Inspire 2016 Speaker Karen Kelly - A Culture of Community Over Competition

In this series of blog posts, we are introducing the faculty at Inspire 2016. Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Kelly who will be teaching: Identify, Separate, and Grow: How to Brand Your Business for Success

I believe that creating a culture of community over competition is a necessary and beautiful opportunity for the photography industry. Support and counsel is what keeps us sane and successful in an industry full of the highest highs and lowest lows.  Though I always believed this in my heart, I hadn’t fully realized it’s importance until about 9 months ago, when I faced my biggest professional challenge yet, and turned to my community for help.

In April of 2015 I found out I was pregnant with my first child.  For most women this is an expectation.  For me, it was a conscious decision to put off motherhood for 7 years while throwing all the time and energy I could muster at growing my business.  I spent most of my professional career working in female dominated industries, so I had heard a lot about what to expect when expecting.  Fatigue, nausea, nerve pain, hunger, difficulty sleeping – I was ready for it all. But being a business owner and photographer is uniquely taxing both physically and emotionally.  As a result, many questions surfaced:  when should I stop shooting? What commitments should I back out of?  When can I no longer carry my own bags? How do I assure clients that I will be able to do my job?  Will I be able to do my job? Will clients stop hiring me if they know I’m pregnant?  When could I start shooting again after my due date? I felt completely lost (and tired and hungry).

When confiding these concerns to a friend, she suggested I reach out to Katie Noble Harris, an Inspire alum, who was due to give birth a few months before me.  Katie graciously connected me to the Inspire Mom’s Alumni group.  Suddenly, I was part of community of women who had experienced different versions what I was going through, and who were willing to help guide me through this new maze.  It was such a relief to have people to be honest with about my fears and questions. These women brought a fresh perspective of what my new reality would be post-baby, and helped me mentally prepare for the shift.

At 6-months pregnant, I started experiencing a ring of nerve pain around my mid-torso.  It seemed overnight I couldn’t stand or sit in the same position for more than 20 minutes without breaking out in a sweat.  This made editing, driving, and standing at weddings something of a nightmare, and I realized I was going to need help.  It was August, and I was in tears on a daily basis trying to figure out how I was going to continue to keep my commitments through November.

Again, I reached out to the Inspire Moms, many of whom offered physical remedies to ease the pain and reminded me to have compassion for what my body was enduring.  As one of the founders of the Boston Speakeasy Facebook group, I also opened up to this amazing community and asked for help with editing and second shooting.  The response was overwhelming, even from people who had their own schedules full of work. Within a few hours, I had 2 editors on deck and 3 last minute shooters jumping into upcoming weddings.  It reminded me how much stronger and more successful we all can be when we have positive communities to rely on.  It reminded me that none of us can do this alone. 

I feel incredibly lucky that in the end, my 2015 wedding season was my most successful season yet.  It was heart-breaking to turn away work in October and November but handing referrals off to the community that got me through my toughest moments felt like I was returning the favor.  The best part of this experience?   It’s connected me with some of my closest friends in the industry - people who I know will be in my life forever.

 The first image below features many of the ladies who got me though this part of my life.  The rest are images I was lucky enough to take this season with their help.