Lessons from the first year

November 19, 2010

I wrote this blog post a month ago, right after our wedding anniversary. It’s just taken a long time to hit publish! So forgive the outdated intro below : )

In the past 12 months, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been our first year of marriage and my first year of business. Last week, we celebrated our first anniversary and just days before that, I shot the last photo session of season. It’s been an adventure. Some things I learned quickly, others I learned the hard way, but I figured a few were worth sharing. This is a long one…you may need to read it in installments : )

1. It ain’t easy, but it’ll be alright.
(That’s a song lyric, I take no credit for its simplistic fabulousness.)
Life, love, marriage and business…they ain’t easy. But it’ll be alright. You know how your mother always says, “This too shall pass”? It shall. The good and the bad and the hopelessly mundane all circle around regularly and thankfully, they all come to pass. I’ve learned to expect and accept them all; the good isn’t appreciated without the bad. Expecting and accepting, however, do not mean that I’ve gotten any better at dealing with the bad days : ) Maybe next year.

2. Timing is nothing.
I’ve said before and I still maintain that I don’t believe in waiting until the time is right. I think that concept in and of itself promotes over thinking and nothing will land you in a deeper hole than over thinking. (Lord, do I know this to be true.) In that regard, timing is nothing. Was April the right time for me to formally launch this business? Probably not. I had a new job, my marriage was brand new, my husband was starting a new job. Probably, there were plenty of new challenges and experiences on our plate without me adding this. But I was ready, so I did it. Timing was nothing.

I also think timing is nothing when it comes to relationships. The people who love you and the people you are meant to love will find you. And you can ignore them and kick them out and claim the time isn’t right but it won’t matter. They aren’t going anywhere. Because timing is nothing.

2.5 Preparation is everything.
Timing may be nothing, but whether its business or marriage, preparation is everything.

3. There’s no such thing as overnight success. But perception is reality.
If anything about starting this business has been hard for me to deal with, its the perception that I did this all overnight. That I woke up one day, didn’t like my job and decided I’d be a photographer instead. And then BAM I was booked solid and rolling in the dough. So let’s be clear:
a) What you see today took 6 years to create.  Just like anything worth doing, its been hard and it isn’t finished yet.
b) I do not  magically know what I’m doing. I studied, learned, practiced, considered and worked my ass off. Not just for photography – for business too. It’s never-ending.
c) I didn’t go to college for photography. Those were skills I had and skills I could grow on my own. I studied Corporate Communications and Public Relations in college. I took classes that would allow me to effectively build and control my own business.
d) I am not rolling in the dough.

So when I say I spent 6 years making this happen, you can see why it is amazingly frustrating to hear people imply that I just started this journey on a whim or to deal with the “I could do that” attitude.  But I’ve learned to deal with it because of what I do understand…Perception is reality.

You get two choices – you either alter the perception or your decide it isn’t worth the effort. Some times it is, some times it isn’t.

4. Try to keep the balance up between love and money.
Another song lyric – I should probably offer prizes to the people who can name these songs.

In the past year I have been hyper aware of the amount of time I dedicate to my business because I am bound and determined that it will not have an adverse effect on my relationships – with the hubs or with my family and friends.

But I work a full-time job and I’ve got this gig, so somethings got to give. No portion of my daily life has been unchanged by this. But I’ve learned to find a balance. This is the main reason my photography season ran April-October this year. To maintain sanity and balance. Next year it will be a year-round deal but only because what I learned this year will allow me to do that. I’ve learned to find the balance and stick to it.

5. Learning what’s number 1.
In the past year, I think I’ve learned a lot of about what’s number 1 for me. I don’t care if I don’t get to go to the movies very often. I don’t care if I don’t shop very often. But I cannot handle missing out on an adventure. I would give up every unnecessary expense in my life, right down to cookies and cable, to have an adventure.

Zac and I get asked a lot when we’re buying a house and making a baby. Currently, we just aren’t. We’ve talked about it, sure. And the first several months after he started working and such things were actually an option, we spent a lot of time going back and forth. What are we doing, what do we want, how do we spend it, save it, make it work? We had to find our number 1. And we had to agree on our number 1.

