I spent a few days last week in Charleston, South Carolina at an Ashton Kelley Photography retreat called the AKP Charming Retreat (which was totally charming by the way!) for photographers from all across the country. I went to the retreat on a whim, being up late into the night nursing an infant will lead to some rather impulsive things!
I attended the retreat for a number of reasons...First, getting the opportunity to meet and network with some incredible women and photographers such as Bethanne Arthur, Sarah Houston, Amanda Hedgepeth and Ashton Kelley sounded great! Learning some new tricks and tips would be great, I am always seeking knowledge so that I can better serve my client. The price of the overall trip was right and the whole package seemed to offer a lot of great perks so I couldn't pass that up! On top of everything a weekend away was very much needed...who wouldn't want to go shoot in Charleston anyway? It was hands down one of the most beautiful and charming city I'd ever been to. So with that, in one quick click of a button, I bought my ticket. Then I crawled in bed and thought...oh my gosh, what did I just do!?
I like to consider myself a pretty outgoing person. Don't get me wrong, I can be reserved, but for the most part, I can typically walk into a room and make friends with about anyone. But, a week or two before the trip I almost backed out. First, I felt guilty as all get out for leaving my husband and family behind to juggle my children without me. Second, when I got the final Invoice to pay, I thought "How selfish, you know this money could be put to better use...college funds...pay towards debt...retirement!" Third, "What are you thinking? Are you really going to fly across the country to hang out with a bunch of women you've never met? Even share a house and bed with someone!?" My husband stood firm and continued to tell me to go, to take this time for me. So, he dropped me off at the airport and I kissed my kids goodbye, this was my first time leaving them more than over night, and got on the plane that was taking me to one of the most eye opening weekends of my life.
I expected laughs. I expected pretty styled shoots...palm trees...brick roads...yummy food...spanish moss...some education...what I didn't expect were the tears. All. The. Tears.
Let me back up. You're probably like...tears? Let me explain. I went on this trip struggling. I didn't talk about the struggle all that often or really share with too many people outside my family about the stresses and fears I was dealing with.
In 2011 I was swamped. I was recently married and worked long hours for a boss who didn't appreciate me. After I got off from my day job I would shoot weddings and sessions. I was a new wife and had no life. I was consumed. I woke up one day and said to myself "No more. I'm done." I walked out of my job and went full time with photography. It was terrifying and exhilarating and it left me feeling so inspired about what my future held. It was the most incredible feeling I had ever felt. I couldn't justify living a life I hated, working for someone I couldn't stand, at a job I couldn't stand. It wasn't me. Having my own photography business was never really my plan but , with no question, it was my destiny. After not really knowing what to do after high school, I followed my high school photography teachers advice and headed for art school pursuing a degree in photography. My business may have developed on a whim but it grew and grew and grew to what it is today by intentionally putting my clients first and serving them with my best abilities.
When people ask me what I do for a living I typically hear something along the lines of "Wow! How cool! You're so lucky! You get to work one day a week and party at weddings and make a ton of money!" or "I wish I got to spend my days doing what I want and then snap some pictures as a job!" I'll admit, my job is awesome. There is never a day that I think "Ugh, I don't want to do this." I may think that about the monotonous office work but never ever the shooting. Having that creative outlet is vital for my well being. But what most people outside the creative world don't see is that in there lies a beast. A big ugly beast. Thing is, its glorified daily. You've seen it around on Facebook in the adorable little memes or on boutique T-shirts...
"Good things come to those who hustle..."
The beast is the hustle and the hustle is what has been suffocating me for quite some time now.
Being successful as someone who is self employed running a small business is not something that just happens on its own. It takes sacrifice, dedication, time...lots of time...consistency and gosh..just so much more. Every action you make has to be intentional. Every part of the business is done by you, if something doesn't get done, it's your fault. The book keeping, the emails, the shooting, the editing, the packaging, the shipping, the meetings, the bill paying, the shopping, the social media, the SEO, the marketing...its all done by one person. You. Paying your bills and having an income is all on you. Its a lot of early mornings. Late nights. Pots of strong coffee. And prayers for sanity. It is most definitely not for everyone.
When I first went full-time with photography, it was everything one might imagine. It was beautiful in every way, shape and form. I had nothing else to focus on but my business and husband....you could say that my business was my baby. Now enter real babies. Yes, babies. Having children really shook things up. Enter later nights. Even more coffee. And lots, I mean lots, of stress.
I need to step back and revisit the "Hustle". Work hard and then work harder. That's the only way to be successful. The pressure is on you ALL THE TIME. It's was draining me. On top of motherhood, which has a million pressures of its own, I felt myself slipping into a pessimistic attitude which was all because of the pressures of the Hustle. I followed all the big name photographers who seemed to have more than enough weddings (all worthy of being published) to go around, gorgeous Instagram accounts, the best of the best equipment, perfect hair, perfect faces....perfect lives. I'm not an idiot. I know how easy it is to make your life look flawless on the internet. But all of this was casting self doubt into my mind. Am I good enough? Is my work good enough? What are they doing that I am not? How can I get better and be like them? I have to work harder! I need better gear! I need..I need...I need... Enter comparison, the thief of joy.
It's the age we live in. Every one and every thing is on social media now and they're all putting their best foot forward. As a woman, it in our nature to compare ourselves to others. So, when I joined some online groups for photographers, I couldn't help but to see their work and everything they had going for them and wonder "what am I doing wrong that I'm so unhappy? Look at them, they know the secret! They have it all so put together!"
So one day I posted in one of those groups. I asked..."I'm looking to learn a few new things..about lighting...workflow...and SEO. Does anyone know of a good webinar or something I could watch?" I figured it couldn't hurt to just ask. If someone responds then great, if not...then I guess it really is every man for themselves in this business. Kara responded and told me about the retreat. I am so happy she did...
