From a young age, Jamie Higgins found her way on her own. As the only child to her mother, Linda, she found a community amongst the neighborhood children in San José, and solace in her art. Her mother, “a fiercely independent woman,” left home at the age of 16, and sourced a roommate and a way to care for herself. Eventually, with a high school degree in hand, she chartered her stable and often time-consuming, a career in bookkeeping. And while Jamie remembers the times of her mother’s absence spent with babysitters or at daycare, her mother’s reliability is enshrined. “The one person I can count on in my life,” Jamie recalls, “…if my mom says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it. So, I really admire her and try to strive for that integrity.”
Linda was dedicated to filling Jamie’s childhood with wonderful memories. They didn’t have much, but Jamie was unfazed by their circumstances, only realizing in adulthood, that they must have been living in low-income housing. What Jamie remembers is the community that wrought. As an outgoing, only child, she sought out the company of her peers. It was the 80s, and she and her friends basked in the carefree, unsupervised adventures around the apartment complex, playing on the sidewalks and watching on as the teenagers rolled out a vinyl mat for breakdance competitions.
Jamie remembers the kitchen counter she took up as her art studio. Linda recognized Jamie’s interest in drawing and kept a robust supply of paper, pencils, and crayons. “That’s what she was able to do. She was able to afford that, so she supported me in that way…that memory sticks out.” A series of car accidents put her mother on disability for a year, so to earn extra money, Jamie and Linda would spend time together making ornaments and other crafts.
The pair eventually moved from the apartment complex and into a house with Linda’s boyfriend and his family. This was difficult for a young Jamie, who didn’t want to leave behind her neighborhood friends. They hopped around San José again before settling in the Valley to be closer to Jamie’s aging grandmother Dorothy. This was by far the easiest move, as Jamie made fast friends with the kids across the street. She felt the comfort of being immersed in their shared Hispanic heritage.
The beginning of grade school was another challenge for Jamie. She experienced anxiety around public speaking and was unable to read aloud when called on. Her first-grade teacher wrongly interpreted this as a reflection of her reading level and held her back. Jamie was teased
by her classmates for repeating first grade, but nevertheless maintained conviction in her abilities and potential.
In high school, Jamie enrolled in the Regional Occupational Program (ROP), a component of California’s public education system which offers technical job training for adolescents via classroom and fieldwork. One course, Floriculture, became pivotal to her early professional development. Jamie worked at her instructor’s flower shop, where, in addition to learning the ins and outs of everything floral, she gained experience managing employees, customers, and inventory. Here, her passion for plants bloomed. Jamie became a member of Future Farmers of America and placed as the top floriculture student in the state. While she didn’t pursue a career in this field, the business management skills she developed from ROP became invaluable, along with the confidence instilled by her instructors.
Jamie later enrolled in junior college, where she dabbled in different majors before half-heartedly sticking with business management. Jamie’s boyfriend at the time was a musician; he and his band were putting together an album and in need of cover art. Jamie tagged along to the photoshoot, but the photographer never showed. Jamie was responsible for capturing the band, and as the daylight rapidly faded, she had to figure out how to operate a single lens reflex camera for the first time. She fumbled her way into a winning album cover, and into her career path.
Jamie’s entry into the professional world of photography began slowly as she pursued her associate degree in the field while working full-time at the shoe company High-Tech Sports. It was far from her dream job, but it allowed her the flexibility to continue her education and shoot on the side as she sought to build her business. Some of Jamie’s first clients were the families of her High-Tech Sports colleagues. Jamie was rapidly enamored by the craft, to the point where she transformed her garage into a makeshift darkroom, where she could dwell for hours.
Still, something was missing in her life. Jamie and her boyfriend eventually broke up, but she remained close with his family. When his mother Susan died, Jamie offered her support in funeral planning and arranging the flowers. This proximity to death and spirituality awakened a sense of longing in Jamie for a relationship with God. She attempted reading the Bible and attending Catholic Mass, but neither satisfied this ache.
Along her spiritual journey, Jamie was introduced to the Baháʼí Faith by her client and classmate from her self-improvement seminar, Gigi. After a photoshoot one day, Gigi invited Jamie to visit the Baháʼí Center in Fresno, where a celebration of the holiday Ayyám-i-Há, was taking place that day. To Jamie’s surprise, she recognized over a dozen people from her life at the celebration whom she hadn’t known to be Baháʼí, including many from her seminar. She was endeared by the Faith, identifying with a central element of integrity, the very quality of her mother’s for which she holds close. On her drive home from Fresno that night, for the first time, Jamie noticed an Adopt-a-Freeway sign sponsored by the local Baháʼí community, which stood less than a mile from her house. It was a literal sign of confirmation in her search for God.
