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Tell us about something you (or a person close to you) have done recently (or not so recently) that has made you really, unabashedly proud.

My last daughter, “my baby”, as old parents say, has made me proud many times for various reasons over the past several years.

First, eschewing the normal course of events for a high school graduate, she decided that she wanted to go to Italy and learn Italian. She worked hard in an Irish pub near home and earned half of what she needed for the two month excursion. It was a great place, and they trained her to be a  bartender (which was fortunate since she wasn’t a very good waitress, she discovered). We went halves with the money. Wondering if we weren’t crazy or negligent, watched her go through security at Dulles at age 19. She spent two months in Rome and did well learning the language, lived with an older schoolteacher who didn’t (or wouldn’t) speak English, and loved Italy and the friends she’d made there. She returned home, and decided to go back and we went through the same routine, but this time she went to Bologna, where she became basically fluent in everyday Italian and again, made a new group of friends. This time it was home and preparation for college.

Roma

Roma

She hasn’t had an easy time of it since college — and despite the fact that she got to go to college she wanted (Cambridge School of Art and Design in England), those years weren’t easy either. In truth, she’s hasn’t always made things easy for herself. She’s one of those people who has to learn by experience, making the missteps herself to discover the “truth”, and that advice others gave her wasn’t all hot air. She applied herself well at university, gaining a degree with honors. Then she returned home, happy to be back in the States, and ready to begin working.

She is a professional photographer and there is nothing she can’t do with Photoshop. But the business has become increasingly competitive since the emergence of digital cameras and photo editing programs. There’s the traditional approach (studio portraits), fashion photography (which is like panning for gold to gain success), and various other niches. In trying to get a job she even applied once to be a crime scene photographer. (I think I’m glad she didn’t get that one!)

Despite two internships with good agencies (New York City and Baltimore), she was still not finding what she wanted, so she worked at National Geographic for about a year and a half as a photo copyright researcher. She liked it and learned a lot, but finally left because it didn’t offer that much creativity. Next stop: Richmond.

Accepting a job in a one-woman portrait studio, she went south with high hopes. Perhaps two days after she started working, she knew the two of them were never going to get along, and it was going to a long time before she was allowed behind a camera. Photo editing became her work-a-day world. She was fired for accessing her private email account at work only a few months into the job, but it was a foregone conclusion before that — no chemistry except for fire and brimstone.

She admits now that it was one of the best life learning experiences she’s had. The worst thing that she’d feared would happen, happened. She’d lost a job, and had no way to pay for her rent and other expenses. She quickly took a job as a part-time nanny and did some photography and writing on the side. I knew she could write — very well, in fact — so I suggested she try that. She became a stringer for the Richmond-Times Dispatch and had some articles published both in the paper and on their web site edition. When the family was transferred to a place in the Midwest, she again started a job search, and found one with a social media driven public relations agency, and hasn’t looked back since. She was overworked and underpaid, had things thrown at her that she wasn’t sure she could do, and even had to give speeches or presentations occasionally, once with a day’s notice. She got through it all, and gained more positive learning experiences than she could have gotten in five years at a larger, more traditional PR firm. She succeeded at everything; this time she wasn’t going to be fired, so she gave it her all.

James River, Richmond, Va.

James River, Richmond, Va.

During her couple of years there, she realized she enjoyed the non-profit sector the most, and found a job where she wanted to be. Money’s still a struggle, and again, she’s been challenged to the point of tears (to me) — but has overcome her inexperience or lack of knowledge by learning what she needed to know and forging ahead. The first assignment that really stumped her was designing an “ad” for the back of city buses. Working with the company that prints them, she got the information she needed, and added some inspiration for some pretty attractive, effective ads. There have been more firsts in this job, but she’s learned what she was reluctant to do as a high school student enjoying life — research, dig out the information, read, and listen to good advice and direction.

She’s come a long way int he past decade, and the lessons she learned contribute to real life experience and knowledge that won’t be forgotten. She’s cried, sworn, and held on tight sometimes, using her parents, siblings and friends as sounding boards and willing shoulders to cry on, but she’s become a creative problem solver and a very good graphic designer.

As for the photography, she’s found her niche there, too, becoming a food photographer part-time, besides the occasional work she does for her main employer.

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