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

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20 Ways to Strive for Excellence

I believe in striving for excellence, not perfection. You might think that striving for excellence means perfectionism. To me, perfectionism is the opposite of excellence. Perfectionism is a personal standard to which we hold ourselves to and it is completely unattainable. I say this because I used to be a perfectionist. I spent countless hours trying to improve those tiny details that I really should have just let go.

A perfectionist fears failure, uncertainty, and lives with doubt hanging over them. It’s like walking around with a dark cloud of negativity following you, except it’s all inside your head. One of my favorite authors and speakers, Brené Brown, says that “perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame”. I wish I had learned this when I was a teenager.

Truth: I used to go to a psychic just so I would have (what felt like) more certainty and less worry or doubt in my life. Okay, I was 18 or 20 years old so don’t judge. ;-)

I had to learn the hard way that perfectionism won’t give you permission to feel confident, it won’t get you the job, it won’t help you reach the outcome any faster. Perfectionism is a sham and such a waste of time.

Instead, I now focus on all the ways that I can strive for excellence in life. Here are some things to consider if you want to strive for excellence in your personal or professional life.

20 Ways to Strive for Excellence…

  1. Excellence is about knowing yourself and your strengths.
  2. Excellence is having pride in yourself and your work.
  3. Excellence is sharing your knowledge and talents with those who value them most.
  4. Excellence is believing that you will make this world a better place.
  5. Excellence is practicing gratitude for the small and unpredictable moments.
  6. Excellence is learning something new as you work towards being your personal best.
  7. Excellence is having compassion and acceptance for others.
  8. Excellence is choosing to excel despite the level of difficulty.
  9. Excellence is honoring your needs and making them a priority.
  10. Excellence is reflecting on your successes that contribute to a larger goal.
  11. Excellence is stepping outside of your comfort zone to do something risky or that you fear.
  12. Excellence is accepting the challenge and choosing to be a leader.
  13. Excellence is surrounding yourself with passionate and positive people who encourage you.
  14. Excellence is forgiving yourself of past mistakes or failures so you can learn from them.
  15. Excellence is building a trusted connection with a mentor and seeking advice or guidance.
  16. Excellence is reaching for your dreams.
  17. Excellence is speaking your truth and letting the world know what you stand for.
  18. Excellence is never giving up, no matter the obstacle.
  19. Excellence is choosing to endure which is proof of your greatness.
  20. Excellence is knowing that with hard work you are closing the gap between who you are and who you want to be!
Photo courtesy of We Heart It /

Photo courtesy of: We Heart It

After all, isn’t healthy striving so much better than worrying, “what will they think”?

I choose happiness. I choose success. I choose excellence. Will you join me?


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Their first born.

When I first connected with Cynthia, her son Jack had recently been born and she had wanted to set up a time for us to do some family portraits. He was a few months old when we got together and he had those perfectly round cheeks and squishy hands that you just can’t help but gush over.


These are the tiny details that us nostalgic Moms look back on as our children grow. The bright eyes, the soft and fuzzy hair that likes to stand up straight on their heads, the chubby fingers and toes that you will nibble and tickle until their belly laugh (or your own) is too much too handle.


We give up so much in those first few months (and years) to make sure that these little beings survive, and it is so worth it! And there is one thing I want you to know. As your photographer, I want YOU to be seen. I want you to be appreciated and valued for your accomplishments. Child rearing included. ;-)


While you took turns rocking Jack, I couldn’t help but smile from a far. I knew that in this same chair your Grandmother spent countless nights rocking you, and dreaming about your future. Just as you are doing for your own son.


One thing is certain. This time shall pass. I want you to have something to look back upon that will remind you of more than the incredible gift that you have received. I want you to look back and celebrate the journey that forever changed you and your capacity to love. I want you to see the beautiful woman and resilient spirit that you are!

Hugs and Kisses, Sarah

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The Top 5 Reasons Why I Loved Inspire Photo Retreats 2014

I attended a photography retreat this past week and it’s one of my yearly industry conferences that I go to for learning and inspiration. This was my fourth time attending, and this year was different.

Every year prior I went for learning as my #1 goal. This year, my #1 goal was to step outside of my comfort zone and to speak as part of the faculty for the very first time in this intimate setting. The good news is — I did it and I survived (sweaty arm pits and all)!

