Busy. We wear it like a badge of honor.
“How are things going?” people ask.
“Oh my gosh, I’m crazy busy,” we respond.
And they say “Oh that’s great!” and “I don’t know how you do it!” and “You work soooo hard!” and we feel proud of ourselves. We puff up a little bit and think, “I am superwoman, that’s how!” while ignoring the “I haven’t really been engaged with my children or my family in weeks…or maybe it’s over a month now, I can’t remember…” part that’s nagging at us. Maybe because we’re too busy to notice it.
In the photography business, as in any other businesses, it’s great to be busy, because it means that you’re creating art that people love. And every time an inquiry comes in, it’s like the most popular boy in school asked you to the dance. EVERY DAY. Because they could have picked any girl in the whole school and they picked you. And if you don’t say “YES” (even though you promised your mom you’d visit your grandma this weekend and you have so much social studies homework to catch up on and the dance, for some strange reason, is an hour from your house), he’s never going to ask you again and he’s going to go to the dance with another girl and you won’t be prom queen and no one will ever like you again. SOOOO…you say “Yes.” Every day.
And that’s all well and good and the dance is a blast and you become prom queen and the school votes you Most Popular and Best Looking and you get a full page in the year book dedicated to Your Awesomeness. But you forgot to visit your grandma and now you’re failing social studies AND math because you forgot that the teacher even assigned anything. We just can’t do it all ALL THE TIME, because there simply isn’t enough time or energy or even love to spread out to everything.
I am very lucky to have a pretty large group of friends in the photography industry and while some of them have figured this out, there are a lot of us who haven’t gotten the “SLOW THE HELL DOWN” memo. Those who have figured out that there’s only so much work they can do and still be productive and contributing members of their family are my idols. I WORSHIP these women. I ask their advice on everything because they’ve clearly been blessed with the gift of Having All Their Shit Together, whereas I have been blessed with the ability to Not Comb My Hair For Two Days. The more I talk to these real Superwomen, the more I realize that this was not something that came from having a direct line to God, but something that they have to work on. Saying, “No, thank you,” is an art in and of itself, and I’m finding that it takes just as much courage and talent to create art as it does to say “No, thank you” to creating it.
We are artists and most of us feel like we were born to do this – to take pictures. Whether it be of kids or couples in love or a new baby or a cool building or a freaking cinnamon roll, we all feel a stirring in our souls to create beautiful pictures every day. And when someone calls us up or looks through our website and sends us an email saying that they love our work and they want to commission us to create art for them, it’s virtually impossible to say no. I had a client once explain that after hours of looking through websites, she stumbled across mine somehow and it was like choirs of angels singing to her. I mean, how do you say “No, I can’t answer your angel-calling right now, I need to decompress for a while?” You don’t. Or, at least, I don’t.
This year was an amazing year for me. I don’t want to do the rundown of everything super-rad that happened with me and my business this year because I’m going to save that for a “Look at How Awesome Things Were This Year” post (maybe, I still can’t really comprehend all of it just yet, so that might not ever happen). But while I was building relationships with new clients and new friends and creating art that I absolutely love, I was missing out on my life. Like, SERIOUSLY missing out. In November, I was in Chicago working and my family tagged along to visit my husband’s sister and her new husband. They had a blast (for the most part, I heard my kids were crazy and very difficult to handle at times). They went for walks, saw The Bean, went to a super cool park, rode their very first train ride. And I missed it. I missed all of it.
Now, I had an amazing time with my clients and their families. I took some of my favorite pictures of the year that weekend and some of them made it into The Portfolio that would eventually lead to achieving a huge goal of mine, so was it worth it? Yes. Should I have made time to have an adventure in Chicago with my family? Yes. But I didn’t. I didn’t schedule in time to play, I scheduled in time to edit. But my husband is diligent about sending me photos and videos of all their adventures while I’m working, and I cherish seeing them have such a great time, even though I can’t be there with them. But that weekend in Chicago, something terrible happened.
His phone broke.
The screen was rendered useless by Apple the day after we got home and we hadn’t backed up his phone since I had my computer fixed the last time, so a big majority of the last year of my kids’ lives was gone except in memories. At least to me, because I wasn’t there. I was working.
