My boyfriend and I recently returned from a nine-day trip to El Salvador to visit family and spend some time abroad on the beach. If you know anything about me, you know I really struggle to sit still and slow down. Aside from beautiful sights, quality time with family, incredible food, and memory-making, I was able to take some much-needed time for myself and truly focus and prioritize who I am as a person and what I want out of this life.
Before we get into more detail, I need to provide a bit context about my go go go life I've been living for the last few years. Keep in mind, I am currently 25 years old and my fast-paced lifestyle began when I started college. Maybe even before.
At age 19, I began college. I attended a community college (loved EVERY second) and began working at a restaurant as a server. Somehow, I ended up clocking out at the end of every week with just shy of 40 hours on my timesheet while being enrolled in between 18 and 22 credits a semester. This meant I was BUSY. I can clearly remember signing up for 7:30am classes so I could get my classes done in the mornings before driving directly to the restaurant to work shifts that either started at 11am or I'd go to a coffee shop and get homework done before starting my shift at 4pm. I know, this sounds crazy. However, I loved it and maintained this schedule until I eventually transferred to Arizona State University's downtown campus and began my internship with the corporate office of the same restaurant company.
At age 23, I accepted a full time marketing role with said company. This excited me, however, it took up all of my time. And I mean all of it. I mentioned in a previous blog post this life event singlehandedly forced me to put my camera down because I simply didn't have any spare time to devote to a hobby outside of my job. To be honest, it sucked. For a year and a half, I busted my butt to work hard, open restaurants, complete projects in a timely manner, and figure out how to strengthen my relationship with my boyfriend, Luis, whom I had just started dating around the same time I received my full time roll. It all kept adding up and the burden on my shoulders felt heavier and heavier with every passing day. I could feel small details of my life, and myself as a person, slipping through the cracks. This was when I learned a REALLY important lesson:
You should never leave a job crying multiple times a week.
While working this job with crazy, endless hours and feeling incredibly unhappy, I began to job hunt. This leads us to a month before the pandemic. Although I did find a new job prior to the pandemic, I felt it to be a smarter decision to remain with my current role as the virus began to spread and businesses began to change their operational plans. In March of 2020, I was asked to work in a restaurant five days a week to support them from a store level. I reluctantly said yes and drove 30 minutes to and from my assigned restaurant every day. My self worth continued to dwindle because I suddenly knew my life was about to be dramatically altered. This was when I recognized I had made a huge personal mistake and promised to live by the following statement:
Your identity is not your job. You are a person with goals, aspirations, and intent aside from your job.
Two months later (May 2020), I was let go as an effect of my company downsizing. It just proves you can work endlessly hard, but at the end of the day, larger corporations will still only see you as a job which brings us to another life lesson derived from my experience with a corporate company:
It doesn't matter how hard you work: to any business, you are replaceable.
Immediately upon my termination, I knew I needed to get a new job as quickly as possible. On my drive home from getting the termination call, I didn't feel upset. I mainly felt relieved. I knew I needed to leave my job, but now I needed to find a new job. And fast. I think it also helped having read the book Work Party by Jaclyn Johnson. In her book, she writes her story of how she was fired from her favorite job she ever had. I loved my job when I began as a server in 2015, but things (and life) had changed and it didn't feel like a significant loss. I truly think I can thank the words of that book for curbing my emotional anxiety - at least for a while. Once I got home, I got a big hug from my boyfriend and applied to four new job listings.
When I lost my job, I gained quite a bit of anxiety from having to slow down so much. I remember waking up at 4am every day with a racing heart because I felt as though there was something I needed to be doing or somewhere to be going or emails to respond to, but there wasn't. There wasn't anything. I'd force myself back to bed until 6am when I'd allow myself to wake up for the day, log into LinkedIn and Indeed, and apply for between 6 to 10 jobs every morning. This was my routine and I think it kept me sane.
After a couple weeks of unemployment, I began to receive interview inquiries, but most importantly, I picked up my camera again. In my down time, I began to research marketing for photographers which also helped me rewire my mind to think about all marketing opportunities in a different light - a more creative light. Being in control behind a camera again allowed me to feel a sense of purpose and I fell in love with it all over again. Dating Luis made me feel creatively invincible and so supported, so I decided to hit the gas and floor it. I mean, why not? What did I have to lose? I was on the hunt for a new job, I was being supported financially by the government, and I truly had absolutely nothing to lose.
In the midst of finding my creativity behind a camera once again and job hunting, I landed a brand new role ironically based down the street from my old job. At first, it stressed me out because it was an entirely new industry and nothing like the restaurant industry, but over time, I began to figure it out. And most importantly, this job finally allowed me to have a really amazing work-life balance. This basically equates to: I can still be a photographer with a full time job.
Hard? Yes. Impossible? Nope.
Over the last eight months, I have dedicated every single ounce of energy and sleep to working my day job to only get home and edit photos, respond to messages, or run to sessions. And you know what? I absolutely love it. The balancing act is not always easy, but it's so worth it to capture couples, families, and groups who genuinely care about one another.
