I was born and raised to have a deep feeling of wanderlust. My dad’s favorite parlor trick was to pull miniature Stephanie into the dinner party (I’m talking before I could spell my own first name) spin the globe, (always) land with his finger on Madagascar, and much to the shock and awe of my parents’ guests- I would enthusiastically name the country every time. I grew up with basement shelves lined with dusty Jacque Cousteau, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Carl Sagan, and Encyclopedia Britannica, maps and compasses and old travel journals in every corner, NASA star charts and telescopes in the living room, Science Fiction and Discovery Channel on the TV, and a never-ending stream of National Geographics pushed through the mail slot. I was fascinated by the strange worlds contained in these nooks and crannies of my home, and while I never left the United States until I was in college, I always felt the strong pull of the world unknown.
I also have always been pulled by the lure of the creative world, happiest in art classes at and after school drawing classes, exploring museums or local galleries and craft fairs, or when immersed in projects like painting my entire bedroom as an aquarium mural (and having hallucinations for days from sleeping alongside toxic 80’s paint), or making matchstick crosses at the bible camp my parents for some reason sent us to even though we were a bunch of hard-core atheists, or developing black and white photos in the darkroom my photography-obsessed dad built in the basement. Like my wanderlust, my creativity was bred in my youth. I have four distinct memory groups from my formative years that are so completely locked in my brain (a brain that barely remembers anything from my childhood), that each shaped my perspective on creativity, and helped build the foundation for me to write the story you’re presently readying.
When I was in kindergarten, I was walking home from school and found a four-leaf clover. I still to this day can close my eyes and see the colors, the sunlight shining on the blades of grass below, my hand as I held it, the green smooth leaves contrasting with the gritty gray sidewalk below. The composition, contrast, and the framing of this mental picture, and the love of filtered sunlight have always stayed with me and I’m always chasing that light in every photo I take.
2. Negative Space and Shapes
When I was in elementary school, I had a best friend Lindsay. In her family’s home, there were M.C. Escher prints on the wall, and I will never forget when her dad explained to me the concept of perspective and negative space. He taught me that the parts of what you see that are not filled in were as important as the ones that were.
Then, when I was in middle school, my dad and I went to the Detroit Institute of Art and I saw modern sculpture for the first time. I was enamored, so much so that when we got home we went into the tool room in our basement, cracked open the electric saws, wood glue, staple gun, and paint and created my own (extremely shoddily constructed) mini abstract wooden sculpture. It was my first taste of taking something inspiring out in the world and turning it into a tangible representation of what was floating around inside my left brain. It still sits by my bed in our family home. Both of these moments shaped the way I view architecture, objects, and landscapes in the wild world.
When I was in high school, I became obsessed with photography, and my dad and I would spend hours developing black and white film in the basement. From that moment on, I always have looked at the world as if I am looking through a viewfinder, framing every scene as if I was shooting, as if I was planning the image that would soon reveal itself in the tray of chemicals under the red light. I always loved taking photographs of people the most, the history or innocence etched on their faces, the spark and emotion revealed in their eyes, the sadness or hope or uncertainty in their smiles.
During that period, we were assigned to create a linoleum etching in art class. I immediately turned to my love of of storied faces to create a print based on a National Geographic photo of an old man in the far east, a print that won me my first art award and still hangs on my mom’s wall today. The next year, when we went to New Orleans, I spent the entire time photographing drag queens, and bead whores, and weathered jazz musicians. I still see these Big Easy and Nat Geo faces reflected in those on the streets as I travel through the world, and are the type of humans that still to this day are my favorite to capture.
When I was in college, I got my first taste of the travel bug when I studied abroad in Israel and traveled the middle east. My photographs of people wandering through the old city of Jerusalem, the pyramids of Giza, and the Blue Mosque in Instanbul were the first color film photographs I ever took and I could not get over the magic that color brought to the table. These shots were actually the last with a real deal camera I took until I picked up a DSLR two years ago.
But creativity and travel were always passions, not anything I looked at as a way to make money or pursue a dream life. I came of age in an era without cell phone cameras or Instagram or DSLRs, and a career as a photographer wasn’t something that was common outside the fields of journalism. I never was quite devoted or immersed as the “art kids” in school, or believed in my abilities enough to pursue it as a career. I was good, but not nearly as great as those around me. So I took art classes as electives in college, but quickly replaced them with more practical pursuits and pushed aside summer creative activities for marketing internships at big consulting firms.
