Kitti and I have been friends through business for going on 6 years! We met during our first in-person mentorship experience in Los Angeles with our (still current) mentor, Sue Bryce. I will never forget meeting Kitti for the first time as she is not the typical woman in her 60’s that I had met before.
She is a woman who steps into a room and everyone’s eyes turn. With her upright posture, long legs – that you’ll often see in leather pants and boots, thick billowing hair, and an ambition to live a full life that radiates upon everyone. She is a woman of confidence and grace, and for that I adore her.
Kitti is the owner of Kitti McMeel Portraits in Westlake Village, just north of LA California. She is a phenomenal portrait photographer and public speaker with an impacting view on life and reinventing yourself no matter your stage of life. She has been such an inspiration to me over the years as well as a support system, friend, and contractor. She is a woman I would like to be able to hand introduce to each lady in my life but since I can’t do that, this is certainly the next best way!
Emily: Welcome Kitti! Kitti, you use the word “reinvention” quite a lot when describing the changing of the pathways you’ve taken throughout your life. Could you give us a bit of a background of the different versions of yourself you’ve stepped into over the years?
Kitti: Hi Emily, first let me say that I am honored to be asked to be interviewed for SHE, your lifestyle blog!
I am a child of the 60’s. Born in 1951 and raised in a traditional family, my parents divorced when I was 3 years old. From my earliest memory I struggled to find where I fit in the world. I went through life trying on different hats, so to speak, reinventing myself with each new direction. I had my first job at the age of 12, and from then on it was a series of trial and error, pivoting when I became disinterested, disillusioned, displaced, or disengaged. This would become a pattern in my life. My mother was quite ill with Multiple Sclerosis when I was young, so I had very little direction and oversight and no encouragement or guidance.
After a series of jobs – a butcher’s helper, a waitress, a receptionist, a phlebotomist, a lead in a urinalysis lab, I found music one foggy night returning from a road trip to California where I had retreated with a friend after being summarily dismissed from the hospital, where we had we both found ourselves working. I decided that night, listening to John Denver, that I wanted to be a musician. I bought a guitar the next day and began learning to play.
I was a working musician for 12 years, that journey began in Colorado, took me North to Alaska and then like the gold miners of old, to California to seek my fame and fortune. My brother, the drummer with Three Dog Night a very popular rock group at the time, encouraged me to make the move to California. I had achieved local success in Alaska, but was a big fish in a little pond. Moving to California I found myself just the opposite, a tiny fish in a school of many searching desperately for a way to be seen and heard.
Honing my craft working in Los Angeles attempting various ways to gain access to a record deal, I grew disillusioned with playing area night clubs, I didn’t want that life for the rest of my life and the record deal seemed so elusive. I returned to school and earned a Masters in Engineering Psychology, the science of making things easy for people to use. I focused on Human/Computer interaction.
I’ve designed German tank simulators, emergency management software used during 9/11, and designed the programming software, for which I hold a patent, for a cochlear implant, allowing profoundly deafened people to hear. That was an amazing time in my life and very rewarding. But as the company grew and my role became less desirable, I began paying more attention to leisure activities, playing tennis and competing in an equestrian sport called reining to fill the void.
And then my husband suffered a spinal cord injury that rendered him quadriplegic. Life changed in a moment. Lost my business as I could do nothing but serve as caregiver for my husband. It was an incredibly difficult time. I watched my husband morph from the man I married to the man who became gripped by the person he would become. One I hardly knew.
It was in an effort to find respite that I began managing a horse an avocado ranch, and that would go on for 8 years. It was also a tumultuous time and ended abruptly, without warning. And I felt relief. This is a long story I won’t bore you with. But it led to me down a road very unfamiliar. I was 62, basically had lost my family and friends and I had no idea what to do with my life.
I landed on an idea to open a nail art salon. I invested all the resources I had to educate myself and set out on that path. But my heart was not in it. About a month before the salon was set to open, I stumbled across Sue Bryce. And it was in that moment I decided to become a photographer. I bought a camera, and began a journey that would change my life forever.
Emily: What would you say is a great motivator in your life?
Kitti: I’d have to say the desire to make a difference in the world and to achieve mastery. It continues to a strong motivator and one that I never seem to reach.
Emily: You are one of the most determined ladies I have ever met. What habits do you put in place each day to see yourself to the next goal you’ve set for yourself?
Kitti: I start my day with meditation or setting intentions. When I do not create a map for myself, I am very unproductive, a little like a ball in a pinball machine. If I define what I want to accomplish on any given day, I usually can make it happen.
Emily: You have more style in your pinky finger than I do in my whole self! Where do you get your inspiration?
