When I personally made the decision to quit my teaching job of 13 years and become a full time documentary and portrait photographer (while moving across the country from Wisconsin to Oregon), it was a huge risk. I was leaving behind my friends and family, health insurance and benefits, and “comfortable-ness” that comes after having the same job for almost a quarter of your life. I was stepping into the unknown and fear was right there waiting for me, telling me that this was a stupid decision...that I would fail....my friends and family would be waiting to tell me, “I told you so!” But despite the fear and the internal shitty self-talk, I knew I didn’t have a choice. Something bigger than me was pushing me forward and it wouldn’t stop. It took me a good three years to finally acknowledge that I couldn’t listen to the “what-if-I-fail?” voice and I had no other choice but to start putting my faith in the “But-what-if-you-succeed?” voice that was getting louder by the day.
As a true believer in synchronicity, I have no doubt there was a fate that brought Amber and I together to tell her story. Listening to her tell her story of longing for something bigger in life and finding the bravery to follow her heart was reaffirming for me. I look back and smile at the fact that she was a little concerned at first that her story wasn’t going to be “big enough” for some of my readers. I am fairly certain that her story is more than perfect for us all.
Amber grew up on the East Coast and fell in love with her Marine, Jeremy, which led her to Oregon. After marriage, they went on to have three children, Kate, Piper, and Harry. By all accounts, life was admittedly pretty good.
But after jumping around various jobs and then working 6.5 years as a retail manager, Amber started to feel that something was missing from her life, and the feeling only grew stronger. The problem was, Amber really didn’t know “what” was missing. She loved her job and her co-workers, but she didn’t find any passion in the work she was doing. She described herself as feeling unfulfilled with no passion in life.
It wasn’t until she was on maternity leave with her youngest child, Harry, that she finally realized what was missing from her life--following the dream of staying home with her children. “I realized I always wanted to be there for them 24-7, and I couldn’t do that while working.” Amber said. “I was missing out on their lives.”
She was a little unsure what her husband would think of this proposition, but Jeremy turned out to be a super supportive partner to Amber’s wish. “When I told him I wanted to be home with the kids, he said, “Ok, what do we need to do to make that happen?” It was an amazing moment for Amber. “One year later I quit my job. But we also bought a house the same month I quit. It definitely made me wonder if I was doing the right thing.”
But their family was ok, and another surprise was around the corner for them. “Last Spring, we tossed around the idea to get a couple backyard chickens so we could have fresh eggs in the mornings. I literally never had a desire to do anything like this.” But they got the chickens. It wasn’t long before Amber found herself growing happier around the chickens. Jeremy noticed, too. “This is it for you, isn’t it?” he asked Amber. She wasn’t sure what he meant, but he clarified by saying, “Staying at home with the kids and taking care of the chickens. This is what makes you happiest.” Amber admitted it was, but she admitted she still had fear that she wasn’t doing enough to take care of the family. When she asked Jeremy if he was sure this was all “ok,” he told her that “Absolutely, yes, you need to be happy for our family to thrive, and I can tell how happy you are.” The Rays currently have increased their backyard farm to include 20 chickens, 4 ducks, and one rooster (all of which Amber has names for).
While it might be easy to think Amber’s story appears overly idyllic and too good to be true, I will tell you that when I visited the family to take their photos, the joy Amber had being with her children and the animals was palpable to me. You know how it is when you are around people who are so joyful it’s contagious? Yeah, that’s Amber. I couldn’t help but feel energized after spending the afternoon with her family.
I asked Amber what advice she had for anyone who is still bouncing around that grey area of knowing they want something more out of their life, but still being held back by fear or self doubt. “I’d tell them to just do it. If it’s something that is speaking to you everyday in your heart and your soul and it’s nagging at you--just do it. The worst that can happen is you fail. But if you fail, you learn--you learn something about yourself or something about your life--and that’s worth it.”
“I might fail two years from now and never have chickens again because it was an epic fail, and that’s ok. I would be able to say I learned a lot along the way. But on the flipside, two years from now I might own a 25 acre farm with all of these animals and a massive garden where people can come and be fed for free. And all because I said yes to four chickens.” Amber continued, “Once I said I’m done being scared and I’m just going to be brave and do it--the best things happened.”
Amber and Jeremy do fully expect to own that 25 acre farm someday soon so they can have a place for their children to grow up and be part of the bigger dream, but also to show them that their own dreams are always right there, within reach.
I love that Amber’s story shows a different side of finding our truth and following our passion. So often you hear of people wanting the big life--the big house, the expensive cars, the big trips (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). But Amber went the other direction--her passion was simply to live the simple life. But as she learned, even the simple life came with learning to walk hand-in-hand with fear and doubt. It’s a great lesson that no matter what your dream is, it’s really about giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and to say, “this is me, this is what I want and this is me being willing to let go of my doubt and just do this.” So just do it. Say yes to your four damn chickens and get your real life started.
DISCLAIMER: #seetheinvisible stories are stories told to me, nothing more, nothing less. I make no judgment as to their claims of validity of facts or circumstances, but rather I see myself only as the conduit people choose to help tell their story to the world. It's my hope that through the process of bringing this story to the public, it will foster connection, inspiration, and brotherhood. One human to another. I hope that by reading others' invisible stories, you find a bit more of your own story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nicole Severson is the owner of Nicole Severson Photography in Beaverton, Oregon. While she adores all types of photography, her heart lies in photographing families through documentary photography. She grew up in small-town Wisconsin where she was a middle school English teacher for 13 years. Storytelling has always been a theme in her life, and when she started photography professionally five years ago, she knew she had found the perfect outlet to tell stories in a visual way. Photography finally beat out teaching (it was a hard fought battle, though), and after resigning from teaching, she and her family moved to Oregon to be close to her oldest son (she is self-proclaimed “bad empty-nester”) and to restructure her photography business into a full time gig. Her newest venture is blog titled #seetheinvisible in which she talks to people about their invisible every day stories and visually tells their story through a photo essay component, which she hopes to continue doing well into the future.