I don’t know why it’s been so difficult for me to sit down and put my experience at What If into words, but for some reason it has been. People keep asking me about it, and I realize I sound like a complete crazy person when I describe it. I had absolutely no expectations heading down there two weeks ago. I was looking forward to spending time with my friends Christy, Lauren, and Tami, getting some serious beach/pool time, and anything else that came out of it would just be the cherry on top.
A lot of people have asked how it was structured, and it was definitely a conference in the most obvious sense of the word – we spent our days in a conference room, listening to speakers. But the difference between any other conference and this was that you were expected to give back. What If was not a passive experience where speakers talk at you. We weren’t discussing Photoshop or workflow or off-camera lighting. We were asked to do a lot of writing, to look within ourselves, to share our stories. And I think the most beautiful thing was how everyone did that – I seriously don’t think there was a single person there who closed up and tuned out. Everyone had an open mind and an open heart – I think that’s the biggest requirement going into something like this.
All of the speakers were truly amazing, but for me personally, Natalie Norton, Jonas Peterson, and Tamara Lackey had the biggest impact on me. Natalie seriously made me look into my heart to find out what I really want; Jonas taught me to stop looking for my voice and accept the one I have; and Tamara made me realize I need to just let go of the past and be a forgiving person because not being able to let go of some things is only hurting me. These may seem like small things, but they’re huge to me. They’re absolutely life changing.
I have spent the last four years living to work in every sense of the word. I felt like I didn’t have a choice – I was building a business and if I dropped the ball for even one second, it felt like everything would just fall apart. I love my job; I’m incredibly passionate about it and I have MASSIVE plans for the future, but my life isn’t my work, and I need to work to live. That seems so obvious to me now, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t been.
It wasn’t an easy week – it was at times very very hard. Hard to be honest with myself, hard to face my fears, hard to ask for what I really wanted. But it opened my mind up in new ways and it made the whole world slow down for me, and that was a beautiful and rare thing. I plan to take more time for myself and live a little bit more purposefully. I came home ready to tackle some new projects and feeling so clear headed in a way I haven’t in years.
I’ve already signed up for What If 2014 – which sold out in 2.5 days. They’re also planning a What If in Australia later this year, so if you’re in Australia, you should seriously consider signing up. It’s not just a conference for photographers or creatives, I think it’s a conference that could benefit anyone. It’s about life, and it changed mine.