Why my 20 year old self hates me.

I crave change. I crave happiness.

But.

I’m not doing anything to help myself. If you’ve followed my journey at all, you know it’s a cycle. I hit a low point, I get tired of it, I fake happy, I feel happy, happy runs out, repeat.

I’ve listened to so many people about how to run my business. What I should charge. What I’m worth. And honestly, that’s where I messed up.

When I started this journey, I was young and confident – but still lost. I didn’t know the difference between a good photo and a great one. The best part was that I didn’t care. I didn’t compare myself. I just did what I could and tried to learn as much as possible. I never realized that was the driving force.

Fast forward to now and my 20-something year old self would be SO disappointed. She would wonder how I could be so hard on myself. She would wonder when I lost all the confidence she built up. She would wonder why she spent YEARS learning everything she could just to have it torn down by her inner monologue. She would be envious of where we are and do everything she could to get there.

I don’t know exactly what I was supposed to learn through this journey so far. I’ve realized I am not who I want to be and I have taken steps to change that. I’m learning to let go and that not everything that happens around me, or to me, is personal. I’m being nicer to myself and it feels good.

When I started photography, I took pride in getting to know people. Laughing with them. Working hard to get genuine smiles that mean something to them. We spent time. Time is special. I loved the process of having them come in to view their photos on the big screen. I loved watching them see their slideshow. I loved helping them pick the perfect photo for the canvas. I loved seeing them open their photos in print when they came in. I worked hard for all of it. The editing, the learning my camera, the art of printing, what works and what didn’t. It hasn’t been easy. But, I LOVE it.

Yet, I let others who weren’t my clients tell me my prices were too high. That people ONLY want digital images. That clients don’t care about printed photos and just want a quick session. So, I changed it, lowered our prices (and experience), and offered sessions by time with a specified number of digitals…and big surprise, it totally hasn’t worked for us. It’s not who I am. Pictures mean SO much to me. Printed photos are so important…and you only realize how important they are once you lose everything on your computer/phone/hard-drive. I want you to invest with us. I want genuine clients who care about tangible memories. I want to go back to spending time with my clients-and gain friends again.

I finally realize that what I have to offer is different. I understand that not everyone will value it the way I do. I understand now that what I’m worth means something different than I thought. I’m finally okay with just being who I am and putting everything I have into it. I was so close to quitting photography, but I’ve finally given myself permission to do it my way, in a way that my 20-something year old self would be proud of.

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Breaking Free. | Las Cruces, NM Photographer

Today marks one year since Micah spent his first full day in the hospital. We never did get any answers on why he got sick and lost so much weight so quickly. We are so lucky he bounced back as well as he did. We are about two weeks from his second birthday and I have so many mixed emotions. It’s been a couple months since he’s been given his “clean bill of health”, but even that gives me anxiety. He’s still so little and I worry that he’s not gaining or maintaining the weight he needs, but I’m sure that’s to be expected. Luckily, this kid eats, like seriously will eat all day long if I let him. I’ll update after his two year appointment for sure.

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Micah during his week-long stay at the El Paso Children’s Hospital | January 2018

     It’s no secret that last year was our hardest year to date, both emotionally and financially. Micah’s health was our main focus and our business suffered. I’m not saying that I would change anything…I learned so much this past year. But, I can finally be honest with myself and acknowledge that I was in fact dealing with depression and guilt on top of my usual stress and anxiety. Then when the business started failing (and believe me, it was) I only had myself to blame. I would change our website to what I thought would get us business. I would try to appear super professional and be what I thought people wanted. I couldn’t have taken us any further in the wrong direction. We had zero bookings. I found myself in this weird cycle of denial about being depressed, stressed about money, guilty about Micah, and anxious everywhere in-between. There were days I found it hard to get up.

