This morning I spent two and a half hours writing a long blog post, trying to explain some of the those changes, how they came about, and what they look like. I took a break and tried to sit down to finish the post, and had to start all over again. The first post had some great info, but it wasn’t what was on my heart to share. This is my heart…
Six weeks ago, while on vacation in Colorado, Buck and I had a long, hard, sweet conversation about me, my business, and our future together as a couple in this business. He shared things he has thought and felt for three years, but never wanted to voice. Wouldn’t you know, they were the same things that I thought and felt, but didn’t want to voice, either.
We told each other that we were fed up. We were done. We were tired.
We’re tired of my 60+ hour work weeks, being soooooo stressed every single day. Tired of my “I have to work tonight” texts to him in the afternoons, of the endless to-do list, and the treading water feeling that characterizes nine months out of my year. Tired of pouring my heart and soul into this business and seeing such a comparatively small financial return— not because of mismanagement or poor pricing, but because self-employment is expensive, and the time-cost ratio just isn’t high enough to satisfy us. Tired of the intense yearning for deep, real-life friendships that has to be set aside because of time and schedules, tired of the “maybe next month” accompanied by a sigh of resignation, tired of loneliness even when surrounded by friends.
If you were to read a transcript of that conversation— only the words, and not the tones, the tenderness in my husbands eyes, and the physical relief that immediately washed over me— you may think his words to me were a death blow, piercing the heart and crushing every dream. But for me, my husband’s honesty gave me permission to be open with him, as well. Because we feel the same way.
Dear reader, let me take a moment and be perfectly clear with you— I am not quitting my job or leaving the wedding industry. I love wedding photography, my husband supports me in it, and I plan to do it for as many years as I can make it work, which will be at least 10 years. Hopefully closer to 25.
What happened in that conversation is that we both realized that they way that I work just isn’t working. We both want this career to sustain us for the long haul— it’s an incredibly flexible job that I am good at and enjoy, so we’re not willing to give it up. But things have to change. We want more out of life than social media buzz, long work hours, and “the satisfaction of a job well done.” We want real, face-to-face relationships. We want community, we want to value time with family, and we want to make memories that have nothing to do with our jobs and the Internet. We want a quiet, simple, peaceful life.
I came home from Colorado both excited and confused. I’ve felt this way before, this frustration with myself, this “I’m Done” feeling about work culture. I’ve blogged about these moments of conflict, too— here, and here, and especially here. Somehow, though, this time seemed different. The answer wasn’t as simple as looking at my Core Beliefs and giving myself a “remember who you are and why you do what you do” pep talk. No, things needed to radically change.
These goals that you listed… those aren’t really the dream. They only feel like the dream because that’s what success happens to look like right now… when you base success on a checklist of what it looks like for everyone else at that particular point in time, that success will always, always be just beyond your grasp. And there will always be just one more thing to add to the list. So you will spend your life in the pursuit of More. More, more, more just to barely keep up.
Instead, I’d rather see you as the one who invents a whole new version of success that no one has ever seen before. One for all of us to look up to. Step bravely out as a leader, the world needs more leaders. Don’t just do what has already been done.
I realized I can’t just make some minute changes that make me feel better about myself but don’t affect the way that I work. I need to strip this all down to skeletal framework, double-check my foundation, and rebuild. Here are a few of those changes that are happening in the rebuild:
1. No More Impossibly High Standards.
Creatives are people who are naturally their own worst critics. To quote a man who worked for years in the advertising industry, “We tend to set ourselves impossibly high standards, and are invariably our own toughest critics. Satisfying our own lofty demands is usually a lot harder than appeasing any client… Most artists and designers I know would rather work all night than turn in a sub-standard job. It is a universal truth that all artists think they are frauds and charlatans, and live in constant fear of being exposed. We believe by working harder than anyone else we can evaded detection… You don’t have to drive creative folk like most workers. They drive themselves. Just wind ’em up and let ’em go.” (This whole post was revolutionary for me. Well worth the read)
The Wedding Industry is populated almost entirely by creative people who “drive themselves,” and we’ve created a culture of unnecessarily (and sometimes impossibly) high standards to live up to. And now in the era of blogging and social media and sharing, we not only have our clients to please, and our own voices in our heads telling us that we’re not delivering the product that we should, we now have every other [photographer, florist, planner, calligrapher, etc] wedding professional in our field showing their work and exposing our own insecurities to ourselves.
