Sarah Lehberger | Portrait Photographer | Fairfield County, CT » Celebrating the Dreamers and the Doers of the World

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Sentimental + Sincere Family Portraits

I know why you are so sentimental. I feel the same way. My eyes well up with emotions just thinking about how treasured this time is with my family. It’s sacred. It’s beloved. It’s cherished. And, I know fully well that it will be even more so in the future, because…

…there will come a time when they won’t need you to zipper them up.

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…there will come a time when he trades his perfect little bowl (hair) cut for something trendy that the big kids have.

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…there will come a time when they won’t ask you to cuddle on the couch and read them stories.

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…there will come a time when they won’t rest easily on your shoulders, fit nice and cozy on your lap, or tuck perfectly below your chin where you can smell their shampoo and sticky fingers.

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…there will come a time when they won’t snuggle up on your chest as you lay relaxing on the couch.

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…there will come a time when her softest bunny will no longer sooth her or dry her tears.

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…there will come a time when they will hide their silly faces and spunky personalities from the camera.

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…there will come a time when you look back and remember how fleeting these moments were.

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My hope for you is that as you look back on these photographs in five, fifteen or thirty years from now, you will remember just how exciting, dreamy and adventurous your life has been. 

I pray that each of you will look back on this time and realize that these really were (and are) the best of times, because “a happy family is but an earlier heaven”. – George Bernard Shaw

SarahXOXO

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Healing + Inspiration. Where Do You Find Yours?

In the midst of the chaos that is my life right now, I found myself feeling rather empty. I’ve been looking for my next inspiration. To fill the void. To remind myself of my own worth.

I know I am not alone in feeling BLAH during the winter months. I always get the blues this time of year. Yet I know that this is more than just the seasonal blues. I’ve been feeling like I’m stuck in a creative slump. My photographer and artist friends get it. Business people feel it too at times. We all get stuck in a rut, and need fresh ideas to get us out of our creative “block” or to push us outside of our comfort zones. This is why I launched my #RedefineFeminism Project. I am just getting it off of the ground and I had intended on working on it and finding models while I attended a photography conference in Maine a little over a week ago.

Inspire Photo Retreats is my all time favorite work conference that I head to once a year, and this was my 5th year attending. It’s a place where I go to get bear hugged by some of my favorite people, find inspiration, and get my learn on. I can still remember my first trip to Inspire and how nervous I was. I talked about it on a photography industry blog and I remember wanting to shout it from the rooftops to everyone I knew that they needed to go and connect with this amazing community of photographers! So each year I returned and hoped to gain more from my colleagues, peers and educators.

Then, life happened this year. I told myself, “you are going to need to sit this one out”. It’s been a series of trials and challenges for us on the home front, so I intended on giving things the attention they needed. Of course I was bummed and I knew I’d be watching my social media feeds blow up with all the photos and hilarities, so it would be torture not being at the conference or around the people who fill my cup (in more ways than one). ;-)

And then I got a request to speak at Inspire… which I wasn’t expecting. The universe, she is funny this way. Sometimes she knows where you need to be and finds a way to get you there. So, I accepted the offer and gladly gave my interview on Tiffinbox, a blog aimed at inspiring photographers, discussing my experience and “How Brand Storytelling is Crucial to Staying Ahead of the Game”.

I showed up and truthfully, I was feeling pretty broken. I was preparing my presentation and I was feeling so un-worthy of even speaking. I spoke the year before at Inspire, but that experience was so very different. That talk was purely motivational and inspirational. I could do THAT. This talk about marketing and branding was feeling so out of my league. I thought to myself, “who is even going to come to my presentation”? I was sure that the room would barely fill. And let’s face it… no one wants to listen to a “no name” photographer who they’ve barely heard of. They want the “rock stars”, right? The big names, with the ginormous following, and the ones who get paid to be on the speaker/teacher circuit. Yeah, that’s not me.

I soon realized that I was judging myself. I do this sometimes because if I can say all of the horrible and negative things about myself, than I will have beat them to the punch. I wouldn’t be so shocked or dismayed when or if they said… “she sucked” or they stood up and walked out. My fear and self-judgment had taken over my mind, and yet I had to walk in there and give the presentation anyway.

