10 Lessons in 10 Years

Happy new year everyone and welcome to the wonderful world of 2020! I am so excited for the fresh start to the year: the chance for renewal, the chance to set some awesome goals, the chance to create plans to actually achieve those goals, and all the camaraderie that comes with surviving another year around the sun.

I wanted to take a minute on this photography blog to give you a little more insight into the lady behind the lens and how my life has evolved and changed so dramatically since 2010. I’ll also throw in some life lessons I’ve learned along the way for you all to enjoy (or laugh at the crazy mistakes I’ve made because lets face it, we all need to laugh at ourselves sometimes).

2010: Trust your gut, no matter what!

Our first Christmas together. {2010}

This was the year that I decided to dive in head first and start dating my now husband, Sean. There were a lot of reasons that I could come up with to not date him: we were both busy in college trying to pass classes, he was (and still is) best friends with my ex-boyfriend, he had that personality of the cool and charismatic guy that could get any girl her wanted so why in the world would he want to date me…..and the list goes on. There was also the moment that he turned to me and he asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said no! I didn’t think it was fair to my ex and to his friend and I didn’t want to start drama. At this stage in my life, the only drama I wanted was on Grey’s Anatomy. We then spent some time apart and I realized I really missed him and I made a mistake and went back and decided to say yes instead, and the rest is history. So what I am trying to say is, if it feels right and you gut tells you it is right, go for it even if you can come up with a million excuses to not do it.

2011: If you both want to make it work, it will work.

Meeting up for my birthday. {2011}

This was the year that I graduated from Michigan State University (GO SPARTANS) with a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design & Photography. It was also the year that Sean transferred to the University of Toledo to finish his engineering degree and we began our long distance relationship. Now I know what they say about long distance relationships, they never make it. After all, it was not a short walk across campus to see Sean anymore. Our relationship turned into a two hour drive to see each other. This was something that we both thought about a lot and we talked about even more. Not only was I worried about maintaining this relationship while finishing my college education, but I was worried that I couldn’t hold on to someone so special to me because of the distance and the fact that he had broken up with his high school girlfriend for that exact reason. At the end of the day, we both decided that this thing was something we both wanted to hold on to and we were going to be honest with each other if that ever changed. I have had a few friends go through a similar transition in their lives and I always tell them that if you both decide to make it work, than it will work and if one of you isn’t committed to making it work, then it never will. This conviction led to long hours on the phone and long drives to visit each other and growing our love even stronger than when we were just across campus from each other. This love eventually led to our marriage.

2012: Life needs things to live.

One of my first Biggby trainees after the ice bucket challenge. {2012} | Photo Credit: Anjru Coral Photo + Film

In the wise words of Lord Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III of Whitestone (you can call him Percy), “Life needs things to live.” It’s a rather silly quote when you think about it, but it’s so much better when you think about it more. You need things in life to really live. You need the basics like food and water and shelter and money to make all of those things happen, but you also need family and friends and relationships and loving each other to really feel like you are living. These are the lessons I learned when I graduated from college and spent some time bored out of my mind with no friends and no prospects sitting in my mom’s basement trying to figure out how one gets a job in graphic design that would fill me with a feeling of really contributing something to the world. After months of no success, I found out that a couple that were leaders in my high school youth group had recently opened up a Biggby Coffee franchise not far from my mom’s house. I applied and quickly got into training and learning all about coffee. I was already a little familiar with the brand since the company was originally founded with their first location in East Lansing across the street from my Alma Mater (and next door to the best bar in town), but there was so much more to learn about how Biggby approached customer service.

Like I said before, humans need the basics like food and water and all that jazz, and Biggby provides that in the form of a delicious cup of coffee. However, there is more to it than just your caffeine fix. Biggby also prides itself on every customer leaving the coffee shop in a better mood than when they arrived and making each customer feel cozy and welcome and at home when they enjoy their latte. I took that as a challenge to make sure I at least said hi and asked how each person’s day was as I prepared their coffee.  I talked to people having good days and bad days. I talked to a wedding party on their wedding day picking up that extra boost before the reception. I learned all about how to tie a bow tie from a very sharp dressed gentleman that came in every morning (don’t ask me to, I have since forgotten). I heard stories of people’s lives and jobs and all the things that they loved and hated and what the hot gossip was and what exciting events or challenges life was bringing their way. I got to know some awesome regulars and hear some amazing stories. After conversations with the owner, I realized that a lot of the people come for the human interaction and feeling like they are genuinely heard. People need these non-tangible things like love and connection and feeling safe and comfortable to really live…and the extra shot of espresso helps too!

