This year didn’t exactly fly by. In fact, there were times when I seemed to feel every single minute of it. And yet, looking back, it’s hard to tell where last year ended and this one began. My story seems to be flowing in a long connected line and the years and months feel like arbitrary divisions. I can’t say if this is good or bad – maybe it’s just something that happens after you turn thirty?
Anyway, I think that’s why it helps to reflect. I used the same format as last year and like last year, I was not exactly concise. (I never really am.) So here it is – the 2019 recap!
What went well in 2019?
It’s not that it was easy every day. (It wasn’t.) But a lot of things fell into place in my business this year. The workflows I’ve spent the past few years painstakingly honing paid dividends in client communication. My income and my client base continue to slowly grow. I created new partnerships, sought new education and mentors, but also found a lot more guidance within myself. I built trust with myself.
I was able to trust myself more because I felt completely locked into my core values – service and connection. Decisions are so much easier with these principles as my guide. I just ask myself, “Will it help me serve my clients better?” “Will it help me make a deeper connection?” If yes, let’s do the thing! If not, let’s find a better way.
With those two values in mind, I vastly changed up the way I offered family sessions this fall. I had a crazy wedding season and I knew I wouldn’t be able to accommodate my usual schedule of family photo shoots this year. So I found a new way. I knew that mini sessions would allow me to serve the most families in the best way, but I wasn’t positive if they would give me enough time to connect with them.
In the end, it was awesome. I made connections with families (both new and familiar), got positive feedback, and gave as many people as possible the opportunity to have fun, connected family photos without making myself crazy trying to fit them into an already jam-packed schedule.
It also helped me feel better (though not awesome) about turning quite a few families away. It’s hard for me to say no, but I had to honor the commitment I had made to myself and I felt so much better for it. I referred all those families into very capable hands. And thanks to the interest the mini sessions generated, they will likely return in Spring 2020!
Speaking of saying “no” and turning away business, boundaries have been a huge personal and professional focus for me this year. And while they’re definitely a work in progress, I still think they fit squarely in the “things that went well” category. When my family went through some challenges this year, I got very clear with myself on how I wanted to communicate and what I had the energy for. I spoke out more when things made me uncomfortable. I asked for the things I needed.
Regarding physical boundaries, I moved my office into our basement. It’s unfinished, but with a fresh coat of paint, some foam floor tiles, a cozy rug, and new furniture, it’s exactly the home office I need. I haven’t used a desk in years – just a comfy chair, a laptop, and a lap desk. But now that I have a 27″ monitor, I have no idea how I managed without it for as long as I did.
Today, my office is a mess, full of displaced items from the soon-to-be-nursery. And yet when I sit behind my desk, I’m in my work zone. And when I leave the basement, I can leave work behind. And that might be the most important boundary I created this year.
Hitting the gym
In my 2018 year in review, the gym was in the “What didn’t go well?” category, so I think it’s important to put it where it firmly belongs this year; in the “I kicked the gym’s ass” category. I love my gym. And going three times a week has became an unfailing part of my routine. Even if it means going three days in a row to accommodate a holiday. Or digging out a snow-covered car to get there. It’s just something I do. I barely even think about it until I’m climbing up the stairs, opening the gym door, wondering whether I really want to work out this morning. (And by then it’s too late to renege.)
I know I can’t really make claims like this, but I swear the reason my pregnancy has been so comfortable and minimally disruptive is because of the gym – because my body has the strength to support these changes with very little pain or discomfort. I’m hoping it’s the magical panacea for labor as well but… well… that’s a bit optimistic, I’m sure.
What didn’t go well in 2019?
When I became pregnant, I crawled right inside my turtle shell and only peeked out occasionally. At first, I was just really tired. And later, I wasn’t sure how to share about it, and that made me hesitant to share at all. I pulled back on Instagram posts, blogging, and really fell off the Pinterest wagon. And, oh yeah – the ad I payed for back in April didn’t yield much in the way of direct returns either.
Now that things are “out there” I feel more ready to share again. I’m launching a newsletter this month and I have a ton of fire for that idea. I’m blogging more (right now!) and sharing some Instagram stories. But I still need to do some thinking and planning about how I want this to look moving forward. I need to reassess what I will have time and energy for and how to make it sustainable and comfortable to share myself, my changing life, and my work.
Even though I was awesome about going to the gym this year, I sometimes had a hard time transitioning quickly into work mode after. I have been working a lot on identifying and honoring priorities because I tend to work on the biggest, loudest thing in front of me, which isn’t always the most important. This is classic Enneagram 9 behavior.
I found a great piece of software that’s helping me prioritize and focus on tasks, but I still often need to be mindful and recalibrate what I choose to work on throughout the day.
Although I am sometimes slow to gain momentum, I can also get really “locked into” things and forget to stop working, even to meet my own basic needs.
Pregnancy both helped and didn’t help with my focus. At first I was deeply tired. (That didn’t help much.) But later, my body would force me to take breaks, whether for a snack or a bathroom break, or simply just to stretch. This was incredibly helpful because it allowed me to check in, recalibrate, and stay focused without burning out on one task for too long. It’s something I had been trying to shift for a long time and my body finally pushed me into it.
So why is this in the “didn’t go well” category? I think it’s just that more rest and more breaks came with a lot of baggage. There were times when I felt guilt, shame, or frustration. People assured me that it was normal to need more rest when “growing a human” but it’s something I really had to wrap my head around. In the end, there was a lot of release and balance, which is great, but it didn’t come easily.
