One of the first projects I worked on as a freelancer was writing the English version of Meral Soydas’ website for her work as a wedding photographer. Though we never met, she trusted me with the job and gave me full access to all her files to translate. All our communication went via email as she was travelling the globe. I believe that she was in New-Zealand at the time. Little did I know that she had just quit her job as a psychologist to pursue her career further as a photographer. Now back in the Netherlands, her career is looking differently again, now she can be described as an entrepreneur-psychologist-coach-photographer. And because I never got the chance to speak to her, I was intrigued by her. How do all those roles work together, how does she combine these roles and haad she planned it this way or did it just happen? I was eager to talk to her and meet her via Zoom. Her pictures of weddings are gorgeous, open, spontaneous, so I expected her to be the same. I was not disappointed.
Hi Meral, so lovely to meet you and see you. It’s funny that we’ve never spoken before, but I’m happy that we now have the opportunity to talk and meet. Can you tell me a bit about yourself when you were a young girl? Like, what did you want to become growing up?
Hi, nice to see you too! Well, when I was young, I didn’t have a clear plan. I remember that I just wanted to be happy. I dreamed about becoming a professional athlete, but I never stuck to one sport long enough to get good at it.
Hahaha, yes well that makes it difficult to get to the Olympics. Tell me about your parents and where you grew up.
I was born in Drenthe, in the North-east of the Netherlands. My mum is from Groningen and my dad from Turkey. They met when she was there on holiday. Even though he was the manager of the hotel and told all the staff not to get involved with the guests, they fell in love. So they had to have secret dates there. He moved to the Netherlands for my mum, and after I was born in Drenthe, we moved to Maarssen as it was closer to Amsterdam, where my dad got a job.
After school, I travelled through Australia, and when I returned to, I went to study Sports, Health & Management. But I quit after six weeks, and it was not the right fit for me. So I moved in back with my parents and visited the University of Utrecht. I got introduced to Psychology and also realised that there’s no such thing as the perfect study. My natural interest in people and their behaviour felt like an excellent incentive to enrol. I enjoyed my time at the university, I think I was still a bit struggling with my identity in school before, but now I felt free. Lots of time to explore the world, enough money to do nice things but most of all met so many great people.
My dad always told my sister and me to make sure that you can take care of yourself and don’t work for a boss. I’ve always kept that somewhere in the back of my mind. Yet, after finishing my degree in post-master sports psychology, I got my first job at a clinic. It felt at first as my dream job, but I was miserable. It was very intense, and I had to rely too much on myself. I thought that I wasn’t ready for this role yet, there was too much on my plate and not enough coworkers or a manager to fall back on. I quit my job after a while, left the Netherlands to travel. That’s when I first bought a proper camera. I loved seeing the world through the lens and try to learn as much about photography as I could. When I returned a friend of a friend asked me to take pictures at their wedding, just as a second photographer. Initially, I wanted to say no. I’m not a wedding person. But I did realise that I had quit my job, just like when I was young with quitting sports because I was insecure. If you don’t stick around too long, you don’t get good at something, so you’re left with your insecurities. I felt that I had to say yes to everything, just to throw myself into new situations. So I said yes to the wedding, and you know what, it was a fantastic experience! From that moment I got more and more wedding bookings. People were happy with my work, and I became better at receiving and accepting compliments. After a while, I made enough money to support myself.
In your work as a psychologist, are there any insights that you gained from working with clients?
Well, I’ve also worked in a clinic for people with eating disorders. I’ve been struggling with eating disorders from when I was a teenager. I also went to see a professional, but I had too much of a guard up to be able to receive any professional help. The thing is, when I worked there and helped others, I had so many eye-opening moments and thought to myself “why have I been struggling with this for 15 years? Why didn’t I accept the help then?” But in helping the clients there and then, I was also better in helping myself. No longer did I need to control everything, because I learned to accept myself.
Wow, thank you for sharing this. Self-acceptance is so important, but not always easy.
Let’s go back to your professional career path. Why don’t you stick to doing one thing?
When we were in touch, last fall, I had quit my job as a psychologist to pursue photography fully and made time to travel the world. My photography jobs were stable, and I wanted to dedicate all my time to it fully. But during my travels, I realised that I enjoyed working with clients and helping them on their road to change or recovery. So I just couldn’t let it go. Also, weddings are almost always on the weekend. I’ve missed so many parties, birthdays and festivals. People also forget that photographers also spend a lot of time by themselves editing all the pictures, that’s the lonely bit of the job. I’m not much of a loner. For me, the balance of the two is excellent: Psychology is heavy, and weddings are light.
In the trip we made, we also went to a Tony Robbins seminar, you know, the guru. What he does is putting psychological knowledge into a pressure cooker. It was so meaningful to experience what he did for people. He made contact with everyone and was very good in the one-on-ones. In the sessions with individuals, I recognised clients I’ve worked with, in the past. This further strengthened my realisation that I wanted to help people.
So your photography website is stunning, and how are you shaping your psychology business?
Currently, I’m busy further developing my psychology practice. It is partly face-to-face and also online, as I want to allow myself to keep travelling the world. My first clients have already signed up, and I’ve also created an online training via email. I’ve been working with a business coach to help me with my business. As an entrepreneur, I’m always thinking about how to increase my revenue, lower my costs, improve my skills, and workflow. Now, I’m also developing an Instagram course on how to improve your self-image. It’s interesting to learn about this whole new business world now that I’m committed to being an entrepreneur. So I see myself as an entrepreneur who is a psychologist and a photographer. For me right now, this is the best mix of everything I’ve ever done before.