Last night I sat in a new Belgian coffee shop that just opened in New Haven with two of my closest friends. And over steaming mugs of caffeinated frothiness... we let it rip. Because lately, all three of us have been feeling the exact. same. thing.
Call it the tank being empty. Call it the fuse being short. Call it Chronic Self-Employed Creative Fatigue Syndrome (or CSCFS as it shall now be known).
But it all boiled down to one thing: boundaries. Or rather, as it applied to us, the absolute and utter lack of them.
Not that we didn't have them in the first place mind you. Not that we hadn't all at one point or another sat down and scribbled out office hours on the third page of a notebook with golden retriever puppies on the front of it. Or typed out auto-responders about how we answered email between the hours of 2-4pm, so please, please pretty please don't feel the need to follow up again to see if we've gotten your email before then, thankyouverymuch. No, it's not that we didn't have them. We did. It's just that we hadn't ever really figured out the whole enforcing them part. The sticking like glue to them part. And it's been taking its toll. With those mugs scattered checkerboard between us, we laid it all out on the table.
We were exhausted. We were cranky. We were empty.
We're living in a world of 24/7 electronic stimulation. It's Instagram and Facebook and the direct messages and the blog comments. And all of this "tweet me the info so I can text you the directions and then I'll snap chat you the location" had been taking it's toll. Lately, my remaining mental space has been down to nill. Null. Zip. Zero. Zapped of all it's innate capacity by a stream of constant demands made in 140 characters or less.
Honestly, lately I can't even sit down to write out an entire thought before the world is interrupting. With all it's dings and beeps and cursed little red bubbles telling you exactly how many messages you have waiting.....it's interrupting. It's plugging in to my very core and taking....and it's taking too much. I feel tired way too often, even though we're sleeping plenty. I feel overwhelmed at sitting down and starting even the simplest of tasks. My brain feels fuzzy & unfocused, like I'm trying to think my way out of some cotton stuffing. The kind our grandmothers used to turn into quilts and pillows with pinwheels stitched on them. Because they had the time to just be. I will start to do one thing only to find myself five layers deep into link-clicking and no recollection of what it was I was supposed to be doing in the first place. At the point that it took me three solid days of not making it to the mailbox on time to send a letter because I had gotten distracted by something or other on my computer, I knew there was a problem.
I think my friend Hannah put it best when she wrote this:
Thereís this strange sort of paralyzing feeling that rushes over when you wake up and realize that youíve got just two hands. And two feet. And only one mouth. And two little eyes. And that there is only 15 or so waking hours. And yikes, just 7 days in a week?
Itís not that we are running out of time, itís that we are realizing we are just one person. That our hearts were not actually designed to be pulled in too many directions. That flesh, spread too thin, hurts more souls than it helps. That we must learn to preserve our lives, and make intentional breathing room, if we ever want to avoid brokenness and burnout to the Nth degree. (you should definitely read her whole post on boundaries HERE).
And here's the real bomb I have to drop here, the mirror I have to hold up in front of my face: it's my fault.
It's my fault for not putting enough value on my own creative space, my own dreams, my own health, my own laughter, my own happiness, my own quiet time, my own time with God, my own time to sit and sip tea without a phone growing out of my fingers.....it's my fault for not saying, "no world, I'm sorry you'll just have to wait another hour before I get to that email you tweeted me to tell me about to remind me that you sent me a Facebook message. Because right now, there was work that I was BORN to do to be done. There is a Calling ringing off the hook that I have to go answer. There is a fire that needs fueling. And a reason I was put on this earth. And I just can't for the life of me believe that the greatest purpose of my one wild & precious life, the crowning reason I was put here, was to bring an inbox to zero. Dear Lord, please don't let me die and have my headstone say, "at least she got her inbox to zero." What a waste that would be. There is more that I was put here to do. And there is so much more that YOU were put here to do too. I say, it's high time we get to doing it, don't you?
So I've decided. I'm taking this life back.
Brick by brick, concrete by mortar....I'm taking it BACK! I'm taking back my energy, I'm taking back my creativity. I'm taking back my ability to go five minutes without being ON for somebody else. It's like Michael Scott in The Office when he declares bankruptcy.....
And here they are...
