It was November of 2014 and I was done. We had just miscarried, and everyone was pretending like it never happened… including me. I remember walking over to my camera and taking my memory card out… and it hit me. I was over it.
I went back to work full time after running a very successful wedding photography business, and the business was still generating leads. I needed a stable paycheck and benefits. I wasn’t a consistent person and had no idea how to run the business end of a photography studio – so it was feast or famine, and while Ryan and I could eat Ramen while waiting on the next contract to come in – my two-year-old couldn’t.
I kept trying to find ways to keep my business afloat… outsourced editing, had someone watch my son 3 days a week, hired a second shooter, found a program that made album design a breeze… it wasn’t enough. I still had to blog, and social media, and edit, and cook, and clean, and be away from my family during evenings and weekends. I was burned out. Totally burned out.
Did you know that 25% of small businesses close, not due to finances or location, but due to burn out of the owner? Hi, that’s me. The Harvard Business Journal says that “Entrepreneurs who were obsessively passionateabout their business viewed their career as important because of certain pressures or outcomes. They were concerned about social acceptance, status, money, and other outcomes associated with being an entrepreneur.” Hello, again… all me.
Obsessively passionate – meaning, I could not separate myself from my work. I could not see my work as this thing I was doing to make money and afford me the flexible life I wanted – it was a job that defined me, it was who I was and if it failed – it meant that I was a failure too. I couldn’t live without my work and felt like I needed to work 24/7 in order to be successful. I was emotionally dependent on my work because my finances and livelihood depended on it.
I couldn’t imagine myself not being a photographer, and when my work succeeded – my mood improved, but that also meant that when I wasn’t getting the notoriety I thought I was entitled to or saw someone else take the wedding I wanted – I emotionally tanked. I had a fixed mindset: my whole life was my job… I was consumed.
So what was the solution? It was more than just “me time” or “getting away” or “self-care.” I had to take a break, a real break. I am now 4 years removed from shooting full time and have only accepted or offered to photograph the jobs I want to do. But with some perspective, therapy, reading and researching I’ve found that the solution is two things working together – a harmonious passion for what I do and having a flexible mindset.
Harmonious passion – meaning that I have the ability to balance my job with the other things in my life – hobbies, vacation, family, friends, and not feel guilty for experiencing life in tandem with my work. I’m able to unplug, take a walk, get out of my own head and see my work as something that affords me a better life instead of something that drives my life.
Flexible Mindset – I firmly believed that photography was the only thing I was going to be able to do for the rest of my life. Not much of a retirement plan. My hope was that maybe after I couldn’t bend my knees or roll on the ground and had a permanent wrinkle under my left eye, maybe I could teach. I had the firm belief that there was only one perfect career for me, and that’s where my breakdown began. I felt stuck, and if my business wasn’t thriving – it meant I was dying.
What I’ve come to find out is that there is more than one perfect career. While I enjoy being an entrepreneur, I no longer view that path as the one and only right path. I’m an entrepreneur – I thrive in that environment, but now I’ve taken that mindset into the corporations that value it. I innovate, improve and have a voice. Life has taught me to be flexible – circumstances happen, people die, tastes change, and having a rigid mindset means that I have to succeed in the path I’m in and that’s the only one that will take me there. Being flexible means that how I view my career evolves over time, and what I’m doing does not define who I am.
My motivation comes from an internal source of knowing who I am – even though I still may be figuring out what I want to do, at least I know who I am and what motivates me. I’m driven to succeed, but over time what I’ve come to realize is that there will always be someone more talented and farther ahead than I am – and that’s okay. Letting go of being the best and enjoying life where I’m at has been liberating. Harmonious passion – I believe this is the true work/life balance.