I’ve spent my career in the creative world, just in a more business and technical focused capacity (because it was the “practical” route), using my eye to build websites, and eventually beautiful food as a chef. Until, the perfect mix of life and world events went down, setting in motion yet another shift in my path.
I had just left my life as a freelance web designer to pursue a more delicious field of the culinary arts. It just so happened that shortly after I made the move, Instagram came onto the scene. I soon realized that from a business standpoint it would become integral to my eventual success to start taking pictures of the food I was cooking. I was horrible, using an old iPhone and overhead lights and early stage Insta filters. But over the course of the first year, I slowly started to get better, and because there wasn’t a ton of competition at the time from far more talented food photographers like there is now, my photos started to get noticed. A couple years in, I got featured by Instagram as one of the top 25 Vegetarian food accounts to follow. Quickly, this moment altered the course of my food career in discovering the world of food styling and reigniting my long forgotten passion for photography. I started to work with major food brands to create digital content and recipes, styled for a show on the Disney Channel and a Food Network commercial, taught styling and photography for Airbnb, worked with Snapchat and YouTube and Hulu to bring healthier and more beautiful food to their employees tables, and even appeared on the Food Network on a prime time show. Suddenly, I saw a path forward where my passions started to align with profits and potential for the first time.
Fast forward a couple years ahead to the time (as you’ve read about before) which through those previous moments in the food world, a failed dream startup, and a series of serendipitous events, I began the twisted and bumpy road that led me to hit the road – and the air – again, to begin this blog. From my success that had mostly stemmed from Instagram, I knew that it was a powerful platform to ignite creative dreams and that leveraging it for my ultimate goals would be worth a shot.
My intention and dream for the The Boho Beet was eventually to get paid to travel and take pictures, the perfect merging of those two great long forgotten passions from the start of this story, passions that I had started to get a taste of through my modest successes of the years leading up to that moment. So I started exploring the world again, began to write, got myself a far-out-of-budget Canon, and started creating and living with a whole lot of intentional action.
Along the way I got sidetracked by some misadventures, distracted by other passions and falling deeply in love with a deeply rooted man, and incredibly discouraged by the lack of page views, follows, and engagement on my photos and posts now that Instagram was a saturated market that favored the big guys and for the most part left the little ones to stay lost in the shuffle. I nearly threw in the towel many times, and time and time again battled my imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and fear of not being enough. I struggled with maintaining my authentic voice and perspective in a world of short captions and shiny facades, when all I wanted to do was tell real (and long) stories. At times I got hotel discounts and swag here and there in exchange for some photos, and on occasion I booked lifestyle and food photography gigs based on my portfolio of work. But even in this micro-success I still doubted my abilities and especially the idea that I would ever be able to make real money doing what I loved. With every algorithm change on Instagram, I saw my engagement cut in half and nearly gave up every week.
But then, one really low night, I forced myself to look in the mirror and ask: Why am I really doing all this? What really matters?
And my answer was pretty simple: To create, always.
So I set out to find a way to shift my mindset and perspective from that of lack to one of abundance. A mind that cared more about the creating than the result or impact of the act. And it finally started to feel and embody that when I arrived in Bali this time around. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of what really matters to me, and I finally decided to say fuck it once and for all and remember that I simply loved to create, I loved to write, and I loved to take pictures – and that the joy I received was not from the validation of likes but instead from using my creative energies to do something that I truly loved. And let me tell you I needed all the joy I could get in my life at that time to balance all the pain and suffering I was living in. So I stopped creating for anyone other than myself, stopped giving a damn that nobody saw my photos or read my stories, and started just consistently shooting, writing, and working on my technical and editing skills as an outlet for processing my pain and moving toward healing.
About three weeks into my time in Bali I had to make a visa run so I would be allowed by the Indo government to stay my full 5-weeks in Bali (you’re only allowed 30 days on a tourist visa). My business partner lives in Singapore, and we needed to meet to get some in-person work done and the easiest and least expensive thing to do was to head to her. But, knowing that I would only be on that side of the world for a brief time, I listened to the nagging voice inside my gut that it would be worth the slight financial stretch to get a new stamp in my passport. We spent an excessive amount of time deciding on where to go, and finally after a ton of back and forth decided on Bangkok since it was a cheap, quick, direct flight for both of us, and even though I really wanted to got to Chiang Mai we only had 2 days and there was no direct flight, I had to let that idea go. Thailand has been at the top of my travel bucket list for years, and even though the trip would be brief at least I would get a tiny taste of everything I’d been dreaming of.