I work very hard to ensure the images I deliver to my clients are the best possible quality. I bend over backwards to make my clients feel cared for at every point throughout the process, from initial booking to wedding day interactions to final product delivery. I also have a family. That means I have office hours, and limited weekend availability, and I am absolutely okay with that. I have to be okay with that. No more feeling guilty because my photographer friend over there has a faster turn-around time.
2. No More Glorifying the Hustle For the Sake of the Hustle.
Don’t get me wrong— I’m all about the hustle. I’m a #GirlBoss, and I LOVE hard work and to-do lists as much as the next Type-A entrepreneur out there. Deadlines? Fuel for my fire. Things look impossible? I’m a Leslie Knope optimist, folks (no seriously, she is the extroverted version of ME). Nothing gets me down. Sure, I get overwhelmed, but I always get it done.
The thing is, I like the stress that comes with trying to get things done. I read a post by Shauna Niequist this week that sounded like she wrote my own autobiography— I’ve been “busy” for nine years. I keep saying, “this is just a season,” but if I’m honest with myself, really truly honest with myself, this isn’t a season. This is a choice. Like Shauna, I like to be busy, so it doesn’t usually bother me. But what seemed fun in the beginning (and still sounds fun when I tell other people what I do), the day-to-day isn’t fun anymore. It hasn’t been for a really, really long time.
“You know what I’m talking about: when your mind has to work seven steps ahead instead of just being where you are, because this deadline’s coming, and the laundry has to get done before that trip, because you can’t forget to pack snowpants for school, and you need to beg for more time on this project. Again.” (Her entire post is worth reading. Short and sweet and powerful and YES).
I’m done with that. There is a time and a place for buckling down and working really hard to get over that last pile of work so you can start to see the horizon again, but that should be a short time with a defined end and with a fixed purpose in mind. Me? I keep adding to that pile. Because it feels good to say “Work is crazy right now.” It puffs my pride. But that’s a lousy excuse for not being present with the people that I love when I’m with them.
There are some parts of work that I’ve assumed I have to do because other people do them. I’m reevaluating all of those. If I’m going to spend time on this business, it better be on something that I believe adds value to my business, to my client experience, to my professional expertise, or to the quality of my family life. If it doesn’t fit those, then maybe I’m doing it just for the hustle.
3. Never Lose Intentionality.
I would rather be faithful than famous. I would rather have face-to-face relationships than a large following on Facebook and Instagram. I would rather be present in this moment than multitasking my way through this week and next. I want to live my life with my obituary in mind. What will be said of me when I have nothing left to give? What lasting value will I add, what legacy will I leave? (And is there a way to remove “busy” from my vocabulary??)
I want my children and grandchildren to remember love, mercy, compassion, humility, a servant’s heart, and a mom who always had time to listen. I want them to always know that their parents loved them, loved each other, loved Jesus, and loved other people well. I don’t want them to remember me as a workaholic, stress-obsessed woman without boundaries who never learned to say no.
And if I want that in 30 years, I have to start building that now.
Practically, what does this all look like?
- Quieter on social media. I love Facebook and Instagram, but I’m balancing my time there with time spent on client care, so you may hear from me a bit less.
- Fewer blog posts. Fewer images in my blog posts. Most of my blog readers are other photographers. That’s wonderful! I love sharing information with others in the industry. That’s why I teach workshops. But blogging is time-consuming, and most of my wedding clients don’t have the time to wade through 60+ images to see a wedding day. So my posts are going to be a short highlight reel (which, hopefully, will allow for more consistency).
- Unfollowing other blogs. I love keeping up-to-date on friends’ work in the wedding industry, but if it tempts me to overwork or hustle-just-to-hustle, I shouldn’t follow them any longer.
- I will be unashamed and firm on my boundaries. No more guilt for setting aside Thursday nights for date night. No more embarrassment for not blogging yesterday, because I worked on clients’ images all day, and clocked out at 6pm. No more taking my office with me in my head.
- I will keep my priorities in order. God, then family, then work. It has to stay in that order. If any of them flip, it’s a major problem.
Obviously, this is all a journey for me, and I’m sure things will evolve over time. Thankfully, there is abundant grace for every new phase. (If you read this far— thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me. Please at least comment so I know I wasn’t speaking to thin air.)
PS— If you’re interested in learning more about building a business that supports a life, consider attending The Intentional Photographer. And if you are on the fence about whether or not it would be a good fit for you, read this blog from previous attendee Chelsea: “The Best Thing I Did For My Business.” And just a reminder that the discount code is good for just two more weeks, so register soon! Use code “earlybird” to save $100 off your workshop seat!
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