Once Micah’s health started really improving and we were told we could start treating him like a “normal” kid, a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in months. I started sleeping a little better. We re-evaluated our lives. We talked about where we wanted to be. Who we wanted to be… and for me, who I didn’t want to be. We talked about the changes we’d make and the path we wanted to find. We re-vamped the site and were true to who we are and we started getting booked. I could finally put some of my focus back into work. We are still digging out, but it seems like we are headed on the right path.

When we got back from vacation just after New Year’s, I wasn’t happy to be home. I found myself seeking more. I have a love/hate with Las Cruces. There are so many times that I want to just pack up our stuff and get out of here. We’ve talked about it. We’ve looked online at homes in different cities and thought about how we could change our business and what that might mean for us. But, when it comes down to it, we really do love it here. We love our friends and our community. We love that my parents are just a block away. We love coaching our kids and our friend’s kids. We love the food and it’s not like I can get Farley’s anywhere. 🙂 I am ready to be happy. I have so much to be thankful for.

So here we are. It’s time to put it all out there. I am my own worst enemy. I constantly put myself down and bully myself into a corner. I never think I am good enough. I remind myself daily about how I won’t possibly achieve my goals and then make excuses when I don’t. I am the reason I haven’t been able to break free. So, I am challenging myself for one month. (The end of February-little goals, ya know?!) I am ready to start accepting that I am a photographer. This isn’t just a little side gig to make extra money, and if I want to make sure we can pay our bills I need to step up and start being okay with the fact that this is who I am. This isn’t a fake job. This job literally pays our bills. I don’t have a fall back. I am going to stop shying away from my career. I am going to start taking pride in what I put out. I need to accept that when I’m excited or proud about something, it’s okay to talk about it and it doesn’t mean I’m bragging or full of myself. I am going to be okay with not being perfect. I am going to stop comparing myself to everyone and be proud of what I’ve accomplished. I am going to accept compliments (something I’ve never been good at because I never feel like I deserve them or I convince myself that they are out of pity.) Ultimately, I am going to put myself out there.

And we have. This year, we said we have to go all in. This year is make or break. This is it. So we did it, we put ourselves out there, and within one week of doing just that, we were published online in two national publications. I couldn’t believe it. It still doesn’t seem right. I still don’t feel like I’m good enough. But, it happened. Just like when we were named Best Wedding Photographer in New Mexico by the NM Wedding Guide for the second time-It’s time for me to start accepting that, too! It’s crazy to me. An OB/GYN office in El Paso reached out to us to put up work in two of their offices. We have our work at Children’s Wellness here in town. I really need to start being proud of who I am and what I’ve done. I need to show my kids that it’s okay to be proud of yourself. I don’t ever want them to treat themselves the way I treat myself. I need to be a better example-and I know that if I do all of this with them in mind, I won’t fail. I think we all put on a protective shell. I am always so worried about what others think of me that I never really find myself in the moment. I am really looking forward to my challenge for myself. It’s time. I’m ready to let go and I’m hoping the anxiety goes with it. I’d love to know what you are working on to better yourself this year too-and I’d love to help cheer you on! Here’s to 2019!

Connection vs. Perfection. | Las Cruces Photographer

This year has been quite the journey for us. There has been A LOT of self reflecting and figuring out who we are on several different levels. Everyday we get a little closer to who we want to be.

It’s no secret that I am a perfectionist. I am obsessed with details when it comes to photography. It’s interesting though, my favorite photos have always been what most would consider imperfect. I love candid moments. They speak to me. They are me.

In the photography industry, there is a lot of chatter. You have to follow the rule of thirds, don’t center a photo, you must frame your subject, you must focus on one subject, use negative space, don’t fill your photo, make sure you fill your photo, use leading lines, avoid zooming in, don’t over-edit, and about a million other rules that contradict each other. It’s impossible to be perfect.

So I’m letting go.

I’m now embracing what speaks to me. I love candid moments because they are real. I love that real emotion. I love those laughs that you can’t help but throw your head back. I love those soft moments when kids are exploring the world around them. I love the dirt falling through their fingers. I love the squeezes of a family hug. I love when siblings play together. I love the way your little one looks up at you and tightly holds on to one finger. I love how they snuggle into your neck when they get scared or hurt. I love the way you and your other half look at each other. I love when you laugh together. I love that mom is actually in the photos. I love connection.