They clipped on my mic, connected my laptop to the projector, and I began. And slowly, the room filled. I was shocked! I continued on and powered through just hoping that someone would take away a few nuggets of information and find value in it. I had been talking for an hour and 20 minutes when I realized, I’ve almost made it through! And then one by one, you lined up to talk with me afterwards. Thank you, all of you, for making me feel like I had something worthy to share with you (even if I do make some pretty awkward faces and lots of hand motions while I talk)! Huge thanks to the incredible Kate McElwee for these images too!

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I’ll spare you all the details, but I was a different person two weeks prior to Inspire. My heart was lighter and happier. I received heavy news that would forever change me prior to coming. And what you all did to remind me that I am not alone and that I have something to offer the world, it lifted my spirits. It reminded me of my worth and of my gifts. And that I need to keep sharing them. So thank you!!

Mark, Enna and Eric of the Inspire Planning Team, thank you all for believing in me once more and giving me the opportunity to be a part of this incredible community in so many ways! To all of the beautiful souls who met with me for mentoring (Nicole, Jaimee, Robyn, Maureen, Heather and Nicole), our time together was nothing short of awesome! Each one of you brought your vulnerability, enthusiasm and dreams into our meetings, and I can’t wait to see you all soar! To my Alternative Process ladies (you know who you are), you kicked this retreat off right with your creativity, energy and all of our laughter — so thanks bunches and hugs!

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I didn’t get to work on my personal project, like I had originally planned. That seems to be the theme of my life this year. Stop planning. Learn to be present and appreciate what’s in front of you. Sometimes, things don’t go as you’ve envisioned. And that’s okay. Sometimes, you need to live in the moment and let things develop into something unforeseen. Carry on, warrior.

I left the conference with so much more than inspiration this year. I left with new friends. I left with revelations about myself and the motivation to keep pursuing my personal project. I left with the restoration of my soul, which needed healing. And for these gifts, I am grateful.

So I ask you now, where do you go to find a good dose of inspiration? Where have you found your most recent prescription for healing that isn’t found in a drug store? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and couldn’t we all use more of this kind of nurturing in our daily lives? I know I could use it more often.

SarahXOXO

 

 

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I Am Not Alone. A Daily Reminder.

“I am not alone… I am not alone.” The words of this song are ripping through me as I sit here un-showered, feeling broken and completely vulnerable.

It might seem weird that the first place I came to is my blog. And yet, for me, it’s not weird at all. It has become a diary of sorts. A place for me to share my hopes, dreams, failures, insecurities, and daring adventures. A place that allows me to speak my truth and own it. So here I go…

This has been one of the most challenging years of my life. My courage, my strength and my resilience have all been tested. Over and over. And I usually put on a brave face. I show the world my spirited and unstoppable self, because no one wants to hear about your moments of weakness, sadness or fear. No one wants to talk about those things. People don’t want to hear all about the BS in your life, because they have their own to deal with. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

And the worst part of that lie, is that it only secludes you more and makes you sink into that dark place where you lack connection. Where you feel empty, alone and depressed. So here I am, fighting the darkness. Trying to find the light… once more. It’s time for me to rip off the bandaids of my wounds and put it all out there.

It wasn’t a Disney princess kind of fairytale that I believed in. I guess it was more of a Pretty Woman version that was in my head (without the prostitution, LOL).  Well, it hasn’t been the epic romance that I told myself I deserved. I haven’t been as healthy or happy as I wanted to be (hello, postpartum depression). I haven’t been as good to myself (or my loved ones) as I’ve wanted. Quite simply, it hasn’t been easy.

Over the course of the past year, I had some pretty major life “shake ups” or wake up calls. I didn’t want to talk about them (in great detail) because I felt less than worthy and I didn’t want to seem weak. After all, I am fearless, right? When you’re fearless you can’t be weak. Except I was and right now, I am feeling raw and torn apart. So here goes…

Last spring, I found out that I have nodules in my neck and on my thyroid. The lumps, thankfully, were benign and I have to continue to get them checked yearly in hopes that they stay that way and don’t continue to grow. And with the biopsies and testing, it also showed that I have an Autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease.  I have been trying to treat this naturally and with changes to my diet, rather than using harsh drugs. I have joint pain at times, I’m losing hair, and I don’t bounce back when I get colds or viruses as easily anymore. It hit me like a ton of bricks at first. I think because instead of feeling like my gutsy and confident self, the reality is that I am now vulnerable (and I hate that this makes me feel weak). The doctors made it official — “you are now middle aged, Sarah”. Gulp.

