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Inspirational People: Meet Michelle Thompson

Copyrighted Image by Michelle Thompson

 

In my novel-in-progress, Sycamore Dawn, three characters find themselves at turning points in their lives. Michelle Thompson was at such a turning point when I first met her. She describes herself as "broken after her divorce," but the person I met was already actively regrouping and creating a new life after what had been a particularly difficult experience. Her handling of a difficult transition so inspired me that I often tell acquaintances about some of the tactics she employed. Now she has an opportunity to tell how she built a life in which she strives to create art and encourage others through her photography.

 

Michelle Thompson, in Her Own Words

 

I have to smile to myself a little when someone comments on one of my photos or cards and says how creative I am.  Growing up the youngest of three sisters, I admired my sisters' creativity. My oldest sister, Cristi, was talented with hair and makeup. She could make anyone look good.  She could have been an interior designer.  She could go to a thrift store, buy a few things, and make a simple home look beautiful. My other sister, Lisa, could draw anything.  Our dad, a minister, would sometimes ask her to draw something to illustrate one of his sermons. Her drawings were filled with great detail.  In addition to their other talents, they could both sing.

 

And then there was me… I could play any sport and ride my bike for miles and miles.  But as far as being creative, I was not blessed with one shred of creativity.

 

I always had an interest in photography.  However, we grew up without extra money for frivolous items, so I did not spend a lot of time dreaming of having a nice camera and learning to take pictures.

 

Michelle Strives to Realize Her Dream

 

Thankfully, my current husband, Ed, saw the value in capturing moments with our kids and from our trips. Ed purchased my first digital camera shortly after we were married. My son, Gene, was eight when Ed and I got married in December of 2002. Gene and I had lived in a rural farm community in Kansas, where we knew everyone, and everyone knew us. Marrying Ed meant moving ninety miles away to a larger community where neither of us knew a single soul.

 

I signed Gene up to play on a football team that was in its first year of existence. The coach asked for a volunteer to take pictures of the games and post the pictures on the team site. I volunteered. At the time, I had no experience of taking action shots. Thank goodness for the sport setting on digital cameras. From then on, whatever team Gene played on, I was out there taking pictures and sharing them on the team or school site. It was a great way to interact with the boys on Gene's team and to connect with the parents and coaches.

 

For a long time, I kept my digital camera set to auto. Sports mode was the only creative setting I would use. There were times when these two settings would fail me, and I didn't know why or what to do.  If the sun went down, and I was still on the football field trying to take pictures they would come out blurry, so I would just put my camera away. 

 

After we moved to Colorado in 2010, I began to take photography more seriously. We purchased a new digital camera that came with two lenses.  I was hungry to learn more and take more pleasing pictures. I had read good things about a correspondence photography course called The New York Institute of Photography. Ed and I decided it would be a good investment, so I signed up to take the course in the spring of 2012. It was a great experience, and I learned a great deal.  Eighteen months later I completed the course, received a diploma and was no longer only using two settings on my camera.

 

I still have much to learn. Every day, I read articles or watch videos on ways to sharpen my skills. I have a passion for capturing the beauty that is in this world. I have always wanted to do more than just take pictures. 

 

Taking First Steps to Build a Business

 

Through the years, I have bought and sent cards for all kinds of occasions or no occasion at all.  I decided to make homemade cards using my photos. I purchased cardstock at Staples actually meant for being printed to make invitations. I taped my photos on the front with double-stick tape and folded them over to make a card. I used the computer to print the appropriate message of Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary. Thankfully, I finally discovered a company, Photographer's Edge, that specializes in beautiful cardstock specially made for inserting pictures.  I have made and sent hundreds of my own cards that I am proud to send. 

 

Finding a Purpose

 

I found an avenue for my photography to have a purpose. Creating cards is a way to share the beauty I see in this world. My goal is to inspire through uplifting words and pictures. There is so much heartache and darkness in this world that I want to be a point of light. 

 

While I love to take pictures of my kids, grandkids and my dog, my main focus is on taking pleasing photos of landscapes and wildlife. I get excited when I spot a moose, buck, bald eagle or a fox den. Going out before dawn and moving quietly is key to being able to spot wildlife.  I have come home empty handed, and I have made discoveries that I did not expect to find.

 

The summer of 2015, we experienced a rare phenomenon of wild yellow daises creating a carpet of yellow in the pastures in Colorado Springs. One evening my husband and I took a drive down the back roads just to take in the beauty. I took pictures of the flowers but unexpectedly came across five bucks relaxing in a field. I was sure when I got out of the car to get a better angle, they would run. To my great delight, they stayed put and let me take their picture with the sun setting behind them. It has become one of my favorite pictures. I even entered it into a contest for a calendar, and it was selected for the month of August.  

 

I love that in different seasons I can focus on different kinds of animals. In the winter is the best time to photograph bald eagles. In spring and through summer is the best time to photograph hummingbirds and look for the young of foxes, deer and elk.

 

I prepare for each season by studying the habits of the species that I would like to photograph in their natural habitat.  I find it interesting to learn which animals both parents participate in the raising of their young. As a photographer, it is a benefit to know that certain species of birds, such as barn owls, mate for life and return year after year to the same nesting place. 

