Welcome to the Empathy Economy

Do you have something about yourself you once saw as a flaw and now recognize as a superpower?


I know I do.


Nice to re-meet you!

This is a re-introduction blog post. A reintroduction of my business and of myself.


Hello Gorgeous has always been about making photographs of my clients that empower them to fully step into their next chapter. Spending time uncovering their story, unnoticed beauty and funny details are what guide me and my clients to see a side of themselves they may not have noticed and allow them to feel seen and beautiful in places they didn’t previously look.


Recently, I added the service of improv facilitator to my business when I began to see the parallels between improv and photography and came to see my empathic nature as a superpower.


A few years ago, when I moved to Portland, to be a caretaker for my mom, I found myself in a brand new city needing to pivot my business.


As I met more people, I began to understand how improv had empowered me to get out of my comfort zone and become bolder in my life. It increased my emotional intelligence, helped me get better at having difficult conversations, being more comfortable with the unknown and becoming more present.


Around me I was hearing about teams and companies looking for ways to learn empathy in order to create psychological safety.


I was seeing more people battling depression, anxiety and a feeling of lack of community. I was learning about the neurological challenges with my mom’s disease and how to become a caretaker.


I had seen how improv addressed all of these things and had come to understand that improv hadn’t just been my outlet for fun and expression, it became a tool with positive impacts on relationships, growth and communication for a wider range of people and scenarios than I ever realized.


Today Hello Gorgeous is about creating amazing experiences plus photography. We create a portfolio of portraits for you, your team, or your company. We help people become better leaders, learn to get out of their own way, find confidence in being in the moment, feel less precious about mistakes and free themselves up to be willing to explore paths they would previously have avoided.


Schedule a consultation for improv &/or photography here.



Now to reintroduce MYSELF

You may know me from advertising, photography or from improv.


You may know me as a first generation American and youngest daughter of a Serbian father and German mother.


©Vitus Herb. Photo by my favorite uncle after I got poked by the roses.

You may know me as a nice midwest girl with curly hair from Chicago, an unfiltered, direct, impatient New Yorker or as a bread baker and deodorant maker relatively new to Portland.


You probably don’t know me as someone, who was recently diagnosed in her late 40s, with ADD.


Is there something true about you that you once called a flaw, but now recognize as a superpower?


For as long as I could remember, I’ve had unfinished projects, big ideas, bigger ambitions, and an underpinning of frustration with myself. Why wasn’t I able to stick to one thing or feel the confidence in myself to be more successful— despite knowing I was intelligent, a go-getter and a doer with a great work ethic?


The lack of understanding around ADD brains, left teachers, parents, siblings, classmates, co-workers, partners… wondering if I was just lazy, unmotivated, not serious and why I was definitely not living up to my potential. As I started to believe these things, it translated to self doubt and low-self esteem- something that plagues a lot of highly intelligent people with ADD/ADHD.


ADD is full of contradictions; one day we can have a lot of confidence in ourselves and the next feel like nothing we do is good enough. Frustrated by lack of focus and excited by every little thing, we can also have hyper focus and concentration on one little weed. Translation: we can easily get caught in the weeds, but we are also valuable needle-in-the-haystack finders. Tenacious.


Unbeknownst to me, over the years, the challenges brought on by ADD—time management, organization, quick to boredom, an ever-swirling mind of new ideas—were threatening my full potential.


Or was it directing me toward the things I was great at?


My uniquely wired brain with its need for constant newness, search for outlets for an ever-swirling mind of new ideas, and noticing the interesting juxtapositions of the small details, was drawn toward advertising, photography and improv comedy.


HELLO ADVERTISING!

In advertising, getting to really understand your client, their audience, the media, and the message– thinking of all the ways to tell a story, is benefitted by the tenacious and noticing-every-little-detail, ADD mind.


Advertising provided the perpetual newness an ADD mind craves and the support system an ADD mind needs.


Every day was different from the next—creating a small black and white newspaper ad one day, to a pre-game Super Bowl commercial the next. Going from editing houses, to animation houses, to music houses, locations, photoshoots, new creative outlets on the daily, with the built-in support system of producers, traffic coordinators, account people and researchers who kept things rolling and on track, it was no wonder I didn’t recognize ADD. It was a strength in this arena.



HELLO PHOTOGRAPHY!

ADD brains are also prone to big leaps and risk taking. Even in Advertising, a sameness occurred to me, so I quit my full-time job as an art director and went to South America.


My first plan was to become a photographer and make a coffee table book about a small town in Uruguay. This was a place on the cusp of getting wired for electricity for the very first time. My plan was to do a before and after about this town without electricity.


