I’m always in awe of people who always knew what they wanted to do with their career from childhood, and then went out and actually did it. I came close. I did the degree to get me there, and then leapt in another direction. I parked that potential career because I wasn’t sure how I would make it work, and there was a recession. And now, 20 years later, I find myself on the edge of leaping back to dig back into those ideas I was curious about as an emerging adult, but with a raft of life experience, a broader skill set and different ways of working with those ideas.
This week’s leaper photographer Prue Aja Steedman did a similar loop. You’ll read in Prue’s story that she loved photography as a child. But the fear of competition held her back from pursuing it straight away. So she went into fashion, travelled, freelanced and took a hiatus. That time to reflect, lead her back to photography (via having a baby, and starting a jewellery party business!). The kicker is, even after becoming a photographer, Prue is still looking ahead for her next few leaps.
Writing these stories for nearly a year now, it’s clear that you don’t have to do just one thing. And even when you leap, they aren’t an arrival. Or the end of the story. They’re a stepping stone to the next thing. They’re a holding place for where are you are now. This series, these stories are just a moment in time. They aren’t definitive. And just as you may love where you find yourself when you leap, doesn’t mean you’ll stop leaping. Or stay in love. Growth works like that. And that’s OK. Keep leaping. Onward.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
The unexciting answer is I always wanted to be a photographer, I actually have a photo of myself with a camera when I was two and my first photograph was a clip-on koala on a house plant (it was the 80s). So I thought I would be a National Geographic photographer at first which then turned into wanting to be a people photographer. As a teenager I was the only one with a camera at every party literally capturing the experience of being a teenager growing up in Byron Bay in the 90s. This included fashion and swimwear shoots at the beach from when I was 13.
What did/do you study?
With so many years of having a camera in my hands you would think I would have studied photography straight up, but no, when I was 18 I thought it would be too competitive so I studied fashion design (not competitive at all, ha!). From there I moved to Sydney and briefly worked in fashion PR and quickly moved on to assisting one of Australia’s most renowned stylists Thelma McQuillan (Fashion Director of Harper’s Bazaar). After freelancing on my own for six years in Sydney and London, alongside some of the world’s best photographers, I decided the get back on my true path and be a photographer myself.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
Every day I make scary decisions, but the more I make and the more I overcome challenges, when I look back they don’t look scary at all. I guess when I made the move to London when my fashion career was really taking off in Sydney, that was a huge fork in the road and it’s something I often look back on and wonder what would have happened if I had stayed.
The next leap was making the decision to study and become a photographer, moving to Melbourne, taking on a new career in a new city, and finding out I was pregnant on the way. It was the biggest year of my life, not only having a baby, but also losing my father.
In the same year that I moved to Melbourne, I was looking for a casual position to financially support myself during my studies. After two businesses denied me a job after I told them I was pregnant, I made one of the biggest commitments in my life – to never work for anyone ever again. It was time to show the world what I had. So I started a kids’ party business, Pretty Little Things Parties, which funded me through my studies and while I started my photography career, while also being a mum. It still runs successfully today in Sydney and Melbourne.
2015 was another big year of decision making. I decided to invest into a business development program, which also lead to huge personal growth. This then lead to me making the decision to separate from my daughter’s father, my partner of seven years. When I had a clearer vision of where my life was going, I realised our paths no longer aligned. Since then my life has opened up to so many more opportunities and I’ve met so many people. I know I’m living on purpose, on the right path.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
Before the second leap of moving to Melbourne, I was on hiatus for a year in Byron Bay after living in London. At the time I was in love, living a free-spirited surfer lifestyle, working in a health food store. When I look back at this time, I realise how incredible and important it was; I had achieved all the goals I’d set out to do in my early twenties, I was learning how to nourish my body and soul, I spent a lot of time surfing with my Dad. He was my best friend and taught me how to stay grounded and connected to the environment and the people around me.
After six months I felt there was more to life and my next adventure was bubbling underneath the surface.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
Thelma McQuillan – She was the first power woman I came in contact with and became a mentor in the early years of my career.