When I heard this news via text message from my husband’s iPad, I crumpled to the ground in my office and started full-on weeping. I’m sure the accountants next door wondered what the hell was going on with that weird girl on the other side of the wall and why on earth won’t she comb her hair, but I just sat and I cried. I missed that year. And now I couldn’t even watch it. I couldn’t see the videos of my son swinging and I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken him to the park because I had been shooting every weekend and editing every afternoon. And in that moment, I realized that all of this busy-ness had to stop. Not right then, because I was in the middle of a 37-session run, but as soon as was possible for me, I was going to stop.
And even though we eventually found someone that could fix his phone to the tune of $168 and we did get those moments back for me to watch, the moment for me to stop happens to be right now.
I’m not quitting my business by any means, but I’m going to scale way back for the next year. My kids are both going to be in full-time school beginning in September, so I’m going to soak up this next year with them as much as I can. I’m going to be taking a limited amount of sessions per month and will be reserving (most) Sundays just for my family. No sessions, no editing, no phone calls, no emails. Just me with them. And maybe I won’t be prom queen and maybe I won’t be voted Most Popular, but I still have a shot at Happiest Girl or even Learned to Prioritize Hair Combing. Those badges will be enough. I have realized that I’m not going to lose clients that really want to work with me, because they will be the ones who are patient and will understand that family always has to come first. And because there’s enough business for everyone.
This business of busy-ness is not something we should wear like a badge, it’s something that should be the forth bullet point on our resumes. It should probably be there under “Special Skills” and say “Ability to try to not make myself sick with lack of sleep and worrying and over-extending myself until everyone around me suffers. References attached.” Of course, that’s what it would say on mine. On yours it could say, “Ability to wear multiple hats and thrive in many different environments under pressure.” And you’d get the job and not me because I’m really not that good at being busy.
Let me be very clear: There is not a single client or event that I photographed this year that I wished I had said “No, thank you” to. Not a one, I promise. This year has been exactly what I needed to know that I can scale back and actually still be successful and relevant. I haven’t even hit the two-year mark on my business and I have achieved almost every bullet point on my 5-Year Goal List (come on National Geographic! You’re the only one left!! Also, time for some new goals). I love my work. I love my clients. I love the crunch of the leaves under my feet as I walk into a new location at dawn with my camera slung over my shoulder, waiting and imagining what we are about to create together. And I am so looking forward to all that’s to come in 2016 and finding a bit more balance between the work that I love and the people that I love. For my clients, it’s going to mean a lot more individual attention, better attention to detail, and a hell of a lot more organization, so they have that to look forward to. My husband is looking forward to me throwing away my old red sweatpants and finding my comb and maybe vacuuming every so often. And my kids are looking forward to mommy watching a movie with them without checking to see if she has any new comments on the photo she just put up on social media. And I’m looking forward to figuring out how awesome it can be to have more than four hours of sleep a night. Everybody wins.
The real Superwomen that I know and admire know when to say “WHEN.” They know when enough is enough. They know that editing can wait because their kids are finding some pretty interesting rocks in the yard and one of them sort of looks like Teddy Roosevelt (the rock, not the kid, but a kid that sort-of looks like Teddy Roosevelt would be cool, too, and definitely be worth putting off editing). These women are amazing artists, wonderful mothers, and the greatest friends. They know when to pick you up and tell you you’re a crazy woman and you need to just stop and breathe for a little while. And they’ll hand you a comb and a drink and tell you that no one really has it all together and it’s all an illusion but that all we can do is try the best we can every single day. But first we have to let ourselves be still for a few moments just in order to hear what’s in our soul. Once we can pause enough to listen to what we know inside is best for us, that’s when we can start to really be great. So we’re starting right now.
2016 is open for booking, but I’m taking January and the beginning of February off. So, technically mid-February to the end of November 2016 is open for booking, because I’m taking December 2016 off as well. So… firstname.lastname@example.org to book sometime in those nine-ish months.
Thank you to everyone who has come with me on this journey. To everyone who has brought me along to capture their memories, to everyone who has given me advice and a swift kick in the ass, to all my new friends who stay up late texting with me and helping me figure out why the white balance on that image is off and those who meet me for coffee early in the morning to talk about where’s the best place to print our 365 Books, and all my old friends who are still there even though I only went out for drinks with them once in the last six months. And to my family, who still thinks I’m mostly great and is waiting patiently for me to get done writing so I can start playing. You are all amazing and I am deeply grateful for each one of you.
Let’s all be great this year!