Today marks my 9th year in business. Or at least, its been exactly nine years since I launched a website and called myself a “photographer”. As is the case with most of us when we just start out, I don’t think I was actually legal for a few years. What can I say? I didn’t know any better. I just knew that I wanted to follow a dream and answer only to myself, and I figured out everything else along the way.
I’m one of those people who best understands her now, by reflecting on her “back then” and dreaming about her “what ifs”. It drives my husband crazy, but it really helps me understand things. And time is a far more fluid construct than we allow ourselves to believe. If we listen to it, it can teach us deeper lessons, like patience and perspective.
So each year when my Timehop reminds me that this is the day - the day it all began - I always have to pause and reflect. Each of the nine years I’ve been in business have brought me different struggles and rewards. Those first four years or so were almost all struggles, but without them I wouldn’t be where I am now. My message to those First Four Years Me has always been one of “don’t give up, but take it slow”. It just takes time for must of us to tackle all the things, figure out how to find clients, and get good enough to deliver a consistent, worthy product. And if you are in that spot now, I hope it doesn’t take you five years, but I do hope you never give up, and that you give yourself the grace to take it slow.
I hit a sweet spot two or three years ago, let’s call her Six Year Me, when everything was clicking along so beautifully. I felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn't do, and at that time I truly felt like if one just worked hard enough, good things will happen. That Six Year Me would have told you, possibly with a touch of undue smugness, that once you have it figured out, it’s easy. Well, I wouldn’t have said “easy”, even then, because I don’t believe in easy. But I would have made it out to be a touch more prideful, and a touch more “natural talent” than I would like to admit. But that’s the beauty of reflection: I can see that now, and give myself the grace of knowing that it was just another lesson to be learned along the way. I was, and still am, good at what I do. But during that sweet spot a number of things lined up that very much helped me further along.
And now I’m at Nine Year Me.
And she’s feeling tired.
She has enough perspective to know that every thing goes in waves, and that slow times will eventually be replaced with busy times, and vice versa. She’s learned the hard lessons of paying herself a regular wage, and holding back profits for those slower times. She’s learned that she’ll never be satisfied doing only one thing, and that her business will always evolve as she does. And she’s learned to stand up for herself, and learned that sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away.
She’s gained a bit of maturity, and while I wish I could say patience, that seems to be something that is still waiting to be learned. But she’s also learned what holding her back. And what her fears are. She’s learned she has fears still, even though Six Year Me thought otherwise.
She’s seen people who started after her, already throw in the towel. She’s seen the industry change a fair bit, and more importantly, she’s learned that it always will, and that it’s her who has to be adaptable, or risk being left behind.
She’s learned that it’s rarely about the photography. That being a good photographer isn’t enough - or worse, really doesn’t even matter - but being good at building relationships, staying connected, and upholding promises matters far more.
She’s learned a lot. And she’s cautiously optimistic about what her future holds, and about what the subsequent Years Me will teach her.
But mostly she’s just thankful.
Thankful for mentors who’ve taught her such invaluable lessons, thankful for opportunities that came at just the right time, thankful for hard work and perseverance, and most of all, thankful for the clients that trust her.
Thank you for being part of this journey with me.