2013: Life is a dance, you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.

Dancing with my favorite dance partner. {2013}

 

As mentioned before, Sean had transferred to the University of Toledo to finish his degree. As part of his time there, he wanted to join a club or do something fun with his time in college besides classes, so he joined the University of Toledo Ballroom Dance Society. This, of course, led me to visiting him on weekends to take a lesson or two and learn some moves of my own. To be completely honest, I am not the most coordinated person in the world. I trip over my own feet and I run into furniture that hasn’t moved in years or ever. Dancing was a whole new level of coordination and learning to be graceful and follow the lead of another dancer that became quite a huge challenge. It took a lot of work and a lot of practice, but it was also a lot of fun. I learned a new skill and can now go to pretty much any dance studio and stumble my way through most ballroom dances. I also was blessed with some new friends and getting watch as Sean developed into an amazing dancer. From a brand new student to competing in national level competitions and becoming the president of the club, watching Sean grow and learn and lead something he loved was a wonderful experience and getting to stand beside him and support him was pretty great too.

2014: The best way to learn is to teach and the best joy comes from watching a student succeed.

Photo shoot with fellow co-workers at the Biggby Coffee corporate office. {2014} | Photo Credit: LE Photography

This was an interesting year for me. I spent the end of 2013 and early 2014 working at a sign shop making and designing signs. Trying to do that whole “pursue a career that you got your degree in” thing. I learned a lot of interesting things, but the most important one was that I did not want to make signs for a living. I ventured back to Biggby and worked there for a few months before a position opened up at the corporate office level. Since their office was located minutes away from Michigan State and I would get to spend my time with a company I loved in a city I loved, it was a no-brainer to apply. Part of my interview process involved teaching the two interviewers something so I taught them some of my ballroom dance skills. They learned a basic rumba move, and I got the job. I had a variety of responsibilities in my new corporate job that included a lot of traveling, doing secret shopper visits to stores, making videos for our training website, and my personal favorite, leading training for new locations and walking new owners through the process. I had a pretty firm handle on how to work the line at a coffee shop, but there are so many other behind the scenes things that happen to get you a delicious cup of coffee that I got to learn through teaching others about it. I fell in love with teaching and to this day, I still work hard to get back to teaching. One of my big career goals in photography is to be an educator. I have worked with a lot of great photographers over the past few years and I greatly appreciate the time and effort that they invest in me to help me be as successful as I can be and this is a gift I hope to one day impart on the future generation of photographers.

2015: It only takes one person believing in your idea for it to happen, and sometimes that person has to be you.

 

Two proud marathon finishers. {2015}

Do you every say something and then think “wow, that’s stupid”? Then you take it a step further and tell your boyfriend your stupid idea and he agrees that the stupid idea is a good idea and wants to join you in this stupid idea so you can both be extra stupid together. Yeah, this is what happened in 2015 for Sammy and Sean. I had completed my first half-marathon in Detroit in October of 2014. It was hard and long, but I had so much fun and running became a great way to stay active after college and not having marching band six days per week anymore. Finishing the half-marathon made me want to the a full and cross that accomplishment off my list. I picked up a coach (Mike Andersen, former Detroit Marathon winner), got my first pair of Newtons, and began my training. It didn’t go super smoothly and I am no where close to being an expert runner, but I did learn that running is much more of a mental game than a physical game. You can get your body in the best shape of your life and be able to make all the pieces fall into place, but if you don’t believe you can make it to the finish line, you will give up and never make it there. Getting your mind ready for a marathon is just as important is building the endurance and having the right nutrition and race-day fueling to make it through the 26.2 mile run. Also, have a good pair of shoes. The marathon training taught me a lot about our relationship as Sean was training while living in Pittsburgh for his post-graduation job. (By the way, for those of you keeping track, it is now a four and a half hour drive for our long distance relationship). We both struggled with it and knew that the long training runs were hard and they sucked and we did not want to do them sometimes, but we kept cheering each other on and encouraging each other and we did that every step of the way through race day. There were times when Sean wanted to default into his days of running cross country 5K races and I had to hold him back and slow him down and there were times when I didn’t want to keep going and he pushed me to just put one foot in front of the other and just keep running. Also, the promise of a well-earned beer at the finish line was a good motivation. We ended up crossing the finish line 6 hours after we started and celebrated that victory together. That year, I learned a lot about running, a lot about mental strength, and a lot about how supporting each other and believing in yourself can help you overcome some crazy challenges and accomplish some amazing things.

