GUEST POST: Finding home after feeling shitty, sad, brittle and off course from any sense of purpose for too long

(Photo by Fotio)

This is a Guest Post by Hillary Johnson, a giant hearted photographer. I mean: “Every time I do a job, receive a commission, I donate equivalent services to someone who needs it. Think headshots for young people just out of school looking for their first job. Puppies in need of adoption. Things like that.” And this isn’t just copy on her website. I’ve seen her generosity in action over and over and over.

She came into my world through another Cheese-It when she came to watch said Cheese-It at Idea Potluck, a monthly speaker series Best Friend and I used to run. And, thankfully, Hillary never left. She’s a Bootcamper, a Fear Experiment’er, a Camper, and lots of other ‘ers. She’s hard to shake. In the best way.

Because she’s so beautifully open and cheerlead’y, I knew that she’s had a good experience with Mac & Cheese; she tells me so often. But reading this unexpected surprise reflection, I realized I didn’t realize the impact depth. To say she squeezed my heart with below isn’t a strong enough statement but I’m at a loss for stronger; so, SQUEEZE.

Since I met Hillary, she’s been trying to “figure it out” where “it” is “how to make a living doing her passion”, an it for so many of us, yes? And while she’s still on her journey — aren’t we all, forever? — she has landed. She is doing it. And I couldn’t be happier for her. And couldn’t be happier that Best Friend and I had a part in her it. It away, giant hearted Friend, it away.

Hey beautiful hoomans. Listen up, please. This is a little last minute but… there may be a couple spots left for you to do this crazy awesome thing.

This Very Cool Thing is called FEAR EXPERIMENT (FE).

The wonderful person behind it is Saya Hillman – the accessible Oprah! She runs Mac & Cheese Productions which is all kinds of awesome goodness for your life.

Basic idea?

Go solo to learn a new art form that you don’t know or don’t know well, or maybe it scares you to think about doing it (maybe not, maybe it’s just been a while) and then after about two months of rehearsing, you perform in front of 700 people at the Park West!


FE starts in March and you should totally apply to do it, if you feel like:

  • you could use a little shake up to the old routine
  • you want some awesome new friends who will totally have your back
  • you want to have more courage in the face of life’s inevitable difficulties
  • you want to try something new, fun and totally different that may or may not scare you
  • you think laughing is good for the health
  • you think everyone deserves to get some major applause now and again

And now if you permit me, I’m gonna get all emotional and deep…

I was in FE 11 two years ago and being part of that experience and learning Improv (the art form I picked) from Pete Aiello was the beginning of a major redirection in my life that was long overdue. I had spent years hiding out from who I really was and what I was really supposed to be doing with my life and I was just tired of feeling shitty and sad and brittle and off course from any sense of purpose. And I had tried everything and if you know me, you know how true that is. And how many of us are stuck in shitty ruts and feel like we have no choice?

I think that’s lots of us.

It’s actually hard for me to say how much of a positive impact doing FE had without sounding a little WOO WOO but learning improv from Pete and with this incredible group of people was like not only coming home to myself after a long time away but like I hadn’t really known there was a home that could be mine.

Learning improv in this very specific context (not to be famous but to grow and have fun) was a deeply spiritual experience actually that taught me about a kind of love and generosity and compassion that I had never known growing up. Never even dreamed of. My world view was shattered for something way better.

And it was different than some profound experiences I’ve had with spiritual teachers within a religious context. But I think what made this in part, so powerful, was that is happened in a totally secular context, with other brave people just doing their best to be human and that there was this profound sense of connection and deep learning and CRAZY FUN and oh my God the laughing till we all cried.

And one of the deep lessons was everyone has a superpower and it’s a damn shame if everyone doesn’t get a chance to discover theirs and then share that gift of awesomeness with the world because this world needs everyone’s superpowers.

For real.

Even mine.

Even yours.

And now I get to be a photographer every single day and make work that feels important and beautiful and necessary and is of service.

I get to live in my purpose and make photos that help people build their dreams whatever they might be by creating a safe space in my studio where they can let themselves truly be seen and appreciated and look fantastic.


I get to make photographs of remote wild places that celebrate their beauty and vulnerability and connect those images to our own fragile and beautiful lives in ways that transcend talk of climate change, a phrase which can make people’s eyes glaze over and which don’t really connect us immediately and directly with what’s going on.

And living with that kind of authenticity and awe and love is all I ever really wanted, more than money or things.

And I have Saya and Pete and the whole IE7 crew to thank for shoving me sometimes reluctantly but now with deep gratitude, down that path.

Here’s a short film about FE and what it was like for some folks before you. Give it a watch. Then apply apply quick!

If  you want to help Hillary on her journey to her it, hire her. For your event. For your headshot. For your organization. You know I’m uber selective about who makes my famous Service Provider Referral List on my FAQ page, especially in fields where I know a gazillion XYZs. Like photographers. Hillary is one of the two photographers on said list, cause skills, yes, but more importantly, she stinks of Life of Yes℠.