Day 28 – Jenn

Jenn came bouncing into the studio.  She was SO ready for this.  I could see that she has come out of the other side of fear.  When you read her story, you can understand why she feels like the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders.

Like many women, she has avoided the camera for years.  And like many women, we wonder why, she is gorgeous.  As a photographer, I love that moment when I show the back of the camera and the person looks at it, grows quiet, then looks at me with tears in their eyes.  They are seeing themselves for the first time it seems.  The real them.  It isn’t about the makeup and hair.  Lindsey does an amazing job.  But Lindsey’s real skill is in making people believe in themselves. They leave her chair relaxed, confident and secure that they can be themselves in front of the camera.

And that is what we are seeing in these images.  Confident. Courageous. Real.

At the end, a hug later and Jenn is off for a fabulous weekend away.  She has seized everything life is offering her and, with no regrets, knows that she can live her life as it is meant to be.

Special thanks go to my amazing makeup artist Lindsey from BeYOUtiful Esthetics.  

What changed that made you realize you were living a life of fear?

In the winter of 2014, after months of counselling, negotiation and heartbreak, my marriage of 15 years came to an end. My world as I knew it was completely upended. The months that followed were the most difficult of my life, as we broke the news to our three children, my husband moved out, we sold our “forever home” and I purchased and moved into my own home. The realization that the man who I had been with since I was 19, who had seen me at my best and at my most unlovable, and who was supposed to love me “for better or for worse” no longer did was absolutely devastating.

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Once you realized that you were living a life in fear, what stopped you from moving forward? What held you back for so long?

In hindsight, my marriage had not been healthy for either of us for much longer than I was willing to admit. I actually had a friend tell me once that I needed to leave, but I was in complete denial. No marriage is perfect – and it was just a bad patch. Besides – we had a pretty good life – a big, beautiful house, three perfect children, so much going for us. We were not going to be another statistic. We had been together for 20 years – our entire adult lives. Even once I knew it was over, I struggled with how I was going to tell my family and friends that I’d failed. And our children – was our inability to keep our marriage together going to negatively impact them forever? I didn’t want to be a failure.

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For most of my marriage, I was the quieter, more reserved partner – trying something out of my comfort zone, or even entering a room full of strangers was never one of my strengths, and I had always relied on my more-gregarious, outgoing husband to lead the way and break the ice. All of a sudden, it was just me. I have struggled with self-esteem and self-image issues for as long as I can remember, and as a result, I’ve always worried too much about my appearance – ensuring my hair was “perfect,” never leaving the house without makeup on, and often changing my clothes a half dozen or more times before going out – yet I still rarely felt beautiful. I remember sitting on the floor of the walk-in closet of our house after he’d moved his stuff out and being absolutely convinced that at 41, after three children, my “best days” were behind me – no one was ever going to think I was attractive again, and I was going to be alone forever.

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Once you did take the leap, what did you have to let go of?

Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being alone. Fear of tackling all of the things that scared me. One of the things that spurred me on was the email from my mortgage broker when my new mortgage was approved. He ended the email with, “You are very brave and I wish you well.” I was so angry. I was pretty sure no one was telling my ex-husband that he was “brave” to be buying a house on his own. Did he think I couldn’t do this because I was a woman? I was going to show him, and all the other doubters – including myself – that my life was not over, and that not only could I survive, I could thrive as a single mother.

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Once you let go, what did you find on the other side that was worth taking the leap?

Although I’m not sure I’ll ever actually thank my ex-husband for leaving, I do honestly believe that the end of my marriage was ultimately, a very good thing. Even in the early days, amidst my grief and anger, there was a certain feeling of relief – I hadn’t realized how much energy I was expending trying to make an unhappy man happy. Every big decision, accomplishment or milestone I reached was a boost to my self-confidence. My new next-door neighbours invited me to a party, and although the thought of going on my own when I would know absolutely no one was almost paralyzing, I forced myself to go – and I had a good time. I felt like I was getting to know a long-lost friend all over again – I look back now and realize that I had lost sight of who I was for a long time. On my first visit with my whole family post-separation, my sister looked at me one day and said,” It’s so nice to have you back, Jenn.”

My children amazed me with their strength and their insight right from the moment we broke the news to them. On the really tough days, they were the reason I got out of bed – I needed to be there for them, and I needed to show them – especially my two girls – that a failed marriage was not the end of the world, and that I could do this on my own. They are my biggest cheerleaders – my seven-year-old son came home from a friend’s house last spring and when he saw the new barbecue that I’d bought and assembled, he looked at me and said, “Wow, Mom, is there anything you can’t do?” Besides barbecue assembly, I’ve learned how to do a lot of things I’d never given much thought to – changing the filter on the furnace, painting, hot tub maintenance – the list goes on!

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I started thinking about how to move forward and create reality from the dreams that had been lurking at the back of my mind. Pre-separation, my principal and I had talked about the reasons I should consider looking at school administration and leadership. Several months later, she pulled me aside and told me that no matter what had changed in my life, this was something I should continue to work towards, when the time was right. I completed Part 1 of the Principal’s Qualification Program last spring, and am currently enrolled in Part 2. It’s a big, slightly scary step – but it is definitely one I’m very excited to take.

I knew I didn’t want to be alone forever, and I realized that one of the only ways I might possibly meet anyone was to try out an online dating site. For the girl who dreaded facing a room full of strangers alone, the thought of actually walking into a bar to meet a virtual stranger was terrifying, and I really wasn’t sure until the last minute whether I’d really go through with it. But I did – and he didn’t run away. For the first time in probably 20 years – with far less makeup, fussing with my hair or worrying about what I’m wearing – I feel beautiful every time I’m with him. I know that when we go out, he has eyes for no one but me – and that in itself is a wonderful feeling. He’s been patient with my insecurities, has supported me and cheered me on through everything from opening nights to job interviews, and most importantly, he makes my heart sing. I am able to be completely myself around him – no pretense, no trying to be someone I’m not – and that is incredibly empowering.

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What would you tell someone whose fears are still holding them back?

I spent a lot of time figuring out how to be happy with who I am – right now, in this moment, regardless of the number on the scale or the reflection in the mirror. I surrounded myself with people who lifted me up and who celebrated my successes and helped me through the rough days. Being ridiculously busy and overscheduled has been my coping mechanism for a number of years, and lately I’ve come to realize that there is much more to life than rushing from one commitment to the next, with barely enough time to enjoy any of what I am doing. I’m learning to say “no,” and to cut back on the things that don’t bring me joy, don’t move me forward on my journey, or take too much time away from my kids.

As with many of the other #leapfear women, there are very few photos of me from most of my life as a mom – until recently. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t shy away from or hide when the camera comes out. Instead of the invisible person behind the camera every time, I take selfies with my kids and I post them – even if I don’t look “perfect” – and I (usually!) like what I see.

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Is there anything else you would like to share with people on the blog?

So many people have told me that “everything happens for a reason,” and while I’m not entirely sure about that, I believe that my life as I knew it needed to fall apart in order for me to move forward and start becoming the person I truly want to be. I was in a familiar, comfortable rut, and although I was really good at pinning quotes about turning pages and facing fears and looking for change, I’m not sure if I would have taken the leap and made significant and necessary changes in my life if I hadn’t been pushed to do so.

I love this quote from Gilda Radner: “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”