Chicago 3-Year Anniversary - What I Learned From Being Cracked Open

I’m sitting in a coffee shop called Sip of Hope in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, on the brink of my third anniversary of calling this city home. I can’t believe I just typed that and also cannot believe how it feels like I JUST got here. So much has changed and things are so different than I thought they would be from when I first moved here. This post really has nothing to do with my photography but more of a vulnerable post on how I ended up here. I’ve never exposed my heart as much as I’m about to do and I’m terrified, but not as terrified as I am of living an unauthentic life.

My heart is bursting, my eyes on the brink of over-flowing with ever-present happy tears about to spill onto my cheeks, and I’m full of gratitude for this moment. The premise of this coffee shop is “It’s OK to Not Be OK” and never has that been more fitting to me. I came here 3.5 years ago, but my official year 3 is in 3 days, and I was so hopeful for a fresh start. In hindsight, I was running from things that had left me feeling broken in Wisconsin. I was cracked open, lost, sad, empty and feeling hopeless before I moved here. Then I moved here, and to say it was hard is an understatement. So hard, despite my pretty Instagram feed. Exciting at first, yes, and new, beautiful, incredible & amazing. But it was challenging. Turns out I was still cracked open, lost, sad, empty and feeling hopeless - but in a city where I knew about 3 people, one of them being a toddler! Once the newness faded, the things I was running from eventually ended up catching up with me in full force and what did I want to do again? You got it - Run! Flee! Go back home to familiarity? Go somewhere new? I didn’t know but I knew in my heart that running didn’t seem right, and that I had to look DEEP within. Know what the best part about being cracked open is? That’s where all of the light gets in within. 

I was a small-town, afraid-of-everything girl that never took chances, always followed the rules (and other people) and lived for others’ approval before I moved here. I was always looking for someone or something else to fill me up. I remember turning 30 and waking up miserable, completely baffled as to why I was so unhappy. I left a comfortable but unfulfilling relationship I was in and started on the path of an unintentional mission of self-discovery. I was 30 and had NO idea who I was and why I did the things that I did or didn’t do. I didn’t realize those first few years of my 30’s would be trying to navigate discovering myself, by myself, and trying to find my place in the world doing what I finally figured out what I was born to do. I felt like a late-bloomer weirdo that didn’t belong anywhere! Can anyone else relate?! It wasn’t until my 33rd year, just before 34, that my soul was shattered to the core and I was jolted to life. I realized I had not been living, but just getting by. I kept getting stuck in the same comfortable & safe situations, but m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e, and I felt like I had to make a huge change in order to see some progress with my life and business. I thought a move to a bigger city was the answer so I went on a “city-tour” across the states to see where I wanted to go. I initially thought NYC would be the most exciting but eventually decided on Chicago (which wasn’t even on my radar) when I found out my baby sister was pregnant with her first baby. I didn’t want to be NYC-far for this, and from the rest of my family, so I packed up and headed to Chicago. 

I’ve spent the last few years searching. Searching mostly outside of me, and still looking for that validation and approval. Turns out, in the year of 2019 at the bottom of a dark hole, I came to the realization that the only person I ever needed that from was me. WOW. I had to let that sink in. It’s not a concept I hadn’t heard before, it just didn’t really settle into my heart and get cozy until the present. What I’ve discovered is way more golden than I ever could have hoped for. Which gives me even more hope for what’s ahead for me. I feel like I have grown and stretched myself so much more than I ever thought possible. 

People came into my life to teach me lessons; the good, the bad and especially the ugly. I’ve had to let go of people that I truly wanted to hold onto, and walk away from things that just weren’t a good fit for me and my future. Tough work for a recovering people-pleaser! Some of those lessons were repeated to me over and over and over until I was finally able to let go of the pain and recognize what I was supposed to learn from it. It’s like the Universe was clubbing me repeatedly in the form of relationship & life lessons, and often with the same textbook until I finally got it. There were days I wanted to give up, days that I just couldn’t grasp why I hurt so much. I used to feel shame in admitting this darkness within me, but when I bring light to it, the darkness isn’t so heavy and I have found that so many other people are going through something also.

If I’ve learned anything the last few years it’s that life is about growing and learning & I hope I never stop. Getting to know me, the real me, has been the greatest adventure of my life and I am so thankful for all of the heartbreak, loss, sadness and grief that it took to get me here. Life has a way of teaching you what you need to know, at exactly the right time.

I’m proud of me. I say it again to really reinforce to myself. I’m SO proud of me and that’s never been an easy thing to accept or admit out loud to anyone else. I am loving me, and my big gooey heart that feels EVERYTHING, and I’m learning to love the dark parts too. The beautiful girl that is love, that lives on sunshine, documenting moments and dancing. I don’t want to hide in the shadows of life anymore and I refuse to settle and live a life where I’m not lit up.

I said this had nothing to do with my photography but now as I’m reflecting, I guess it does in a way. I think by opening up my heart and being on this journey of finding myself, my work has grown and become stronger, just like me. It takes courage to shoot from the heart, and also to show your heart to the world. I have to put myself out there in order for people to be able to open up to me, and let me into their lives. For me, photography is all about relationships and trust. I guess that goes for life, too! When I’m shooting, I feel like I can conquer the world; I feel home.

I don’t think I have everything figured out; I think it’s a lifelong process of discovering & rediscovering yourself, and I’m learning to trust in the timing and the journey & believe that life is happening FOR me. But I’m absolutely certain I am where I belong. I’m grateful for every experience (even the bad) and every person (especially the hurtful) that has brought me to me.

I hope that if you’re still reading this far, that maybe I can inspire or be the kick in the pants that you need to follow your own dreams. And that you can be proud of you too. It’s really OK to not be OK, and to have dark times. It’s the getting through those times and finding the golden moments of truth that make us stronger.



I mentioned Sip of Hope above and you should check them out. They’re the world’s first coffee shop where 100% of proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. Something we need more of in this world. Hang in there, friends. We’re all in this together.

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{All cell phone photos in this post}