I stood there and shared my journey with a class of about 50 or more attendees. I took them through my past 10 years as a photographer and we discussed all the challenges, struggles, triumphs and accomplishments I experienced as an artist, and most importantly as a human being. I shared my deepest fears and my hopes with each individual in the room. To say I was nervous was an understatement, yet I did it anyway. I believed inside of me that my message mattered. That I needed to be heard.

What I didn’t know was how it would be received. That was the scary part for me. That was the part that gave me the most anxiety. I took the leap of faith anyway, and I am so glad that I did!

Here are a few of the things that really stuck out to me after three full days of learning, vulnerability and sharing…

  • We are all in this together. We all experience suffering, anxiety, fear, and worry about all of the what-ifs in life and in business.
  • Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable means we are inviting real connection and community in.
  • Being YOUnique is not only acceptable at Inspire, it is encouraged. Choose authenticity. #BEYOU
  • Asking for help takes courage. We all need to seek advice from our mentors or peers without the fear of judgement more often.
  • Sharing our gratitude can do a world of good, not only for ourselves but also for the individuals who need to hear the impact that they had or those who might need to invite grace and joy into their hearts.

I am still in awe over what we experienced together at Inspire Photo Retreats. I also put together a list of my top 5 reasons why I loved Inspire Photo Retreats 2014:

1. Watching my friends (who have never been to Inspire) all embrace the community I have come to know and love over the past 4 years, and experience the inspiration and growth they needed for themselves.

2. Creating my Manifesto in Vivid & Brave and witnessing the power of other attendees owning their beliefs or strengths, and the things you should know if we are going to be BFFs.

3. Learning from my mentor and instructors about the things I could be doing better as a business owner, photographer, creative and human being. I am ready to tackle them all and I’m so grateful for my continued learning and stretching by my peers and industry leaders! #DREAMMUNITY

4. Mentoring Erin and seeing the spark in her eyes as she begins to build the business of her dreams! And I am so looking forward to my upcoming post-Inspire chats with Ashley, Rachel and Julia. Let’s continue to support and empower each other!

5. Conquering my fears of being judged and never being heard by speaking for the first time in a setting like this. Not for one second did I regret sharing. The attendees (and planners) allowed me to be the most vulnerable I have ever been in public. They allowed me to heal a part of me in a way I never thought possible.

Did you happen to catch my class while you were at Inspire? I would love to hear your thoughts or feedback in the comments below, and thank you a million times over for all of the hugs, kind words and support afterwards. It was an incredibly overwhelming and humbling experience and my cup is still overflowing from it. I am so very grateful for all of you who shared similar stories with me (you know who you are). I hope that each and every one of you keeps in touch! :-) Here’s my graphic from the presentation and I hope this pushes you to take that leap!


Are you a photographer who is curious about what happens at Inspire or what it looks like from the inside? Do you find yourself “stuck” or wondering how you will ever find a community of like-minded people who will welcome you? Watch this video below from my friend Richard Esposito, and I triple dog dare you to join us next February 2015 in Portland, Maine!

To the Inspire planning team, who took a chance on me and thought that my story mattered and was worth sharing with this community, thank you. I am eternally grateful and so proud to be a part of something so powerful and real. In my eyes, this is the best photography conference or retreat for anyone looking to grow, be inspired, and be valued as a photographer… and more importantly as a person.


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This Body-Shamed News Anchor’s Lesson About Self-Worth

This fearless woman, Jennifer Livingston, a news anchor for WKBT News 8 in Wisconsin is AHH-MAZING!! A TV viewer used the web (via direct email) to bully her and call her fat, and she calls him out on it. Watch this video and get ready to be inspired!

We need more people like her in this world… willing to take a stand, willing to defend themselves and demand change for our society and children! Her passion and spirited personality is the kind that I am drawn to. What she says at the end of the video is so empowering and it’s the kind of message our youth need to hear…

“Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience, that…”


AMEN sister! What you have accomplished in this one courageous act speaks volumes about you and your legacy. Thank you for being bold and brave, and for being a leader in your community and beyond. Cheers to you!


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Silent No More. Taking a Stand for Myself, the Bullied and the Broken.

