I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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Would you believe me if I confessed to you that I am a former people-pleaser?

It’s almost shameful for me to physically write about it, but it’s true: I used to find my worth from gaining praise from others.

Everything that I did before I followed my heart and fatefully picked up my first camera was motivated by my deep desire to prove my worth to others. Blame it on 10 years of childhood rejection in the theatre. But while I was always intrinsically joyful, the soft emptiness was always present, lingering as I took another bow or got some part that gave me some temporary worth. But just like a temporary tattoo, the lasting effects always fade.

The “Should”s

There is nothing more dangerous to a young person that telling them what they “should” do. Telling a young teen how he/she “should” pursue her future is even worse. And that was what happened to me. When I felt my heart telling me to leave my industry at 14, I would have several encounters with directors, teachers, mentors and peers telling me “I should” pursue _____ and _____. All this encouragement from people I looked up to. People I wanted to please. When you’re impressionable (and a people-pleaser like I was) as so many young people are at that age, awards, attention and praise are a sure-fire way to lead someone down a path that they aren’t yet sure of. I didn’t know what I wanted, but here was an opportunity, and I latched onto the first thing I saw.

The attention I received as a teenager made the ego overjoyed, feeling safe and in control as it always wants to. The mind was pleased.

Everything would be alright.

Until, of course, I woke up.

Waking Up

As I left home and entered adulthood, spiritual growth and meditation kicked its way into my life. I played with other hobbies and interests I had put on the back burner in high school. I wrote my heart out on paper after paper and dreamed vividly while watching for physical signs. It was two years of tremendous growth and two years of continuing to force something that didn’t feel right.  I was in the wrong place doing the wrong occupation. “But how do I get out? How do I leave this maze that I’m studied, honed and memorized?” I wondered.

What if I’m rejected again?

How do I find the courage in me to quit?

How can I choose to be brave?

The After-Effects of Following Your Heart

To this day, people still message me asking why I left that old life behind. People in San Diego still stop my mom in the grocery store to express how “sad” it was that I wasn’t in the theatre anymore.

All that “talent wasted.”

Damn. That hurts a bit.

But this has nothing to do with them.

This has to do with my mind and a story that I’ve identified myself with. A story I’ve attached my self-worth to. A mind that trained itself to feel a certain way. And the mind/ego is always waiting, watching for an opportunity to defend itself, to prove to others. No matter how enlightened a human is (I’m looking at you Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle), the ego is always present. The question is “do you choose to give attention and power to the mind?” Or do you choose freedom?

In the absence of our stories, we are free.

The mind just wants to feel wanted, and the little girl in me didn’t want to be rejected, like I had so often been in my earlier years.

The heart, the intuition, the inner self…that One-ness, that Source and Being, is always safe and always joyful. The spirit is always experiencing peace with what is.

Present Day

The soul in me now is as it was at the very earliest beginning, and I am so grateful to have finally found her again. And when I discovered the quiet yearnings and loving kindness from my heart at 19, I truly lived in myself for the first time. It took time to forgive my ego and give myself grace.

But that big leap I took at 20 years old, that camera I bought at 21, finally putting my written words onto a blog for the public to see (scariest thing ever for a closeted writer), eventually accepting my father’s sudden death and breaking free of a reputation I was terrified to let go of, was the greatest, most life-enhancing choice I’ve made.

No longer did I want to make others proud for I no longer cared.

I discovered my spirit, the ever-constant Source of love in my heart. I discovered different methods of creative storytelling that spoke louder to me. I befriended the mind, instead of living in it. I loved and let go of the past’s identity and I embraced the present. I let go of my story, and I allowed myself to grow. 

This blog post is mainly for me. I am currently in San Diego, visiting my mom and reading through my old journals from my teenage years. Rereading my old words left me with a very clear and honest realization, and I felt it cathartic to post here.

Dearest reader

if you find comfort in these words, in relating to this idea of attaching your worth to an identity or reputation, you are not alone. It took several years for me to finally let go of an old reputation, but the feeling of freedom and connecting to yourself is much too good to pass up. I highly recommend taking a leap of faith, of taking that chance, and of following your inner-peace.

For it is the only peace you will live with.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d love to hear from you! You can message me on Instagram or via email at helenawoodsblog@gmail.com

xoxo,

Helena

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Letting go of “Should” and People-Pleasing

January 14, 2019

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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