A 19 year old Kel hadn’t really done a lot of the things her friends had done, like finishing school, getting drunk at the park, going to nightclubs, going to college. Nope, I was a complete recluse as a teenager and missed out on a bunch of typical teenagery things.
I’d only ever had one job, as a part-time sales assistant, where I lasted about a year before giving up and I didn’t have enough qualifications for much else. Despite that, I needed to make money and I was only good at two things: coding websites and photography.
Photography was my real passion and my dream career, so I decided that I would start up my own business and work for myself. NO PRESSURE!
When it came to starting up a business, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I made a website, dumped my entire portfolio in it (that didn’t really have any consistent theme) and came up with a cheesy name that I can’t ever say out loud again without shuddering from embarrassment. It was ALL the cringe. I realised I needed a direction and probably some help and education.
Firstly, I signed up to a networking website, where I could meet models and arrange photoshoots. I knew I wanted to photograph people, so I needed some portraits in my portfolio, as the close up shots of flowers weren’t really going to cut it. The first photoshoot that I ever set up, was with a local model who was also starting out in the industry. Not only was it my very first photoshoot, meeting a total STRANGER, in public of all the things… it was also my very first time on a train by myself. With public transport having been one of my worst fears, this was a super big deal.
So now, after meeting and working with my first model and having got on my first train alone, I felt a little more confident to do it again. I arranged lots more shoots until my portfolio was full and my anxiety a bit quieter than it once was. My desire to run a business also meant going to a business classes for 7 weeks. It took two attempts to do business classes, as the first time I signed up, I got off the bus halfway to the class and went home through absolute fear. The second time, I arrived slightly late and felt a wave of panic as I walked into a BOARDROOM full of people already chatting. The anxiety subsided the longer I spent in the class and I even spoke up a few times and asked plenty of questions – I even booked a client through the class!
After the classes, I photographed several weddings with other photographers and then I had my first solo wedding as the main photographer! I was petrified to my core. They only booked me for a few hours, during the ceremony and the group formals but that was scary enough. My stomach felt like it was in knots for months leading up to the wedding date.
When I finished that first wedding, the energy I felt afterwards was intense, I was on top of the universe. All the nerves had been worth it and it was the biggest achievement in my life up until that point.
Since then, I have photographed more weddings than I can count, with my social anxiety improving with each and every one. It may be a very stressful job with a lot of pressure but it constantly challenges me, which is so good for keeping my social anxiety at a great distance.
A few reasons why my job helped me overcome the majority of my social anxiety:
- I’m constantly face to face with lots of new people. Meeting new prospective clients for coffee and photographing hundreds of strangers every month.
- Having my camera in my hand makes me more confident – You tend to feel confident when you’re good at something.
- I’ve been able to transfer all the social skills that I have learnt in my business over to my personal life and it has helped me make friends.
- It gets me to travel, so I’m always using public transport and going new places.
- It gives me an incentive not to avoid social situations because I’m contractually obliged to be there once I’ve booked a client.
- It has helped me learn that everyone has their own insecurities and everyone is human, even models and that has helped me feel less insecure being around people I normally would have been intimidated by.
I didn’t think any of the things I have managed to do since starting my business would ever happen for me, I assumed I’d be a shut-in for the rest of my life. A friend of mine even told me that I would never make it as a photographer because of my social anxiety but I proved them wrong and more importantly, I proved myself wrong.
I’m 30 this year and I can tell you that if you have goals, you don’t need to give up on them just because your social anxiety is bad right now. Work at it, challenge yourself and make small, achievable steps towards the life you want. It may take months or even years but it’s possible.