Have you ever had to defend yourself, your character or your beliefs? I have. It has taken me half of my lifetime to stand up and declare some of my strongest beliefs… one of which I am about to share, and tear off the band-aid that has been protecting my wounds.

I believe in cheering for the underdog, because I WAS HER.

WHY the underdog? Well, I have been able to relate to the underdog since I was a teen. Much like Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger from the 1993 American sports film, I have been determined to overcome the odds and especially when I was told I couldn’t do something. (You are too small and too skinny. You haven’t fully “developed” like the other girls.) I also know what it feels like to be the victim of a social injustice. While my experiences had a great impact on my life, they do not define me. They are a part of my journey, my growth, and who I am at my core.

As the underdog, I have always had empathy and sensitivity for the oppressed. Even at a young age. It wasn’t until I understood what it actually felt like to be oppressed that my sensitivity quickly changed to compassion.

So recently, when a wise and respected friend challenged me to think about how I feel for the oppressor and the idea of having empathy and sensitivity for him or her, I knew I needed to speak up and share what has been at the core of my wounds.

I decided that today and every day forward, I need to declare what I stand for and what I believe. Because if we haven’t met yet, I want you to know that without a doubt… “though she be but little, she is fierce”! Thanks for the quote, Will Shakespeare! ;-)

I do believe that having empathy and sensitivity for the oppressor is hard, and if you can open your heart to finding either of these for the oppressor than you can accomplish something even harder. It’s called forgiveness. In my experience, forgiveness isn’t given lightly. It isn’t as easy as some may think.

At one point in my life I would have rather died than to forgive a certain person. I was 16 years old and my (inner) spirit had stopped breathing, my light had burned out. I was judged harshly. I was criticized. I was lied to AND about. I was harassed. I was bullied. I was unpopular. I was called a whore. I was told I would never be anything of value. I was told I would never do anything that mattered. I fought so hard to be heard. I desperately wanted to be understood. I fought for my truth. And you know what happened? No one listened. So I turned to silence and I grew weak… until a light flickered inside of me and everything changed.

Martin Luther King Jr. image and quote courtesy of Pinterest

Martin Luther King Jr. image and quote courtesy of Pinterest

I overcame my circumstances and I fought my way back. I wanted to prove that no matter what was said I knew better. I chose to rise above. I chose to break free of the misery and hardship that was forced on me. I persevered because I knew that I had a story to tell and I didn’t want it to end there. I didn’t want to remain silent. I wanted to be understood AND heard. I mattered.

What I want you to know is that my forgiveness for my oppressor was the ultimate act of love and grace. It was my way of acknowledging that we couldn’t change the past and having hope that we could change the future. I know the gift of forgiveness because I have both given and received it. It allows you the understanding to see yourself as an imperfect human being and to see the other as one too.

So I’d like to challenge your opinions on forgiveness. It is not just a gift that you give yourself. It is also a gift that you give another so they can grow beyond their own suffering while receiving your acknowledgement, compassion and love.

I also believe that anyone who says forgiveness is easy or selfish has never stared in the eyes of their bully, rapist, attacker, abuser or oppressor and said “I forgive you” to their face.

  • If they had, they would know that nothing about that was easy or selfish.
  • If they had, they would know that it took a lot of hard work to get to that place.
  • If they had, they would know that a part of you dies when you are oppressed, and if you are one of the lucky ones that part of you can also experience an incredible rebirth.
  • If they had, they would know that you have spent a lot of time wondering why you were a victim and you have spent almost as much time trying to understand why the oppressor was so hostile or angry and how they got this way.
  • If they had, they would know that it takes an extraordinary person to overcome this type of experience or suffering.
  • If they had, they wouldn’t assume that your act of forgiveness was just for you.

I read another MLK quote today from when he was just 38 years old and it challenged me to stand for something. Here is my version of his famous quote…

I am thirty-seven years old, and some great opportunity stood before me and called upon me to stand up for myself and those who have been bullied or oppressed. This is my great issue or cause. I am not afraid to speak out about it any longer. I am not afraid of your criticism. I am not afraid of losing my popularity. I am not afraid of taking a stand or speaking the truth or fighting for justice. You may not understand me and that’s OK. I am no longer alone because “one with God is a majority. And God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority”. Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr., for this very timely reminder.

I am Sarah. I believe in cheering for the underdog, because I WAS HER.

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