Hey, hey, hey. Welcome to Souls Undressed. I’m your host, Tori Rankovich + you’re listening to episode 19. Today we are having a q+a with yours truly + these questions came from the Instagram community + Facebook page. As well as past clients, some members of my team, + then a couple of people close to me just to kind of give that inside look at questions that would come from somebody who knows me well.
So I will start with our quote + then we are going to dive right in because I have a bunch of questions so you guys are in for a treat. Today’s quote is,
“As children, we’re taught to use our inside voices, but girls who become women are still told to be quiet. Not to rise higher than a man's chest, still treated like toys. The ones who have lungs to say what they mean are just seen as bad girls who don't follow the rules.” - Rical Franko
I chose that quote for a few reasons. I was really drawn to it + I almost didn't write it down a couple of different times but, because I was so drawn to it I was like no. I have to. I wasn't quite sure if it would watch the episode because these question topics cover so much. It's really the last bit of that quote that resonates so deeply with me I was like no I have to include it here. “The ones who have lungs to say what they mean are just seen as bad girls who don’t follow the rules.”
I would write that all over my mirror. If I could give one piece of advice it would be to never sacrifice what you know is right just for the sake of maintaining a label or avoiding a label. That’s all I’m really going to get into for that because we’re going to dive into so much of my thoughts + my experiences in this episode so let’s do it.
Question #1: Do you have any tips + tricks for budgeting?
This one made me kind of giggle because we don’t truly budget in my home but I am a former consumer education teacher. We had to teach budgeting to our students + my biggest piece of advice for budgeting would be to look at your monthly income. Which is super easy to do. Most of us only get paid once or twice a month. If you get paid 4 or 5 times a month that’s fine. Just write it down when it comes in.
It’s not like you have to set it aside + not spend it but write the amount down when it comes in. If you have a wage that changes from month to month, I would recommend doing this for a couple of months in a row to get an average if you’re being super serious about budgeting because you don’t want to lowball yourself + not make sure that you have enough money set aside. Say you made a lot of money one month + it was a really good month at the restaurant or whatever. You don't want to expect that high income every month.
That's why you should average it out so you’ve got a good idea of what you’re truly ideally going to bring in. One thing that Andrew + I do in our home any time we’re talking about spending big money. We always overestimate the expense + underestimate what we have. We round down the amount of money we are saying we have in our mind + we will round up what we’re thinking about spending. That helps us not cut it too close if that makes sense.
As far as adding up your income for the month after you know that I would just take a quick browse at your bill. I know that budgeting sounds so extreme + extravagant + hard but it's not at all. Just look into your bills + any money that you have. Think about roughly if you drive quite a ways to work I would also recommend noting for a month how much money you put in your gas tank. Then after you get an idea for how much you’re putting out + bringing in its really easy math to just figure out what you need to stay in a spending window to be comfortable.
In my opinion, budgeting is about having the money to spend it on or what you need to set it aside for. Another thing we always talked about in consumer ed was making sure every month you had money to put away into your savings. Say you blow a tire or your transmission blows. Those are pricey fixes that are pretty important for you to get from point a to point b when you’re trying to go to work + continue making income so having some money set aside like that. If you get hurt + break your arm you need to be able to pay for your doctor bills.
Just little stuff like that to where it gives a purpose to save. Your savings should truly be there for a true shitty rainy day. That way it's there if you don't have a rainy day + you and your lover have the opportunity to go on a quick trip. Cool, you can spend half of that + keep the other half. I’m someone personally where I will make sure I have a big chunk set aside in case anything happens. If Andrew + I stumble across the perfect home for us. We’re not sure if we want to buy it. We’ve gone back + forward so many times.
If we stumble across the perfect home we’re going to want to have a downpayment to put down. I always like to make sure I have a good chunk set aside. At the same time, 22 to 26 has taught me that my savings is there to catch me if I need it but it’s also there to allow me to live. One thing I want to make sure to say if you are listening to for the sake of saving. I want you to remember that you don't get to do anything with this money when you die.
So yes you need to be responsible + yes you need to have enough savings to be able to keep yourself above water if the time or need comes. You also have to realize if you have secured yourself in a job that's going to continue to bring you income that money will replace itself + you have to allow yourself to live + enjoy this time on this rock. What is the point if you’re not enjoying it? That is my budgeting advice. If you want me to talk more about that from the teacher’s perspective + life’s perspective let me know. I can maybe make an episode about it.
Question 2: How are you planning or preparing to get through this likely emotionally tough winter?
This was a two-part question on my DMS + I brought it into one. She was saying she expected this to be a pretty tough winter. Obviously, the pandemic has been tough as is. Some people are thinking the pandemic will get worse before it gets better with flu season. In general, I think people have just been so isolated so much more than usual this year that cabin fever is going to feel even heavier.
How am I planning to get through this through winter? This is the first year in winter that I'm trying to be ultra responsible as far as personal self + business self go. I've already decided to limit my November sessions for the first time. There is a bunch that has gone into that decision. I'm moving towards making some big moves. Some really big emotionally tough decisions as is.
At any time of year let alone in the winter when my seasonal depression hits normally anyway. I’m cutting down my workload to an appropriate + manageable level. I also said to Andrew I know I'll probably take on a few sessions for family + friends here + there. I think though that's the first thing I did this year to really prepare for the weight that's going to be felt on my shoulders this fall.
Just trying to be mindful of how much time I’m going to have for me. I think too that knowing when you start to dip + knowing what it is that brings you joy are two huge factors for me in prepping for the lows of the winter. I know as soon as we start losing sunny days my emotions get heavy. My motivation drops. I already struggle with motivation + failure to thrive ideals as it is. I really like Ohavelly brand vitamins. I have the vitamin d ones. I don't love the flavor so I don't take them year-round but I do keep them for winter + those fall months so I can continue to lift myself up as needed.