Kemi Nekvapil – I reached out to Kemi when I was studying at RMIT to do a photojournalistic book project on her and her raw food movement. Since then we have developed a strong relationship, she has been a integral part of the direction I have gone in with my photography and taught me to believe in myself.
Claire Aristides Jewellery Designer – I worked with her in London as her right-hand woman, which allowed me to take help her build her business and set up a store in Soho.
Jack Delosa, founder of the Entourage – I have learnt so much on a business, personal and spiritual level over the past 12 months from following this man.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
Ha ha, well there is quite a funny story to this. I was actually sponsored to stay in London and, while my sponsorship was being processed, I was staying in Byron Bay at my Dad’s house when I met Nick, the father of my daughter. I had to make the tricky decision – whether to live on the beach with my new lover or go back to a career in London. Mind you, this was 2008 and the economic crisis had just happened so the choice was obvious.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
This is a very tricky one to answer. The more you push yourself and take risks and make mistakes, the quicker you learn and grow. For my leaps early in life, I always told myself, ‘Well if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back.’ That was my security blanket and I never had to go back anywhere ever.
As I get older, I’m more in tune with my intuition and journey in life. I trust what comes to me, learn from obstacles, and push forward all the time.
I’d compare it to surfing; you have to work hard in the beginning, paddling out through the waves, duck diving under the sets until you reach the back. Then things plateau, almost like that feeling of waiting for the storm in pure calmness. Then comes the set, you push a little harder, paddle onto the wave and it’s an amazing ride from there, you feel on top of the world and free. Then you reach the end on a complete high, so you paddle out again for the next ride. Sometimes you get dumped so hard under the waves that you just let yourself go and accept that this might be the end, but then you float to the top, you can breath again and realise nothing can stop you.
How did you fund your leap?
I have self funded every step of my life. I guess with a little help from Centrelink Austudy in the beginning through my studies, but mainly by making sacrifices I constantly re-invest back into my businesses and grow them one step at a time.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I learnt from a leap to begin with the end in mind. I’m in the process of selling my kids’ party business, and I’ve been advised it would have been better to know this three years ago, in order to have been able to build it up more and create more value in it. So, going forth, I’ve learnt to put a timeline on any investments.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’ve learnt to let go of fear and worry. One of the best quotes that my friend Zoe told me last year when I was transitioning into independent motherhood was: ‘Worrying is an investment in a debt that has not happened.’ Another quote on my vision board is, ‘Be kind to yourself, you’re doing the best you can.’
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
I value freedom, flexibility and community and it allows me all of these things as a business owner.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
I used to get worried about where the next job was coming from but having positive affirmations really helped me through this stage. Now, to be brutally honest, I see no downside, life is amazing. I get to do what I love, work with other inspiring entrepreneurs, and create imagery for their business to show off to the world.
What might be your next leap?
I’m on the cusp of selling Pretty Little Things at the moment and have two other business ventures to invest in which are a little secret for the meantime. Photography is my number one passion and career but, for security, having another business as a passive income on the side is a must. I absolutely love business and bringing ideas to life.
What are your favourite words to live by?
As a child I remember my parents complaining about having to work and I knew I didn’t want to end up like that seeing as you spend most your life working.
‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ Confucius
I know it’s a oldie but it’s a goodie.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
I can’t name just one person but anyone who believes in themselves and what they want to do enough to sacrifice everything to follow their passion.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Life’s short. Listen to your intuition and trust in what feels right even if everyone around you suggests otherwise.
Right now I’m:
Hearing: Gary Clarke Jnr
Eating: I’m loving berries, and avocados.
Drinking: Banana and blueberry protein smoothie with hemp seed oil, chia seeds and baby spinach.
Reading: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
Loving: Afternoon sun bathing sessions at Brunswick Baths
To kick start a little leap of your own, what is one small thing you can do this week to move you closer to putting you where you want to be? Because that’s how leaps start. Small. One little push after another.
Lovingly, Kylie x
p.s. Know anyone who needs a little leaping encouragement? Send this on. xx