Yesterday we had an amazing, sweet photographer write to us because she is about to take her business full time. She had questions, she has BIG dreams, and she wanted to know how to make them happen. When it came right down to it, she wanted to know:
How did you get to where you are now and what advice can you give this photographer who is ready to take on the world? What is your secret to success?
We wrote back to her right away. For the first time in a long time, the words came easy. And I thought maybe it just might help someone here who is about to take the leap themselves. So I wanted to post it here as well.
Oh, thatís awesome!!! We wish you SO much luck!!!
As far as secrets to success, I think there are the staples: hard work and a lot of time for things to grow. Remember that in between the time of planting and the time of harvest, there is always this time in between while a lot happens just under the surface that the world canít see yet. But that doesn't mean that the most important work isn't happening right then. As Justin, always reminds me: slow growth equals strong roots. Don't be afraid to grow slow & steady over the long haul. Remember it's only the weeds that pop up over night.
But that being said, I also think there are things you can do to make sure what you're planting are always good things. Here are some things we've learned along the way.
The people you surround yourself with and making friends any chance you can get will grow you SO much more than ever trying to go it alone. Be a really good friend. Be incredibly committed and work really hard at always getting better in your craft. Never think that itís ďgood enoughĒ or that youíve arrived. You havenít. You wonít. We certainly haven't. If you do, hang up your camera and walk away for you have lost the love of it. Never, never stop learning. Consistency is key. Show up every day and do the work. Donít be afraid to ask. Don't get too big to answer. Never think that you will reach some place where youíve ďmade itĒ and suddenly youíll have permission to do what it is that you want. You have to be that permission for yourself right from the beginning. Shoot a ton, shoot for yourself. Get a workflow together now, one that allows you to turn things around in good time but with an even greater focus on quality. Remember these pictures are more than just a check mark on your to do list; they have to last a lifetime. Be personal and be real. No like actually real. There are a lot of fake ďrealĒ people out there. Do your own work. In everything you do act with integrity. Give credit where credit is due. Don't step on people to try to get where you're going. Instead, learn from other people. Learn like crazy from other people. Ask them questions. Ask them whatís working. Ask them what's not. Learn from their experience & mistakes. Speaking of, in our experience with mistakes donít spend a ton of money on bridal shows, preferred vendor lists, the latest camera gear or fancy clothes to feel like you fit in. Use your camera until itís the thing thatís holding YOU back (rather the other way around). And then and only then upgrade. Don't get caught up in that competition.The camera doesnít make the photographer, who you are and how you see the world does. Fall in love with light. With what it can do and how it breathes life into an image. And never, never stop chasing it.
Do what you say youíre going to do when you say youíre going to do it. Get images to your vendors. Be humble. Let your talent speak more than you do. Ask the planner before running off with the couple. And if one is extra good at her job & makes your life easier, send her flowers the following Monday. Serve others. Your gifts are exactly thatÖa gift. You were lucky enough to be given them, so make sure you donít leave this earth without using every last one of them to leave the world better than you found it. Tell stories that matter more than ones that get a lot of Instagram likes. Look at the big picture with your work and make pictures that will last the long haul. When in doubt, remember that classic never goes out of style and there are a lot of things you can do to your work, but that doesn't mean you should . Hold yourself to the standard of being the photographer that you want to be. So that when you are at the end of your life, you can look back on the body of work and the legacy that you leave behind and know that this work that you did...this work always mattered. And finally, trust me on this, sooner or later you ARE going to find yourself in need a Command 3M hook and/or super glue. Add them both to your bag right now.