It was absolutely nothing like I’d dreamed.
Bangkok was crowded and the traffic was a million times worse than LA – something I did not think possible, and was so painfully hot that I sweat from places I didn’t know had sweat glands. I was hustled by tuk tuk scammers and objectified and harassed by local men, dismissed by taxi drivers so often that I walked 8 miles in my first day in 95 degree weather and Target flip flops, and my beloved camera broke on a boat in the middle of a lotus pond. I had to spend the entire last morning in Bangkok in a mall trying to get it fixed at Canon, only to find out it was the lens and it would take to weeks to fix. So I had to spend extra money on a replacement lens so I could take photos of our last day at the Grand Palace and to shoot some work back in Bali until my partner could get it fixed for me back in Singapore, for another $200. All bringing my cheap quick visa run to a pretty expensive one – taking me down to literally the last $50 dollars in my bank account. I couldn’t wait to leave, my Thailand bubble burst and kicking myself that I made the poor call to visit Bangkok over Singapore.
But even in the midst of the storm, I still created. I found those storied faces on floating market boats, the Escher staircases in hidden hotels, the light glittering atop temple pagodas and illuminating 150-foot reclining Buddhas, the color in the street food and monks robes. I shot the type of photographs I had always wanted to shoot, because it was for nobody but me.
Now here’s where the serendipity gets good.
When I arrived back to Bali, I posted my photos on Instagram stories and didn’t leave the piece and quiet and air conditioning of my room for about 2 days. On the second night, before I drifted off to sleep, I got a text that almost made me fall off my bed.
Remember that elementary school best friend who’s dad taught me about Escher and negative space? We lost touch long ago, but our moms remained friends and with the invention of Facebook and Instagram, we always saw each other’s lives in bits and pieces from afar. We reconnected in person a couple years ago at my dad’s memorial service in Detroit, and in our brief interactions it was pretty awesome to see the rad woman that little bespectacled girl grew into.
Now Linds was always more creative than me, a brilliant photographer, editor, producer and passionate pursuer of the creative career dream- a path that I never had the guts to follow. I remember years ago – when she was working for People magazine and I was miserable in my life – being wildly jealous of everything she was doing, and wishing I was talented enough to be like her.
These days she’s working as an Executive producer at big creative agency in the midwest, and she just so happened to be working with a HUGE client who needed photos of Bangkok at exactly the moment in time I had taken mine. She sent that message that made me fall off my bed to ask if I would be willing to license some of my shots she saw on Instagram. Attempting to play it cool, I waited a full 2 minutes before responding with an ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY.
I could not believe it, I felt like I was in an alternate universe. Someone I respected, someone who’s career path I idolized, someone I made tie-dyed t-shirts with at my 5th grade birthday party, wanted to pay me for the kind of photos that I had longed to take my whole life.
While she coordinated with the agency, and I did multiple happy dances in my pajamas, I prepared to return back to the states in less than two weeks. I had a return flight already booked. I had to pick up my dog Bug, who was staying with my friends that had generously offered to watch her last minute as I fled to the only place in the world I knew felt like home – and I couldn’t lean on them for longer. I had a photography gig back in Denver, and had a flight to meet my mom there while she was visiting for a work conference. And I literally still had $50 left in my bank account, still suffering the financial effects of my business nightmare and breakup experiences. I needed to be practical and leave to get back to “reality”.
But the reality back there was not anything I was ready for, or anything I could bear. While I convinced myself being practical was essential, and that there was no way to stay, something inside me kept nagging – don’t go. I was finally feeling like I was beginning to heal the trauma from my previous four month life shitshow, finding the magic and insight and serendipity in every corner as only Bali seems to provide for me (more on that later!). I was in a serious creative and #girlboss groove with my new business venture, living in the same time zone as my partner so we were getting so much more done than when we were on opposite sides of the world, my brilliant copywriter lived down the road and we were working so hard together every day to get our baby out into the world, and our target audience of female entrepreneurs launching really cool shit was EVERYWHERE around us. I had a fly scooter that I zipped around on in the sunshine from my beautiful home to beautiful cafes and co-working spaces to the beautiful beach where coconuts floweth over. I was living a really good life with massages and manicures and yoga on the regular, where back in the states I can’t even afford to get a haircut. I had a support system, friends, and an incredible community of seekers, system-buckers, and people living outside of the matrix – people that never in a million years would ask when I’m going back to the “real world” or get a “real job” – because they understood that what we’re doing here is more real than anything back home.