I love being the one to capture these moments for you. The real you. The essence of your amazing and unique family. I love showing you how awesome you are doing at raising your family and how much you love each other. I’m sorry, but you just don’t get that looking at the camera and saying cheese. So I’m letting that go and you should too.

Below I’ve added Connection vs Perfection. I’m not saying I don’t take the perfection photo because it certainly has it’s place…but I don’t focus on it- I usually take one and move on to connection. What do you think? Which one shows who the family really is?

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What’s in a Name? – Las Cruces Photographer

Melissa J. Koko Film + Portrait
 
It’s our business name and a little play on words that we worked up to incorporate our family and a little description of our style. After people meet us and discover that Melissa is not, in fact, named Melissa J. Koko, we get asked questions about the name’s origin, or what the “J” stands for. Things like that. So we’ll fill you in.
 
When we were changing over from “The Sweet Spot Photography,” we wanted to make sure we had a name that was unique, that stood out, and could not be closely duplicated. My name, “Koko” has always been unique and catches people’s ears. So we teetered on names like “Melissa and Koko Photography” and things kind of right on the nose like that. It didn’t quite fit and seemed a little too bland when the goal was to stand out a bit. Plus, in the course of our business, our business logo has always alluded to our kids in some way, as they are a major part in our inspiration. With the old sweet spot logo, we had a winged crest that had 4 symbols in it which each one of us selected. Melissa’s was a key, to match a key tattoo she has which has some personal symbolism. I had the Old English “i” for my tattoo of my favorite band who’ve given me inspiration throughout different points in my life. Mason selected a pirate ship, since pirates were his thing at that stage in his life. And Mia had a princess crown, because, well, princesses! Micah wasn’t born yet when that was designed, so the addition of him in the family kind of brought on the idea of re-making the logo and then ultimately rebranding. So we talked about how we might work them in. We came up with the idea of using the letter “J” as the middle initial in the new name since all 3 of our kids have a “J” middle name. That seemed to be the right fit. It still set the name apart and included the family how we had hoped.
 
We weren’t quite finished there, though. At the time, we found ourselves explaining regularly that we were a studio that operated using natural light alone. So we added “Natural Light Photography” to the end of the name for a bit of added understanding of what people were to expect with us. We rolled with that name for a while and we felt like we were reaching people appropriately. People would ask us about our natural light work and it attracted people who liked that style. But then came a little shift in direction.
 
Melissa kind of stumbled on the idea of at home “Lifestyle Movies” for families and started investigating and studying how to accomplish that here. We really loved the idea of adding them into what we do every day and having something new, different, and meaningful to offer families in and around Las Cruces. That was just the beginning of the changes we started incorporating into our work. Our education is always ongoing, through online classes, workshops, photography books, etc. Our style began to change, and we were no longer simply a natural light studio. The name was becoming less and less appropriate. A new shift was needed.
 
Of course, we wanted to keep “Melissa J. Koko” and there was no real point in changing that part. But “Natural Light Photography” had to go. We were doing so much more. We worked out an addition that we figured finally worked in exactly what we do. We called our movies “Films” and we’ve always enjoyed shooting portraits of all kinds. Melissa J. Koko Film + Portrait was it. It worked in, not only our home movies, but also was a sneaky allusion to the kind of photographic style you’d expect to see in our portrait work. We like the old school, film look and have moved that direction in our editing style. Perhaps you’ve noticed? We love where we’ve arrived and we feel like we’ve reached a point in our business that we are putting out work authentic to our style, as well as having found ourselves more as individuals. We emerged with our name and work, and decided that we had to revamp everything like our website, facebook, search engine listing, blog, instagram, etc… to match our unique style, and personalities. We have finally learned the lesson that it wasn’t about being who we thought we were expected to be, but instead to be true to ourselves and put that out into the world. At long last, I think we’re there. Looking back now, it seems so obvious. But it took getting the name right first to push us in the right direction.
 
