The Problem of Following Your Dreams

When you’re little they tell you to follow your dreams.

When I was little I dreamt of being a princess and a filmmaker and an artist and a world-class chef. My favorite dream I had at night was the one where I was a mermaid, swimming in a public pool. An indoor one with Olympic Diving depth and lines of red tiles swirling through the white ones. I think this felt safe – the ocean is so big – and when you spend your first seven years in Canada indoor pools are what you know best. I felt so free because I could stay underwater as long as I wanted. No adventures were impaired by the need to come up for air! But I would eventually wake up in my dry bed and as reality rushed over me, I would cry. I would wiggle my human toes and long to be the girl I had dreamt I was. To not ever have to come up for air, that was the beautiful magic I could only experience in dreams.

When people find out what I do for a living they usually ask how I got started. The answer is simple but incredibly big: I tell them my career as a women’s portrait photographer came from my longings as a child. See, I could be a mermaid and a princess and a director and a supermodel in our vast, unfinished basement. My sister and I spent every afternoon after school, every endless summer day, and every sleepover in that basement. Our parents let us use their film and digital cameras, their video camera, their old clothes, and Dad’s tool bench to create whatever we wanted to. (I realize now as an adult what a rare and precious gift that was.) We created and expressed and tried and failed and acted and danced and sang. We played pretend and got to be mermaids. When you believe you are a thing, then that thing is what you are.


When you grow up they tell you your dreams won’t work.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. There wasn’t one big moment or specific person who convinced me that I had to work hard at a job I didn’t like and be a serious “grown up” when I reached a certain age.

You know I probably convinced myself.

Anyway, a few years ago I started to undo that damage. I caught a glimpse of who I was and felt a clear call to do what I’m passionate about the way only I, Mitanjeli Starkweather, can. And  then several months ago I photographed a beautiful old friend along with her sister and mother. While I was doing her makeup she said, “Remember those photo shoots we did in your basement as kids?” She found that picture, dated January 2004, and sent it to me. There it was: the lace curtains in the basement, the fake flowers I told her to hold, and the sepia tone effect I added to the photo later. We were thirteen years old and so, so proud.

Now, as a 27 year old adult with a mortgage and a business and a caffeine addiction, I realize I spent most of my teen years and early twenties searching for a purpose-driven career in every place but my own heart.

When you grow up and they tell you your dreams won’t work, make them work. The answer you’re looking for is closer than you think – maybe that’s why we miss it – it’s flowing through your own beautiful veins.