Then later this summer, I learned that my last living Grandparent was dying from stage 4 brain cancer. It brought back so many memories from growing up, like the time I lost my Grandfather to prostate cancer or the time my Grandmother fought stomach cancer while I was pregnant with Ava. Cancer has been a reoccurring presence in my life, and it plays a large role into why I am so nostalgic. I had to really dig deep into my past to discover that I get so homesick, because I wish I could go back to those times before my Grandparents were gone. Those days were magical for me. They were larger than life and so vivid. Those were truly the best of times, no matter how cliche that sounds. And although I can never get them back, it gives me great comfort and healing to be able to preserve those magical moments for other families. Because we never know how long that magic will last. And I simply need to hold onto it, because one of my greatest fears now is that I will be taken from my children in this same way. By this same disease that has robbed me of time with my Grandparents. It might be an irrational fear, but it haunts me. And now it will be compounded with each thyroid checkup in the future.

And lastly, and probably the hardest to admit, is that this winter my husband (and partner for the last 15 years) and I have reached a cross roads in our marriage. A place where we have to decide if this is worth fighting for. A moment where we have to look at the truth of our failures and mistakes and see if we can get past them all. Yes, we still love each other. And marriage is just plain hard. It’s really eff’ing hard actually. Throwing some kids into the mix doesn’t make matters any easier. And well, neither of us is perfect. I can’t pretend that we are going to be all right or that I’ll get my happy ending. I don’t know what lies ahead. I only know that I am trying my best. I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other right now.

Yesterday, two of my dearest girlfriends (Ashley and Alicia) blessed me with their prayers. I haven’t prayed so much or asked for prayer (like this) since I was a teenager. So here I am, exposing myself and telling you that I am struggling. Telling you that I am fighting the urge to hide and sink into the darkness. I am fighting it because something inside tells me that I am not alone, that someone else is feeling the same way right now, and that someone reading this is also struggling. Together, we can pray for each other. And as my girlfriends helped me to see yesterday, I don’t hide anymore. I go ALL IN. Our stories may not be the same… and yet our pain, our fear, our uncertainty is. So this is me, reaching out. So we can support each other during the good and the bad. Because even the strong are allowed to have their moments of weakness.

During a low point this week, I bought myself a gift of these MantraBand bracelets.

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I needed to be kind to myself and shower me with some love for once. I needed a visible reminder that:

  • I will get through this. I have to believe it.
  • I will find peace. It is within me.
  • I can take one breath (or step) at a time.

And quite possibly the greatest reminder of them all…

I am fearless, even when I am feeling vulnerable. “To be fearless is to do what scares you, to take a chance, to make a change, to love again. And to get back up after you fall. To be fearless is to know your fears, but never let them stop you.” 

I hope that someone out there (feeling stuck in the darkness) reads this and finds some light, and may you know that you are not alone.

SarahXOXO

 

 

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Ellevate Women and Their Personal Brand

I first heard about Sallie Krawcheck and her Ellevate Network a few months back while reading a Forbes.com article. I quickly joined the women’s network after learning about her beliefs and mission to empower women to succeed. I knew I had found “my people” in the form of a large network. They offer free webinars and training, and last night I was able to attend one of their NYC networking events on the topic of personal branding.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking. I’ve never had luck with those types of events or found women or businesses I truly connect with. I know how you feel, and I urge you to keep looking and to check out Ellevate to see if they have a chapter in your location. It will be so worth it!

I walked in last night and rode the elevator up with some warm and friendly women, and then was greeted at the check-in table where I’d get my name tag. Yup, the dreaded name tag, but I assure you that it is needed at these events because after you’ve met at least three people you are struggling to remember everyone’s name and it almost feels like you are right back at sorority rush. Plus, you are usually juggling a wine glass, a plate of apps and your bag, and I found that it can be hard to exchange business cards. (So I suggest leaving the laptop behind and grabbing a girlfriend if that helps you to break the ice.)