1. No checking of email before 9:30am or after 6:30pm during the weekdays.
2. I will get serious about responding to email only twice a day, during set times. No more of this throughout the day nonsense. Because you know what happens when you write someone back on email.....they write YOU back! And then you're both just sitting behind your computers going back & forth like some Atari game of ping pong, seeing who can keep their inbox at zero. It's madness!
3. No responding to email on the weekend at all.
4. I will use from when I wake up until 11:30am to create. To fuel my body & mind. To work out. To shower. To feel like a human being with purpose again. Amen.
5. We've had this one for a while, but I'm putting the official smack down on it: NO checking of Facebook messages. EVER!! Email is where it's at, BABY!! email@example.com 6. For 2-3 hours every afternoon, my phone will be turned off & put away so I can crank out the BIG work.
7. Social media off at 8pm. Phones turned off & put away. Holding on to the hand that's right beside me.
8. No more taking my phone to bed with me anymore. Seriously, when did I become the person who goes to bed with her phone?!
9. Unless it's a true emergency, no more honoring the "we need it five minutes from now" or "I know you're on vacation, BUT" requests. In this constantly on, instant-gratification world we're living in, we've ALL started to think that we need everything RIGHT NOW. That is very very rarely the case. I also think it's really interesting to note that it's almost NEVER our clients who are the ones who are sending requests like these. It's magazines, industry stuff, and fellow photographers....so we're doing this to ourselves! It's time we put a stop to it.
10. Even if it's not the popular thing to do (people like you a whole lot better when you're saying YES!) I will say "no" to more of the good things.....so that I give myself the chance to say "yes" to the really great ones.
So here's to BOUNDARIES friends! And taking our lives back, one brick at a time!
We layer on "more" like a sweet buttercream frosting, don't we?
We take the parts of us that are soft and delicate. In danger of crumbling. And then we heap on more.
We tell ourselves we have to do more and BE more. If we are ever going to be worthy. If the world is ever going to love us.
We have to not only take the prettiest pictures, we have to be the fastest at showing them. We'll stay up all night if we have to to get that blog post up. So long as we are first.
We have to be the most organized. We have to have spreadsheets for our spreadsheets and the prettiest notebooks for our to do lists. And if it has an inspiring quote on the front of it that we can Instagram styled with a swirly cappuccino, all the better.
We have to be healthy! But not just healthy, we have to be MORE healthy than you are. We have to work out more, work out harder. We have to be the first to try the barre method while zumba-ing our way into kick boxing class. And make sure to take pictures of all our healthiest meals. We'll just delete that picture of the donut we had for lunch.
Our inboxes have to stay at zero. Our Facebook likes have to double. We have to be able to edit a wedding in the time it takes to juice a bag of kale.
Our marriages have to be the happiest, our dogs have to be the cutest, and our laundry can never ever ever be on the floor.
We have to decorate like Martha Stewart, run our businesses like Warren Buffett, dress like a J.Crew ad, and vacation like Beyonce.
And....it's exhausting. It's EXHAAAAUSTING.
And I just think that we should all agree to stop doing it. To ourselves and to each other.
Because what if I told you that you already started with being enough.
That all along, that soft, vulnerable, delicate, partially crumbling center that makes up the core of you....that's what people are really trying to get to anyway. That in this world where no one slows down long enough to really talk to each other anymore, more than anything we just want to see the real you...the one that's hidden behind all those layers of what you think you should be. Because the buttercream just gets in the way of that. And that's why most of us can really only take it in very small doses anyway....it's just far too sweet to be real.
Today more than anything, I want you to choose that you are enough. Put down the butter knife and step AWAY from the layers of more.
Perfect, crumbly, barely holding it together, sweet on the inside, You. Now THAT'S the you I want to get to know.
Today I want to send you off into the weekend with two stories that we were INCREDIBLY lucky to get to tell this year during our Platform at WPPI. The first comes from a girl (Miss Kelly Lemon!) that came into our lives only four or five days earlier out at United. We were casually chatting about brands, taking a look at her website, going about life as if it were normal....and then she dropped a life bomb on us. The kind of thing that makes you look at everything you do differently and with a new kind of gratitude you didn't know it was possible to feel.
