Why Photography Doesn’t Define Me

I recently had an interesting conversation with Sophie from Way of Gray about an article I shared with her that talked about the mental struggles of owning your own business. The article stated that 1 in 3 entrepreneurs live with depression. The extreme Coles Notes version is that this is because we tend to place our personal value in the success of our business.

I realized during my discussion with Sophie that I have a lot of personal insight into this and really felt called to write about it, hoping that I can encourage many of you entrepreneurs out there and share my wisdom in how I handle this.

“But when they lose a little money or fail to meet their goals, they find themselves struggling with their identity because their business isn’t what they do — it’s who they are.”

Once upon a time, very early in my career, I was sued by a bride. (I feel incredibly vulnerable sharing this publicly, but I believe this played a pivotal role in why/how I started realizing that I need to find myself outside of my work.) Long story short, the bride and I had a major miscommunication and we worked it out and resolved things outside of court. But in the process of this, I nearly had a mental breakdown. At 22 years old. Only one year into my dream career, I was ready to call it quits.

The experience made me learn sooooo much, both professionally and personally. I do my best to separate my identity from my business BECAUSE of what happened here and because of the above quote.

I love that photography is “a part” of my identity, but it doesn’t define me. I cling to things that I know will always be there – like my family. I’m a wife and a mom first. Then I’m a photographer. (Well, I’m a Christian first. Then the rest!)

12022470_1532659496954795_2525718028165767304_oThis is me and my family. This is what truly defines me.
Photo by Josh Yong

When I was 18 I met someone (I wish I could remember who) and they asked me “what do you do” and I told them about the job I held, “I work at GE.” He replied “no, like what do YOU do, not ‘where do you work’. Why do North Americans always define themselves by what they do for a living. That isn’t who they are, that’s just their job. So tell me more about YOU. Do you play the guitar, do you like travelling, etc.” This always really stuck with me, the concept of why we are all so focused on what people do for work as THE defining point of who they are. So I carried that in the back of my mind but never truly applied it to my life. And then I got sued.

I realized I put so much of myself into my business that she wasn’t suing the business but she was suing me. I had so many sleepless nights over it, being sicker than a dog at how this could happen, feeling absolutely convinced that no money in the world was worth dealing with another unreasonable bride ever again, etc. I’m sure in those days I probably would have had an undiagnosed clinical anxiety disorder. Fortunately, my anxiety left when the bride and I met face to face and figured it out verbally, rather than over email. (Side note here – if you are dealing with a conflict with one of your clients, get on the phone with them immediately or arrange to meet them in person. Email is the perfect way to misunderstand what is trying to be communicated and having a real life conversation at the start of this conflict would have saved me from the entire ordeal.)

From there on out (after my whole family convinced me not to quit, because I was definitely ready to throw in the towel) I did my best to remember what matters when things get tough. I began to develope myself outside of my business so I could know that I can’t be crushed completely if something ever happened that stopped me from doing this job.

There are no guarantees that I will always have photography. So I focus on Nathan and Austin and my walk with the Lord. I will always have these things. They are all eternal.

Yes, it took me going up against Goliath, so to speak, to figure it out. But now I’m grateful for it. I learned so much. It was invaluable to me and my business. Even though it was hell to walk through, the fire refined me.

There is also something to be said about giving yourself some separation from your business with your time. One of the greatest challenges I have faced since becoming a mother is work-life balance. I have only recently come to the firm conclusion that I need to allot for a set amount of shoots per month (and not go over that) so that I can maintain that balance. This is crucial to my mental health – I can’t stress this enough. (Mom guilt is a real thing, guys, and it is ugly.)

SMALLJOHNSON-11Me and my boy in Canmore.

Not to sound cliche, but do your best to come to terms with the fact that money isn’t the most important thing in life. Having this wisdom will save you from a lifetime of worries. I have never been personally driven by money. In fact, I would live in a shoebox if it meant that I could do this as my career. But that said, I am extremely driven by the worldly success of my business. For whatever reason, I love knowing that I was able to build something from the ground up with no help and then get to watch it blossom into what it is today. (I won’t get into how incredibly hard the past seven years have been…thats for another blog post entirely.) But recognize that at the end of the day, on your death bed, you won’t be saying to yourself “gee, I’m sure glad that I had a successful business and that I worked 70+ hours every week and blah blah blah money.” Instead, you will long for embrace of your loved ones and reflect on the time that you invested in them, rather than your company. Essentially, I try to run my business and my life in such a way that when I die, I know I won’t have regrets about either.

Its incredibly important that you understand that your self worth isn’t the same as your net worth. You have to love who you are and the life you live outside of your job. If you don’t have something that immediately comes to mind when you think about this, then go out and find it. Find what you are comfortable replacing your business with emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, etc. Look for the things that make your heart burst with happiness and then cling to that.

For me, that was finding what I know will last. Beyond any shadow of a doubt.

And that will always be my family.

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