But above all, here is the most important one: these goals that you listed like speaking at WPPI or being on Creative LiveÖ.those arenít really the dream. They only feel like the dream because thatís what success happens to look like right now. Donít get me wrong, both of those things are amazing goals to go for & I think you should!. Iím sure one day, we will see you get to do both. But my point is, when you base success on a checklist of what it looks like for everyone else at that particular point in time, that success will always, always be just beyond your grasp. And there will always be just one more thing to add to the list. So you will spend your life in the pursuit of More. More, more, more just to barely keep up. Instead, I'd rather see you as the one who invents a whole new version of success that no one has ever seen before. One for all of us to look up to. Step bravely out as a leader, the world needs more leaders. Donít just do what has already been done. Speak at the conferences, host the workshops if that's something you want to try. But let those just be this cool thing you got to do one time. In between going out and setting this whole world on fire (light it up, up, up), finding success for what YOU say it is, and always, always on your own terms.
Last week we went up and met with our accountant & our financial planner for about four hours (it was a marathon!), but when it was done we had officially started our second business ever & I'm so excited to say "The Black Tie Media Group" was born!
Now we're not planning on leaving our first business (Justin & Mary Photography) behind at all, it's just that both of the blogs have really blown up & taken on a life of their own. And it became really clear really fast that they needed to be their own business! So last week we made that happen!
While we were meeting with our accountant, she said something that she always reminds us of when we're with her. She said, "Everybody has the same things they have to think about with their money, everybody has the same choices. It's just a matter of where you put the decimal point."
And I LOVE that because it's so true. It's such a great reminder that in so many ways we are all in this together and dealing with the same kind of things. When we were first starting our business, our decimal was in one place and now it's in another. But that doesn't mean that we don't have to still keep being smart with our money. And making good choices. And working a budget. I think that younger version of us would have thought that if we could ever "just get to that place" where the decimal point changed then we would never have to worry about any of that stuff again. And it's just not true.
It's the same with starting a business. When we're first starting or a few years into it, it's so tempting to think "oh if I could just get to where So & So is then I'll have made it. I'll have arrived. And I won't have to work so hard at it anymore." But the fact is, it's just not true. There will always be work to be done. And hustle. And stress. Fear and failures and triumphs. And small victories along the way that push you forward. There is no "arrived."
There's only "we've come this far, let's see where the road leads next."
Something that we've definitely learned over the years is that whether you are just getting started in a dream or you are years into it- something that at the moment we find ourselves standing with a foot in each place: an established photography business of almost 8 years and a brand new baby of a business only a few days old- either way, we all have way more in common than we have different:
*We have fears and doubts and "what ifs"
*But we also have all of the heart racing, up all night, can't keep from talking about it of what it could look like if it works
*We have email. Lots and lots and lots of email.
*We're so busy building a dream that we go out in public unshowered in yoga pants and a messy hair bun and run into someone we know.
*We work FAR longer hours than that corporate job we left or turned down to chase a dream with more life balance. But somehow we don't mind it at all.
*We sketch out logos and web layouts on notebooks in Starbucks. Even though our drawing skills leave much to the imagination.
*We leap, believing that the net will appear.
*We pray that what we build stands for something, makes a difference, makes a change, leaves something behind, and that it pulls us closer to the plan God has for our lives.
*We get overwhelmed.
*We make color coded to do lists.
*We find people who can help bring the dream one step closer.
*We get brave. We send the email, we make the call, we reach out with the chance they just might say no.
*We're told no.
*But along the way, we find a lot more yes's in places we didn't expect them.
*We're criticized for breaking the lines, for not staying where we're supposed to stay. But we would rather be criticized than ever let the world put us in a box it has with our names on it.
*We create for ourselves. Because it makes us happy. Because it speaks to us and we believe in what we're making. And like Beyonce says, " I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I only have to follow my heart."
*We look up inspiring quotes from Beyonce.
*We look too much ahead at where other people are and forget to look back at the path behind us. To see how far WE have already come.
*One day we feel knocked down. One day we feel like we're soaring. Either way, every day we get up and go about the work of building a dream.
*We get our hands dirty.
*We put our hearts on the line.
*We give more. We try harder, We believe for bigger.
*And above all, we dream. We sleep less, so we can dream more.
And whether it's 1 year or 10 years, I just never want to lose that. I always want to have that same heart, that same hunger as we did on Day 1. Where the only thing that's changed is time.
