Brooke Shaden is a fine art photographer, author, and motivational speaker. She is passionate about storytelling, a self-portrait artist, she photographs herself and becomes the character of dreams inspired by a childhood of intense imagination and fear.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was pretty rural, and Lancaster is known as the heart of Amish Country. I reveled in growing up there, surrounded by farmland and forests. I’ve always chased a simple life. One of my favorite memories of childhood was when my mom, sister, and I spotted a hot air balloon while out driving. My mom decided to chase it in our car as far as we could until it landed in a field, and it felt like the most magical experience to watch it come down. Little things like that give me so much inspiration that magic is out there, and we need only chase it.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had realized the value of being weird. Expressing what makes you different is often the easiest way to self-acceptance, finding your place in the world (or making it), and aligning your purpose with your actions. My solution to being a little odd was to blend into the point of being invisible. After I found power in my weirdness, I never hid again.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In fine art photography especially, there is a lot of frustration with how long it takes to build up a career. The result is a tendency to try everything rather than niching down and going for what you truly want. The fine art world has two distinct ways of becoming a business, either through high-end sales or commercial sales. The two don’t mix, but I often see people trying to do both, which often cancel out and devalue the other. I like the idea of committing to either selling a lot of work at a lower price or a small amount of work at a higher price.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I tend to chase hard things and revel in those experiences, much as they hurt. One of those instances is becoming a foster mother. For years I wanted to adopt a child, but life lead me to the impermanency of fostering instead. I take in children knowing I will never keep them, and it has been a journey of loss and healing (again and again) to be open enough to take in a child that you know will leave. I find endless inspiration in the challenge, though, of being open to losing. Because of my experiences over the last two years with my three children (who have all moved on to different homes), I’m not studying our capacity to love despite impermanence, and my next photo series will explore this theme.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I’ve always had a singular vision with enough confidence and drive to back that vision up. Though my mission has changed slightly over the past decade, I nevertheless always feel aligned with how I want to impact the world through my art and actions. I believe that when we examine how our actions can marry with our purpose in life, we can create work and a life that exemplifies what it means to be alive.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 5:30 am (and go to bed at 9:30 pm!). I go on a two-mile hike in the morning, and do my best, deep work between 7 am-10 am. That’s when I typically try to get admin tasks out of the way, as well as anything that requires heavy concentration. My afternoons are usually reserved for creativity (shooting, editing, or writing). I like to end my day with a writing session, so before dinner, I typically get anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours of novel writing finished. I love to cook and usually make a big vegan dinner, but by about 6-7 pm, I’m wiped! I use the entire evening to unwind, usually through a combination of reading, watching TV, or playing VR.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
It’s very popular to recognize all of your perceived shortcomings and eradicate them, and while that’s most helpful, I’m a big believer that some feelings can stay. For example, I have extreme social anxiety in some situations. I used to feel less than for it and was actively berated for behaving in a way that made me feel better (ie: avoiding certain situations). The best behavior I’ve adopted has been to allow myself my full identity. I have anxiety, and I think it can be healthy to build a life that brings joy rather than one that brings consistent suffering. I still push my boundaries, but not based on ridicule by others. Instead, I act based on how I want to live my life without shame. I’ve chosen my career and how I live my personal life so that I can live happily day to day.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Write down what you want to accomplish for the next day every day. When I have kids (through fostering), my entire life changes. I go from working anywhere from 4-12 hours a day (at my leisure) to working 1-3 hours per day. Yet, I’m often still able to keep up a significant workload. The reason is that if you know your tasks ahead of time, your brain can do the background work of understanding how best to achieve those tasks. When you actually sit down for that one hour of work, you can work so much more efficiently. The longer answer is that you have to align your purpose with your actions. It’s a difficult, soul-searching process that can take years and years, but I believe chipping away at what drives you in the world and how you can take action to do those things is the surest way to consistently be productive without burnout.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Dune by Frank Herbert was the first book that changed my outlook on life when I was sixteen. It spoke to so many issues I had around fear and fearless living, as well as how we embody our own power. Ever since then, a myriad of fantasy and science fiction books have taught me how to embrace my weirdness, and how to dream of a life worth living. I’m a huge science fiction and fantasy nerd. Some of my favorites are The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Myst by Robyn and Rand Miller and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I have a quote from Dune tattooed on my arm, which says, “Fear is the mind-killer.” I live by that quote. I have another quote tattooed on me (see the theme?) that says “I contain multitudes.” That one is a quote by Walt Whitman. Both apply so liberally to all aspects of my life. Fear is an obvious one, but I’ve always suffered from terrible fear all my life. I practice bravery every day in my life and art. “I contain multitudes” rings true for me, as I believe the greatest experience of living is to change so many times that you’ve lived a thousand lives in one.