The second is a story that we found out only about a month or so earlier. The story of little Miss Vivienne, only 9 years old, who heard about child slavery & decided she should end it. So she started a lemonade stand with the goal of freeing 500 slaves (which would mean raising $150,000). For 365 days they decided to sell lemonade.....and they surpassed their original goal only halfway in! Her Dad Eric asked her if she wanted to keep going and she said "Is there still child slavery? Then we still keep going!" LOVE that! They have now gone global with their Make a Stand Lemonade company, and just 18 months in Vivienne has already been on national tv shows like the Jeff Probst show, rung the opening bell at Twitter's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, and she will be speaking at the United Nations in May. But first, we got her for WPPI!
Below is the video of our WPPI talk put together by the always PHENOMENAL Jeremy Mitchell Cinema, and how these two stories overlap. Kelly is now pursuing a documentary to end human trafficking & Vivienne made her stand to make a STAND against child slavery. I just think it's such a powerful reminder that wherever you are in your life or your business, however small you might feel- whether you are Kelly Lemon or making lemonade- you can always ALWAYS make a difference!
Yes, YOU. The one behind the computer screen. The one with the doubts and fears and a whole chorus of voices in your head telling you you're not good enough. That you'll never be good enough. The same voices who like to point out the distance you have yet to cover and just how far you still have to go. In kilometers. Because it sounds like more.
To the world-wearied dreamer behind the computer screen, the one with the tired-eyes and the questions that are still unanswered. I'm talking to YOU.
For YOU have already come farther than you could ever know. The YOU of today is already a million times better than the you who just got started. YOU have learned so much and given more than you knew you had in you. YOU have been a friend and a light in this world. And whether you believe it or not, YOU have already helped others along the way. And right now at this very moment, there is someone looking at where YOU are and wondering if they'll ever make it there too.
Yes YOU, I'm talking to YOU. Right where YOU are right now.
YOU are far more beautiful than you could ever imagine. YOU have dreams in your heart and breath in your lungs and a fire that won't easily be put out. Not like a spark or a flash in the pan, that burns brightly for just but a moment and then is gone forever as if it never happened. No, not like that. But like an ember. Like a smolder. Like a slow-burning coal that just burns brighter the longer it goes. YOU are on fire friend. And it's the kind of fire that warms everyone around you as you go.
So listen up YOU. Because I'm only going to say this as many times as you need to hear it.
There is greatness in YOU. This old world is aching for the light that only YOU can shine. YOU are a lamp and a lantern at the feet of those lucky enough to cross your path. And YOU are leading the way.
YOU will get there. YOU will change things. YOU will see that everything YOU are right now was always more than enough.
YOU have come farther than you know friend.
And I for one, can't wait to see where YOU go next.
When we were at the P31 Conference in October, we got to hear the amazing Bob Goff speak. And one of the many things that he said that still sticks with me every day is that every Thursday...he quits something.
As small business owners, there are SO many things that we tend to do just because we think we're "supposed" to. Or because that person in our area with the really successful business does it that way. Or because we've been doing it that way for months (or years) already. Even if we know it's not really working for US and the kind of business & life WE want to have.
We do things out of habit. We do things out of obligation. We do things because quite frankly sometimes we don't know what else it is we should be doing.
We spend hours and eventually days and weeks of our lives doing the things that, if we stepped back and really looked at them for a second, don't REALLY move us or our business forward. Some of you might be blogging even though you hate writing, and your blog is now a series of what we call the "apology posts": Ahhh I'm so sorry it's been three weeks since my last post! And the one before that says the same thing. :) But you keep doing it because you think you're supposed to, even though those apology posts might be doing you way more harm than good (potential clients want to see that you're able to follow through on things).
Some of you might still be shooting family shoots when you really just want to specialize in weddings. But you keep doing it because they keep booking you, even though you dread it every time you have to walk out the door.
Some of you are stuck in mountains of editing. Some of you are doing too many friends & family shoots for free. Some of your are bogged down in comparison.
For us, we were getting really tired of running our days around other people's false emergencies (hey, I need this but I need it by 5pm. And oh by the way it's 4:55pm right now). And we just had to say, enough. We can't live our lives constantly running around like crazy just to say "Yes" to other people. Put simply: other people's lack of preparation can't be our emergency. So we had to quit that. We had to learn to say "No." And in doing so, we had to be willing to possibly miss out on some really good opportunities along the way.
But in saying no, it frees up our lives and our sanity for when the really GREAT things come along. And that's worth fighting for.
So go on. It's Thursday....quit something.
So tell me, what is ONE thing you are going to quit today? And what GREAT thing will that free you up to work on more?