I also try to make it a point to find a way of some sort in the winter months to just give myself a change of scenery. Usually, we will be super crazy busy around the holidays so I never try to travel too far at that time. In the past, we’ve gone to Seattle to visit friends. I had a workshop in Seattle as well. I did that for 5 days + then I had a destination wedding in February.
This year we are planning a trip in February. We’re going on a road trip + take the dogs. Travel south to avoid bad weather + play it by ear as to where we can visit. That’s another thing I always try to give myself is just the awareness that there's going to be a change of scenery, a change of pace, a little bit of sunshine thrown in there. The last thing for prepping for the long winter is just knowing your support system.
I think that knowing the people you can rely on I hope isn't underrated but it is. I think that we get so used to filling our time + we don't think of filling our need for value. Pre thinking ahead of time of who I can rely on this winter. Just a little side note don't be a shitty friend. If you’re going to be somebody who wants to rely on someone for their warmth + their energy in the winter, maybe consider why they're just coming to mind for winter.
If there is a friend that feels good on the soul in those long winter months they are a friend who feels good on the soul all the time. Chances are you’re being kind of selfish if you’re only thinking of them for the winter + you won't spend your time with them for the rest of the year. Maybe marinate on that.
Question 3: What are the ways you process heavy emotion?
Hot baths. Smoking cannabis. I cry into my pillow alone. There's a time where I want to cry with Andrew + have him hold me. Then there are times where I need to fully let it out exorcism style. There are times where I’ll have to be like, “I just need to be alone.” I’ll go back to our bed + I just heave into the pillow + I cry. That is like step one. Sometimes it’s not step one because I don't make myself cry.
Sometimes it builds before then. I think that feeling emotion is so important. That's something that so many people don't do enough. They say I have to be happy. I can't feel the feeling that I have to move on. That shit ain’t going anywhere until you feel it. That is always big for me to just sit + really feel it out. Like I said, a bath. If I’m feeling heavy but I know that it's best for me to get moving or I have something that's moving me along that day that I know that I have to kind of pick myself up for, a dance party. Always.
You can't turn on old jams that you used to sing to your 15-year-old soul + dance around + be in a bad mood. You just can't. Also, I will talk about it. I am a verbal processor. I think it’s so important to know how it is that you process. If you’re a writer + you need to write stuff out then you should journal. Or you should type.
If you’re a talker then you need to talk it out. Like, I don’t care if people have told you your whole life you talk too much. You need to find somebody who doesn’t tell you you talk too much. You need to talk it out. For me, if I don’t verbally process something that I need to, my anxiety just freaking skyrockets because I have nothing to do with the thought + energy. Also, I eat. It’s not something that's recommended I hear. I am most definitely a feelings eater for sure.
Question 4: What brings you pure joy?
Pure joy is when I am face snuggling my dogs. I don't care how weird that sounds. Dogs have such a calming smell about them. A dog is not going to smell like doggy shampoo all the time. There is something about pushing my face into my dogs’ faces with their soft fur. They just know to give me the love back so we just sit + rest our little faces on each other. Or if they aren’t in the mood to rest their face on me I’ll lay my head on them. There's nothing like that. There is no sort of purer fulfilling energy. Resting your head on your animal + breathing with them. Pure joy. That’s it. Other than that. Very first thing in the morning + very last thing at night laying my head on Andrew’s chest. You just forget how great it is to not have to be anywhere. Having those moments of just laying in bed or not having to rush to sleep or not having to rush to bed to do something.
Question 5: What’s your favorite place in the world + why?
I think I have a couple. I know you’re not supposed to have more than one favorite. That defeats the purpose but I have my favorite place locally + then I have my favorite place that I want to visit again. I also have a place stateside + foreign. I would say within driving distance my favorite place is the area club. It’s like a strip mine club that we have out here where I live. It’s just a bunch of lakes + ponds. Not big lakes. People go boating + camping. You can have a picnic. Play sand volleyball. Stuff like that.
It’s just big + it does get busy sometimes during the summer when camping is going on. But there's so much ground that there's so many places you can go + feel like the only person in the world. Being able to escape there is huge for me. Now, I don't have as much now of a, “I just need to go + sit + process quietly by myself.” I would go sit there like every day after school + just cry. Not always just crying. The sunsets right there over the lake that's just like the most serene place that I have at my fingertips.
My favorite place in the United States is definitely the pacific northwest. I can not get enough of the forest, mountains, streams, + rapids. It's all so fucking stunning out there. I could spend all of my time there. I’ve never been to Oregon or Northern California but I just want to do all of it. I want to road trip all of it. Which is exactly why I want to live on a bus. I just want to see it all.
Outside of the United States, my favorite place I've ever visited that I can not wait to go back to is the Dominican republic. When my wedding client was booking my flight to go there, it was when the United States was saucy with the Dominican republic. There was some tabloid drama going on. There were a couple of people who had died from unexplained deaths + they were not sure if it was from the water or what was going on. I was terrified because of the way the media was blowing it up.
My couple was like we have been there before. It is amazing you’re going to love it. Wasn't concerned. Got there. It was amazing. The people are so kind. I have never met a whole group island native group of people who were so kind + welcoming + so warm always. It was great. I loved it. I can’t wait to go back. I came home + I told Andrew. We don't like leaving the dogs ever so we don't really travel together far. But I told him we have to come back here. It is absolutely amazing. The beaches are amazing, the water is amazing. The people are amazing. The culture is just all stunning.