©Katarina Kojic. Surely a sign I was on the right path.

I booked my flight, found a free place to stay, and when I got there, I felt unmotivated, shy, and unconfident about entering this town, speaking Spanish well enough… all the elements of self doubt rolled in.


I did event-u-ally meet some people, make some photographs and feel good about the images, but where was the motivation and fervor for my idea?


I had gone into the unknown with no support system, no editor, no publisher, no one waiting for the work to hold me accountable. I was starting to learn how badly I needed structure to do my best work.


My tenacious ADD mind didn't give up on photography, but it did become a little more dormant as I returned to New York and began freelancing back in advertising to support myself. I was energized by the fervor of the city, the daily newness of advertising and feeling effective thanks to the support teams. My career was still missing something, but I didn’t know what.


I began taking classes on anything I was interested in. On week nights and weekends I tried African dance, Belly dancing, Capoeira… I took a boxing class at Church Street Boxing, a gym professional boxers trained at, (and was told I had a great right hook.)


©Katarina Kojic. Playing with Capoeira Nago in Union Square.

The exposure to so many new things made life exciting and fulfilling. And I began to see I had access to so many different worlds I could photograph and document.


The daily excitement of living in NYC distracted me, kept me busy and entertained and the inaccessible cost of therapy kept me from discovering the root of my frustration of moving my photography business forward.


Then, I took my first class in improv.


HELLO IMPROV!

Fireworks went off. It was love at first, “Yes, And.”


My need for newness, being seen, connection and creativity with no boundaries was met. It was scary and thrilling and I was good at it. People told me I was. I felt it and felt confident. Self doubt dissipated.


I was all in. For the next several years, everything else went away except for photography, my day job freelancing in advertising, and improv.


Nights and weekends were dedicated to classes, and shows; seeing or performing in them. I was all in. Even if I had a terrible scene, show or class, it didn’t break my confidence. I was immersed in empathy by way of character improv with Holly Mandel from The Groundlings. I came to understand that to play a character well required empathy, and I had lots of it and now a way to channel it.


I learned how to write monologues and sketches. I worked with fellow improvisers and produced shows. I used my design and advertising skills to create posters and promotional materials.




Miss Lake County Fair Pageant Contestants
©Katarina Kojic. Miss Lake County Fair Pageant contestants. This was the basis of one of my sketches.

And I began teaching. I loved it. I was good at it.


Doing improv both filled a lot of my ADD needs, but also illuminated for myself some of the strengths I have because of ADD. It taught me how to get out of the weeds and out of my head with regularity and hilarity.


IMPROV + PHOTOGRAPHY = ?

All along I had been taking photographs and biding my time to become a photographer, professionally. I never showed my work, convincing myself it was because of the cost of printing and framing, not self-doubt. I didn’t really know how to start down the path to photography as I had with advertising. I knew you had to share your work and had never felt ready to feel that exposed.


Improv had only been for fun, or so I thought. Could I combine them?


Improv + Photography? What could it be?


I imagined a sold out audience seated at Carnegie Hall, my work projected on a screen and performers doing scenes inspired by my photographs. A lightbulb went off and I combined my two passions to create a show called PhotoProv. Finally a way for me to share my work with something that I never felt doubt about, improv.


I rented a space, sold tickets and made prints of my work to hang by clothes pins around the room. A friend created a photo roulette app; allowing a slideshow to randomize and speed up the amount of time an image would linger.


I had written sketches and monologues inspired by some of the printed work, a reserve of unseen photographs to randomly project, and an awesome community of improvisers to perform them. For added fun we took photos of the audience to add into the mix. Audience participation meant calling out “Stop” to stop the slideshow and choose the photo to inspire the next improvised scene the team would create. It was a success!




I had a lot of ideas for this project. A lot of big ideas. More ideas, bigger ideas. Other people had ideas and suggestions too, really good ones. But they weren’t involved in producing them. It became overwhelming.


There were too many options and that sneaky self-doubt. Still, I held on tightly wanting to produce it all myself, figure it all out myself, but I didn’t know how to do everything myself.


Then, I went through a divorce. I went through a depression. I sought therapy.


Nice to meet you ADD! Or “Yes, ADD, and…”

Years ago, when a therapist gave me an ADD Screener, not many bells rang and we decided ADD was not my issue and focused instead on tools to combat anxiety and depression. I was certain it was all related to my divorce.


Three years later when the depression and anxiety still hadn’t gone away, a therapist I began seeing in Portland brought up the idea of ADD.


He pointed me toward ADDitudemagazine.com and suggested I might look at and try a different screen for Adults and more specifically for women.