2019 Ideas: Hospice Photography & The Post-Wedding Podcast
In 2019, I had some awesome ideas. I was finally going to start volunteering at a local hospice house and get my hospice photography program off the ground in a sustainable way. I did the training, filled out the paperwork, and got the shots. I did my first shadowing shift and met some of the staff and patients.
I was also very definitely starting a podcast! I recorded the first 6 episodes, found an editor, made the webpage, and launched a teaser. My partner wrote and recorded a theme song. The episodes sat waiting in my Dropbox, ready to be released.
And then…? Not a whole heck of a lot. It’s not that these ideas faded. They didn’t. I still want them to happen. They just hit a big, fat energy slump. Fatigue set in, weddings picked up. I started to worry about germs and infections in a vague but definitely scary way. I didn’t want a halfhearted launch – the episodes deserved better.
So I realized that my creative energy was limited, for a time. I needed to focus it on serving the clients I had. I needed to put new on hold and work through the everyday. It was sad and hard, but I made peace with it. And part of that peace is knowing that these ideas will wait for me. That when the energy is right and time is right, everything will line back up and the ideas will be made real. And until then, I’ll be patient and focus on the ways of creating that feel right, right now.
Biggest surprises of 2019:
I mentioned this last year, but it didn’t go into full swing until this year, so I think it bears repeating. I feel so lucky to have fallen into a partnership with a wonderful human and business person. Our values feel aligned and she is generous with mentoring and feedback. It’s exactly what I needed at this stage in my business.
Associate shooting gives me a chance to shoot a higher volume of weddings, which gives me more experience to better serve my own clients. It’s a chance to understand the frameworks other photographers use and gain exposure to new venues and lighting situations. And the biggest surprise? It’s a chance to assess my own business through the lens of another: To recognize where I am providing value and where I can add more. To dive into how my brand values drive my shooting style. To assess how to best serve my people, even as I am learning what others may want.
It’s also the perfect way to balance parenting with work, since it removes most of the time consuming back-end stuff, like invoicing, planning timelines, and photo editing. It’s a gift that I’m grateful and excited to take with me into 2020.
This feels strange to say, but sometime over the past year, I lost my sense of urgency about travel. I still have a ton of places I want to see and I fully intend that kiddo is going to be a world traveler from a young age. It just doesn’t press on me like it used to. Somehow, I feel like there’s plenty of time. And rather than needing to see everything, I just want to see a lot. I just want to see whatever fits into this life.
Since it’s something I enjoy, I wrote a little travel recap list for this year. (Asterisks mean I traveled out of state specifically to shoot a wedding.)
- January: Pittsburgh; New Hampshire
- February: Vermont
- April: Los Angeles
- May: Barbados; New York
- June: Los Angeles; Seattle
- July: Connecticut*
- August: New Hampshire*; New York
- September: Rhode Island*; Vermont*
- October: Caribbean Cruise (Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI)
- November: Vermont
- December: Maine
It’s not that this pregnancy itself was a surprise. (In fact, the timing worked out about as perfectly as I could have dreamed.) It’s just that the whole experience has been so much new and change and I know there are many more surprises to come.
I felt a lot of interesting creative pulls this year, especially in the fall as I could see the end of wedding season drawing near. I started taking mandolin lessons, which challenged me in many ways. I started mapping out an idea for a fantasy novel. And I’m being pulled toward slowing down and making pictures with film.
Something in me is looking to create and connect in ways that have nothing to do with my work. I’m practicing letting the ideas move through me and making space for the nurturing that comes with the making.
Last year, I wanted to be present and “listen.” Next year I know I’ll need more of the same.
Right now, my brain wants to prepare for and imagine every scenario. But I’ve learned (over and over) that anticipatory worrying is nearly always a waste of energy. So I’m constantly trying to slow it down, take deep breaths, be here now.
Because I know that I don’t know what I’m getting into. And I know I can’t solve problems before they happen. So I’m trying to lean into the trust that I will solve them when they arise. My motto of the moment is “optimism until proven otherwise.” Again and again I’m striving to choose peace over fear.
In trust. In presence. In deep breaths.
That’s all I can do to prepare for the magnificent, destructive, creative force that is parenthood. Release control. Hope for the best. Wait and see.
Create a Learning Community
Lately, I have been connecting with a handful of newer wedding photographers and I completely love talking with them about everything to do with photography and business. It reminds me of how far I’ve come and everything I still want to learn.
I freaking love learning and honing and trying to uplevel my photography. I’m constantly taking classes or perusing resources to find new approaches. (I never want to get stuck thinking I already know all the ways a thing can be done.) And when I’m working on a new skill – be it a creative flash technique or playing with some weird prism – a fast-paced wedding is not the right time for me to experiment. So occasionally, I’ll meet up with another photographer for a headshot exchange and we’ll support each other – with time and patience and suggestions – as we both try new things.
In 2020, I’d like to create a quarterly meet-up where photographers can build specific skills in a low pressure environment. Between the skill building, networking, and getting a few Instagram-worthy headshots out of the deal, this feels like a win-win-win! I’m not sure what this will be called or when it will be, but I am pumped to create this space and community for my local photographer friends. And for me.
Do you intentionally reflect on your year? Do you have questions you ask yourself or a focus word for 2020? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!