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What Really Matters

Minnow Park
Minnow Park
8 min read
What Really Matters

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The two-hour flight was shorter than I expected. We took off from NYC and we were at flying altitude for 15 minutes before starting our descent into Cincinnati. I was on my way to meet Katie for the first time since I started coaching her a year and a half ago.

As the world's becomes more comfortable with remote conversations, I’ve been able to talk to people all around the country and the world. I’m consistently amazed at the depth and connection that can be nurtured through a webcam. The only thing that surprises me when I meet clients in person is how tall or short they are.

When Katie and I first started working together she was a filmmaker, marketer, web designer, writer on top of being a wife and a mom of three beautiful girls. Our immediate goal was to try and make sense of everything going on in her life and prioritize. She felt like she was starting from scratch with every project she took on.

Katie wanted to be more focused and create systems for her business, but that meant taking a step back and articulating why she started all this in the first place. When she came back to her purpose, that empathetic stories are a vehicle for healing, we build a business around it.

It was an iterative process of experiments and making small bets of saying no to projects that didn't align to that purpose. We needed to make room for her to take on the projects that told the stories she wanted to tell. We had to trust that saying no to easy revenue now, was freeing us up for meaningful opportunities later.

It worked.

We focused on what she was most passionate about doing, narrowed down what she offered, and found the right people who needed what she was passionate about doing. She developed her ideas, created a framework, and won contracts with institutions throughout Cincinnati.

She was in the middle of rebranding her business and a few months ago she asked if I could take some portraits of her and for us to finally meet in person. I immediately said yes.

After I landed, Katie picked me up from the airport, her height being close to what I had imagined it to be.

When I walked into her home, I was greeted by Lula barking at me and Nell the five year old middle sister who hid behind her mom’s leg giggling, too shy to say hi.

Her younger sister Mina came out of her room and walked towards me holding up three fingers and saying, “I’m three years old!”

“Hi there, you must be Mina!”
“I’m three!”
“That’s great Mina, nice to meet you.”

The oldest, Cecily, came out to meet me a bit later. She greeted me with the nonchalance of a 9 year old. I felt a pang of insecurity wondering if she would like me. I told her we had two important things in common: Taylor Swift and Harry Potter. I told her how much I hated the Harry Potter movies because they were so different from the book. She lit up in agreement telling me in full detail all her complaints about the movies.

Katie’s husband, Eric, reminds me of my closest friends back home—deep thinkers, calm and collected, and careful about who they spend their time and energy with. For someone like me who has boundless amounts of social energy, I’ve come to cherish people like him when they choose to spend their limited energy with me. Because when they are present with you they are the most intentional and thoughtful people you could ever spend time with.

After saying hi, I took some portraits for Katie and her family that afternoon.

That night after dinner, I was talking with Eric at the dining table when I saw Cecily come into the house stomping towards her room. She was sweating underneath her helmet and one side of her dress was stained with dirt. I asked her if she was okay and she said that Mina got stuck on the curb and she went to help her but then she fell onto the ground, and now her dress was dirty and she had to go change.

I instantly understood the frustration. I’m the oldest of two sons, and when my parents were out working all day, it was up to me to cook us lunch and keep the house in order lest we get kidnapped or die of hunger before they came home. At times I had grown to resent the responsibility because I was always to blame and felt like no one else understood, especially the siblings you’re trying to take care of.

But what could my parents do? They had to work, and they probably trusted me way too early so that my dad didn’t have to be alone at the dry cleaners all day. I’m not a parent meeting their girls made me understand why someone would take up five different roles for their business and say yes to every project so you can make sure your family would have everything they need.

Cecily was about to walk off when Eric asked if a hug would make her feel better. She turned around and walked towards Eric with her arms open.

As they hugged, Eric told her, “I know it’s hard sometimes being the older sister, but you’re doing a great job and I’m so proud of you.”