So there is the REALLY long version of how we got our name, what it means and represents. It seems crazy that something as simple as our business name has so much behind it, but I guess that’s part of who we are. It’s our job to pay attention to detail anyway, right? Right.

Turning A Corner | Las Cruces Photographer

I don’t think it’s a surprise to those who know us to say we’ve been in a bit of a rut. This year has been challenging for us. I personally was in a dark place for a couple months. My anxiety was getting the best of me. I felt like everything was against us. Most of our stresses stemmed from money problems. This has been our slowest year yet and it’s been frustrating. Since we’ve started our business, I’ve struggled with not being good enough. I constantly compare myself to others. I’ve put on weight. I’ve put on a happy face while I felt like screaming internally. We re-branded this year, from The Sweet Spot Photography to Melissa J. Koko film + portrait. I’ve changed the website, my style went dark for a bit. The latest website was a true reflection on how I was feeling. The photos were still pretty, but the site was dark. I’ve tried being who everybody wants me to be and it’s still not enough. The photography world is constantly in a battle of who looks the “most professional”. It’s like you have to fit in this box of pinterest perfection to get business. As much as I tried, I failed. Then I failed some more. I would try show my creativity in my photos, but it wasn’t trendy enough. I felt like I had to dress a certain way to get business. That our house had to look a certain way to make people comfortable in our home office. Well, I’ve been on a little personal journey with Koko to change our perspective. To be happy. To be less formal. To be true to ourselves, which seems obvious, but has been the biggest struggle. With my personality and my pink hair…I don’t fit in the “formal, professional box”. I’m awkward. I have a hard time talking to people but I can connect with people when I’m taking their photos. I love taking pictures. I find humor in everything. I’m not good at sad. So…I’ve re-branded…again. But, I am no longer looking to fit into a box. I don’t care. If you want the formal & professional photographer, there are MANY to choose from. If you want the trendy photographer….there’s a ton of those too…both are not me. I like to have fun. I like to laugh and be silly. I have bright hair and a weird and fun personality to match it…and now, our website matches it. It matches us! It matches the experience we hope you’ll have with us. The sarcastic, fun, awkward, silly, craziness that is Melissa & Koko. Please check out our new website and tell me what you think.

Getting Past the Business and Creative Struggle.

This is a hopeful message for photographers, or really, any creative entrepreneurial types trying to get through the mental, emotional, and financial struggles that we all deal with once in a while.

Let’s talk about those struggles for a moment. We all have them. Money is tight. Clients are few. Bills are many. And that’s just the start. This leads to an emotional disconnect with your business that starts you down the road to self doubt, envy of others, jealousy, feeling like you’re not enough, and questioning if you are even good enough to continue the work you’ve poured yourself into for however long you’ve been at it. It’s maddening, and it nags at you in every quiet moment, eventually spilling over into different aspects of your life. You become a version of yourself that you don’t like and desperately seek to change. Then you start thinking about compromising and doing what your competition is doing, because it looks like they’re doing okay and you’d rather be them than you in that moment. You start debating taking on work that is not in your creative wheelhouse, and is not fulfilling for the sake of keeping busy, and out of desperation for the next few dollar bills. This moment right here is important. This is the time when you can discover everything you truly believe about yourself and your work. This moment can be transformative, but it depends on your willingness to be fully honest with yourself.

I have an intimate understanding of this spiraling process. I, myself, have struggled with these issues and have tiptoed the lines of depression battling these feelings. I am also witness to the struggles of my wife, an extremely talented creative artist with a knack for perfectionism and tearing herself down. She and I have talked for hours and hours about these feelings, and have both had to be the re-builders of one another on several occasions. This happens most often when business is slow. People who own their own business, or are creatives who constantly put their work out into the world to be viewed, criticized, picked apart, whatever, attach their full sense of pride to the success of their business. We are totally guilty of this. When business is bad, our pride and self worth are damaged. We wonder if we aren’t good enough, both in our work and in every aspect of our lives that we can think of. We keep playing scenarios in our head wondering where we went wrong, and then we play the “if we had done this instead” game. That has to stop.