Was it a house? A baby? Designer jeans? It was not. It was adventure. Big and small, near and far, we wanted adventures.

This is why we’re never home. This is why our travel itinerary is planned for the next two years!

Anyway – the point is – we had to find our number 1. And we’ve learned to be committed to it and not go around whining about how we only get one number 1. This is a long way of saying I’ve learned that I can’t have my cake and eat it too. I’ve learned to be happy with just number 1.

5.5 Life is fluid, so is number 1.
I’ve learned that determining our current number 1 and making a commitment to it doesn’t mean I’ve married that number 1. (Who’s sick of me saying “number 1” raise your hands!!) Life is fluid, it changes, goals and matters of importance change. So will this. But what will be number 1 five years from now is not a matter of importance. Today is.

6. Learning what’s number 1, part two.
There’s another kind of number 1 (not that kind, I don’t make potty jokes here). The kind that resides as a staple in your life, holds a special place in your heart, defines who you see yourself as; a more personal version of number 1.

I’m a lot of things, I wear a lot of hats – I have my day job, I have my photography, I have an assortment of other interests and hobbies. But writing will always be my number 1. And I’ll tell you how I’ve learned this.

I get really excited whenever someone says they love my photos. I appreciate that, its great to hear and I usually need the boost of confidence, so I take it. But when someone mentions that they like reading my blog, or that they think I’m a fine writer, or anything along these lines…I’m on cloud nine.

I don’t write the “correct” way. I write the way I’ve always written. I’ve never needed any validation when it comes to writing. I’m constantly asking Zac if my photos are good enough or seeking out other people’s opinions on them. When it comes to writing, I want and seek no opinion. It’s a part of me. It doesn’t need critique.

I don’t think you’ll find anything else of which I am so defensive or possessive than my writing or writing style. If you don’t like it, fine. But if you take it upon yourself to correct it, then I hope God has mercy on your soul because I will not.

Additionally, there’s that possessive thing. There have been times when other people borrow my words or my phrasing. Is it intentional? I have no idea. But really, when you steal someones soul does it matter if its intentional? Ask the girl from The Exorcist, I bet she didn’t care if her soul was stolen intentionally. So again, if you take it upon yourself to adopt my words, then I hope God has mercy on your soul because I will not.

I mean, if you stole my photo and called it your own, I’d be pissed. I’d tell you to knock it off. But if you stole my words, my wrath would know no bounds.

This is how I’ve come to learn that writing is my personal number 1.

Six months ago even, I would have told you  it was photography. Photography is what I’m making a career of, its what pays my bills, it brings me immense amounts of joy and is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But alas, it turns out it isn’t my number 1. My number 1 is the thing swirling around in my head at all hours, keeping me up at night, making me not a single dime. Such is life.

7. Say no.
I’m a people pleaser by nature. I like to make other people happy and I like people to like me. That’s why I felt the need to be a good cook. So people would like me. It’s true.

But there are only so many hours in a day, so much any one person can do and eventually, you have to say no. I’ve never been good at that. But this year, I’ve learned to say no.

If I hadn’t, I would have photographed everyone who asked and no one would have gotten a single photo because I would be in a mental institution. Learning to say “I’m sorry, I have no openings, but I’d love to work with you next season” was the hardest lesson I learned this year. Way harder than balancing my books, way harder than handling taxes, a hell of a lot harder than taking a photo. Every time I had to say “no” I beat myself up over it.

“But they really wanted photos.”

“But I really wanted to take their photos!”

“But what if they hire someone else and I’ve lost a good client?”

“What if I sounded like a biotch?”

It was extra hard because I felt like it was complicated for people to understand – most people don’t realize I’m only doing this part-time so the amount of work I can do is pretty strictly limited. I didn’t want to sound like a slacker!

But there was no other option, so I had to learn to say no. What was optional was learning to accept it and not feel bad about it. I think I’ve finally reached that place. But I had to admit to myself that I really had done as much as I possibly could. That I’d pleased people to the extent of my ability. That controlling the amount of work I do is in direct correlation to the quality of work I do. So I’ve learned to come to peace with “no.”

8. Count your blessings, not your ailments.
Shitty things happen to good people. People who’ve done nothing wrong and deserve no hardship. I have no explanation for it. Sometimes life can be hell to go through and sometimes it can be hell to watch other people try to get through it themselves.