Now, I wasn’t there to photograph this event (although I did bring my camera as you’ll see below), instead I was there to listen and learn. I don’t know about you but after having babies and feeling like those brain cells had died off for a bit (you know the fog), I am finding it so gratifying to be out there and learning again in these types of settings. As a “solopreneur” I don’t have these big corporations or even small companies hosting my “lunch and learning” sessions anymore, so these networking events or industry conferences are what help to get my juices flowing and these inspirational women did not disappoint.
Pictured from Left to Right: Lazetta BraxtonClaudia ChanKelly WatsonSallie Krawcheck and Lesley Jane Seymour

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The event began with Sallie giving the warm welcome to us attendees and the introduction to MORE Magazine’s Editor in Chief, Lesley. I was pleasantly surprised by her authentic stories and humor in front of such a large crowd (of complete strangers). I laughed A LOT and learned equally as much about branding, which happens to be a topic that I know quite a bit about as a mentor and coach to creative entrepreneurs. It turns out that each of these women would share their career journeys, which would include failures, falling on their face, and my favorite part… the triumphs! (If you are at all curious why personal branding should matter to you, find a copy of the Dec/Jan issue of MORE on news stands until the 27th. See the section below, and yes – I totally flag my fave articles (a guilty pleasure)!)

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One of the highlights of the evening was hearing Claudia speak. I could really relate to her journey and reinvention of herself. I wasn’t expecting this much honesty and wisdom, and I was blown away. I walked up to her afterwards and told her that we needed to connect because our missions were similar. I meant it, so I handed her my business card and well… you’ll have to stay tuned to see what develops.

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The biggest personal brand take aways that I wanted to share with you were these…

  1. Define and declare your personal mission (WHO are you serving and WHY)
  2. Figure out your authentic brand strategy and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
  3. Your brand extends to who you are online so embrace technology and social media

And lastly, brands aren’t just for celebrities, corporations or C level execs anymore. So get on board ladies and learn how to develop yours today and share it with the world! If you have any questions email me at sarah {at} sarahlehberger {dot} com.

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And to Sallie, the fearless leader of Ellevate Network, who is bringing together women in such a positive way… thank you! We need more women like you, who are willing to embody the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi and “be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

SarahXOXO

 

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Feminism in 2015 | My Personal Photography Project to Redefine Feminism

Ladies, I believe that we are on the verge of something really exciting. A change to our future economy and capitalism. A demographic shift where baby boomers are retiring and where millennials and women will be stepping in to replace them, and I know I am not alone in feeling the energy in this shift. Sallie Krawcheck, chair of the Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management, recently discussed her thoughts on this in an interview with PBS that really sparked some things in me. And I’ve been thinking about a woman’s advancement in this day and age and the choices she has to make in order to find her own success or happiness. With these choices comes the knowledge and responsibility to continue the mission of our grandmothers and mothers who fought so hard for our rights back in the sixties and seventies (or earlier). I have so much respect for the women who went before me. I’ve always felt bonded to them and their feminism movement, as-if I was a part of their (modern day) gutsy and daring sisterhood.

This sisterhood started out as the disadvantaged, dehumanized, discriminated against and exploited gender that didn’t take no for an answer. When they were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t, they did it anyway. When they were told that they were weak or stupid, they proved them wrong. When they were told that they had little worth or value to the political, economic, social and cultural world, they started a movement and made historical changes to our society and women’s rights.

And a few things have really been bothering me lately. Are we living in a state of failure for the modern day feminist? Is feminism dead? What has happened to this generation of women that is too scared or too ashamed to call themselves a feminist? And why is there a movement of women against feminism? Have we lost our marbles? Are we confused about the progress we’ve made? Or are we just tired of the never ending war to choose one side over the other? It seems to me that we have set ourselves up for failure because we haven’t defined what the modern day feminist needs (is it still equality?) and because now we are making it a woman vs. woman thing. If we are going to pin ourselves against each other, instead of supporting each other, than we are certainly doomed.

I believe the war on “this side” (right) vs. “that side” (wrong) has caused us to pause and has hindered our progress. Who is making up the rules ladies? And why must we choose between one side or the other? Here are a few everyday examples…

  • Career vs. Family
  • Me 1st vs. Family 1st
  • Pinterest Mom vs. Guilt Ridden Mom
  • Stay at Home Mom vs. Working Mom
  • Bossy Girls vs. Weak Girls
  • Princess (Feminine) vs. Powerful (Masculine)

I feel like we have let down the sisterhood and started taking NO for an answer. We have let them down by fighting amongst ourselves, instead of advocating for our rights and standing up for each other’s happiness. We have clearly let them down when you feel like you need to take a side and choose between Leaning In or Leaning Back? We have let them down by making posters that say “I don’t need feminism” and posting them on social media for the world to see.