But how do we get past this? Well, there’s no single or simple answer. But there are ways to work towards it.

Everything is about perspective. We have to remember that being a small business owner has roller coaster like peaks and valleys in every aspect of the business. It’s something we had to prepare for when we first set out on this journey and left the 9-5 grind in the regular working world. It’s feast or famine, and rarely can you accurately gauge what’s coming even as soon as next month. It can be easy to forget, when you have a streak of really good months. You might think the days of struggling are behind you. But the nature of the business, especially a client based creative one, is uncertain. You have to discipline yourself from early on to plan for the hard months. Put some short term pleasures on the back burner to have some extra on hand in case of a slow month, or a burst of slow months. They happen. But back to what I was saying about perspective. Is money the driving force behind your business and your art? I can guarantee your answer is no. That’s not what got any of us into this business. If money was your driver, there are LOTS of better options for going out and making a ton of money. So then, it has to be something else. Was it the artistic expression? Was it the opportunity to be your own boss? Was it so you could control your schedule and be present for your family? Was it because you enjoyed it and could make a couple extra bucks? You have to be able to honestly answer what drove you to take on your work, your passion. This realization alone can have the effect of making you appreciate what you do again, even if just a little bit. For me, I remember that I knew I was leaving a comfortable living and a steady paycheck in a job that I absolutely hated. The work was unfulfilling. My talents were being wasted, and my bosses were miserable, and made me even more so. I traded that compromising comfort and money for time with my family, and the opportunity to use my talents in a manner that I determined were both useful and fulfilling. I’d make that trade 10 times out of 10. Even in the tough times, that realization can bring me back.

So what is it that YOU value about your business? Is it that sense of freedom? Do you enjoy the positive feedback you get regularly about the work you put out? Have you established some notoriety in your home town that you have come to enjoy? There is definitely something you love about your business. Revisit that idea whenever times get tough, and remind yourself that money isn’t everything, and that you can persevere. Like I said, peaks and valleys. If you’re in a valley, all you need to do is re-center and get hungry so you can return yourself to the peak. When you reach that peak, don’t lose that hunger. Complacency and poor habits will see you back down to that low. Live below your means for a while. Stop all frivolous spending, and don’t let desperation drive your business decisions. Take a moment and think about the successes you’ve had to this point. For me, I can sit in my house, and look at what we’ve built from nothing. I remember the feelings I had at any time I made an “upgrade” in my life. Even the simple things like getting my work space exactly how I wanted it, from how it was before. Taking inventory of the small triumphs will change the direction of your mind and turn your negative feelings back into optimism. You’ve survived every day of your life so far, even the hardest ones you’ve ever faced. So count every small blessing and convince yourself that more are coming, and your biggest successes still lie ahead. With that mindset, it’s time to get back to work. Start with a project that is something that you want to do. Let yourself get excited about it and stretch out creatively. Do not start back at any client based work that is not exciting to you. Your first foray back into your work shouldn’t feel like drudgery. It should reset you back to the beginning of your business, when it was fun and didn’t feel like only a job. Try these steps out, and hopefully you’ll see your passion return, your creative juices flowing again, and you’ll be ready to take on your business once more with your new found hunger. Best of luck to you. If you’re reading this and feel like you need a jumping off point, or just some direction, feel free to reach out. No judgement.

koko@melissajkoko.com

http://www.melissajkoko.com

facebook.com/melissajkoko

 

Struggles.

We’ve photographed our fair share of weddings…which is awesome to be a part of. We hear words of wisdom from people of all walks of life. We hear advice and love delivered in many different forms. There’s the most common, the sweet and sentimental well wishes to a bright and happy future. There’s the humorous and witty get it over with quick speeches. And then there’s the honest, sometimes saddened and tinged with regret- “if only I knew then”, which is probably my favorite and most valuable advice. The latter most often stating, “There were hard times.”  “It wasn’t always happy.”  and, “We struggled.”  But they always say, keep your head up, things eventually get better.

