I can't exactly remember how on Instagram I found out about Blair and Thurston Retreats but I knew the moment I visited the site it was something I needed to do. As soon as I laid eyes on that home page image, I wanted what it was offering – that experience. Just like the way a great photo can elicit a response, I envisioned myself as one of those people, sitting in a circle, listening with intent. I was in the early stages of a photography journey that needed some kind of charge and I knew it had to be different than the typical class or workshop route. So I called my college roommie, Karen, asked her to join me on this unknown yet exciting ride, and clicked that register button knowing there would be eight months of waiting in anticipation ahead of me. In the meantime, I practiced almost daily on my technicals, got to know the extremely likable social media personas of Bre and Elena, and tried to find my inner voice in a sea of endless chatter.
I had never been to a retreat before I arrived at Sonoma Broadway Farms that sunny morning in April. Other than an emailed outline of the three-day itinerary, neither Karen nor I knew what to expect. We were the last ones to arrive at check-in and seeing that circle of strangers before me laughing, mingling and having a good time, a circle that I knew I had to walk into, completely petrified me. I questioned my right to be there. Am I good a enough photographer? Will I learn anything or just be lost? Will they like me or think I'm a fraud? All these negative thoughts started funneling out of me and before I even met any one new, I convinced myself that I didn't belong.
At the same time though, I felt a weight lifting off of me when I finally got to meet Elena and Bre in real life and those 13 strangers who actually made the same fateful decision as me to be here on this journey. Not only did I have zero kids to look after and zero decisions to make, every aspect of the next few days was effortlessly laid out and planned for me. It was a shock to my system to have something like this all to myself. I literally just had to show up everyday and be me.
This experience that Elena and Bre pour their hearts and souls into creating? It's unreal and worth a lifetime of self-care and learning. They make you feel instantly relaxed by choosing a peaceful and beautiful location. They bring in a private chef to prepare those fresh, gourmet meals that put Sonoma on the culinary map. They share the stories that helped shape who they each are as women and artists, and they start engaging and profound conversations that touch on each of our personal journeys and the quest for where we see ourselves heading. Between all the lessons and activities, they built in plenty of downtime to build new friendships or reflect inwardly. And, they carve out space to practice and learn from one another by bringing in a family to photograph and encouraging photo sessions with each other. Professional head shots of me taken by 14 pro photographers? Heck yeah. They think of every single detail to make it only about us and our craft.
Little did I know that the overwhelming doubt I arrived with would be the one thing that would be obliterated by the time I left. I remember Elena saying very clearly that goals are achieved infinitely more if they're written down or spoken aloud. Guess what one of my favorite moments during the retreat was? Going around that once intimidating circle and hearing each of us say out loud our intentions. The notion that we – this new group of friends and virtual co-workers – can hold each other accountable for all of our goals and lift each other up as we all work to achieve them. It's something I never could have found had we all not made the choice to click that register button. It's a memory that I'll hold close to my heart selfishly and dearly. All by myself. For myself. Forever.