Sometimes (no wait, strike that. ALL the time) I am just truly awed & amazed at the incredible doors that open when you least expect it. Of the people that come into our lives and the places we get to go because of it....all when we least expect it.
Lately I've just been realizing more and more that the best things that happen to us in this life are never the ones that we're tying ourselves up in knots for, striving for, or trying MAKE happen by our own force of will. They aren't the ones where we're beating our heads agains the brick wall just trying to get where someone else has already gone or check another item off their list. And they certainly aren't the ones that we think we're "supposed to do" based on what success looks like for someone else.
No. What I'm starting to learn about this life is that the best things that happen to us are the ones we don't even see coming. The ones we couldn't possibly plan or strive for. They come out of nowhere, land in our laps, knock down our front door... and that's how we know that they are ours. That they're part of our story, and how it's meant to be written. Not just a bad copy of somebody else's. And guess what? Those things that are meant for you, that are actually meant to be part of your story? They are WAY better than anything you thought you were striving for to begin with. World-rockingly, higher-calling, purpose-driven, "oh I can see it now, that's how it all fits together" BETTER than anything you were striving for to begin with.
More than anything what I've been learning, is that when you loosen your grip on how you think it's supposed to go, when you let go of trying to plan every step to get you where you think you're going, when you pry your fingers out of that comparison game ...that leaves you with an open hand.
And the fact is, it's just a whole lot easier for God to give a gift to an open hand than a closed fist.
Today, open your hand to what you're being called to do, not what you're supposed to do.
Open your hand to the better story that's being written for you.
We are just wrapping up an incredible week in Seattle (but not before one last adventure to take the Bainbridge Ferry & channel my inner Grey's Anatomy!), and then we're headed down to Portland to attend the World Domination Summit! The WDS was actually the original reason for this trip out west & we signed up for it about a year ago. Every time we tell people that's where we're going, they ask us if it has something to do with Mussolini or Dr. Evil, lol! But it is actually this incredible conference put on by Chris Guillebeau, the author of The Art of Nonconformity & The $100 Start Up, and every year it sells out in a matter of minutes! And we were two of the lucky few who got seats!! So yea, we're pretty pumped!
I'm in this really interesting season of my life where everything could just not be going more amazingly with the business & photography and all of these BIG amazing things keep happening. We honestly could not ask for more & I feel so incredibly thankful and grateful and just don't believe most of it has actually happened most of the time, actually! Like I said, we couldn't ask for more....and yet at the same time, I'm in this season where I feel like I'm being called to more.
See for me, the dream always started out with writing. I was that weird kid who would walk around thinking in her own narrative ("She picked up the toy & walked through the yard.") And I'm lucky in that I get to do a good bit of that here on this blog and through things like The Guide. But I'm definitely walking into a season where I'm feeling called to have a part of my life where the writing stands on its own two feet, not necessarily photography specific. In truth, I think that part of the dream is to write business and/or motivation books and then to get to go around and talk to people about them. To look at them face to face and hear what's going on in their lives. I want to give a Ted Talk. I want to have people read or hear my words and know that in, at least some small way, those words and that work helped somebody and made their lives at least just a little bit better. Basically, people like Brene Brown and Gretchen Rubin and Jon Acuff and Christine Caine are my heroes. And I'm feeling the call to take at least the tiniest "toe in the water" step into that arena. Whew. That just got real, really fast you guys. I'm sweating over here putting that out for the world to see! Talk about listing out some big ole' hairy AUDACIOUS goals! Yikes! :)
Anyway, the WDS for me is the chance to get away for three days, not have the pressure of speaking at the conference ourselves, and just let people who've been there & are living the dream pour into our tanks for a while. It's kind of a chance for me to take this dream of mine "to the mattresses" (not to go all Godfather on you) and see if it has legs to stand on. My hope is to do a lot of dreaming. And a lot of thinking. And come out of it with at least a vision for where to go from here.
