Everyday Icons: The Portrait Photographer

Need an inspired kick in the pants? Read our portrait photographer interview with author/speaker Karen Walrond.

Image Credit: Maile Wilson

Every so often, you meet someone who leaves a mark on your soul. Karen Walrond is one of those rare individuals for us, and after spending a few minutes with this multi-talented TEDx speaker, bestselling author and high-in-demand photographer, we have an inkling her story will leave a mark on yours, as well.

First things first: you were a lawyer and are now a bestselling author, renowned speaker and incredible photographer. Holy 180! What was the impetus for the change, and what challenges did you face embarking on a completely new, unfamiliar journey? How did those challenges shape your current life philosophy?

It's a huge change, isn't it? And what makes it seem even more improbable is that I actually had a great career as a lawyer: I traveled all over the world, I made good money, and I'd developed a good reputation. It was sort of perfect ... on paper. The problem was that I honestly didn't have a lot of passion around the law, nor was I practicing in an industry that I really believed in. As a result, I was really drained and unhappy. I finally decided that something had to give.

The one aspect of law that I did have a lot of passion around was the writing and the speaking (I worked in-house, and created huge contracts and a lot of employee education on the law). I had also developed a strong photography hobby. So I decided to see what I could do with those passions instead, quit my job, and here I am!

And you combined those passions so perfectly. Your book (and eye-opening TED talk), The Beauty of Different, offers a remarkable perspective on beauty. What are some thing you learned, personally, as you focused on the redefinition of beauty?

I don't know that I learned anything in focusing on beauty's redefinition, so much as confirmed something. Having traveled to as many countries as I did when I was practicing law, I was able to really see the diversity that exists in the world -- and the beauty that is so easy to see when you're completely out of your own element and comfort zone (as I mention in that TED talk). I started to suspect that "beauty" was being too narrowly defined -- by our own cultures, by Corporate America -- and that if we just stopped to look, we'd see the same diversity of beauty in our own communities. I'm thrilled to say that I was right.

You were indeed! So you're obviously juggling a pretty packed multidisciplinary creative career. How do you stay organized and on top if your workload? And how do you balance this career with your personal life? Are the two symbiotic for you, or do you compartmentalize?

How do I stay organized? Not as well as I'd like! But I'm a huge journaler, and I start my days by journaling at least 2 pages before I turn on my computer, just stream-of-conscious writing, whatever comes to mind -- I find it "gets the cobwebs out," and doing a huge mind download at the beginning of the day helps me to focus on the day ahead. And then, of course, I'm a big fan of the to-do list, which is how I always end my journaling, before getting started with my day.

As far as balancing career with personal life -- I've actually recently given up on that, somewhat. I mean, I do try to make sure that my traveling away from my family doesn't get out of hand, but other than that, I really don't think about it too much. Because I'm in such a creative field, there are aspects of my work that my daughter and my husband can join me (particularly with travel or photography), so that helps. And occasionally, I'll take a few days and fully unplug. But honestly? I love what I do, with a passion that I didn't think was possible. And I feel like doing something that I'm passionate about, especially if I can include my family in certain aspects of it, is good for all of us, especially my daughter.

What is your advice to other women seeking a complete and drastic career change? What are some tangible steps they can take toward this goal?

This is such a huge question, and not an easy one to answer. But here are some thoughts:

1) Be sure that you're running toward something, not just running away from a bad job. Spend some time truly thinking about what it is you love to do, what you're passionate about, and how you can use those passions together to make a sustainable living. Leaving a job you hate, because you "sort of like writing" isn't enough -- because eventually writing will tire you, too. When it comes to finding your passions, ask yourself, "What would I do every day, even if I never, ever got paid for it?" Your answer will be a first clue as to the direction you might face.

2) Do the research. Once you've sort of decided what you think you might be interested in, start looking at to what it takes to do it full time: do you need additional education? Do you need a lifestyle change? Do you need more practice? Ask people who are doing similar jobs what the love about it, and what they hate about it. Really learn as much as you can about it as possible.

3) Make a plan. Even though it might look like people who make drastic career changes have take a huge leap, my experience is that the ones who are most successful have actually meticulously thought out the move. If it requires doing something part time first while you save your money or learn a craft, do that (I blogged and did photography for years before I took the leap, for example). Determine if you have a secondary source of income or enough savings to sustain you for some time while you take the leap, and have a back-up plan.

Then, once you've done the above thoroughly, leap. Life's too short to remain unhappy.

Amen! Along that vein, Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?

Some years ago (and inspired by your own executive editor Erin Loechner, actually!), I wrote a personal mission statement, and one part of it reads that my goal is to "convince the skeptical of their uncommon beauty, and create tools for helping the weary see the beauty in their own lives." Given this, I think my mission maps beautifully with that of Clementine Daily's!

You're in a mid-afternoon funk. How do you pull through?

I grab my camera and go for a walk. A change of scenery works for me every, single time.

What is your personal motto or mantra?

I recently heard the following quote from Aristotle: "Where the talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation." I wish I had heard this quote years ago, and have been meditating on it ever since!

And what are five everyday items you can't bear to live without?

Only five?! Well, okay, let's see:

1) My Nikon D4. I actually have several other cameras, both film and digital, and I love them all, but this one is definitely my go-to camera and sees more action than the others. I'd die if something happened to it.

2) My journal. It's my sidekick, and I use it all day long, to jot down notes, messages, a good fortune-cookie fortune.

3) My smart phone. I can check my email, listen to my music (including the music I do yoga to), and oh yes, make calls.

4) Two gold bracelets given to me by my grandmother. They are a very traditionally Trinidadian design (where I'm from), and were originally her grandmother's sister's bracelets. I wear them every day.

5) A small piece of dark chocolate at the end of the day. I eat pretty well, and otherwise don't eat sugars or other sweeteners, save for this guilty indulgence.

See what we mean? Thank you, Karen, for spending a few moments with us today!

p.s. For more inspired interviews, check out a few more of our Everyday Icons here.