The next morning I sat at the same dining table and watched Katie tie braids for each of the girls before going to their grandmother’s for the day. Each one brought their own choice of hair ties and had specific ways they wanted their hair styled. And while their mom styled their hair, they each told a story from the day before or their plans of what they were going to for the day.

I remember during our coaching sessions we’d talk about how moments like this could sometimes feel like a chore. There was just so much to do and all she could think of was how to get them ready as fast as she could and get them where they needed to be so she could get back to work.

She wanted to spend quality time with her children but she felt she had to earn it by being productive at work. And when she had time she wanted to plan something grand or meaningful to do together.

But what mattered most to her daughters were within these small moments—the daily routine of chores and getting ready. They wanted her presence not her grand gestures. They wanted her to listen to their stories, brush their hair and know that they were going to do this again the next day and the day after that until they didn’t need her help any more.

We dropped them off at Katie's mom's place, and we spent the afternoon working on her website and strategizing for her rebrand. That night, I sat with Katie and Eric on the porch while the girls were riding their bikes again up and down the block. Occasionally we'd hear someone yell, “Car!” and the girls would move aside as one slowly drove down the avenue.

I thought back to how I felt after photographing a 10 hour wedding day: my eyes tired, my back and feet sore, and my heart full with satisfaction knowing I did my best for my clients. Sitting on that porch that evening, I felt that same fullness and saw that for Katie and Eric, their full hearts were out there riding their bikes up and down Homer Avenue as the sun was setting.

After the girls went to sleep, Katie, Eric, and I stayed up talking about what it was like for them. Eric had a whole other career and life before deciding to become a doctor, and their lives were a dance between studying for exams, building a business, and raising children.

I knew Katie’s side well, but that night I heard Eric talk about how this whirlwind season of life had brought them closer together, and as they saw the light at the end of the long tunnel that was medical school, he couldn’t say enough about how much gratitude and love he felt for her and their life together.

I wonder if in the middle of all the hard work we do, we stop to ask ourselves what we’re actually building towards. Part of it is we're too busy comparing ourselves to someone who is named top ten of their industry by some publication, hired by a big company to do the work we wished we could do, and talk about it to the thousands or millions of people who follow them.

We don’t know what it took them to get there and whether we’d want to pay the same price for their kind of success. We just know it’s not what we have and maybe if we worked harder, we wouldn’t feel so bad about not living up to all the responsibilities we put on ourselves.

But in Cincinnati, I saw what Katie was building towards. I saw how it added up to a family and a home that was safe and full of love and laughter. I saw two people holding space for each other, for their kids, and for themselves so they can all be the best they could be at that moment, and laugh while Nellie showed us how fast she can twirl without getting dizzy.

I had to leave early to the airport the next day, and Katie said she’d come by 6:30AM to pick me up. The rain was pouring as I came downstairs. When I opened the door, I saw Cecily was standing in front of me holding two umbrellas. One for her and one for me. She was going to come along to the airport with us.

On our drive over, I told Cecily about a play showing in NYC called “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” and how it took place when Harry, Hermione, and Ron were adults and had their own children. I told her when she comes to NYC we can go see the play together and then drive by Taylor Swift’s apartment.

When we got to the airport, I gave Katie a hug goodbye and I saw Cecily standing by the car door. I thanked her for coming to drop me off and asked if I could give her a hug. Her hug caught me off guard because it was so warm and sincere. All I managed to say was thank you and I hope to see you soon.

If I did say more, I’d tell her what I wish someone said to me at her age:

“I know how it feels to live up to a standard and responsibility I could never meet. The only way I’ve known to try was to work as hard as I can and hope that I was enough. I blamed myself for what I couldn’t do, but I’m learning now that taking care of my brother taught me how to serve others later in my life. I'm 38 now and I'm just accepting what I've gone through has made me who I am and that's more than enough.

There’s going to be a lot of changes in your life, but know that this family will be an anchor for you. And when you get older, you’ll see just how cool and smart and amazing your mom is, but for now just know she loves you and you really are doing great.”

PersonalWholehearted Living


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