The Joni Kabana Effect (Living Your Best Damn Life)

This is a post about how to change your life (and how meeting amazing people along the way can sometimes help). But the most important thing about this post is the event invitation at the very end. Don’t miss it!


Prelude: Plan. Then Jump.

In 2006 I quit my job as a Marketing Manager for a small (now bigger) software company. I’d been there for a year. I’d worked in big-time advertising for 7 years prior to that.

I get asked about this a lot.

What makes a person give up so much corporate security and dive into unknown waters?

Here’s the answer: suspension of reality, mild and temporary insanity (really) and a healthy (tiny) dose of mania. Ok, go!

When I left, I couldn’t really even articulate exactly what I was going to do. It was something like marketing and PR for small businesses. And writing.

Oh yeah, I kinda wanted to get paid to write.

And, you know, maybe write something that was actually good.

There were lots of unanswered questions. Lots of things I wasn’t sure of. But I’d been working 70 hour weeks for a year doing my 9-5 job and then building consulting clientele in my off hours. I was tired as shit and sick as a dog but the money was saved and I was weary of waiting for the answers so I just went for it.

Having a partner with a corporate paycheck and some health insurance felt like a suitable parachute.

[Jump now. Scream "Fuckit!!" But don't forget the sentence that I just wrote about working 70 hours a week for a year and having a sizable financial safety net established. This is risk tempered by planning and ridiculously hard work. If you're lazy, turn back now. Seriously.]


Reach out and Be Open. Recognize People Like Joni Kabana When You See Them. Learn.

I got a studio space in a very old building on the east side of the river, just across from downtown.

Then I met Joni Kabana.

Here is what you need to know about Joni Kabana. Meeting her is like having an internal chemical explosion that momentarily turns your heart and guts into sparkly clouds of intangible awesomeness. Joni Kabana smiles and you float off the floor. The woman has an energy that absolutely inspires.

She’s also one of the best portrait photographers I’ve ever met.

And she works in my building.

I can’t even remember exactly how we met, but I remember that I quickly began to think of her as a mentor. I turned to her with help pricing photography usage or solving lighting problems. This was the mundane everyday stuff of how to do business and – as helpful as it was – it paled in comparison to what she eventually taught me.

Find meaningful work.

Take risks.

Make it fucking happen.

Be brave.

Joni never said any of that stuff. But she lived it. And she looked at me sometimes and said, Ohmygod, Heidi, it’s all happening!

Then she’d fly off on some self-funded trip to Madagascar, make images for a children’s book about a little girl named Torina and come home and publish. Or she’d organize and fund-raise to bring tons of medical assistance to women in Ethiopia and then fly there and make photos and self-publish another book and tell you stories that made you ache and rock back and forth.

All while throwing parties and making amazing photos of drag queens or pro rock-climbers or little kids who were battling cancer.

I’d call her and borrow a flash to shoot a wedding or drink too much wine with her at a homemade pizza party. Eventually, I rented her studio for a spell and shared her lights and other equipment. I volunteered to assist on some of her bigger projects. But, in general, I called Joni when I needed someone to show me (one more time) that life was limitless and everything was possible.

I still do. And she still does.

Most of the time, I feel like Joni and I have this intense cosmic connection that is 100 % unique and special in the world, but something tells me that she connects with most people this way. I can go months without seeing her and then run into her somewhere (we live just a few blocks from each other) and BOOM! Explosions! Madness! Squealing! Wide eyes! Wild hand gestures!


Be more.

Joni is taking the world by storm. She’s out there, camera in hand, tackling issues that paralyze most of us. And she’s a smart enough business woman to have figured out exactly how to do it while keeping her household running full steam ahead. She values her work and asks others to do the same.

She has a mortgage, a family, teenage kids, bills, commitments, and all of the challenges that we all share. And she still makes it happen.


Because, for Joni, there isn’t any other option.