I went to the retreat feeling alone. I felt tired. I felt stressed. I felt...unhappy. I knew what I was doing wasn't exactly working for me...I loved it, but something needed to change. The first step was to hop on a plane and go way outside my comfort zone to meet a handful of women I didn't know and hope that it was worth it.
I worried about meeting these women for no reason. I walked into the house to people welcoming me with open arms. And here's what happened......
I was paired up with Emma and I swear to you, they could not have made a better room assignment. We both had children. Were of the same age. Both married...and confused on where the next step in our business was going to be. We spent pretty much every moment of the trip together exploring Charleston and sharing thoughts, fears and stories. We stayed up late at night in bed with the lights off giggling like little middle school girls...I haven't laughed so hard or genuinely in a long time...I actually can't remember when. I know that Emma and I will be friends forever. She encouraged me in more ways than I can list and for that I am so grateful!
I also met Kelsi...who I connected with immediately. Our sense of humor was spot on which really put me at ease. I felt really close to her for many reasons, but the biggest one was hat all of the fears she had about her business...I had once felt too.
Back to the tears. The retreat included a few lectures from other photographers...the first was about balance. Something I've been struggling with for several years now but even more intensely as of late. Amanda is a fellow mother, also with 3 children. When she opened her lecture by saying 'she could not remember when she last looked her daughter in the eye when she spoke to her' I lost it. This is a daily issue for me. Working from home is so far from glamorous. And having children makes it even crazier. My office is the couch for now since I need to be with my kids which means that while I'm here at home with them...I'm not entirely present. One of the girls favorite things to play is 'work'...they pull out an old laptop we have and sit on the couch telling each other to 'Shhhhh...I'm working' or 'Back up....I'm working' and worst of all 'In a little while babe, I'm working' Is this what they hear from me all day? If I ceased to exist, is this what they would remember me saying to them? Constant guilt and the nagging feeling of being a bad mom litters my mind. Thanks to the every day 'mommy wars' I'm left wondering some days if I'm selfish for wanting to work and feeling fulfilled as a working mom. I am so appreciative that Amanda was able to sit down and look at me..and the other mothers on the retreat...and tell us that we are not alone. That this feeling is real..and ugly..and normal. She also said it doesn't have to be that way. She helped us to streamline our workflow so that we could do more of the fun stuff...like actually going and photographing people...while working smarter not harder in the office. Thus, freeing up time to be with our children. She emphasized office hours and their importance so that our children would remember us for all the fun memories we have with them, not seeing us behind a computer all the time. For me, this was the beginning of my weekend of tears.
The next speaker slapped me in the face. No, not literally, but it sure felt like it. My husband. The greatest guy on earth. Who never complains and gives unconditionally. What about him? After all, he is the one who gave me the go ahead to quit that job I hated...you know, the one that gave me a reliable income through a pay check every 2 weeks...What about him? See, we are at that weird point in our lives where were are not only spouses and parents all while we are working to build our careers. We currently work opposite shifts and majority of the time we only see each other in passing. Time alone together is virtually non existent. I typically start my work day after the kids go to bed, its just too hard to get things done while they're awake. Problem is, my husbands work hours make it so that he goes to bed about the same time the kids do. How many times has he asked me to close the computer...hold off on emails...wait another 30 minutes until I start working, so that I can spend time with him? Sarah's lecture started out with her saying...'My business ruined my life. I chose my business over my husband day and day again, and he left me" ...Enter sob fest across the room from all the married women. It was at this point I started seeing something. I wasn't alone. I wasn't alone. I'm not alone. These feelings I've been feeling are real. And then It hit me...I ignore my husband a lot. I mean, a lot. By the time he gets home from work...we do something with the kids...cook and eat dinner...bathe the kids...and get them to bed. I'm exhausted and tired of being spoken to (my kids literally NEVER STOP TALKING)...and he gets to pay for it. At this point, I felt horrible....in a good way I guess, but horrible. I wanted to grab my husband and thank him for always being my supporter. For always being there...and waiting while I chase my dream while simultaneously pushing him away. Sarah's honesty inspired to be more intentional and share about myself with honesty transparency, hence my new found love for personal blog posts!
I think it was around now that we all realized that this retreat had become less about 'photography' and more about waking up...and giving up that Hustle that has been shoved in our faces for so long. To give up on comparing ourselves to all the industry leaders and the pressure WE PUT ON OURSELVES to be just like them. Because really, lets face it, its ruining our lives. And giving us premature wrinkles.
I walked away from this retreat feeling inspired. Happy. Rejuvenated. Like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I went there wondering how I could be better and walked away knowing more about myself, how to be a better wife, mother and business owner... and because of that, I know I can serve my clients better! I learned I can have my business and love it guilt free...while loving my family and giving them the time the want and deserve.
The weekend wasn't all tears. We had fun too! I promise! Being in Charleston, naturally, we had to do some fun styled shoots! Ruth, from Raise the Ruth Events, worked her booty off styling some adorable setups for us to photograph along with Mad Hatter Vintage!
This weekend put so much into perspective for me and I can't wait to go again. I think trips like this are so beneficial for my mental health as a creative, small business owner, woman, wife and mother. Stepping back and looking things over with a clear mind can do wonders! These women are forever friends! It's like the trip never ended, we've had a group chat going non stop since the first day of the trip! Together we will lift each other up and bridge the gap that we all feel is there...community over competition.
"Other women who are killing it should motivate you, thrill you, challenge you and inspire you..." - Taylor Swift
As I flew home Sunday night I replayed the weekend over and over...I knew I was coming home different than I was before.