Question 6: How do you know when someone is worthy of being in your tribe?
I can feel it in my body when you think you've known someone in another life. You don't bhav to know their life story. You don't have to know all the things about them but you already feel close to them or you can already tell that you trust them. Last night when I was thinking on this question trust is really what was sticking out to me.
I think that I know if someone is worthy of being in my “tribe” when I can feel the emotional trust that I already have in them + that they have in me. I think that it's really hard to have an unspoken + close bond with someone when one of you feels that you have to prove how you feel or you have to prove your worthiness or prove your interest level or disinterest level. I know when someone will effortlessly mesh with my tribe when I can feel their heart on their sleeve + their soul space just so open. Just that emotional trust so present.
Question 7: When do you feel the most tranquillity?
Most definitely when I'm sitting in a hot bath. That is usually the time I'm most at peace. It takes away all of my pain. I can just rest. Close my eyes. Feel the water brush over me. I usually just hang out in the bath until I'm sweating + uncomfortable. My massage therapist back in the day would tell me, “Whenever you’re having pain like that just run the bathwater + sit in as hot of water as you can handle.” It helps your body reset. You breathe deeper. You can come out + feel more aligned + loosened up.
Question 8: If you could know the absolute truth to one question what would you ask?
When I first read this question I thought I would ask my mom something. Which would not be a fun podcast episode answer but it is the truth + we’re talking about true q + a’s. I would probably ask what it would take to help her balance out the worthiness between her chosen past times + the things that her family wishes were important to her.
Question 9: Which one of your personality traits have been more useful for you?
I love this question. When I read this question I literally squealed. Who asks that? That’s such an amazing question. I would say my openness to being a fucking goofball + the fact that I’m a people person. Those have been more useful to me as far as in my chosen career path. This business is so connection-driven + communication driven + transparency is so necessary.
Me being my weird normal awkward self that helps a+ lends itself to the transparency so much. I think that being able to communicate well + connect well makes me able to help people feel comfortable. That’s why I choose career paths that include human interaction + connection. They play right into each other. I can tell you which of my personality traits have been the least helpful.
Which is not a question that I was asked but my desire to people please + take on everything at once has not been helpful. That usually causes my idea to take a year or two to accomplish instead of 6 months. Hey, as long as we do it with heart + we don’t half-ass it to me it still counts.
Question 10: When you have at least 30 minutes of free time how do you pass the time?
I was actually embarrassed by this question. I'm embarrassed to answer because I don't do anything special or cool when I have 30 minutes of free time. I just sit. I used to think of myself as an extrovert but when I think of how much time I need to truly recharge my social energy + social meter I'm like damn girl I don't think you’re really an extravert at all. It takes you a lot of time alone to deal with more people. Usually, when I have 30 minutes of free time I just lay on the couch or I eat. Truly.
Usually, I would smoke a little bit, go grab a snack, chill on the couch + turn on New Girl. Or I will come in + grab a snack + edit. Just to squeeze in some editing. I feel like I’m always editing. When I do have the free time + the energy for it that’s what I do in all my free time. I also try to nap but usually if I only had 30 minutes I would not nap. That would give me so much anxiety.
Question 11: What’s your biggest goal in life?
My biggest goal in life is to get to what feels like the last 10 to 15 years of it + truly having an inner knowing that I served humans + myself. That I did what it took to live my life + live those days I was given in pure happiness. Even when it’s not happiness + pure wholesomeness. I think if I got to the end of my life + I could feel that I would be distraught.
I want to know that while I will feel tired + exhausted + run down by that time that I left a little piece of me with each person I crossed paths with that felt like they had room for part of my energy + heart with them. The biggest goal for sure. I also want to see all the things I want to see because I feel like what good are these eyeballs for + all this camera equipment if I don't get to see what I love.
Question 12: In four years what do you think you’ll be the most nostalgic about?
Another killer question. These days with my puppies + my husband. That just made me sad + nostalgic now. My 20s + finding myself with no hold bar. The connection with my inner knowing that I feel in this phase of my life that everything is happening as it should. Having this youthfulness with my husband + our dogs. This rental house that we’ve loved + hated all at once. Me trying to be a plant mom + failing miserably. The freshness of really figuring life out for us + deciding what it means for us.
Question 13: What makes a person beautiful to you?
First + foremost their realness. I want to know that someone can be real with themselves. Even real is rougher around the edges + kind of sassy or kind of an asshole. I want to know people can be real with themselves + honest with themselves. There are some sassy people that are being honest with themselves. A lot of sassy people are doing it to put on a show + they are not being honest with themselves.
But they do exist. Honest, raw, sassy, people. It’s beautiful to me when people can embrace themselves. All of themselves + what makes a person beautiful is when they smile about a compliment that you've given them. When they actually can take on some of it + believe it.
Question 14: In your opinion, what separates a friend from an acquaintance?
I'm going to go back to that emotional trust piece. I'm a pretty open book so I share a lot of deeper stuff with a lot of people. My circle that knows the nitty-gritty + the details of the really rough shit that I’ve trucked through. The people who show that they value being here to support me while those things happen. I think that is what separates a friend from an acquaintance.
A lot of us grow up wanting quantity over quality because it makes us feel more loved at the lunch table when we have 15 people around us instead of none. As we get older we have to be able to recognize an acquaintance is someone who while they are here for you + they may show up for you when it's convenient they are not the same as the people who show up when it's inconvenient. Who cares enough to stick around long enough to hear the stories + see the damage + still value you enough to pick you back up.
Question 15: What keeps you interested in photography?