All the bells went off this time. I found myself sad, frustrated and angry.


Why hadn’t the first test found anything? Why did I have to take one specifically for women? Why?


Years had been lost in the fog of ADD. It explained so many things that I had blamed and berated myself for and had tried so hard to figure out how to do or be better at. Like being on time, organizing finances and staying motivated.


I felt frustrated over how many times I disabled myself from asking for what I needed, not wanting to be difficult and embarrassed at why sometimes I just needed someone to be nearby for me to complete and focus on a task.


I thought about all the coping mechanisms I subconsciously and consciously put into place, scheduling everything with alarms and notifications, changing the clock to trick myself into leaving on time, co-working sessions... I thought about all the AP classes I had started with gusto, unable to sustain my interest and focus throughout the semester.


Hello Superpower!

I am sharing my ADD diagnosis because I recently learned that only 15% of the population with ADD knows they have it.


Because I recognize the stigma and lack of access to resources as well as the bias of tests we give our population that steer a lot of people away from getting the help they need.


I am sharing this about myself because while there are challenges that come along with ADD, it is also my superpower.


When asked what is my super power I usually answer empathy. I thought it came from being the youngest, having foreign parents, or generally feeling like I am never doing enough and need to try harder, and maybe these things are part of it.


Improv gave me more empathy and the ability to stand in someone else's shoes and imagine their point of view. And maybe ADD is what allowed me to search for ways to express and utilize my empathy.


In the more quiet city of Portland, I came face to face with the absence of things that New York so effortlessly provided to satiate my ADD; the natural buzz of the city, my huge network of friends and colleagues from 20 years of trying different classes, freelance work in multitudes of agencies and my improv network where I got to perform and learn to write and produce shows off-off-off Broadway.


I moved to Portland to help my family care for my mom. She was diagnosed with PSP, a rare neuro-degenerative disease on the Parkinson’s spectrum.


At a conference for Parkinson’s there was mention that improv is a good tool for both the diagnosed and the caregivers. A helpful tool when you have to learn to navigate an ever changing new normal and to exercise the brain in new ways to help make that adaptation more easeful and less scary.


The last several years have been spent finding and being a support system for my mom, searching for my own new network of friends and pivoting my business for the Portland Market and during the pandemic, virtually. Now I am building the structure I need and feeling supported by my efforts and medicines that help me immensely.


My mom passed away a little over a year ago. and was cheerful and laughing till nearly the last day of her life. We were lucky to have such a parent.



Fry basket on her head
©Katarina Kojic. An odd sense of humor is a marker of ADD. I just told my mom this is the photo we would use to commit her.

Her easy laughter and willingness to try nearly anything is something I get from her. ADD is also hereditary, but I couldn’t be certain which genes passed it down.


A part of me wonders what she would have said had she known I was diagnosed with ADD. When we got her diagnosis with the prognosis of 3-7 years and I looked at her with tear-filled eyes, she said positively, “it’s all going to be alright.” So I’m not complaining about it, but I wanted to share the information for others who may be struggling and need some support.


In an Empathy Economy gaining emotional intelligence is critical to your growth and the growth of those around you.


I started Hello Gorgeous as a photography service to help clients discover their hidden best selves, and now I have added improv experiences to the list of services I offer. It’s the combination of these things that have allowed me to uncover the best in myself and in others and to document and navigate these past years with my mom.


Seeing yourself through a photographer's eyes, allowing yourself to take an unplanned risk in an improv exercise, both allow you to expand to discover new things about yourself.


We’ve all experienced unprecedented changes these last 2 years of the pandemic. Tools that help us navigate the unknown with more ease and grace and laughter are invaluable.


If any of what I’ve said resonates with you and you are curious about learning more about ADD/ADHD you can search for the tests and read articles on ADDitudemag.com


I also highly recommend the books, Driven to Distraction and Delivered From Distraction by Edward Hallowell. Both contain stories about ADD and resonated a lot for me. I felt less isolated and more hopeful as I heard stories of successful people who struggled with ADD and learned about it late in life, too. They are also available as audiobooks on Audible.com.


For more info on Progressive Supranuclear Palsy go to CurePSP.org


With gratitude and warmest regards,

Kat


PS. If you work for yourself and could use some practice connecting with others, our upcoming virtual networking event, Connection for Solopreneurs is for you. Sign up here.


PSS. Looking for a weekly, no commitment way to practice emotional intelligence and other improv tools, join us Tuesdays at 3pm for our weekly single classes Virtual Play Experiment. Sign up here.


PPSS. Ready for your close up and photos of yourself you love, sign up for a free consultation here.


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