One year ago today, I turned 30. I’ve never been one to care too much about getting older, but in the months before my thirtieth birthday, anxiety and panic began to creep in. I spent the last day of my twenties obsessively washing windows (stress-cleaning?), and when I woke up the next day I was almost angry that my birthday had dared to arrive. Thirty. THIRTY. How could I be thirty??

My two dear friends took me out to lunch that day to celebrate. They had both entered their thirties a few years ahead of me, and though they kept telling me how great the thirties are, they knew I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect. Being the sweet souls that they are, they waited until I had finished my margarita before gingerly asking me why I was so upset about turning thirty. I started to make a joke, but then surprised both them and myself when my voice cracked and my eyes began to well up.

“I know I shouldn’t feel this way,” I began, blinking hard. “I have a beautiful family, great friends, a cozy house. I’m lucky to be alive. I’m just not where I thought I’d be at thirty.”

It was the first time I’d ever said it out loud, and the statement seemed to confuse my friends a little- honestly, it surprised me too. I’d spent my twenties working hard for that beautiful family, great friends and cozy house- what could possibly be missing? I knew the answer deep down, but it would take me a few months more to have the courage to say it out loud, and longer still to actually act on it.

I wanted my own photography business.

It was something I’d been quietly working towards in my twenties, but never could quite make happen. Something always stopped me from going for it - I wanted more experience, I wanted to save more money, I wasn’t sure yet what type of photography I wanted to focus on. All valid reasons. However something about turning thirty made me realize that there really was only one big reason I hadn’t taken the plunge with my own business yet: a lack of confidence. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t confident in my work or my talent, but that I was afraid of what people would think of me if I actually put it out into the world that this was something I wanted to do, and thought I should do professionally.

How silly. Right?

It took a lot of time, and a lot of soul-searching, but I decided that I was finally out of excuses, and I just couldn’t let my thirtieth year go by without giving this thing a try. I began to lay the groundwork- getting a portfolio together, a website, getting set up with a print lab, getting legal loose ends taken care of. In December, when everything was finally ready to go, I made my big announcement by Facebook, e-mail, and Instagram. I let loose the news into the big, wide Internet, and then scurried back into my shell like a turtle, hoping at the same time that no one and everyone knew. Kelly Kester Photography was open for business. Terrifying.

It’s funny, it always felt like the story should end there- our heroine finally overcomes her demons, gets her groove back, and does something daring for herself. End scene, fade to black, everyone claps. But as it turns out, the story goes on.

I had coffee earlier this week with a friend who is a fellow photographer. We had a great time swapping stories and comparing notes on our respective businesses. At one point towards the end of the evening, a thoughtful look came over her face and she cocked her head.

“Kelly, when you talk about your business sometimes you look kind of like you’ve been kicked. These are the early stages, you can make your business be anything you want it to be! Aren’t you excited?”  

I took a sip of my coffee, and thought back on my birthday lunch last year with my friends, when I cried because I felt so lost and unsure of myself. As I formed my answer to my photographer friend, I marveled at how far I’d come.

“I am excited- I just know that my business isn’t quite where I want it to be yet. But that’s ok. I’ll figure it out. I’ll get there.”

I’m not sure what this all will come to- when I’ve finally gotten my business to where I want it to be, what will that look like? More shoots? Sure, but what else? I can’t quite articulate it yet- but I do know that 31 seems like a good year to get there. And at 31, I think I’m finally learning to get out of my own way, and have a little confidence, darn it.

In my thirtieth year, I took a giant leap of faith. As I enter my thirty-first year, I’m realistic about the hard work it will take to make this business into what I want it to be. But you know what? I’m excited. And I hope you’ll come along on this journey with me as I try to figure it all out - not with apprehension, but with confidence.

It turns out that my friends were right: the thirties are fantastic.