I combined this question with, “When did you first know that photography was your passion” because I think they go really well together. My passion for photography started when I was young. I got a Kodak point + shoot camera when they were new + special + fancy. I thought I was the shit. You turn it on + the little lense would pop out from the front. I used one of those in middle school. I would bring it to cheer competitions. I would bring it on the bus. I would bring it to parties.
Then, I got another camera. I got a Pixar, something that was a little smaller. It was teal blue + it was my favorite. I would take photos of my eye all sorts of goofy shit. I would say my passion was born in late middle school/early high school for taking photos of the moments + really capturing those memories.
I knew that I wanted to do it professionally when I started seeing other people from my town really able to do what they loved + be making money from it. I was like, “Wait a second.” I was always told I would never be able to support myself on that. So to be able to see somebody literally supporting themselves while they were taking other classes doing that. I was like, “I'm in.” Then I bought my camera at the end of college + from there I knew. I knew before I bought the camera that I wanted to do it professionally. I’ve always had this weird go-getter-ness in me where after I’ve overthought something for so long I just go for it. At that point, there was no changing my mind on it. I was pretty committed. From there it budded.
Question 16: How did you get your business started?
First things first I had to buy the camera. Then I just knew that I wanted to practice shooting before I even thought about the full business piece. I still remember thinking back saying, “When somebody needs a family photo done it’s so weird that they’re going to think of me”. That I could do that.
That was cool just to navigate that in the beginning of realizing that people trusted me. That was huge. So I started shooting with people + friends shooting sessions for free. Then I started charging really low. I charged $50 for a half-hour + $75 for a full hour. I did some backyard weddings + some vow renewals. Family sessions + 8th-grade sessions. All sorts of stuff.
Whoever would get in front of my camera, I took their pictures. From there I started making an album so that people could see my work. You have to create a portfolio like your own little storefront. Then it started slowly from there. 4 years after I started teaching I was able to quit teaching + go full time which was crazy. It’s just grown ever since.
Question 17: How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband at a party. One night + I actually wasn't interested in him at all. I was super distracted. I had just broken up with my boyfriend that day. My boyfriend + I hadn't known each other for a super long time. He was getting ready to leave for the military + was in such a craze.
I was like, “What do I do? What’s right + what’s wrong?” There was this girl that wanted to fight me. That was just a hot mess. I just remember I had a friend who I had known off + on from having mutual friends in the community. He came up + said, “Hey Tori, this is my friend Ranko” + introduced us. I said, “Hey” + went on to figure out where the girl that wanted to beat me up was so that I didn't get jumped at this party. Super distracted.
Then we became Facebook friends. I don't know if he added me or I added him. We go back + forward. Then it was a full year later that I had posted a Facebook status after having a freshmen orientation at the college that I was getting ready to go to + Andrew went to that college. I didn't know that. He commented on my status saying, “Wait, you’re going to ISU?” Me being me, I messaged him because I was not about to have this conversation with this cute older boy on my status. I messaged him. Hello, got to slide into those DMs. I messaged him + said, “Hey. Yea, I am going to ISU in the fall. Is that going to be okay with you Mr. Rankovich?” Being all funny + flirty.
We really hit it off. We talked over messenger for a little bit. I asked him to talk on the phone one night. He made a big deal about how he doesn’t talk on the phone. We talked for an hour. The rest was pretty much history. We texted a little bit just to kind of feel it out. I could tell really early on that this was not something that I had ever experienced as far as feelings go.
I knew that I wasn't just some random thing to him if he would sit on the phone with me for that long. We were having as legit of conversations as we were having. That's not just some surface-level stuff. Kinda allowed myself to be trusting in that. We hung out a couple of times privately. Didn't really share that we were hanging out yet.
Then we actually both went to Unofficial. Which is a college drinking day down at U of I. It’s like an unofficial Halloween. I went up with one of my friends. Andrew was there with a bunch of his friends. I played him in beer pong with another girl that was there + we beat him. I couldn't believe it. He kissed me in front of all of his friends. From there I was like, “Oh shit. We’re in this. Now everybody knows.” It was weird.
When we met, as I said, I had just broken up with my boyfriend the year before. We didn't speak again. Then when we had started talking I had kinda very lightly talked to somebody from my past. I had just gotten out of a relationship with the guy in the military a couple of months before that. Another person from my past + I had been hanging out + talking again. He had asked me out a couple of times + I said no. I just got out of this chaos. I wasn’t looking to jump back into something that I had already known didn't work once.
From there is when I started talking to Andrew. When they say when you know you know. I think you have to trust your guts. I got a lot of slack for talking to Andrew + messaging him + hanging out with him when that guy from my past + I were hanging out. I also knew that this wasn't something I had ever felt before + I had to trust that. Clearly, 8 ½ years later + 1 year of being married I wasn't wrong. You just have to trust yourself.
Question 18: What is your favorite event or type of session to shoot?
I have a few for different reasons. For nostalgia's sake, shooting weddings is by far the biggest honor that I could ever have. The fact that people seek me out + hire me to hang out with them on their wedding day + capture those photos that chances are they have been thought of hundreds of times. If it’s somebody who hasn’t thought of their wedding since their childhood, those people usually are even more so, “I know exactly what I want. I don’t want to deal with extra bullshit.” That attitude.
It’s just such an honor to be hand-picked by humans that are going to pick this exciting + beautiful day. For them to say, “Hey. We trust you. We want to create with you. We really like what you’ve done in the past.” There is nothing cooler than that. As far as nostalgia sake, definitely weddings. The types of sessions I get the giddiest about in the moment. I think it’s because they’re shorter. A wedding day is usually 8 hours. Minimum.