2016: Planning a wedding is like juggling plates that are on fire while riding a unicycle on the edge of a cliff.

My day as a bride. {2016} | Photo Credit: Alicia Matthews Photography

Okay, so it wasn’t actually that bad. It was actually a really fun process. That’s right, to all the couples out there reading this, wedding planning can be fun and you are allowed to enjoy it! Sean proposed on January 2, 2016 in front of the big, well-lit Christmas tree at the Toledo Zoo surrounded by our families. My mom and brother came because they had never seen the zoo before and his parents came because he wanted them to be there for this special moment in his life. Then the process began of planning our wedding. We wanted to get married at a beautiful Catholic church near Michigan State where we met and we wanted a fall wedding that didn’t coincide with an MSU football home game and didn’t take his family away from a big Buckeye game either, which left us with October 1, 2016 and 9 months to plan a wedding. Working connections and keeping an eye out was the best strategy for wedding planning that I had for getting all the things checked off my list. I worked with some connections through my sorority to find a DJ, explored a wedding show to find a photographer and party bus, looked at every wedding venue in the area to find the one that would fit our family and a large dance floor for our friends, and found a florist while driving around East Lansing and seeing a van delivering flowers and called the number on the side of the van. We also did the pre-marriage classes through the church and learned a lot about each other and how our future would be together. My biggest take-away from the whole process was that at the end of the wedding day, nothing matters. Yes, you can go back again and check, I promise you read that right, a professional wedding photographer is telling you that all the blood, sweat, tears, and money you spend on the wedding day doesn’t matter. I tell all the couples I work with that things will go wrong in your planning process and things will get messed up and fall behind schedule on your wedding day and it is ok. I will do my best to work with the vendor team to make sure we can fix any issues and make sure your day goes off without a hitch and most of the time, you won’t even know anything happened. If something does happen though, the only thing that matters is that you and your special someone and the officiant all show up and you get to get married. All the other things are just a bonus on top to make your day special and unique to the both of you. The most important thing to focus on is setting up your marriage for success. Have all the hard conversations, make communication important, take the other person’s wants and needs and put them above your own and make sacrifices for each other. My best advice for any couple is to have fun planning the wedding and party it up on your wedding day, but put even more effort into planning your marriage and making it even more fun and awesome and successful than one special day.

2017: How not to start a photography business.

My first set of photographer headshots. {2017} | Photo Credit: Jadie Photo

 

Life started to move pretty fast for me after our wedding. We got home from our honeymoon, I left my amazing job at Biggby Coffee corporate, and I moved to Akron to live with my husband. Then 2017 began and everything came to a screeching halt. I was sitting in an apartment having just quit the job that I loved and was now living in a new state with no nearby friends and nothing to do and a bit money in the bank account. So I decided to do what I had dreamed about since college and make Samantha Coyle Photography happen. So I did the things you do when you think you know how to start a business: I combed through some photos that I had from second shooting and assisting for other photographers, I completely guessed at some pricing packages, I threw together a website and some business cards, I registered an LLC and I signed up for a wedding show that was way too expensive for where my business was at that point….and I booked zero weddings. ZERO. WEDDINGS.

So at that point, i didn’t know what to do next. I started just putting my name out there in Facebook groups, I joined some networking communities, and I did everything I could think of to figure out how to run a business and learned that I made tons and tons and tons of mistakes in those first few months of bored desperation. Thankfully, the friends I’ve made in the industry since then, the experiences that I’ve had, the classes I’ve taken, and the time and money I have put into making my business bigger and better has definitely paid off. This amazing title of photographer has given me some amazing couples, a career that I love, and some really great friends that I couldn’t see myself without….and I couldn’t see any of them without sharing a glass of wine and a laugh at all the crazy things that have happened at our weddings.

