“Curiosity is a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places.”-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
The blessing and curse of this whole entrepreneur thing, is that it really is just like a choose your own adventure book. On any given day, I can fill my agenda with literally anything. I can waste away the day drinking wine in the dark just as easily as I can pack it full of strategy sessions and phone calls. When anything is possible, things can get a little overwhelming if you let them.
The various life coaches, well-intended friends and motivational webinars from which I’ve siphoned wisdom have recommended that I ask myself things like, “What do I want from life? What am I meant to do? How do I want my days to feel?” Today marks four years of running my business full time, and in the last four years I’ve asked myself these questions a lot.
And despite the way my scattered brain likes to bounce from one heavy concept to another, the answer to what I want my life to feel like has always been abundantly clear.
It feels like space.
It feels like quiet.
It feels like margin, and happiness, and relationships, and barefoot dinner parties on the deck, and being able to drop everything to help friends when they need me, and being supportive to my husband whether that means picking up dry cleaning or picking up the phone at will. It feels like making an honest living, but not at the cost of all my heart and attention.
In the lifecycle of my business, the past year has involved tedious editing. Trimming down services to only include what I’m best at and what makes the most sense financially. Editing out photographing weddings from the vocabulary of my identity so that I could reclaim my weekends and my sanity. Editing out relationships that weren’t fitting into that quiet, spacious, barefoot dinner party-filled life I was hoping to achieve.
And with all the editing and the saying no and the setting intentions. Something crazy happened: it worked. I woke up in 2018 with a fresh, just-full-enough calendar, an amazing roster of clients, and a more steady and reliable flow of income and work than I’d been able to achieve in the past. I certainly wasn’t going to be purchasing a yacht anytime soon, but for the first time possibly ever, I could breathe and work and be a human simultaneously. What a novel concept.
With this newfound outlook, I did what I tend to do: I freaked out. I’d spent the last 10+ years moving at breakneck pace, grasping for everything in the name of progress. When that’s your barometer of normal, how can slowing down ever feel right? Worse yet, how do you become comfortable with stillness and peace when those things require you to get really quiet and honest about some of the least favorite parts of yourself?
Screw barefoot dinner parties on the porch.
I lied, I didn’t really want those things.
What I wanted was to continue killing myself so I’d feel justified and important as an entrepreneur. I wanted a full calendar so that when the doubts crept in I’d be able to prove to myself that this was working…just look at all the meetings and phone calls! I wanted to prove my value to myself and to everyone around me by doing all the things. The internal conflict was deafening, the emotional weirdness was confusing.
My therapist called this a “turning point in a crisis of meaning” which is really just a nice way of saying an emotional freakout.
To say that I’m past the freakout would be a lie. To provide advice to others going through similar situations would be unwise, I don’t know how to fix it either. Amy Messenger sent me a beautiful quote by writer Natalie Goldberg: “If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” My voices and I have a lot of peacemaking to endure before I can talk to you about how I successfully made it over to the other side.
For better or worse, this is what year four in business looks like. I’ve hustled and muscled and I’ve been so lucky to be blessed with incredible connections, colleagues, opportunities and friends, and while there are always avenues to grow and elevate, in a sense, I’ve made it. You can never know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that for today I can lead the kind of life I want to lead and do work that I enjoy and make some kind of money and be happy. And so now it’s time to make peace with peace.
We harp so much on getting there, but no one tells you what to do once you reach the top of the mountain. For now, I’m assuming the correct answer is that you slip off your boots, make sure you’ve still got your map in hand for the next journey, and in the meantime enjoy the view.
So what’s next for me?
The only thing I can promise is more exploration. I’m learning that setting goals is a wise thing to do, but holding onto specific objectives too tightly, and being unwilling to walk away from things that aren’t working, is a recipe of sadness and unhappy clients. I am continuing to spend a great deal of time in my graphic design business (check out my work here), primarily working in branding and web design.
Additionally, I’ve decided after a time of hiatus that photography is a cruel mistress who just won’t leave me alone. I’ll write more about this later, but I’m really grateful and excited to continue my journey in photography. My photo work and writing will be posted here on this site, and while I am still not shooting weddings, I’m doing a lot of commercial work that I’m really jazzed about. What’s commercial photography? It’s photography for businesses (read: the people, places, and things a business would need to promote visually to market what they do).
What I do know for certain is that people are crucial. I have gleaned so much wisdom during this season from the phone calls, coffee chats, and late night texts of my people. To be here four years later with a ship that still hasn’t sunk is a miracle only made possible by the clients, family, and friends who have encouraged me, challenged me, and championed me to keep going despite rough waters. If you’re a part of that team, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The journey is messy and confusing at times, but not a day goes by that I do not feel a soul-stirring sense of gratitude to be taking it, one wobbly step at a time.