Couple sessions within the wedding day are obviously part of what makes me adore weddings, but couple sessions are just so special to me. There is nothing like photographing 2 humans that are in love with each other. There's literally nothing like being in the presence of that. It makes my heart well up. I just cheese the whole time because I’m so happy.
Also boudoir. I love helping women love themselves deeper, stronger, better, + more wholesomely. Shooting boudoir. There’s nothing fucking like it. That is the type of session that will fulfill me forever. If I had to only shoot one type of session it would be sexy photos. Whether it's sexy couple photos, sexy individual photos, whatever it is. That it is. There is nothing like it. There is nothing like empowering people. I love it.
Question 19: Where do you see your business going in the future?
This is a really cool time for me to get this question to answer publicly. I have been doing a lot behind the scenes. I’m excited to be able to grow + expand alongside the people who are invested + believe in this company + this brand of mine. Obviously, I see myself continuing to shoot photos until I physically can't. Until my shoulders give out or my back gives out or my neck gets messed up + I can't continue crunching down.
I would love to not have to shoot as often as I do. Just because of the wear + tear it does put on my body + the amount of time it does take away from being able to put my heart + soul into editing as often as I would like to. Also, time away from creating fun passion sessions + traveling as much as I would like. I’d like to shoot more weddings than I do now but have them more consistent. Obviously, the Coronavirus made nothing consistent this year.
I also see this brand evolving into lifestyle. A really soulful feeling lifestyle brand. I have this podcast. That's not something that I’m never going to see myself monetizing. I don’t see myself going out, getting ads + turning it into something I make money off of during episodes. I do though fully believe in the idea behind Souls Undressed so I'm going to be doing collaborations + my photography brand for different merchandise. I've designed 8 different pieces in sets to release to you guys. It's all going to come into shifts. Everything will be in limited quantities.
I’ve been very passionate about merchandise for a long time now. I’m so passionate about what quality clothing + comfort can do for you. Especially as somebody who struggles with my mental health + talks about the different coping skills that I have + use. Cozy clothes are always a part of that for me so I think that's the thing that's really special to me. I've said it before on my stories, I’ve probably said it in a podcast episode too.
For me my clothing is a form of my expression so being able to create clothing that is super high quality, so freaking comfy, livable, + versatile, + can speak an important message + I’m passionate about. That’s all that matters to me. I plan to continue working in merchandise + paper goods. Prints + cards. Stuff like that will hopefully be able to pick up the part of business where I was shooting 23 sessions last month.
Ideally I would like to not be able to do that. Holy crap. Burn out city if I do that for too long. Looking to definitely expand the brand into a lifestyle brand. Obviously continue shooting but as with the merchandise. In 2021, I have a really big business shift coming for you. As far as my photography business goes. I really can not say much about it yet because it’s really big + it's going to blow some people's minds. It’s really exciting + everyone is going to be so happy + stoked about it. I know that I am. As far as that bit goes I can't say where I see that pivot going in the future but I can say by summer of 2021 you will know what that new pivot/venture is. I'm really excited about that as well.
Question 20 + 21: What’s your biggest dream + goal for your business? + What's your biggest dreams + goals in life?
My biggest dream + goal for Tori Elizabeth photography + this brand that will continue to evolve is to be consistent, sufficient, + soulful enough to be able to sustain itself. By sustaining itself I mean, I want to be able to build this brand + these services up to a point where I’m not recreating the wheel every few months to continue to bring clientele in but to where that clientele is consistent. I am booked out. I know what to expect from my upcoming years.
I think once I reach that point of sustainability I will be able to hire a team, but not only hire them and pay them a livable wage that allows them to just work on my team. That is my biggest goal is for my team. To be able to support these women + allow them to have a badass work environment that they absolutely adore signing into. That they can work mostly from home most days with their own families. That allows them to have vacation days + sick time + a salary that makes them proud.
That is my biggest business goal. My biggest dreams + goals in life other than what I said earlier about the end of life, I dream of renovating a bus of some sort + living in it like a little pod with my family. Just me, my husband + our dogs. Seeing the ground that we've been given to walk on. I can't speak for others but having the comfort of this home + having comfort-driven clientele contentment makes us lazy. It definitely makes us super content + settle.
When I think of how much earth there is for my bare ass feet to step on, I'm like what the hell am I doing here in coal city Illinois? I love my hometown. I think it's great. Some people don’t have access to sunflower fields, pumpkin patches, + cornfields like we do. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing like a midwest sunset. I feel like my feet were made to touch more. My eyes were made to see more. What's the point in having these senses if we're not using them to explore what we have at our fingertips.
Question 22: Tell us about your fur babies?
Our first fur baby’s name is Oliver. He was our first puppy adventure. We got him from a garage litter from what they told us was a purebred momma. The mom + Oliver both have very very strong physical characteristics of a wimer weimer. We were told his mom is a purebred silver lab. His mom was knocked up by a pit mix. Oliver is a silver lab pitbull mix. We got him as a puppy at 8 weeks. He is 120 pounds now. 3 ½ years old. He is the biggest ball of fluffy skin + love.
He’s got a super wrinkly flabby chest that everyone loves. He got giant paws so we knew he was going to be huge. He’s got a lot of skin conditions because silver labs + pitbulls are more likely to have skin issues so he’s got little spots on him from one of his past skin infections. He is perfect in every way. Pancake is our rescue baby. We reduced her from a rescue that actually saved her from the kill shelter of chicago animal control. They are a kill shelter for when they’re over capacity.
She ended up needing surgery though after she was resuced because when they found her she was abandoned + tied up in a garage. No food or water. Had narcotic tissue, which means dying tissue around where she had babies. She had a litter of puppies + no one cleaned her up or anything. There were no puppies to be found. It’s likely they took her puppies + just left her to die.