Meeting people like her have given me important daily reminders to never back down. Never get lazy. Keep pushing. Always make it better. Do better. Be better. Be more.

And laugh while you’re at it. Wide mouthed, shamelessly and loudly. Enjoy yourself. Listen to your gut. Shoot for good. Don’t sell yourself short.

Throw parties. Dance. Make amazing photos. Tell inspiring stories. Build a crazy business. Go with your gut.

Follow good intentions and they may take you to amazing places.

Every day I wake up and wonder how I can be better. How I can be more. In the past few years, that’s been about figuring out how to build my life and business around values and adventure, instead of a salary. In the next few years it will be about figuring out how to take adventure, inspiration, activism, photography and the written word  and combining them to change people’s lives for the better.

Is that a big, scary, kind-of-unspecific goal?


Am I afraid?

No fucking way.

Am I already hot on the trail of what it’s going to look like?

Yep. And it’s going to kick ass. And you can bet I’m going to take Joni out to dinner and ask her to sprinkle some magic on me and it (Joni, you’ve been warned!).

Meet her on December 3. You won’t be disappointed.

Joni is having a fundraiser for her Medical Ethiopia Project on December 3rd. Mash this link to get to the online version of the newsletter that has all the details… or, peep them right here.

Join us for one hour of bedlam and highly talented showomanship as the beauties at Darcelle’s help us raise much needed funds for our upcoming medical project in rural Ethiopia. All door proceeds and tips will be donated to Global Soul International in support of our project in Ethiopia.  No admin fees are taken out of this donation – 100% is applied toward our effort.

For more about our project, see their video and read their book.

Date:        Friday, December 3, 2010
Time:        6:00-7:30pm (Show starts at 6:30 sharp!)
Place:       Darcelle’s XV Showplace
Address:   208 NW 3rd Avenue, Portlland, Oregon
Tickets:    $20, $50, $100 – you pick!  All ticket prices are tax-deductible donations.

Seating is limited.  Send her an email to reserve your seat!

Work I Heart (from Joni)

9 Responses to “The Joni Kabana Effect (Living Your Best Damn Life)”

  1. WOW! I almost didn’t follow this link and that would have been my loss! Thank you so much for sharing – I am working through figuring out “what to do” and your vision sounds kinda close to mine :-)
    “It was something like marketing and PR for small businesses. And writing. Oh yeah, I kinda wanted to get paid to write.”
    So, thanks for giving me a kick in the pants!


  2. bikeboy says:

    Heidi hits another one out of the park… gotta forward this to a few *right now*.

  3. parker says:

    That hit WAYYY to close to home.
    Inspiration for reals!

  4. Marseile says:

    Holy Toledo wow. Awow unsurpassed. A wow so full it has made my heart pitter-pat.

    Thank you for being and unselfishly sharing.


  5. Noelle says:

    Man, you’re speaking the truth. I still have to get off my butt and do it.

    But, this is great. Pictures are great. Your story and Joni’s are great. It’s all great.


  6. Deanna says:

    Heidi, I too am a big fan of Joni Kabana, she inspired me to quit my job and move to Chicago in pursue of an acting career; I’ve never looked back. She’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, and I love learning of other people who feel the same.

  7. Marty says:

    The coolest thing about Joni is that she never stops believing in you, seeing you for what you already are even though you might not have reached that awareness yet. She finds things in you that you were afraid to look at, gently brings them out into the open, and somehow you end up wanting to do it some more, even if at times it hurts so hard to look.
    I’m particularly blessed–Joni and I have shared marriage and divorce, parenting and, most importantly, a commitment to go to the edges. Heidi, you captured–no, wrong word–you shared an amazingly real and vivid snapshot of Joni, and I’m thrilled to read it and encourage others to follow in both her footsteps and yours.

  8. [...] many, many years.  I have not seen her in about six months, and all of a sudden, she writes this post about me. I am [...]

  9. THANK YOU for this post, Heidi!