Kitti: OMG I have to laugh at this question! I don’t feel I have a style lol. But I think my influence was from my music days. I have a youngish personal style, but I don’t want to look 20 from the back and 60 from the front. It’s actually quite a struggle to find clothes that fit my aesthetic. The fashion industry is directed towards youth, as are many industries in our culture.
Emily: What is it about photography that has drawn you to this craft in recent years?
Kitti: When I first began my photography business, I was able to jump in and devote 24/7 to make it happen. I am a problem solver. And anytime you start a new venture, invariably many problems come up. I’ve always felt most alive when I am in the midst of a challenge, and jumping into photography with no experience and creating a successful studio was the ultimate challenge.
Emily: I’ve had the pleasure of coming to see your studio in California as well as your beautiful home! What is it about the Westlake Village that makes that place home for you?
Kitti: It’s sort of the city in the country. I’ve always preferred less populated areas, but I like the convenience of restaurants shopping etc. Westlake is the perfect mix of both!
Emily: What 3 pieces of advice would you offer to women just starting their journey in business from a financial perspective?
Kitti: Decide and Commit. If you want to make it in business, it takes sacrifice. If you’re lucky enough to have some resources to see you through the rough part at the beginning, that’s great. If you don’t, you have to get creative and #findaway.
Emily: What 3 pieces of advice would you offer to the woman who is feeling stuck right now in life and needs a change? Perhaps not sure of where to turn next?
Kitti: Ha! I feel like I will be talking to myself with this advice as this is a constant feeling for me! I never feel satisfied so I am constantly struggling with “what do I do now?”. Don’t wait to be sure of the direction you want to take. Try things on to find what will speak to you. Remember that time is a limited commodity. No one is promised tomorrow. Do not allow yourself to think you can’t do what you want. Stop putting obstacles in your way.
Emily: How do you feel your maturity has given you an edge in starting your most recent venture?
Kitti: My maturity is both a blessing and a curse. I feel a sense of urgency because I know my time is limited in a way that anyone younger, even at 50, can’t really understand. It drives me forward in those times when I really don’t feel like going forward. It’s been especially difficult during covid19, since just being my age makes me high risk. It was very scary at the beginning. I also feel very unseen as a demographic. My latest mission is to find a way to create authentic images of seasoned women and men that are amazing. A tall order in this youth-oriented culture in which we find ourselves. I often have been told I look good for my age. That qualifier is an insult to me. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it just emphasizes the fact that I can only look good if I look young. I want to change that perception.
Emily: I love that you are not afraid of living outside the box of what society might expect. Where does the confidence to live a life on your terms come from?
Kitti: I’ve always walked the road less traveled. It was not a choice for me, it was a compulsion. I never felt I fit in and so finally I just accepted it and am still learning to embrace that.
Emily: What has it been like to discover the value of your work over the years and how has that influenced the price point of your photography?
Kitti: I’m glad you asked that question. I remember one day when the light when on, it was literally like a switch, and I understood that my images were worth what I was asking for them. But this is an ongoing struggle. There are days when I don’t feel a client will purchase, maybe I need to offer a deal to them. I want everyone to walk away from the experience happy.
Emily: What do you feel is next for you? What is most important?
Kitti: I touched on this a little earlier. I feel that the older I get, the more society pushes me aside. I see it everywhere, among colleagues, in public. I see it when I post an image of an older woman vs a younger woman. When did we stop valuing growing older? I really got the impact the first time I heard “OK Boomer”. I want to speak, write and photograph my peers in a way that demonstrates the intrinsic value obtained with the passage of time.
Emily: Describe the most ideal weekend?
Kitti: This one is easy! I love the ocean. A beach front room with some waves and some sunshine. A good red wine or a glass of bubbly and a delicious meal. I’d love to share that with someone who is important in my life. Still looking for that person.
Emily: What is one word that you feel women in general need to embrace when it comes to living a full life?
Kitti: Change. It is the breath of life.
Emily: Do you have any favourite podcasts or resources that you would wish to let other women in business know about?
Kitti: I listen to a lot of Ted Talks and audio books, but I don’t have any favorites. I’m constantly looking for uplifting and inspiring people.
Thank you so much for being under the Spotlight Kitti!
To find Kitti:
I’m a small-town girl with big dreams and a passion for empowering women to create businesses that support the life they deserve. Pursuing your calling should never be an isolating endeavor, so I’m here to provide you with all the encouragement, guidance, tools and reassurance you desire on your path to success. From impactful biz tips and inspiring stories of success to favourite sweats to rock in the home office, I’m grateful for this SHE community, and invite you to join us!