Chicago Animal Control came + picked her up. They did reconstructive surgery from the necrotic tissue they had to cut out. Then they rehabbed her a bit. Pancake is such a people person. I'm fully confident that is why she was able to live long enough in that shelter as well as her surgery + just being a total lover. From there the rescue that we rescued her from picked her up + we found her through them.
I'm not going to give the name of the rescue just because I don't fully support what we experienced with them. We don't feel like they had knowledge of animals at the forefront of their concerns at all times. There were a lot of selfishly driven decisions. Which is fine. It happens. Most rescues are volunteer-driven. That's just not something that we recommended to others. Other than that, we were so grateful for Pancake.
Everything happens for a reason. She is amazing. She is not friendly to other dogs. It took us at least 10 days for her + Olly to get to be together. I truly think she was raised in a fighting setting where they would fight other pits. She was bred to have puppies + then abandoned. She's had it rough. We muzzle her + try to socialize her 1 to 3 times a year. We’re going to start working on that more + more often because eventually we would like to add to our little pack. She’s fine in a muzzle. She can't do damage in a muzzle but she is a gremlin for sure.
Question 23: What is your favorite location to shoot at?
Anywhere that has water I can have a freaking blast with. I was just saying to my husband the other day that while I feel very confident in my ability to photograph + story tell in our area it does make me sad sometimes to know the vast difference that it makes when you have a stunning backdrop, gorgeous scenery, or landscape. I would say my favorite that I have shot at definitely was in Seattle + the Dominican. I love shooting in the forest but ultimately if I can shoot at a beach or a lakefront I’m in. I love to shoot with water. There's just something about 2 people playing in the water. It’s magical.
Question 24: Where did you go to school + what did you study?
I went to school at Illinois State University. It's in Bloomington, Illinois. I studied special education + learning + behavioral studies. I dreamt of being a vet or animal groomer when I was really little. Then I was going to be a teacher from the time I was 5 through high school. Then in high school I got pretty passionate about photography. I realized I didn't suck. I had a pretty natural eye for it. You can learn more about that + me not going to art school in earlier episodes. I think it’s in episode 1 or 2. I ended up teaching for 4 years + then leaving teaching. Which leads right into question 25.
Question 25: Why did you quit teaching + what do you miss most about education?
I left teaching first + foremost because of not being appreciated. When you go to school + you study something for 4 years. You pay thousands upon thousands of dollars + you trust that you’ve chosen your career path because of your compassion, commitment, + dedication to its mission that you gain a level of knowledge in your field. After teaching + working with students with disabilities, to serve disabilities, to learning disabilities that allowed them to work in a regular ed classroom all day long that just needs some additional support comprehending reading or working with numbers, you trust in yourself that you are gaining knowledge.
That you’re gaining experience + more + more passion for the humans that you’re working with. In that, you gain a level of expectation + trust. The expectation to be trusted. It all started out, the feeling of the hair sticking up on the back of my neck, teaching in my school district not too long in. I could feel that the questions that I was asking were being pushed off + ignored. I could feel I was asking questions that my Special Ed Administration wished I would not be asking. I started getting emails ignored + asking questions that I wouldn't get answers to.
That was the beginning of it. Then I started noticing in different meetings that were happening + in different IEP meetings that were happening that we as a school district were not handling each student's case the same. I don't mean the same as in we were not giving each kid the same service because obviously. But we weren’t handling every case with the same amount of integrity.
There were certain meetings that were expected to be prepared for. There were certain meetings that we were expected to be deceiving. There were certain meetings where all the t’s were crossed + the i’s were dotted appropriately + goals were previewed because there was going to be a parent lawyer present. Then there were meetings where I watched my Special Education Director run through a 20-page document in 15 minutes + rush the parent out the door within 30 minutes. For a meeting that should really, on standard, take no less than an hour.
I was beginning to see that there was a piece missing in my school district's integrity puzzle. It was all stewing out of the spout that came right above me which was my own personal administrator within Special Education. I started asking more + more questions in my 2nd year in the district. I was learning to keep a better paper trail of all of my questions. I was asking all of my questions over email instead of in person. I was including my building principal instead of just asking my Special Ed Administrator questions.
At the end of my 2nd to last year, I had a student with a pretty severe behavior incident take place + I was completely kept out of the loop. I wasn’t informed about the behavior taking place. I wasn't called down to the office to meet with the student before their removal. I was invited to the meeting that took place to determine the next placement for this student. When another school employee informed the director that she would be informing me of the notes that I missed since I was the student’s case manager + by law I’m supposed to be aware of everything going on within the child's case, she was told, “No you won’t, You’re not going to tell her.”
It just turned very very dirty. Very illegal. Very quickly. After that instance, at the end of my second to last year I was ready to explode. I felt like I had very good trust in my school district superintendent + building administration. I knew I couldn't trust my special ed director, but that I was super passionate about this job + these students. I had chosen this community for a reason. I had expectations to hold within me.
Instead of going off the handle like I wanted to, luckily my husband recommended being a smart adult about the situation. He recommended starting to keep paper evidence, a paper trail, documentation of what was going on, the questions I was asking, the things being ignored, + the paperwork that was being done illegally. From April of 2017 to April 2018 I kept a manilla folder of emails with no responses. With emails of me asking for more information about how a legal process took place that I was supposed to be aware of + me being told that I didn’t need to know. They just needed a special ed teacher there in the room legally.
All sorts of crazy stuff like that. The following school year, my last year started. I got a professional development envelope, it’s kind of like an ad. They put them in teacher mailboxes trying to get teachers to come to gain their professional development hours through whatever company is putting on this education. Well, this educational just so happened to be on the type of meeting that I was discluded from the year before that I was aware that I was discluded from. I was 93% sure was handled illegally but I wasn’t positive.