My friend Jen Rozenbaum had an interesting perspective on this topic recently and she said, “I want to have women’s rights. I want to be able to succeed politically, socially and economically. I don’t however want to be like a man. I want my attributes as a woman to lead to my success. I want someone to hire me BECAUSE of what makes me, ME.” I agree with her wholeheartedly on this. Another article titled “The Princess Effect” discusses how women’s magazines demean powerful women – even when they’re trying to celebrate them and quotes Anna Wintour for saying, “the notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying. How has our culture come to this?”

When did it become a bad thing to be soft, nurturing or tender AND to combine it with brave, confident or powerful?? At what point did someone say you can’t be them all? You have to choose feminine or masculine qualities but not both. Who is dictating our feminism anyway and the traits that we are born with? I think it’s time for us to take back the word feminism and make it work for us! Let’s put an end to the dichotomy that deprives us of being complete human beings. We might have failed at the “modern day feminism” according to Rush Limbaugh, so let’s do what true leaders do and come back stronger from our failures and mistakes. Let’s learn from our past struggles and triumph the way that courageous and resilient women do. Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism. The movement is growing strong and picking up speed.

So I want to know, what do we want this fourth wave of feminism to look like and how are we going to define this movement for ourselves?

  • I want to see more examples of women putting their health and happiness first, so our children will learn that in order to love others we must (first) love ourselves.
  • I’m confident that (together) we can abolish gender role expectations (heck, he can parent and clean just fine, and I know she can use power tools and run a nation!).
  • I want to see women leading the workforce, polls and universe, simply because she is authentic and unstoppable! (It has nothing to do with her having a “pair”, being a b!tch or acting like a man.)
  • It’s time for us to establish more flexible working hours and telecommuting jobs for mothers, and to provide her with small business training so she can create more jobs for herself and others.
  • We need to take a stand for our daughters’ futures and teach them about doing meaningful and purposeful work while also following their passions, so we can show them that you don’t have to choose between career or family. They can co-exist today because we make our own rules (can I get an amen to that one?)!
  • Women need to stop shaming each other (body, parenting, career, etc.) and start showing more compassion and support. It’s time we had inclusive, open and welcoming dialogue with each other. We are all just trying to do our best, and our children (if we choose to have them) will learn and benefit from the encouragement.
  • Our young girls need to learn how to build confidence, especially when it comes to believing in themselves, following their dreams, and knowing that they matter. Let’s invest in the future of young women and in doing so I believe we will put an end to the devaluing of our gender and a woman’s work (in and out of the home).
  • Let’s embrace who we are and celebrate our greatest strengths AND vulnerabilities, because we are more than just the stereotypes that you see in the stock images of feminists, parents or working moms. In fact, I want to rid us of these stereotypes because we are unique and extraordinary!

I am looking for women models and I want you to help by commenting and tagging someone who you think fits the vision described here. You can even email me with more info if you feel compelled or want to be photographed in Connecticut! She is not one size fits all, nor does she look like me or you. She is unique and she is paving her own way…

She believes that she can have it all because she knows how to choose her priorities and honor herself in the process. She’s a gutsy and visionary woman, and she isn’t afraid to use her voice or be an advocate for what she believes in. She has experienced challenges along the way, and yet it has allowed her to live fiercely and go boldly in the direction of her dreams! She is idealistic and she believes that women can change the world. She has struggled with guilt and shame for her failures, and yet she remains confident and optimistic because she is not defined by them. She refuses to quit because she has this one life to live and she wants her contributions to matter (not just for herself but for the generations that follow). She empowers and unites others because it is a part of her human nature. She is unstoppable because she needs to feel alive!

Please join the conversation and let me know what else our feminism movement needs? Let’s talk about who is doing this well and what she stands for, so we can lift her up and support her. Let’s continue to elevate women and show the world that united we are stronger! I want to hear your thoughts and please share (and tag) this with anyone who you think this subject might speak to so we can continue the open, inclusive and welcoming dialogue. And here is mu very first model for this project. In Kate’s own words…

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I hope you’ll join me in this movement to #RedefineFeminism in 2015!

SarahXOXO

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