Own it: 7 things I learned about myself in 7 months of self-employment
Updated: Jan 8
I became an entrepreneur in the spring of last year. I knew I wanted to work for myself. I had drive, a little bit of savings, a handful of talent, and opportunity, so I went for it. Here it is, seven months later, and I feel like one day I'll be writing a book about what it really takes to rely on yourself for income.
While I'm working on that book (because this undertaking is still working on me), I feel compelled to share some insight and truths about how serious I am about empowering women through their own photographs, and how in the beginning, that meant little compared to what it means now.
1. I need to drink more water.
I know, right? This should be a no-brainer. I get busy working too hard, or don't want to use certain public toilets, but whatever. Staying hydrated is important! Getting up to stretch while I work is important! I can't take care of business when I forget to take care of myself.
2. Hate, anger, and regret have no more place in my life.
I made some decisions in my life that I would say were out of my normal character. I've had some moments that I wish I could do over or take back and walk the other way. I've felt some emotions for far too long that I let cloud my thinking and hold me back from enjoying the parts of my life that were really good.
It takes an amazing amount of inner strength to get other people on board with what I do. But for a few months last year, I couldn't make positive things happen because low self-confidence and hesitation hung over me like a thick cloud. Doubts about my future came from the same place I had reserved for hating and regretting things that didn't turn out well in my past.
I had to learn that my past is still a part of me; I can't separate life events and pretend they never happened. I had to change my way of thinking and accept that each day is new, and I must look beyond the hurt and disappointment I had for those memories and instead pull out the lessons of how it has changed me or can help me evolve for the better. My motto is "keep it moving forward." I can't keep ignoring my present life, worrying about a life I'm not living anymore.
3. Self-employment = fighting for my life.
I feel like I'm a student in some ways, learning how to fend for myself in this new world I've created. The best advice, of course, comes from mentors and pros who have already been there, done that, and God bless them, are willing to freely share the successful methods they've learned. I've got so many lists and videos, podcasts and forums, how-to's and events... all coming out of my ears from studying my craft and how to make it profitable.
What the books can't teach you and what the pros can't share is... passion. Drive. Feeling it. Meaning it. Loving it. Seven months ago, I had a gut feeling that I could embrace entrepreneurship and fare well. I felt I had something to share with others that would also make me happy. I had no idea the amount of soul-searching, poverty-inducing, fire-starting PASSION it would take to stick with it. I had to dig deep and commit once and for all to be 100% up for the challenge of making this real. This is my livelihood! If I don't work, I don't eat! And I really did not want to give up and go work for someone else again. Excuse my very non-feminine French, but I had to measure my balls.
4. I need to be open to studying.
Only a fool thinks she has nothing left to learn. What's truly frustrating is being constantly reminded that I don't have the knowledge that I need in some areas. I used to be very patient... I know exactly at what point my patience started to grow short, but at times, I feel like I literally cannot afford to "waste" time and resources learning how to market, for example. This is dangerous thinking.
What I know now, is that I do not have to be an expert at everything. I just have to understand the important role something like strong targeted marketing has in my business. Once I removed that block of "I don't understand it, so I won't be involved with it," I began meeting people who were experts in marketing and public relations. I would talk to them about my mission and what I wanted to achieve through my photography, and they would listen excitedly. To my delight, they would then offer me advice and give me confirmations that I'm going in the right direction. I suddenly found people and websites and articles that answered so many questions I had about what to do next.
5. My energy does determine my success.
Meeting publicity and social media experts is one of the best examples I have lately of how once I changed my way of thinking, the things I needed started to come to me. Another example is the event I'm planning for Feb 21st. I'm having a branding party – where I've asked a few friends to come over so I can photograph them in the style I want to market to women everywhere.
I had been complaining since last year that I have a great idea of how I want to photograph women, but I had no proof! I had no actual photo evidence of what was very vivid inside my head. What do I say to people... just trust me? I actually said that a few times. It never worked.
Since the start of this year, I haven't slept soundly. I wake up multiple times during the night with more ideas and inspiration and excitement about things I have planned. And what's more, I am no longer bogged down with insecurities or excuses about not knowing how to do them.
When I told the handful of ladies that I wanted to photograph first about my branding party, I got nothing but a flood of yesses and enthusiasm. Their energy circles back and motivates me to make this an epic party that will finally result in a portfolio and promotional material that is the future brand of my business. Yeah. I'm excited.
I learned that if I don't have it, I should go get it.
6. If I don't believe in me, no one else will.
You're online right now, which means you've been bombarded with ads and coupons and all kinds of colors and lights and verbiage from companies that want you to buy whatever they're selling. It's suffocating at times. How do you know what company is best? What if the best is not in your budget? Should you buy now or wait for a special? Why do they even think you want to buy anything?? This is the type of advertising that, for a moment, I got caught up in replicating, until I learned...
Word of mouth is better than gold. Therein lies the credibility, proof of value, and trustworthy description that brightly colored discount ads cannot give. I finally understand that I don't need to compete with holiday discounts or deals that run out time, oh no! Missed it! Too late! No. I want to be available always for people who want to be photographed by me. Then they come and have the full treatment. They leave feeling empowered with an armload of stunning portraits... that their friends see. And want... especially after they hear about the experience.
What really brings this all together is that what I want to share is not a gimmick. I said I had to dig deep to understand what would fuel my drive to continue making this portrait mission happen. When someone looks into my eyes and asks me about my style of photography, I can't break their gaze and stumble over words. I've got to connect right back with strong love for what I do, so they feel it, too.
7. I need to recognize opportunity when it greets itself.
If I'm not making waves, it's my fault for not paddling. If I get an email, I answer it. If I get a business card, I make plans to have tea. Or a smoothie. Or cake. I love cake.
I had an amazing opportunity a few weeks ago to attend an invitation-only conversation with photographer, Sandro Miller, and actor, John Malkovich. These men had collaborated on a series of photographs and short films that as most art is, open to interpretation. My usual instinct in the cold winter months is to find a reason not to go anywhere, but a good friend invited me, and this is the YEAR OF YES!!! So, I figured if nothing else, I would have a good time out with her.
I came out of that event a changed person. It had little to do with hearing Malkovich casually chat or the art produced by a high-profile photographer... but I was greatly impacted by the nature of the other people sitting around me that came to listen.
For a long time, I didn't realize that I had so many hang-ups about money. I don't come from a very wealthy family, so I felt guilty about the prospect of making money. How much can I make before it becomes overwhelming? How much and to whom should I share it with? Will my personality change once I get it? Rich people run the risk of becoming snobs, right?
Well... that room was full of well-to-dos... and they treated me like I'd never been treated before by people who have a lot of money. They hugged me. They smiled at me. The genuine smile, not the stuffy, turn away kind. They asked me questions about who I was and what I did and they were excited for me about my ideas. They shared with me thier ideas and plans and spoke about how they help build each other up.
Such warm and genuine reception from wealthy strangers did two things for me: (1) it showed me vividly for the first time that it is only the love of money that is evil, not money itself, and (2) it made me stop being afraid to become successful by trading my valuable services for real compensation.
Had I not gone to this event and stayed home, safe from the cold, I would probably still harbor that unfair stigma that what I create is not valuable and wealth equals snobbery. Neither of these things are even close to being true. And I'm learning to walk through many of these doors of opportunity to discover more about myself, the world around me, and ways to grow.