An invitation to this type of professional development ended up in my mailbox at school. I was like holy cow this is fate. This is meant to be. I was meant to get this. I went ahead to my building principal first because the building principal has to approve it. Then the district has to approve it. So my building principal looked over any professional developments that were planned + went, “Nope, we don’t have anything coming up that covers this kind of stuff or that is similar. So I’ll go ahead + approve it. I’m usually pretty good at guessing what will go + what won’t so we’ll send this through + I’ll let you know when we hear back.”
The next week we had a special education meeting. Which were building meetings that were held by the special education director + the special ed teachers. Which caveat, I found out when I was quitting + meeting with my superintendent that those were not the way those meetings were supposed to be held. The special education director was not supposed to be in direct contact with us teachers by ourself. Our building principal was also supposed to be present, but miscommunication across a district + board leads to a lack of following expectations I suppose. We were in a special education meeting + the special ed director asked me to stay after everybody had cleared out. I stayed after + she asked me about being friends with someone.
Over the weekend Andrew’s best friend was at my house. He’s actually the guy who since then officiated our wedding when we eloped + will officiate our vow renewal next year. His daughter has an IEP. She didn’t have one yet but they were getting ready to do some testing or that. I have his permission to talk about this. In all of that, he was over at the house + he asked me a questionnaire he had to fill out for his daughter because he wanted to make sure he understood the questions so he didn’t mess up his daughter’s information. I said, “Of course.” She has grown up around us. I know the school side of it + I know her personal life. I explained to him the basic definition if he didn't understand what a question was asking.
We got to talking + I became aware that he had never been invited to his daughter's IEP meetings. Well, I know through getting my education that all parents, both parents of a child with special needs, an IEP, or a 504 have the right + should be included in all the child's IEP meetings. That’s their right. It’s your child. He had never been invited to an IEP meeting because of his work schedule. I told him, “Just so you know, it is the law you are allowed to be there. If you want to be included by phone you’re more than welcome to ask her special ed case manager to call you at the start of the meeting. It’s just like a conference call. Everyone else is there in person + he would be in by phone. Step away from work for 20 minutes, be on the call, call it a day.
He had emailed her special ed case manager + said, “Hey, I have the questionnaire done. Also, I was over with my friend Tori Cumming, she’s a district special teacher, she let me know that I can actually be in on those meetings. I would love to do that. Can we set that up? The next one I would love to be in by phone. I’ve also talked to my daughter’s mom because Tori is friends with us. If it's easier to include her on the list of people who can be in the know about her IEP we can do that as well. Tori can help us understand stuff at home.” The teacher never got back to him that evening.
The next morning was my special ed meeting + when my Special Ed Director asked me to stay after the first thing out of her mouth was, “So you’re friends with this family?” I was confused. She said, “Well you told this family you would be their advocate.” Which I did not + that’s not what the email said because I read it. My Special Ed Director said, “We can’t tell the family who they can + can’t have at a meeting legally but, it would for sure be a conflict of interest for you to be their advocate. You would be teaching at the same time.”
I said, “Well, I never offered to be their advocate because I teach during the hours of special education meetings. So that wouldn’t make any sense to step away from my job + my students for that meeting. I also know that the family is looking for assistance + understanding in things so if there is a line that you’re telling me that I need to stay on one side or the other of you need to make that very clear right now.”
She said, “ I just need you to know that it will really make you look like a bitch to the lower grade special ed teacher for not trusting their judgment.” Mind you, I am 6 months into knowing that this woman breaks the law carelessly + does not allow her special education case managers to do their jobs by law. That was just ultra triggering for me.
I leave this meeting after that conversation, I go to my mailbox, + in my mailbox right then as I walked out of this meeting with her is my request to go to this professional development denied at the district level. It had a sticky note on it that said, “We do not send special ed teachers to law conferences per the Special Ed Director. Thanks.”
Two things. There were special education teachers in my same building that went to a law conference by the same company in the year prior. 1st lie. 2nd of all, can we process for a moment that we have a school district with a Special Ed Administrator who is saying that we don't send our special education teachers, who oversee the public children's legal documents, to law conferences.
Why? Why would you not send your special education teachers to law conferences if you are not educating them on the law? Oh, wait! I have a guess. Probably because the pamphlet for the educational that I had requested had the exact name of the meeting that I was illegally excluded from the year prior. She probably didn’t want me knowing what I was illegally discluded in + the ways the meeting was handled illegally because she was breaking the law.
Long story short, attempted to get approved by my building principal. I went to my union president. Then I went to the superintendent. Across all levels of this school district, asking why we denied a special education teacher to gain information about special education law + practice that we are carrying out on a daily basis as special education teachers. The Special Education Director told the district + the building principal that she would offer professional development. We’re not sending her.
I took a personal day. I paid $600. I went up north + I went to the professional development. Guess what? I spent 6 hours learning about how illegally the meeting was handled the year prior. Weird. I also then got to attend the special education professional development that was put on by the district. Which the Special Ed Director coordinated after being asked why she wouldn't allow me to go to this professional development. Would you like to know what we learned about in that professional development in the district? We got a handout of symbols in a program that we were already required to use by law.
Each of us was required to uphold at least 6 if not 15 IEPs in this program. During this professional development for an hour + a half of our lives. 3 sessions throughout the last semester of my teaching career, I learned about this program we were already expected to use. We learned about what the symbols meant, we learned how to sort the symbols in alphabetical order, we learned how to sort lists by disability category, we learned what each different tab showed us. We learned how to use + understand a system that many of us had been using for 4 to 10 years.
