Our new Saturday Series, the Brave & Bright Spotlight, was created to highlight the stories of universe denting women who are changing the world and their lives by facing adversity head on, with bravery and vulnerability and truth.
Just over a month ago, at the Inspire Photo Retreat, photographer Sarah Lehberger blew me away.
Sarah’s talk at Inspire was about taking a leap of faith. About the journey she took, which you’re going to learn more about here. Sarah stood before her audience, and flipped to a slide that told us about her fears. She stood, in front of us, and told us, exactly what she was afraid of. And just when I thought she was done (and I was already bursting with my sense of awe at the bravery it takes to tell the people you’re speaking to what you’re afraid of – that you have fear at all, really), she took hold of the truth about her own life, and told her story with clarity, and authenticity. Her story is one of taking back control, of realizing the unstoppable force inside of herself, and then going after exactly what she’s been dreaming of.
“Everyone has the right to tell the truth about her own life.” – Ellen Bass
How are you denting the universe?
I celebrate the journey of accomplished women.
What are you most passionate about?
I’m passionate about leaving a legacy of compassion, spirit and self-worth.
What adversity have you overcome to chase down your dreams?
Remember when you were young and invincible? Yeah, me too. And then (I think) a lot of us experience our fall from grace and we realize that this life… it isn’t easy. My fall happened when I was 16 years old. I lived fearlessly. I knew exactly who I was and what I stood for. I knew I was headed for a career in the arts. Until one night when everything changed.
I was trying to get over my recent break up so I had a few shots at this party. I was maybe 110 lbs, and those few shots were followed by some drinks and they hit me hard. I slipped and landed on my head. I was a mess to say the least. I used poor judgement that night and someone I knew (and trusted) took advantage of my poor judgement. I woke up the next morning to rumors and I didn’t remember a thing. That was just the beginning.
My ex-boyfriend (the quarterback of our HS football team) had heard the rumors, and what happened next would change everything. I was publicly humiliated. I was judged harshly. I was criticized. I was lied to AND about. I was harassed. I was bullied. I was called a whore. I was told I would never be anything. I was told I would never do anything that mattered.
I fought so hard to be heard. I desperately wanted to be understood. I didn’t want this. I didn’t ask for THIS. I fought for my truth. And you know what happened? No one listened. The word of the quarterback mattered so much more than the shamed girl who took too many shots. So, I grew silent and weak. I thought death would be easier than feeling this kind of pain.
Until one day when a light flickered inside of me. That light, it ignited something inside and it grew fierce! It gave me a reason to fight. It saved my life. All of a sudden, I was determined to prove my worth. I was motivated to find my value in this world. I knew that I mattered, and I believed it at my core. I did whatever I could to get out of that small town so I could put my past behind me. I graduated and went to college and worked as a waitress, bartender, disc jockey and teacher’s assistant to put myself through school. So I set out on my journey to find myself, to regain my power, and to conquer my dreams as an adult.
On this journey, what has taken you by surprise?
I was surprised by my own strength and determination. I accomplished so much in that short time. I don’t think we know what we are truly capable of until we are thrown into some situations or until we have to jump!
What was your moment of bravery?
Most recently, when my kids were finally healthy and thriving, I knew it was time to reinvent myself. I had a great career before having kids, and I was running a successful wedding photography business in Connecticut. Yet somehow despite all of my accomplishments and child-rearing, I was still feeling unfulfilled. I knew I had a purpose, I just needed to find it. So my moment of bravery was seeking help and hiring a business coach to take my career and life to the next level. What would happen in the process was something I never could have imagined. I would find out that deep inside, the fearless Sarah, she still needed to be heard. I would learn that my story, my darkest secret, it needed to be told. I needed to acknowledge that those events had shaped me and made me who I am today. Not because of what happened, despite what happened. I survived…I triumphed…I accomplished…and for that I am so grateful.
While you were going through your moment of bravery, when were you afraid?
While I was working with my coach, I was afraid to share the intimate details of (what I thought were) my failures, and to show my vulnerable side after my experience in high school. I was afraid of being judged all over again. I was trying to protect myself. I wasn’t letting anyone in or being true to myself. Even though this process was to better my business, I needed to let go. I realize now that my business is personal, and that means I need to be authentic. You can’t do that when you are putting up walls and pretending to be something that you are not (perfect for everyone).
How did you overcome that fear?
I let go of control and decided to step outside of my comfort zone in order to grow. I wasn’t going to make progress or find my purpose if I let my shame stop me from living the life I’ve always dreamed. Despite my worries or the what if’s, I would take the leap anyway. I would face my fears head on and start to share my story for the first time. I would share my mistakes, failures and be vulnerable. I would show the world what unstoppable looks like. I would show my children what an imperfect mother AND an accomplished woman looks like. I would show myself what living looks like… because when I am my most fearless self I feel truly alive!
What’s next for you?
Right now, I am working on building the business of my dreams. A business that feeds my soul and celebrates other women just like me. I am doing the things that make me happy, and letting go of the things that don’t. And, I just cut my hair short. I know that seems trivial, but it was the last step of me shedding the protective layers that I had been building up for so long. I have always felt my most fearless and vulnerable when it was short, because then there is nothing that I can hide behind. You are forced to see me for who I am and look me right in the eyes. And when you do, I hope you’ll see into the soul of a nostalgic, spirited and fearless woman who intends to leave her footprint on this earth.
Photos by Maria-Alexa, Photographer
Want to nominate yourself, or someone you know, for the Brave & Bright Spotlight? Click here and tell us your story!
I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.
When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.
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Hey…I met her at wppi!
Karen Johnson Jacot, I thought I saw you – and then I didn’t see you. I wish I had! I looked for you again after that!
Great post Sarah. Sorry I missed your talk at Inspire, but so glad that you shared it again here. You are an inspiration to your family, friends, and fellow photographers. Good luck with your leap and next chapter, I know it will bring you happiness and success!