Oh, and we also bought a house in 2017 so that was a wild ride too.

2018: Put your fate in your hands, take a chance, and roll the dice.

Dungeons & Dragons 20 sided die. {2018}

Alright, the cat is out of the bag and the news is out there for the world to know. I, Samantha Coyle, am a huge nerd. I’m talking Minecraft server with crazy mod packs, Settlers of Catan at every family gathering, crime dramas on the tv all the time, Broadway musical sing-along on every road trip, marching band member…you know, that kind of nerd. The fact that it took until I was 27-28 years old to start playing Dungeons and Dragons is still something that confuses me to this day.

I’m the more of social outgoing one in our marriage. I need to be going out and doing something or exploring something or making new friends to feel recharged and ready to take on life. The idea of sitting at home editing and working on photography all day every day, while it gives me so much joy, deprives me of that human interaction that I love so very very much. My brother had recently turned me on to Critical Role, a weekly 4-ish hour live video stream turned podcast featuring some professional voice actors playing D&D. It soon became my editing background noise and it still is. I fell in love with the game and knew I needed to play it. I found a local game shop that connected players and made a few new friends and now I play in two in-person games with the same group of people (we alternate weeks) and an online game with Sean, one of our college friends, and a dungeon master in California that we met online.

I really love how D&D makes you think differently about the world. When you play D&D, there is always a set of steps that every player goes through. First, you have to come up with a character and how they think and feel and act and interact with with world. You then have to filter every decision you make in the game through that viewpoint and make sure you do it in a way that is true to your character. Lastly, you have to roll the dice and see how successful your character is at whatever they want to do. In real life, I have found that everyone in the world has a lot of challenges that mirror the choices you need to make in D&D. You have to first decide who you are in the world. What do you believe in? What motivates you? What do you hate? What do you love? What makes you the uniquely awesome person that you are in this crazy world? Then, you need to decide what you want to do with yourself and this person that you have created for the world that you live in. How do you want to make an impact? How do you want to give back those that give to you or to those that need it the most? What do you want to do with your family? What do you want to do with your career? What do you want to do with your free time? What do you want to be amazing at and spend your life perfecting? Then you just have to roll the dice. You have to dive in and try something and be creative with your solutions. If your first roll is bad, how do you adjust to get a better outcome next time? How to you take that bad roll and turn it into a fun situation? What if you are really awesome at something, but your teammate is struggling? How can you use your skills to lift everyone up and make the whole party better. Put your fate in your hands, take a chance, and roll the dice.

And speaking of bad dice rolls…

2019: When life hands you lemons, your throw them back and demand a big glass of wine.

Our adorable pup, Jesse. {2019}

Oh dear! This past year was full of struggles of all shapes and sizes. We started the year with our dog, Jesse, getting some sort of stomach bug that required three expensive vet visits and a round of medication to clear up. Then he shared water bowls with a dog at some point and got the dog version of HPV on his lips, which I didn’t even know was a thing, but led to another few rounds of vet visits and medication and months of hoping the warts would eventually fall off and he would look handsome again. Good news, they did! Also, throw in a job transition for Sean, a few rounds of bumps and bruises in the growing of a business for me, and a new air conditioner for the house and you could say that 2019 was not a kind year for our wallets. I’ll be honest, we struggled, we cried, we analyzed our budget a hundred times to try and cut out any little thing that we could and we managed to scrape by and make it to 2020 in one piece. And if I’m being super honest, I got through the hardest parts with a glass of wine, a deep breath, and waking up each day determined to make it better than the last.

2020: The adventure begins…

Our happy little family today. {2020} | Photo Credit: Karissa Rene Photography

So at this point, you are probably wondering what I’m looking forward to in 2020, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that I am looking forward to moving forward. I want to give more people that warm and fuzzy big cup of coffee feeling. I want to walk hand-in-hand with my couples to guide them through the process of wedding planning and make sure they enjoy it just like I did. I want to see that light in the eyes of a senior who is ready to run off to the next stage of their life and fall in love with whatever and whoever they fancy. I want to make the hard decisions and roll the dice and work toward a solution with my fellow party members. I want take all the challenges and lessons that I have learned over the past 10 years and make 2020 the best year it can possibly be.

January 3, 2020

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Samantha Coyle