I need to look up the age of this system we were using before I can truly say people have been using it for 10 years, but it’s been around for a hot second. If you’ve heard of Easy IEP you know what I’m talking about. Needless to say, the last two years were a shitshow for me. I have a very good relationship with my students. There are still parents who i keep in touch with. I’m still aware of how my students + their health + their mental health is doing. How their education is going + how some of their jobs are. I’m taking some of their senior photos. I value my kids.
The last 20 minutes of rambling have been me just trying to express how broken my environment got around me. I became surrounded by a bunch of people who valued what they had right now + valued the comfort that brought them more than they valued following the moral compass in their chest + gut. More than they valued fighting for all of their students, not just their high functioning students, to have access to the same kind of future that they did. That became an environment that I couldn't stay in any longer.
The very last meeting that I had with my Special Education Director was not the last day of school because the students had finals, but I had a meeting that was not scheduled by me but scheduled by another staff member for a student with their parents. It was scheduled on the last day I would have study hall with my students.
Being a special education teacher + having a class of 12 kids before they go take finals the next day (ranging from freshman to senior) I needed to have a little check-in with them. Made sure they had their pencils, made sure they knew what their schedule was since the schedule changes. Then ultimately to say goodbye to them because they weren’t going to have study hall with me again. That meant that I wasn’t going to be seeing some of them before I was done teaching for good.
I went + talked to the family that was part of the meeting we were having ahead of time in the office. I said, “Hey, it’s the last day of school for our regular schedule. The students have finals in the morning. Are you fine with me stepping out the last 10 minutes of our meeting + making sure my students have all the info they need + sending them off? Then coming back down here for the end of the meeting.” The mom said, “Oh my gosh. Totally. 100%.”
I ended up finding out after stepping out of the room to go talk to the parents before the meeting, while I stepped out one of the staff members in the room asked the Special Education Director where I was because they had seen my computer + all my stuff there. The Special Ed Director’s response was, “Oh, she’s just out there in the office sucking up to the parents.” If that expresses the culture + the complete utter bullshit that I had to deal with from my administration.
The people who were supposed to be the people that I learned from + my go-to for guidance + support in doing my job the best I cloud for the kids + family in my community. It became very clear very quickly that the goal there was to do the job the quickest + easiest way possible. Put up the smoke + mirrors for the rest that’s necessary. Stuff that I couldn’t get on board with.
If you know me at all from listening to this podcast you know that I don't do well-speaking bullshit. I don’t do well being untrue to myself or being inauthentic. There was absolutely no way I could imagine living my life every single day coming home + covering up somebody’s bullshit story they were telling everyone else. To have to see those kids + parents in the community made me feel like I was lying to them. I was lying to them. I was pretending that I was in this great place + I was watching their kids’ education be taken advantage of. Being brushed off like it was nothing.
I have avoided talking about that for a while because clearly I can go + go. I really did not want that to be its own episode without some more direct questions about it. People wanting specific details about my choices in things, I would be happy to do something more. I didn’t want to give that nasty chapter of my life any more negative space to hold than was necessary but I do hope that was able to give a little more insight as to what made me leave education.
I do want to wrap up on what I miss the most about it. Most definitely above anything else I miss the kids. There is something so special to me about having the opportunity to see humans where they’re at + where they need to be seen. That helps me in couples photography + in boudoir photography but that helped me first as a teacher because teenagers most of all need to be seen.
They need to be seen for who they are. Fucking appreciated for the bad-ass weirdos that they are. Empowered to be reminded they are strong enough to take on what the world throws at them. We as adults need support too but we've been around the block a few times. We’ve got some experience under our belt + high school kids just don't have that. Some of us have more experience than others.
A lot of them have more experience than we wish they would. I wholeheartedly miss connecting with them, helping them through their stresses, their home lives, their boyfriends + girlfriends, their sports, what stressed them out about practice last night, and how they learned the best. Connecting with them + seeing the way their wild brains worked, grow, adapt + evolve. That’s definitely the part I miss the most.
I’ve been asked a million times if I’m going to go back into teaching. When I left teaching I told myself that I was going to stay up on my teaching license but I don’t think I ever had intentions of doing that. That’s probably against a lot of people’s better judgment. There's still a chance I might knock out all my PD hours in November + December to keep it up but I could see myself subbing again. Whenever we move around if ever we move around subbing again somewhere.
I don't think my wild heart + soul are made to flourish in an environment like that. That is so structured + closed-minded. Honestly, the public school system is so closed-minded. It’s very structured + it has to be. There's good in that too but I think if I were to work with kids in the future it’ll hopefully be in a freer setting. I would love to run summer camps in the future for kids. That was a 2021 dream of mine before covid hit. I want to find ways to interact with kiddos but I have to find ways that can still complement my life with where I’m at.
I said to somebody a few weeks ago, “I think I’ll eventually end up back with kiddos but right now my personality + type of life I lead is making me a lot more officiant in connecting with people my age + older.” I think I have a mark to be made with this generation before I go back to students + let them fulfill me. People who have seen me work with kids are like, “Oh my gosh you belong with kids.” I truly feel in my heart I just belong with humans. Humans are my people. All ages are my ages. Open-mindedness is really my proficiency, not really age.
I’m excited about what's to come. I’m happy to have finally been able to share that with you. This is quite the episode. Make sure you tune back in for part 2 in a couple of weeks. I can't wait to continue sharing little bits of me, my life, this business, + this brand. What makes me tick. Thank you so much for being here. I'm very excited to hear next week's episode with a very special guest. Till then, take care. I love you guys.
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