I woke up early last Sunday feeling the weight of the world. I knew the house wasn’t clean, there were updates I could make to my website, projects I needed to finish up, a Christmas tree I had to dig out, laundry to do, family to shop for, clients to spoil a little more, and the list goes on and on. I took my quiet shower, prepped myself for the next six days, and left our Baltimore row home with a 35 pound bag to check.. but an endless amount on my shoulders.

This industry can do that to you. It can put you in a position to live frozen in everything that needs done so you don’t have the chance to see what is really unfolding around you. As someone who experiences anxiety and depression, this is a dangerous trap to fall into. I’ve often referred to this as my “eager monster awaiting opportunity,” but I swear y’all… I was afraid they were going to charge me for another seat!

Thankful to see a friendly face at the airport, Sarah Houston and I shared nervous hugs and decided to distract ourselves with conversation and coffee. Our last Starbucks for the week was a Peppermint Mocha. The mint, I learned from Sarah, inspires a sense of peace. It was one of many things I would pick up from her in the week to follow as we shared a room. A flight and a few hours later, we landed in Mexico and walked into 85 degree weather.

The beginning of the trip was hard for me. I was anxious, feeling a bit of panic, homesick for my new husband, and letting all of my worries from home eat into the opportunity in front of me. I was fortunate to bond quickly with a few girls who shared with me their own fears, surprising me with how similar their “monsters” mirrored my own. There was a lot of crying and pushing each other out of our comfort zones, but what unfolded as a result was SO life changing.

This past week I had the honor to speak at The House of Flynn Retreat in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. As the week progressed, I was honestly not even sure if the attendees knew who I was. Following up a lecture from Julie Paisley, someone I have grown to not only admire as a mentor but adore as a friend, is enough to make anyone nervous… right? Classes were voluntary attendance and I won’t lie when I admit that I worried my class might be small. I’m so used to teaching at my own Retreat, a place where I’ve already come to know the attendees well before they arrive. This was so different. THIS was my chance.

To my surprise, a large group gathered for me. We sat outside for class and it was extremely hot, but they stayed. As I spoke, the tears started flowing and I tried to focus on anything but their faces. Hard to avoid, I locked eyes with a girl I had met the first night we arrived, and she was crying too. In fact, we were all crying together. A feeling of I am not alone washed right over me as we shared this moment. As I spoke about my struggle to find myself and really LOVE myself, how I still doubt my worth and value as a photographer and a person, and how so easily we undercut ourselves at the convenience of others.. I realized that that was something that I didn’t just need to admit, but that all of these attendees needed to hear.

We are killing ourselves trying to be someone else when we are pretty damn perfect just the way we are.

Later that day, a sweet lady joined me by the pool and asked to have a conversation with me. I had made it clear to the girls if they wanted to approach me with anything to unload that I was there for them, but this one wasn’t for her. She looked me square in the eye and said, “when will YOU realize that you’re good enough?” Unprompted, spoken from a complete stranger, this kindness was overwhelming. Naturally I fell to tears, but you know what? I believed her. And ever since that moment, my soul has been on fire. The ideas are churning, my passion is back, the light is blinding.

So… I gave in. I woke up with my anxiety, but I got dressed and I said “yes” to my life. I put on the bathing suit even though I don’t like the way I look, and I skipped the make-up to spend the whole day snorkeling with new friends. I held hands with girls who really got me and jumped head first into the deep blue ocean. I walked the streets and explored a city without rose-colored glasses. We laughed late into the night, forcing ourselves up the next day to cram as much in as possible. I had countless conversations with intimate groups and single ladies that I get misty, even now, thinking about. We swam with the dolphins. We drank fresh mango margaritas, stuck our toes in the sand, danced and sang to our favorite songs, and we LIVED.

So.. what did I learn in Mexico? I learned the secret to happiness. Even better? I’m about to share it with you.


You have the chance to make every day a good one. You woke up today healthy and able. What you do with it is entirely up to you.

Get out of bed and take the run you say you will, make breakfast for your family, kiss your husband, take your kids to the park, schedule that vacation, try something that scares you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Choose yourself, your happiness, first. Remember to give yourself some grace, to linger in your accomplishments rather than racing toward the next goal, that you are talented & worthy, and that you have something unique to offer the world. Celebrate your differences, and surround yourself with folks who will let you be unapologetically you. “Don’t worry, be happy.”


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  1. Lindsay Zilke

    December 12th, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Ashton, listening to you speak at the retreat, it was inspirational. I cried with you, I laughed with you,everything you said was exactly what I needed to hear. I AM good enough, I am strong enough, and only I can change my happiness. Thank you for helping to light my fire as well, as a photographer and as a business owner. I was even honored you took photos for me, and made me feel beautiful! Proud to call you my friend, and I cannot wait for our next adventure.

  2. Lisa

    December 12th, 2016 at 7:46 am

    This speaks to me so much. Love you!

  3. Karinda

    December 12th, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    And here I sit in a hotel room by myself traveling for sessions crying my eyes out. Thank you <3

  4. Kathy Newsome

    December 13th, 2016 at 6:57 am

    Wow! Chill bumps and tears in my eyes…

  5. Shauna Lea Jackson

    May 29th, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Finding this years later, but I want to tell you even now it’s a beautiful, inspiring post. Thank you.