And what did I even have back in that “real world”? My scattered family and friends and pup, yes. I missed them like mad and longed to see them. But, going back meant that I would have to truly face that my shared life with Dave was dead and that I didn’t have a home anymore. I had no more insight as to where I wanted to be than when I left the month before, and having to figure out the logistics of all my things packed in boxes in his parents basement made my stomach turn. And most of all, the thought of having to see the love of my life who no longer loved me and thus have my heart break wide open all over again – risking undoing all the progress I’d made toward acceptance and letting go – was completely and utterly unbearable.
So, with 5 days to go before my flight, I sat down for dinner with my business partner Lisa – the most logical and zoomed out problem solver I know – and my dear friend Weam – a brilliant and highly emotionally intelligent therapist- and talked it through. At the end of our meal, I realized that not only was it possible for me to stay, but that staying was essential to my mental health and that it would be a really stupid business move to leave. Lisa generously gave me a loan as an investment in our company to help me get through the rough spot until money came in from clients again. My mom generously agreed to pick up my dog from LA, with the love and support for my well-being she has always given me in spades. Lisa called the airline like the badass negotiator she is and changed my flight to October with absolutely no charge. I got my talented friend Austin to cover the photography gig in Denver.
And all of a sudden I could breathe again.
And then that night, forty-five minutes after my mom’s flights were booked to pick up Bug, I got a text from Lindsay.
The universe responds to intentional action. You can say you want something all you want. You can dream of a life and wish for it over and over in your head. But I have seen time and time again that the universe doesn’t listen until you are brave enough to actually turn those dreams, those wishes, and those words into action. Literally less than one hour after I took action on the gut-feelings and thoughts that had been knocking around in my head- I got my dream job. A job I never thought I was enough for. A job that would pay for me to live the entire remaining months in Bali. A job that is going to turn into another similar job in Singapore in two months. A job I can’t share the details of yet, but damn it is awesome on all the levels.
And let me tell you, that job and the way I felt were even more incredible than I had ever imagined. I had several moments during my two weeks in Thailand were I experienced overwhelming moments of gratitude and pure joy. I stood in front of a national park waterfall with a childlike grin and tears streaming down my face. I drank a milkshake in a cafe while puppies climbed all over me for hours while I made a new friend for life in my shoot handler. I toasted with expensive pink champagne in an all pink rooftop bar overlooking the skyline of Bangkok with my jaw on the floor at my life. I sat on a nearly deserted beach just after sunrise staring at longtail boats lazily bobbing in the crystal blue water giant beneath limestone islands. I climbed a nearly 90 degree vertical red rock cliff barefoot because I forgot to wear proper shoes. I overcame my fear of the ocean and snorkeled with the fishies. I fulfilled my dream of being a rice farmer for a day. I trekked a real deal movie-set-esque cloud forest with a man named Bird and had mountain coffee with his hill-tribe woman bestie. I was blessed by a monk in his hidden 100 year old jungle temple while I was surrounded by locals warmly welcoming me into their culture and world (the tears of awe and gratitude in that moment were next level). I hung out with the special effects crew of Fast and Furious 9 and learned how they blow up cars.
I was literally living inside my dream every day, and experienced so many jaw-dropping moments where I felt like my 10-year-old self again, that girl that believed she was enough, that girl who created with reckless abandon, that girl that wasn’t yet burdened with the weight and opinions of the world, that girl with a world of endless possibilities ahead of her.
And it was all because I just kept creating. I kept acting with intention. I kept listening to my gut. I kept dreaming. And I kept taking leaps of faith. And I didn’t give up, even when I fell, even when the deck was stacked against me, even when I was filled with fear and self-doubt. And eventually, the right people, at the right moments, in the right places were able to see the results and take a chance on me. Because I had taken a chance on myself first.
So, because of all this, I have a lot of really special places for you to check out. But you must promise me you’ll go in with a brave and bold heart so you can feel the same joy, awe, gratitude, and childlike wonder – because there is no other life you have, and no other way to live it.