to open it up for 25 people to come and mix, mingle, talk a little business, drink a little bubbly, and heck....we may even rub each other's elbows if the night gets really crazy. Or y'know....order some room service risotto!
Here's the deal. Because we want to keep it intimate, we are only opening it up to 25 people. The soiree will take place on Tuesday, March 12th from 8:30-10pm, after the classes are over and early enough so everyone can still hit the parties after should they want to! It will be absolutely free to attend to everyone who wins a spot, and to enter we are only asking that a) this be your FIRST time attending WPPI and b) you leave a comment below telling us a bit of your story....what it took for you to start your photography, what it took to start your business, and to get yourself to WPPI for the first time. We are going to be picking the 25 stories that stand out to us the most, so make em good! To enter you can either write an entry for yourself or on behalf of someone you know who will be attending WPPI for the first time to nominate them. We will announce the winners on Friday!! One entry per person please. And.....GO!!
Today we are beyond thrilled to announce that we have been asked to be mentors in the Thirst Relief charity auction going on from today until midnight Sunday. This is something like our fourth or fifth time doing the mentor auction, and every single year we are blown away by how much people are willing to give back & the incredible hearts we've gotten to meet because of it! This year in addition to a 90 minute mentoring session with us, we will also be giving the winner of our auction their choice between a seat to our Vegas J&M Lighting Intensive or headshots done with us on location in CT (not including travel for either :)
So if sitting down to lunch with us (either Mesa Grill in Las Vegas or Heirloom in CT), getting your mentoring on to make 2013 your best year yet, and- oh yea!- saving lives by providing clean water around the world in the process sounds like something you would be interested in....then hit us (or any of the other amazing mentors) up with a bid! And bid generously, knowing that every dollar you spend is going to this incredibly great cause. This year, let's choose to leave more than we take. Let's do this!
Win a Seat to the What If Conference-Dominican Republic !!
Good morning & Happy Friday!
And boy do we have a way to kick your weekend off right! Today we are SO excited to be able to give away not one, but TWO seats to the What If Conference taking place this February in the Dominican Republic!!! Can I get a collective WOO....HOOOOO?!! :)
As some of you may recall, Justin & I attended the first ever What If Conference in Cabo right around this time last year, and then we were super honored to be able to speak at the second one in Portland in July. To put it mildly, these conferences shook us up and rocked our world. Because something really, really powerful happens when you start asking yourself "What if?" ...those what if's start to turn into WHY NOT'S?? Purely from being challenged to think outside of our comfort zone, to question the limits we had always placed on ourselves, to get a little dangerous, to be willing to go where the path wasn't already beaten to death, and frankly to be completely scared out of our minds.....and kind of like it a little. From all of that, I can say that SO much that has happened to us in the past year came from those first few days poolside in Cabo, daring to ask ourselves the whisper of a question.....what if?
What IF...we honored a soldier at WPPI & sent his family to Disney?
What IF....we went to Australia to visit our new friends Janine & Lauren and put on a workshop while we were there?
What IF....we wrote a book in the midst of our busiest season ever and finished it at a gas station in South Carolina?
What IF....we took a bus out on the road & went on a crazy ten city What's Next Tour to kick off 2013?
Two very, very powerful words indeed. Scary words, frustrating words....because we don't want to think about what we're NOT doing. But words that will change everything for you if you're willing to consider the possibility. I know it's really hard as small business owners to justify spending money on education that is not strictly technical. If it doesn't teach you photoshop actions or camera settings, it feels like something you shouldn't be spending money on. But I am here to tell you that investing in your business and your ability to DO something about those big dream you so often ask to be quiet, will bring back just as much if not MORE in returns. Because what good is knowing your camera settings if you never have the courage to say "because one day, I would love to shoot in the lavender fields of France"?
No? Is that just me? :)
Well whatever your dream is....what good is it, if you never once entertain the idea of WHAT IF it could really happen??
If you're looking for something that will give you that big healthy, tough love, brutal shove right out of your comfort zone.....if you're ready to stop talking & start doing, then do this for yourself. Sign up for the next What If Conference....and get a chance to get out of the cold, work on your tan, while you're working on building a life you can be proud of!. As an extra bonus, when you use the code "JM50" that will get you $50 off a same studio seat and "JM100" will get you $100 off a learner seat. Get on it!
For our giveaway, we are going to be doing that over on our J&M facebook page. So head on over (you'll have to like the page to be able to see it!) and you'll see a post pinned at the top with what you have to do. Deadline for entry is Sunday at 10pm EST. We'll be announcing the winners on Monday! And I know the seats are filling up like crazy, so if you want to go ahead and grab your spot then it can be refunded if you win! And....GO!!