As Jamie immersed herself further in the Baháʼí Faith, another need emerged: travel. She felt a deep urge to leave California and see the world beyond her sunny West Coast. At 24, she packed up her life to traverse Europe for two months. Her Baháʼí friends sent her off with reading material to remain connected to the faith and continue learning. During her trip, Jamie experienced a signifying encounter with a fellow traveler who challenged her beliefs and the foundation of the religion. Later on, Jamie learned the young man was the son of a popular Australian Televangelist. This, for Jamie, was confirmation of the growing strength of her faith as a Baháʼí, as she remained grounded in her beliefs against another who was so entrenched in their own.
Jamie returned to the states with her job at High Tech Sports waiting for her. She was restless in her role, and after one month, could not go on. She was in tears as she quit but was certain of the decision. She didn’t have her next career move mapped out, but a commitment to her faith was undeniably calling her. She officially declared herself a Baháʼí at the age of 25 and embarked on a Year of Service, which provided her the opportunity to develop a strong sense of identity and deep connection to the community.
At the conclusion of that year, she returned to school to earn a second associate degree, this one in ceramics. Around this time, she met her first husband, a fellow Baháʼí, and they married within a year. Jamie earned the primary source of income at this point in their lives, as her husband quit his job without consulting her to pursue a nursing degree. With the little money they had, her husband suggested donating it all to the faith and pray on it. Jamie took that leap. With a pen, she sketched a mock check, addressed it to herself for $10,000, and posted it on
the wall; it was the amount she calculated was needed to be saved to stay afloat. The amount she was determined to earn on her own.
With her faith in God, and in herself, Jamie got to work. She launched her photography business full-time and hustled to earn bookings. She loved working with children and families and identified a need in the market that was tailored to those clients. With a focused business model, her clientele rapidly grew. Eventually, she was able to rent her own studio, where she would house her company for over a decade. And at the end of that first year, she willed the $10,000 into reality.
Shortly after, Jamie and her husband divorced; for Jamie, the biggest loss of this was not the marriage itself but of the opportunity to have her own children. She and her former husband had tried, but unsuccessfully so. A client of Jamie’s encouraged her to explore alternative avenues to motherhood, so she decided to become a foster parent. With the success of her business, Jamie proudly bought her own home, where she was able to provide a comfortable roof for the young people who came into her life, one of whom was her first husband’s niece, along with two other girls over the course of several years.
Jamie and her girls were preparing to open their home for another child, when Jamie met her now husband Bryn. After watching a TED-Ed video on OkCupid’s algorithm for love, Jamie revisited her account and matched with Bryn at 99% compatibility. He was a fellow Baháʼí, divorced with two children, and they shared mutual friends. The algorithm was a success, and the pair wed within 95 days. “We were like each other’s twin flame. We still are.” They blended their families and desired to have a child of their own as well. Jamie figured herself to be infertile but put her hope in God’s will. She became pregnant soon thereafter.
It was a beautiful and challenging time for Jamie. For years she was confronted by her assumed infertility as she photographed countless pregnant women and newborns and was deemed the “baby whisperer” by her clients with her effortless ability to soothe the infants for the shoot. So, her son was a true blessing. But she also struggled with post-partum depression. At the time, she thought she could get through on her own. She’d always gotten through on her own. She was her mother’s daughter. After three years without relief, though, Jamie accepted she needed professional help.
This time of her life was further exacerbated by her and Bryn’s decision to leave Fresno and settle in Eureka, CA. It was the right call, as it provided ideal access to the nature they craved and was driving distance to their older children, but it forced Jamie to reevaluate the next steps in her career. She spent a decade building a successful photography business that she would have to start anew in Eureka. The idea of that was exhausting, and her passion was waning. “I think women need to know that it exists,” Jamie asserts, “I was functioning… but I didn’t feel, I don’t know, some of the flame was gone.” With the state of her mental health and an ongoing back injury, it was time to table her business.
In Eureka, Jamie was now searching for a new way to express her creativity. Her mother, Linda, who moved to town with them, proposed they return to their crafting roots. Jamie designed a nine-pointed star, a symbol of the Baháʼí Faith, and used a Cricut machine to produce the image. The art was a hit with their local Baháʼí community, and the mother-daughter duo launched their Etsy shop in the beginning of 2018. Linda brought her bookkeeping expertise, and Jamie contributed her artistic talents and business prowess.
At this stage of her life, Jamie is excited to still learn. Her Etsy shop provides the opportunity to build new skills in production and contribute to art for the Baháʼí community. “I’m personally always feeling like I’m a work in progress. I know I’m not done and I have so many more contributions to make in this world.” She’s also not alone. Her family sustains themselves through her and her husband’s freelance work, along with the support of her mother, and the strength in their faith. The future for them is unknown, but Jamie holds the same hope she did when she drew out that $10,000 check. It is with gratitude that she walks through life and the ability to embrace the confirmations as they are presented. Her steadfast pursuit of an autonomous career led her straight to her faith. Time and again, doing it on her own has led her to a greater community. Twenty years on, that is the art of her life.