When I moved to Rochester, New York, two years ago, I was at a wild crossroads. My identity was all over the place -- not only with new geographic surroundings and a new place to call home, but also with my still-new photography business that had just crossed state lines and plopped down in an entirely different area. Even my role as a mom was being flipped all over the place with my kiddos entering school and all those hours as Momma coming to an end.
I wanted my wedding and engagement photography business to not just survive, but thrive. But I didn't know what tools I needed, which people I needed to make it happen. Just months before our move, I had started hearing about a group of creatives called The Rising Tide Society -- a national group of small business owners and entrepreneurs who were networking online and meeting in person during monthly get-togethers called Tuesdays Together to discuss a variety of business-related topics like Pricing, Relationships, Social Media and more. I wanted a place like that to be a part of my new identity.
Over the next few weeks, I put myself out there by semi-stalking and reaching out to some local photographers and one day, in a coffee shop in Victor, three of us sat in a corner enjoying some amazing muffins and sharing our dreams and wishlists. We talked about Tuesdays Together and how we wish we had a chapter in the Rochester area. And in what felt like an out-of-body moment, this very-INFJ, super-shy, sweats-in-the-center-of-attention fish out of water said "I don't mind applying for us and leading if you want me to."
I thought the application and approval process would take months, but, in less than a week I was logged in as admin to a local Facebook group and was joining leaders' email lists and planning our first meeting, held less than one month after that first exciting coffee shop date.
My first meeting went something like this internal dialogue:
6am: I am SO excited! Oh my gosh, why do I have to wait 12 hours?!
7:15am: I'm canceling it. This was a terrible idea.
12pm: ::checks RSVP list::
12:02pm: This is going to be amazing. Fresh start! Woot!
12:03pm: ::checks RSVP list::
12:30pm: I should skip it. Maybe they won't notice. 4pm: OH MY GOSH, TWO HOURS. It's 10 minutes away. Should I leave now?
4:05pm: ::checks RSVP list:: 5:30pm: OK, let's go. You got this. You're basically Beyonce. You're Eleanor Roosevelt. You got this. 5:45pm: ::sitting in parking lot, lots of sweat:: 5:55pm: "Hi, I'm Wendy! I'm so excited you're here! Wow, I'm so glad you're here! Are you so excited?" (very high-pitched, very very quick)
6pm: ::Pathetic nervous fake clearing of throat::
I spent the entire meeting freaking out SO much. I was filled with self-doubt, insane nerves and constant thoughts of "These people are so good and SO talented -- why do you think you can lead them?"
It was somewhere around the 4th or 5th meeting that I had a moment. Nothing specific happened, although I had definitely grown more comfortable (I still got nervous in my 18th meeting!); I had made incredible connections; I had received some really sweet comments and expressions of gratitude. Over time, however, I realized it wasn't about me. I had joined this movement for me, but it became about so much more than my selfish need to feel like I belong. It was about a community, a network. It was about the way certain topics REALLY helped our vendor friends that attended -- the way you saw their businesses take off on social media or the pride we all felt when they shared a success with a difficult client or with their new prices. It was about the friendships we started to see forming, the way we all felt like equals. It became about greater things like giving back to the community last November during our Philanthropy month; it was about the way our Facebook group grew to nearly 300 people who had all needed a home; it was the laughs and tears and dreams and worries we shared around coffee shops and gallery couches.
No one believes me at meetings when I tell them I'm painfully shy and timid -- and that new-found courage and comfort is because of The Rising Tide Society and my small role in Tuesdays Together. I carry myself differently now. I believe in myself so much more nowadays.
And my business has taken off in so many ways, and so much of that is because of what I've learned in 18 meetings next to other people who just "get it." They get the long days and late nights alone in your home office; they get the commitment and self-motivation it takes for a small victory and the 15 setbacks along the way. They get the family-work balance and the tricky tightrope that can be. They get being "on call" so much of the time. And they give -- they give encouragement, support, positivity and love.
A new chapter is leading our family away from Rochester, New York. We'll be living in and starting over again in the Frederick, Maryland area and I'm so excited to meet new people and photograph couples across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
But with every new and exciting start comes the closing of a door. And it's time for me to pass on the Tuesdays Together Rochester baton. I know it's in good hands with Michelle Crawford and Denise Lazu co-leading it to amazing new heights. But part of me is sad to let go of this group, of this "thing" that has brought so much into my world. I hope to remain a part of The Rising Tide Society and can't wait to attend my first meeting in Frederick.
I believe in #communityovercompetition.
I believe in Natalie Franke Hayes and her commitment to creating a safe haven for entrepreneurs.
I believe in networking and gathering in person rather than just hiding behind a computer screen.
I believe in getting out of your comfort zone now and then.
And now, I believe in myself. And in my dreams.