We’ve struggled.

We’ve struggled early on in our marriage and even before we said, “I Do.” We were two young kids at 20 and 21 dealing with a miscarriage at 12 weeks. We had already told everybody we were expecting and we were so excited. After losing the baby, the next few weeks were hard. I wanted to run away. We struggled with that for what seemed like an eternity. Not long after, we found out we were pregnant with Mason. I was scared. We didn’t tell ANYBODY. It wasn’t until we were beyond 12 weeks that we decided to share our news. Things eventually got better.

We’ve struggled with parenting, as our styles don’t always seem to match-even if we have the same goal. In our house, he’s the law and I’m the negotiator. We know our roles pretty well and as we’ve gotten older, we’ve struggled less…again, things eventually got better.

We’ve struggled with jobs and being unhappy at work. I left my job at the post office after I had Mason. I HATED working at the post office and couldn’t stand the thought of putting him in daycare. We struggled financially, but soon after I left the post office, Koko got his job at the credit union. Financially, things got better. We had our sweet baby girl, Mia. She is part of why we fell into photography, after a failed attempt at a cake business. The first year with the photography business was not our best, but I was better at that than I was at making cakes. I was eager to learn more. The second year, things started running more smoothly. We started to see trends and gain clients. By year three, things were good. We knew we had something.

We struggled when Koko started understandably resenting his job. He had missed out on baseball games, Halloween, narrowly made school performances, and almost had to miss Mason’s Kindergarten graduation. We fought about it a lot. I knew his job was important…but so is our family. We had often talked about photography being our full time gig-but we never knew when the time would be right. Without getting into it too much, we finally made the jump in July (2016). We knew High School Seniors were right around the corner-our main clients, so financially we’d be fine. Then…that year, they decided to go contract. We had almost no clients. So, we improvised and got into sports photography. It helped, but was nowhere near where we had been financially the previous two years.

2017 started rough when we suffered another miscarriage. Something we don’t talk about, but again, I had a hard time with it. I wasn’t as far along as I was the first time, but it wasn’t any easier. A few months later, we found out we were pregnant with Micah. The kids were ecstatic to have a baby brother! The business was steady, but still not where we had been previously. I had my moments of worry, but Koko would assure me things would be fine. September was so slow. Like scary slow. But we managed.

We struggled in January when Micah was in the hospital. I struggled a lot with what ifs and scenarios that I should have done differently. I felt at fault for him needing a feeding tube. He wasn’t even a year old. I still think I should have done better. The next month, we really struggled. Working during that time was hard. Then we had a couple of other work related setbacks followed by our one car starting to give us problems. Sleep was stressful. That was the easiest time for him to pull his feeding tube out and since they had to bypass his stomach, if it moved out, we’d have to drive back to El Paso to get it re-inserted. I got crazy good at taping it to his face, seriously, that thing could hardly move. We never had to get it re-inserted.  The time is fuzzy to me now, but once Micah got the tube out (a little over a month later) we thought things would get way easier. Then we struggled with getting him to eat. He is really picky, refuses baby food, and still really gives me a hard time. We had an amazing at home nurse that would come in once a week to weigh him. We would have a good week where he’d gain a couple ounces followed by a bad week when he’d lose more than he had initially gained. That went on until late July when he had finally had 3 consistent gains in a row. It took 6 months to get him back on track and we still aren’t fully out of the woods, but he is doing a lot better and we were discharged from our at home nurse. Things eventually got better.

Currently, we’re struggling. Work is slow and our only source of income. Our “good” car has been in the shop for over two months. I know we aren’t the only ones. So, if you are struggling too, know that you aren’t alone. Keep to the advice above… these are hard times, it may not always be happy, but eventually things will get better.