Video by Jessie Marais. Additional footage used with permission of Patrick Ang and Jamie Hyatt.
Fresh out of college, Asia Croson, much like the rest of us, was struggling to find a way to use her degree while pursuing her passion. Although she was certain of her love for photography, her degree in modern languages and literatures had set her on the road to becoming a translator. After studying abroad in France and heavily pursuing that career route, she feared the constant need to travel made her choice unsustainable, both fiscally and personally. She found herself presented with a difficult life decision: While one path continued in the direction she had been schooled for, an arguably safer route, the other—far more intimidating and less clear— granted her the opportunity to open her own photography business.
Consumed by internal doubts and self-criticism, she decided to discuss the decision with her peers and family. She was blocked by the anxiety of the unknown, the expectations of others and the crippling fear of failure. All she knew was her constant and ever-evolving fascination with photography. Being able to uplift others, encourage them to feel beautiful and capture a moment that they will cherish forever all pointed toward taking the riskier path. But it was not until she met her now fiancé John Khallaghi that she knew she had to take a leap of faith.
“I literally prayed and said the next person I speak to, whatever the right thing for my life is, I want him or her to tell me,” Croson said. “So [I told John], ‘I have an objective question for you as a stranger. I’m thinking of going back to grad school, I really love speech therapy, but I also really want to be a photographer.’ And he said, ‘I feel like you’re really smart, I think you should start a business.’ And I said, ‘Okay, great!’ And I dropped out of school.”
Years later, Croson has now created a brand for herself. Not only is she an extremely successful sorority, senior, wedding, event and maternity photographer, but she is also a friend and supporter to the San Luis Obispo community. People know that when you book a shoot with Asia Croson Photography, you will feel loved, comfortable and safe. “I want you to know you’re beautiful. I’ll take your picture and prove it,” Croson states on her website.
Through allowing herself to be open and curious she has stumbled upon even more passion projects that have expanded her brand and business. She currently stands as a photographer, businesswoman, co-founder of Girls Who Handle It (GWHI) and founder of SLO What Magazine and Build Your Own Business (BYOB).
By having the strength to trust herself and her abilities, she has been able to create a role that aligns with not just one of her passions, but all of them — women empowerment, entrepreneurship, photography, graphic design and, most importantly, relationship building and giving back to her community.
Understanding what you can do, but more importantly what someone else can do better than you, takes humility and a greater understanding of yourself.
Her motivation ultimately stems from her love for each project she is a part of. In addition, she creates her own schedule, which enables her to work harder to play longer. Being able to balance professional and personal life is difficult in any job, but when running your own business, you must have a deep understanding of what you prioritize and why.
“Every morning I wake up and bust my ass because I know that the harder I work, the more time I will be able to spend with my nephew and fiancé,” she said.
Croson manages her busy schedule— so busy there is hardly a slot on her Google calendar that is not purple— with the help of her staff. Delegating powers was difficult at first, but she has learned the limits of her own strength. Through the various events she has led, she has come to realize the importance of stepping back and allowing others to lead in her place, and that not being at the helm all the time made her a more powerful and insightful leader.
Croson admits how difficult it was supporting 45 girls retelling a traumatic experience during GWHI. While she would not consider herself very ‘emotional,’ she realized she expressed herself through actions rather than words. Whenever the girls needed a coffee or an errand run, Croson would rise to the occasion. However, when they needed to turn to someone for emotional consolation, Croson realized that co-founder Julia Freet was actually much better at that.
“Understanding what you can do, but more importantly what someone else can do better than you, takes humility and a greater understanding of yourself,” Croson said.
Whether it be hosting a BYOB networking session, creating a whole community based on vulnerability, empowerment and support through Girls Who Handle It or making women feel like beautiful girl bosses in their photoshoots, there is no doubt Croson has impacted many lives here in San Luis Obispo. Life is not meant to be predictable or cookie cutter. Finding your passion is having the courage to pursue your interests and running with them.
“I always think you just throw glitter in the air and see what you catch. And now I see what has stuck and the common threads between them,” Croson said.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of women in Girls Who Handle It. The current version has been updated to reflect this correction.