Have you ever found yourself in a state of total and complete overwhelm? A point in your life where you find yourself wondering just how you got into such a place where it feels like no matter how hard you work, how late you stay in the office, how many times you smile and say “I’m great” when asked how you’re doing, none of it feels right… it’s all just a little too tight, like a shirt that shrunk in the wash.
In March, a number of things were happening. The long, dark days of were ending, my husband was hopefully coming home soon after being gone since November (it was another month until he returned), and my work schedule was slowing down a little – so maybe I could finally get less behind in my work. It was also coming closer to the second anniversary of our house fire.
Then my landlord decided to change the fuel tanks in my poorly ventilated basement studio which promptly filled with noxious diesel fumes up until literally yesterday. At the same time, the tenants on the top floor expanded their occupancy to the middle floor (right above me) and construction commenced. Through paper-thin walls, I was able to hear every move the construction team made… even their sneezes. When they dropped something, it gave me such a start, I was sure I’d have a heart attack.
I moved my secondary workstation from the studio and into my home. I was really bothered at first. I felt like I had somehow failed. By not being able to work fully in my portrait studio that I had worked so hard to create, I felt like I had made a mistake at some point and that maybe this was the beginning of the end of my successful, creative and beloved business.
This is the part where I had the breakdown. There were many, many tears. I sobbed, broken hearted. I felt like there was no way to survive this setback. I was devastated at the changes that felt as though they were being forced on me. I made the hard decision to step away from all of my commitments with the studio while the disruptions were taking place while I gathered my thoughts and emotions relating to my work.
When I cleared my shooting calendar, at first, I panicked. Of course, I was worried that I might upset some people. I’m positive that I did. Then I was worried that they’d not want to rebook. I’m sure some of them don’t. I’m coming to understand that it is entirely OK if some people are uncomfortable with me choosing to put my own health and happiness ahead of my business. I started this business because of my love of creating images and wanting to add that to my already satisfying life. But somewhere along the way, it completely replaced my life and it was pretty much all I did.
Then there was the small matter of about twenty clients who all decided to either stop responding to my emails or they had excuses wildly varying reasons about why they couldn’t make arrangements to view their images or pay for them. It was the most bizarre thing. I am still a little baffled by how it all happened but what I can say I now know about how that weird it all seemed, it comes down to me. I provide a luxury service that focuses on celebrating love, beauty and existing in photographs for our families. I want to work with women who share those values and occasionally, that’s not the case. I’m certain that some of the folks who have decided not to even look at their images have reasons that feel perfectly legitimate to them. Same for the ones who made orders and then decided not to pay for them. But ultimately, the responsibility is mine. I’m in the service industry. My purpose is to serve my clients and when they are dissatisfied, I bear a huge responsibility for that. Maybe the mistake I made was in the post-shoot communication, maybe it was in the shoot itself or maybe it was in signing the wrong clients. I don’t know. What I do know is that I won’t make those mistakes again.
Aside from the fact that my small business can’t afford to photograph people who refuse to view or pay for their images, my small business can’t afford to have me fretting over those who aren’t the right clients for me to be working with in the first place. I love working with people who are giddy during their shoot, who cry tears of joy when I show them their images and who tear open their print order right in front of me when they come to pick it up because they excitement is just too much to wait.
I have been away from the studio for nearly three months without a lot of communication as to why or what my plans are. The short answer is that I wasn’t happy. Since the start of my break, I’ve read books, I’ve started meditating, I’ve taken up quilting, I’m making amazing meals again, I’m tidying the house and doing laundry, I’ve started a garden with my youngest son for his summer homeschool project and I’m spending time with my family as a whole.
Turns out, I was dealing with my grief over the house fire by hiding in my work. But I was miserable. I was using it like a drug or alcohol to numb my pain. Enough of that shit! I’ve taken my life back and am more present than ever in my everyday existence. I’m participating in our farm business, I’m overseeing the work to be done on our house this summer, I’m going camping and fishing (which I’ve done very little of in two years), I’m crafting like crazy which is lighting my creative fire in massive ways and I’m also working slowly at completing the remaining client orders that are on my desk from right before my break.
I suspect that this break will be about a year long. Maybe I’ll go back in the fall. I’m not sure. What I know right now is that I’ve tasted happiness and I’m ready for more. I’m also ready to start feeling some of the grief and pain that I’ve compartmentalized and ignored for two years. This will take time, patience and compassion. On my part and yours. I have every intention of resuming photographing women. But that’s it. No more families, no more babies. Not now. Maternity, yep. But truthfully, my favorite is individual women and mothers & daughters as well as Bridal Fantasy shoots. When I come back from my break and am taking bookings again, this is it.
So if you can be patient and wait for me to do a little healing, creating, and relationship building, I’ll be a much better woman, photographer, human being when I come back to the studio.
In the meantime, I intend to terminate much of my direct activity on Facebook and will be communicating via this blog. I encourage you to comment below, sign up for the RSS Feed and follow me if you want to get regular updates. I started off a blogger, I’m going back to being a blogger. Hope you come along.
Thanks for staying with me until the end of this post. It was a long one but I wanted you to know what happened and what I’m doing.