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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My life took a total 180 when I ventured off on my first solo trip to Europe. If you don’t know who I am or where I was before I became a creative, entrepreneurial-gypsy, I moved to New York at 18 to be an actress. And not just an actress: a musical theatre-lovin’, tap dancin’, and song-and-dance actress. But a 10 week backpacking trip to Europe changed my entire life path.

Before I discovered solo travel, my life and dreams revolved around New York and the entertainment industry.

I wasn’t aware that cities existed where artists didn’t worry about auditions, callbacks, classes and struggling just to make ends meet. I had never been in a place where people didn’t know what “Broadway” was or who weren’t desperately chasing after success. And it refreshing.

It was enlightening to be in foreign cities where people’s lifestyles and identities were different, where success and rank weren’t important.

It was refreshing to be in a place where people didn’t know me. The constant judgment that comes from a full-time job of auditioning and singing for super (I literally sang for my supper as a singing waitress at a diner in Times Square) was put on silent.

Helena Woods photographer on the beach at sunset

The Need for Importance and Success Quieted

Living in New York City for the past four years has made me tired, to say the least. Tired from the constant struggle, the need to perform, the need for connection, the need for extra cash, the constant need, need, need.

After four years of hustling, rushing, and bouncing around trying to make ends meet and put on a pretty face at auditions (the jewel-toned dresses, the makeup, where every single girl looks exactly the same…), I realized something that quietly tugged at my heartstrings for so long, but I was too afraid to acknowledge and let go of my “identity.” My values had changed. 

The Life of an Actor Wasn’t my Heart’s Calling 

I woke up upon landing in the United States and decided to make a conscious and intentional decision: to move past my ego and to follow my intuition from that point on. 

 

Forcing Myself Into One Last Fight

From the moment I got back into the United States after my miraculous 10 weeks in Europe, I knew things were about to change. I realized I was forever done with the acting profession (the business of “the business” did not suit well with my heart) but I didn’t want to give up without a last fight. I worked an internship for a few months working at a renowned talent agency on 5th avenue, only to confirm that the entertainment industry – both on stage and behind the scenes – was definitely not aligned with my deeper values.

How My Dad’s Sudden Death Changed The Way I Viewed Life

It was at that internship that my dad passed away. I immediately realized how important and fragile life was, how easily it could be swept away. I knew deep down, after his passing, that I was continuing to pursue a New York career in entertainment because I wanted to please others. I had found pride and attention in my achievements.

For so many years, I had found worth in my work. But my work suddenly wasn’t identified with my life anymore.

I knew that I wasn’t in it for my own personal joy anymore. And why should we continue going through our short lives pursuing something that doesn’t align with our values? Why try to force a life just to make people proud?
 
Paris-photographer-photoshoot-sunrise-pont-neuf

Why keep chasing achievement when you’re miserable doing it?

I wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to do with my life. I had no other skills.  Since my early days as a child performer, I acquired no other training, aside from acting, music and dance. But I knew, deep down in my gut, that I had to pursue something with photography.
 
So, without any hesitation, I left my life as an entertainer behind, applied for a credit card, and bought a camera.

I took a leap of faith, I followed courage, and I walked away from something that no longer truly lit me up. 

For the next year, I completely absorbed myself in the art and business of photography. I self-taught myself photography, business strategies, taxes for solo business owners, marketing, graphic design, and Photoshop. 

One thing that has always remained constant in my life, is that when my gut, my intuition, nudges me in a certain direction, you can believe that a decision will be made quickly and effortlessly.

Through the ups-and-downs of my present journey, life has taken unexpected detours, and all when I was least expecting it. But I constantly remained open and flexible, seeing every life event as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

I’ve learned to adjust my sails when a wave appears

I’ve also learned a valuable lesson on patience and trust that year. Despite the awkward moments, penniless days, and frustrating weeks when I felt like I was going absolutely nowhere, I realized that I was.

We are on a life journey that is constantly unfolding and presenting new opportunities and lessons. And the best part of it all is that it is ours and ours alone.

We are the designers of our own, unique lives and we are completely allowed to make mistakes, tweak, adjust, get up and start over again.

Again and again.  The one thing about us, humans, that I am absolutely sure of is our constant need to evolve, shift and change. Nothing is permanent.  As psychologist Will Meek, Ph.D., once said: “Strategic quitting is making a prideful choice to admit that something isn’t working out and to go in a different direction. It’s making a decision to put your energy toward something more fulfilling.”  Instead of equating quitting and change as failure, I decided to think of it as regrouping, switching gears and getting unstuck from my present life circumstance. In essence: I decided to follow my intuition. And that is the best route anyone can take on this journey.

Those ten weeks wandering Europe led me to discover myself, my values and my new-found gifts, and it happened because I booked that one-way ticket to Copenhagen with nothing but a backpack. In those months, I found alignment. I let go of the need to please others, to succeed for the pride of others.

I let go of the need for achievement and importance and found pleasure. Pleasure in life, in travel, in discovery, in hobbies and personal fulfillnes. 

I found alignment with my intuition, alignment with my values and a realization that it was perfectly okay to let go of the life I once led by.

This is how my life changed when I discovered the art and pleasure of traveling.

 

More Words on Following Your Intuition Here

 

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How My Life Changed When I Began Traveling

February 8, 2017

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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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