As you can see, I've been busy for a while. For several years. And you know what happens when you work hard for a long period of time, right?
I don't really think my body has a decent sense of what it means to be burned out because I think my personal "burn out scale" is different than most. This is both a blessing and a curse. It allows me to work hard for years at a time, but I slowly begin losing my drive over time until I am so depleted of energy I simply need to sleep or take several days of personal time to reset. This time around, I don't think I was able to recognize how much I needed a break because I felt as though I physically couldn't stop working. I was editing and responding to messages up until the minute I hopped in the shower before our flights for El Salvador. And that was at 6am, so imagine how early I woke up after going to bed at 1:30am after finishing packing. I'm telling you, I have no idea how to relax unless forced to do so.
And that's exactly what I did in El Salvador, mainly because I had no wifi or cell service. I was forced to be off the grid for nine days and let me tell you: I needed it more than I knew. We explored volcanoes (yes, you read that correctly), enjoyed countless new tastes, and relaxed at the family beach house. Sometimes when you work so hard for so long and finally allow yourself to relax, at least from my experience, your immune system lets down its walls and you can get sick. Well, guess what happened at the beach house? I caught a little tummy bug. Whether this was from the new flavors, a drop of unfiltered water, or a relaxing immune system, it forced me to take time for me and get a decent amount of sleep.
And I slept. Hard. Resting indoors allowed me to have a few moments to myself in between naps and it was exactly what I needed. To be completely honest, I don't remember the last time I allowed myself to rest so much and I know my body needed it. After a few days and a pack of antibiotics later, I felt brand new and felt a new sense of beginning. You know when you finish a good chapter of a book and are ready and excited for the next chapter to begin? That's how I felt after napping for a few days at the beach house: simply refreshed and ready to begin the next chapter in the life of Kayla. Sometimes, you need a few moments of down time.
On our flight home, although tired of traveling, I couldn't help but think about our trip and how much it meant to me to explore a new location of the world. Whenever I travel, I try to take in as much of the culture as I can. It's so important to me to make an attempt to understand how those whose lifestyles are different from my own find happiness and thrive in their own unique ways. However, this trip in particular was different for me in a new respect.
On our last flight home, it became incredibly evident to me how happy I am to be where my life and hard work have guided me to be in this exact moment right now. Before leaving for our trip, I was discouraged about not getting all of my sessions edited or not being able to respond to all client messages, but you know what? Life happens. And it happens fast. And we are all human who can only do so much with the time we are given. And that is okay.
Prior to leaving for El Salvador, I wanted to make a lot of changes in my life which, looking back, made me feel as though I was forcing a sense of turbulence upon my lifestyle and it was draining my ability to focus and create work I was proud of while allowing myself to be happy. It was holding me back from being true to myself which is where I felt I was struggling the most. For the last 10 months, I have struggled with imposter syndrome and a mild sense of anxiety. This combination of stressors allowed me to think if I just worked a little harder, or a little later, or a little faster, I'd be better. However, everything takes time.
And in this moment, I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Sometimes, when we find ourselves in a go go go era of our lives, it's hard to slow down and appreciate the little moments in between running from one exciting thing to the next. When we don't take a break, it's as though our lives are an endless runaway train with no end in sight. The train moves so fast the view out the windows becomes a blur and we learn to deal with the blur as our vision, but that's not living. As human beings, we need to slow down. We need breaks. We need time to evaluate who we are, what we value, and who we want to be. If we don't force the train of life to slow down, our life becomes one messy blur lacking focus and direction. In my opinion, this is why we need breaks and vacations. This is why I travel.
If I would have maintained the current speed and direction of my life without taking a break or going on this vacation, I would have made some questionable choices that would have uprooted my own process. In my opinion, I would have made a few mistakes and changed the natural direction of my own path which would have been a possible and temporary step backward along my journey. Without rest and time to reset the soul, there is no clarity and I am able to see that much more clearly now.
I am a person who likes working hard. I like getting things done. I like making people happy. And I like making a difference. However, I also enjoy and need to make it a priority to make time for myself to grow, thrive, and reset.
Our trip to El Salvador taught me you can't grow new ideas in overused soil. We physically saw evidence of this as farmers burned their overused sugarcane crops to prepare for the next season of growth. Once the land has been reestablished, it is given water and other nutrients to reset the soil to be ready for the next round of seeding and growth. You need to care for the base of ideas, starting from the mind. If the mind needs rest or nutrients, take a moment to give it what it needs. Your body is more in tune with your mind than you think.
I am incredibly excited about the next few months - there are so many exciting sessions on my calendar. Now that I have had time to calm down a bit and reset my system, I feel refreshed and ready for all coming my way. Sometimes, you really do need a break to make sense of the next chapter in your book.
And we're just getting started.
P.S. Did I mention I'm upgrading all of my camera gear? It's about to be an incredible 2021 if it wasn't already.