Dreaming is scary you guys. Putting it out there & saying what you want for your life is super uncomfortable. It's that sweaty palms, pit in your stomach, "who am I to say I want this" icky mire that all of the dreamers out there have to take their own turns wading through. Like molasses. It's slow going and a lot of times it feels like you go it alone. But just know that you are not alone. If you are out there & there is a dream in your heart that kind of makes you want to throw up a little....just know that I'm right there with you. And honestly, I think those moments in life where we have the sweaty palms and the shaking hands and we want to throw up a little....those times when we stand right on the edge of the arena and then take that step....those are the times when we are most alive.
If you and I were sitting across from one another, if we had coffees in one hand and were close enough to reach out and touch the threads of one another's sweaters with the other. If we could look each other in the eye and see the hopes and the doubts that live in there, right behind the green into gold windows of who we are. If I could say these things full of all the thoughtful pauses and comfortable silences that would surely fill our conversations...then I would tell you this.
You & I....we forgot how to lean in.
A few weeks back, when Justin & I were in Antigua, we were out on a boat called the Old Bob. On the trip out to the cove we were going to, the water was choppy. Forget that, it was karate-choppy. It was Daniel-son standing on one leg on that wooden pylon with both hands in the air, forget you Billy Zabka, karate-choppy. And the waves of woozy washing over me were more wax on than wax off.
With each time the boat hurled itself to one side, I would go with it. Scrambling to grab for ropes and grasping for last straws, I was doing all I could to just hold on. It was exhausting. It was scary. I felt like I didn't have a leg to stand on. Until Justin leaned over and quietly whispered, "whichever way the wave is coming from....just lean in to that."
We like to withdraw don't we. We like to turn away from the waves crashing down on us. We like to give in to the tide. We like to do our best impressions of a person barely hanging on. Rather than taking the place that we have truly been called...Leonardo DiCaprio-ing it on the front of the boat, screaming "I'm the KING OF THE FREAKING WORLD."
See here's the thing about the waves and the world. They are going to happen to you regardless of which way you lean.
They are going to crash down on you from every side. They're going to rock you. They are going to roll all over you. And they're just going to keep on coming.
The criticism will come. The job you thought was a sure thing won't happen. The call won't be what you thought it would be. The answer you've been praying for will still be a no. You might go out and give your absolute very best...and still fail.
I know, we've been there too. We all have our time amongst the tides.
But here's the thing. We don't have to be afraid of the waves. The waves weren't put here to destroy us. That is never what a wave was created for. The waves are just here to take the rough edges off. To push and polish us into who we're meant to be. A stronger version of ourselves than we ever knew existed.
Think about a piece of glass. There is pretty much nothing weaker than that. It's as if it was born to break. That's how it ended up in the water in the first place. But let it spend a little time amongst the tides. Let the edges get worked on. Let it get tossed around a little bit. And just see what it becomes. Hold a piece of sea glass in your hand and try to break it, and you'll see the kind of strength I'm talking about. But more than that, you'll see just how beautiful it's become. How it's a thing to be found and treasured. And how it's softer now to others, for having gone through trials of its own.
Yea. If you & I were sitting across from each other, I would reach out and grab you by your neutral-toned cable knit clad arms, look you in your green-gold eyes and tell you, FRIEND, IT'S TIME TO LEAN IN TO THAT.
Lean in to the version of you that's waiting on the other side of the these trials. Of these unforeseen, turbulent, pressure-filled things that keep crashing down on you. That have knocked you from side to side. And washed over you in waves. Lean in to the work that they're doing on you. Lean in even when it feels so heavy you think you might break at any second. Lean in when you're choking and sputtering and gasping for air, and the words just won't come. Lean in. Don't you dare give way for even a second. Be ALL in. Push back harder. Let those sharp edges of yourself fall away. The broken pieces you were never meant to be anyway. The shards of who you thought were supposed to become. These shattered pieces of a you, you only told yourself the world wanted to see. Let them all wash away.
Lean in. Lean in when the waters get rough. With everything you are, just lean in.
For just on the other side, there is a stronger, more precious version of yourself than you ever knew existed.