It just occurred to me that I’ve never really told you ‘my story’, the journey that lead me here, writing to you. So let’s fix that.
Two things in my life have been pretty constant. I’ve always created, whether it has been painting, drawing, designing, photography or writing. And I’ve always had the urge to run my own creative business. Ever since spending hours upon hours at my dad’s upholstery studio as a kid, I’ve known there is something magical about creating beauty combined with the freedom your own business provides you. Even though dad’s business eventually fell on hard times and he moved on to something else, I was never afraid of pursuing that ultimate goal, a creative small business.
The first incarnation came in the late 90’s when I set up a small graphic design business under the catchy name ‘Gnome Graphics’. Yes, really. You have to understand that at the time I was living in Finland and English wasn’t my first language. I just remember going through the dictionary finding words that would visually work with ‘graphics’. And then designed a logo (which, again, I thought was pretty cool in a 90’s kind if way) and I was all set! Needless to say I didn’t become rich or famous with that first business, doing odd jobs such as magazine design, vinyl taping for shop fronts and some wedding and graduation photography. But I did love having a business, despite the admin and tax headaches, I loved the freedom it gave me.
Then I met my husband and moved to the UK in 1999. There was a whole new culture to deal with and diving straight into entrepreneurship seemed too daunting. So, I went with the next best thing and got a job as a magazine designer. Having a 9-5 job funnily enough allowed me a lot more free time to pursue my other passion, photography. The almost a decade I spent at a ‘regular’ job was some of the most productive time for my personal photography, and I do feel like that time really honed my skills, both as a photographer and as a designer, both of which have come in very handy in the years that followed.
After a seven year stint at a magazine I quite enjoyed, I was made redundant. This forced me into a sideways move to a similar magazine, but with a less ideal location and far less flexibility I was used to, having been able to work partly from home in my old job. I suddenly found myself stuck in the office full-time, and I hated every minute of it. But I don’t know if without that job I would have finally been ready to take that leap and decide that it was time to be an entrepreneur once again. Photography gave me the most joy in life, so it felt crazy sitting in an office all day doing something that didn’t fill me with anything but boredom.
Taking the leap
In hindsight it feels like setting up my business was super easy and fluid, but if I dig deeper into my memories I can definitely uncover couple of years of incredibly long days, some major business planning and hard graft getting the business on its feet before I gave my resignation. But overall the decision to start a business was a huge success. I went into wedding photography at the exact right time, when the market was full of old school photographers with dated styles and no sense of storytelling. My style and passion for the narrative definitely struck a chord, and within three years I was receiving in excess of 1000 enquiries a year and business was booming.
While my business was doing well, I found myself still constantly searching, for myself, the root of my joy, ways to connect better with people. I met amazing people who opened my eyes to the importance of living to my values, of facing my fears and creating wonderful moments. You could say that for a year or two I went on a journey into myself, and I came out on the other side as a much more confident person. I could recognise and appreciate my strengths in a whole new way, I had tools for pushing myself further than I would have imagined before, and I knew what success looked like to me, and it wasn’t all about the money or fame. With that, teaching entered my life. I discovered how inspirational it was to see new eyes light up, self-doubt transform into courage, and new exciting paths get forged when I passed on things that I had learned.
While I was seeing newcomers getting lit up at workshops and during mentoring session, something peculiar was happening to me in my own photography business. When I left that magazine job to pursue my photography, I had made one promise to myself. That was: if I would ever catch myself checking the time in anticipation of when the event I was photographing was over, I would call myself on that and make sure I reassessed what I was doing.
It did take more than one time of me checking the time to see whether I was nearly finished, until I properly called myself on it. I think I wanted to deny it for as long as possible, partly out of fear of failure or the disbelief that this ‘dream job’ was turning into something else, partly because the ego wasn’t prepared to let go of what was universally considered ‘success’, even if it didn’t feel like it to me. But eventually, I had to acknowledge the fact that I wasn’t crazy in love with my business anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love weddings for the abundance of pure human emotions and the privilege of sharing such an intimate special day. What I wasn’t loving anymore was the inflexibility of knowing where you’ll spend your time for the next two years (mostly in a dark office, editing), the groundhog day feel of the structure of weddings, and the slightly bittersweet feeling of watching people start their lives together, and then move on to other experiences such as having a family, while I was stuck living that first day vicariously through other people over and over again.
So, I acknowledged that I needed to do something, but it wasn’t at all clear to me what, so a period of searching began. Some of the things I tried are: outsourcing different elements of my business, cutting down on the amount of weddings and taking on more portrait sessions, raising my prices, changing my packages, adding different income streams, trying out an associate programme, going into a partnership with a friend to run their business, taking on different types of jobs from different genres of photography, and other bits and pieces from design jobs to training and speaking engagements.
At the same time, I also went on a journey to refresh my fading creativity. I started doing art in different mediums again, writing more, allowing myself time to think more. At times it has felt like I’ll never find my way out to the other side, or that I’m just lazy, or the best yet ‘who am I to think I should get joy out of my job’, but I’m here to tell you that I did find my way.
A part of the journey was finding a way to move to a place where my soul feels at home. It seemed like there were so many obstacles in the way of living here by the sea, so far away from the hustle and bustle, but now that I am here, all those obstacles seem just ridiculous. If you really listen to your heart (instead of focusing on the outside parameters of ’success’), you will find a way to arrange your life in a way that makes you feel truly whole.
Back on solid ground
It has been a long and bumpy road, with a lot of false starts and turns, but now that I’m on the other side of it, I want to make the process much more, not necessarily easier, but supported for you. Now that I finally feel balanced again, both creatively, spiritually and with the strings I have in my entrepreneurial hat, I can feel that fire at the pit of my stomach again. I wake up in the middle of the night as by jolted by my heart to write down new ideas, new chapters, new experiences to come, and I feel like life is flowing through my veins again.
And that’s what I want for you, too.
Here are the main guiding lights that have brought me here.
1. Follow your bliss
At any moment in time, life is full of opportunities. Listen to your own heart, follow your own joy in order to recognise the right opportunities for you. The turn for you might look mundane and unpopular instead of shiny and crowded, it might be easy to miss, but taking it could change everything.
2. Find your real passions and strengths
Success looks different to everyone. Always set your own parameters for success, don’t try to live by someone else’s.
3. It’s ok for dreams to change
There is no such thing as failure. You don’t own your past anything.
4. Life is now
It’s no surprise there are so many saying about the importance of paying attention to the journey. Your life is now, right here, does it feel like a ride you want to be on?