 

I am thankful that the websites I use to create calendars are very user friendly. In the beginning, I made calendars as Christmas gifts to give to family and friends. After a couple of years, people started to request my calendars. I just needed to know if they want a desk calendar or what size wall calendar.  

 

Promoting my own work is the hardest thing for me to do. I love sharing my photos with people. My motivation for taking pictures is not to make money.  I give away more cards and enlarged pictures than I sell. It is not that I wouldn't like to go further with marketing; it is just uncomfortable and not something that I am good at.

 

I submit photos to contests and magazines from time to time. I have had some success, which is always fun. Some online contests post some of the contest submissions while the contest is still open for submissions. Sometimes I make the mistake of viewing the other photographers' submissions and judge that mine are not as good. I end up feeling discouraged. I'm learning it is best to look at the competing photos after I submit my photos.

 

I always regretted not going to college. I had this idea that if I had a degree, somehow that degree would give me amore meaningful identity. I used to feel bad that I did not have a career and was just a waitress. I like being known as a photographer. In the process of identifying as a photographer, I have learned a greater lesson. It is what I do with my photography that is important, not being known as a photographer. Photography is a tool in making the world a brighter and better place. In life, there are many tools to make the world a better place. If I were still a waitress, I could lift the spirits of people I come into contact with on a daily basis.

 

******

 

I met Michelle while she was still waitressing. She recently revealed that she now keeps encouraging cards with her at all times. When she and Ed go out to eat, she leaves a tip, but she leaves much more. She leaves an affirming card, personalizing it by writing the name of the person who waited on them on the envelope. That's the kind of person she is.

 

More inspirational images can be found on Michelle's Facebook Page. Cards and calendars can be ordered by messaging her or by contacting her at Michelle's Email Address.

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Inspirational People: Meet Jane Fox

When Jane Fox and I first knew each other, we were two new grandmothers who spent an inordinate amount of time discussing technical trading indicators and market theory. I was the one who loved the mathematically based market indicators. Jane loved the theory behind trading success. That love of market theory would remake Jane's life in a way that neither of us then suspected.

 

I worked with Jane at least a decade. We've never met person-to-person, but she is one of the most inspirational women in my life.

 

We worked remotely, writing and providing live market analysis for a website, me from my home in Texas and her from her home in another state. Between posting commentary, we fed our golden retrievers, coaxed visiting grandchildren to take naps, and put a load or two of clothing in the washing machine.

 

Jane sometimes admitted to being in the doldrums. She was dreaming of a bigger life, and she was about to make it happen.

 

Scaling New Heights

 

Jane wanted to conquer mountains. Literally. I remember her first comments that she was looking for other people who might be interested. She joined a hiking group and was soon posting photos of hikes to Mt. Adams, Camp Muir, Colchuk Lake, and Mt. St. Helens. One recent photo shows Jane perched on a massive rock high along a gorge at Oceanside, Oregon, her blonde hair pulled back and the sun full on her smiling face.

 

Jane was no longer stuck in the house, but she still felt stuck financially and in her career.

 

Facing New Challenges

 

Climbing actual mountains must have given Jane courage to climb another. Jane had long believed that emotions should be taken out of trading decisions. When you're an individual trading from home and putting tens of thousands of dollars on the line in a complex options trade, that's hard to do.

 

However, the big financial firms design programs to take all emotion out of trading. Why shouldn't she be able to do it, Jane thought, and do it for others, too? The fact that those big firms had big funds to develop those programs didn't seem to daunt her. At least, that didn't daunt her enough to stop her.

 

Jane had a whole new language to learn, and it was as complex as any language could be. Words such as "algorithm" and "quantifiable trading" soon peppered her conversations.

 

Jane was testing her theories. She educated herself well enough in quantitative analysis to know what questions to ask. She hired a quant to code the trading strategies she wanted and started to run the backtests. That required money. Sometimes paying for that help required breath-holding kind of money for a single woman not of independent means. She also would need a website. A business. A marketing plan.

 

Financial struggles, steep learning curves, and frustration had to be overcome. The process was a long one. Jane steeled herself to approach business people, risking being turned down. She bartered for services, offering percentages of the company she was forming for those willing to take a risk. She forced herself to produce podcasts and promotional videos, although she at first doubted her ability to do so. At some points in that journey, the difficulties proved almost insurmountable, as tough as an approach to a mountain summit that was too difficult for a new climber's skills. On her website, Jane notes if she had known how rigorous the process was going to be, she would probably "have abandoned the idea immediately."

 

I don't entirely believe that. In the years since Jane and I became friends, I saw a woman who had raised her children and had her first career, and who was determined to define what was next for her.

 

What's Next?

 

Jane wanted a bigger life, and she went out and grabbed it. Jane acknowledges that she may come to other turning points in her life. I'm sure she will draw from her perseverance and determination to make whatever decisions are required.

 

Not all of us would want the life Jane did. I didn't. While she was moving toward forming her own business, I was choosing a return to novel writing. I'm facing many hurdles and trying to educate myself on the changes in the publishing field since my 1990s books were published. I keep Jane in mind when that seems too high a mountain to climb.

 

Jane's business is QuantiTrader.  

Jane can be reached at her business email.

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