But I’ve learned you have to count your blessings. Even the tiny ones. Even the ones that are a pain in your ass. Even the ones that are barely visible through the layers of bullshit that sometimes pile up.

I don’t know if its the blessings and the triumphs that make us who we are, or if its the hardships and the things we survive. But I figure the hard stuff is always in the back of your mind. It would seem those things we never forget, so there’s no need to focus our efforts counting them. Blessings can be harder to remember so if you’re going to spend your time dwelling on something, it might as well be something good.

9. Being tired is worth it.
There are plenty of times, in everyone’s life I image, when you say no to something chiefly because it will result in you being tired.

‘I’m not doing this because I have to work and I’ll be tired.’ ‘I’m not going there because I’ll be tired. If we drive that many hours to get somewhere, we’ll be tired when we get back.’

Eff being tired! No one’s ever died of tired. No one’s last words have ever been, I wish I would have gotten more sleep!

Just do it. Just go out anyway, take a car ride that’s too long, stay up too late talking to your husband or chatting with an old friend on Facebook. Tired goes away, memories don’t. You might as well wear yourself out.

10. Control your blood pressure.
If I erupted into passionate debate every time someone crossed me I would have serious health issues. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when it won’t matter anyway and raise my voice when it counts. Somethings are worth getting your blood pressure up. Somethings just aren’t.

Crappy crap happens throughout the day. Kick your filing cabinet and forget about it. No sense going home, bring it up, and getting yourself all riled up again.

11. Walk like an Egyptian.
Just let your freak flag fly sometimes, ya know.

12. Aspire to be an original.
Draw inspiration from others. Take advice when you want it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. But for God’s sake don’t aspire to be the cheap knockoff!

Find out who you are, even if it takes a really long time. And in the mean time, just be that confused person who doesn’t know who they are…don’t waste your time trying to be someone else.

13. Celebrate stupid shit.
I’m eloquent, I know. But I’m being serious here. I’ve learned to celebrate when I need to. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a celebration, right? Why wait? Celebrate stupid, meaningless, mundane shit. Like Tuesday. Celebrate Tuesday. Because the sun is shining or because its raining or because your tired of the same old same old. Buy margaritas, make tacos, turn up Jimmy Buffet because its the closet thing you have to “Mexican music” and celebrate Tuesday.

Or buy cheap wine and yummy cheese and crusty bread and amazing pasta sauce and celebrate the existence of all those things. Or wear your favorite jeans and wiggle your ass a little extra when you walk and celebrate how your ass looks really good in jeans.

Whatever it is…just celebrate.

14. Just let people be, yourself included.
The world is a really judgey place. (I know the word “judgemental” but I feel like “judgey” is more blog friendly.) I’m guilty of it just as much as the next guy. Someone makes a choice you don’t understand, or a decision you never would have made. You can’t resist the temptation to say, “What are they thinking?” or “Why would anyone do that?”

I’ve learned its fine to wonder those things, probably that’s just human nature. But I’ve also learned it’s none of my damned business. I don’t know what anyone’s thinking or why people do what they do and I don’t need to. You’ve got to let people be. And you’ve got to hope they’ll extend you the same courtesy.

15. You find out who your friends are.
At some point you start to discover that that’s no reason to have a crap ton of friends.  You realize what a real friend is – maybe because someone was a real friend, or because someone wasn’t – but either way you figure it out. And you realize all you need in life are a few of the really good ones, and you’re set.

You figure out exactly who it is that needs to hold a special place in your life. You start learning what to expect from people. You learn who will come running when you need them, and who will find out you were in need 15 days after the fact via Facebook gossip. The tricky thing is, sometimes people surprise you. And that’s why its one of those lessons that you learn over and over and over again.

16. Distance is hard. But it doesn’t matter.
There are days when I feel like I’m not that far from my family. And days when I feel like I might as well live in Europe. There are days when I’d like to live in Europe. But that has more to do with cheese and wine. Anyway.

What I’ve learned about distance this year is that its hard and it doesn’t get easier. It’s hard not to drop by when you feel like visiting someone, its hard not to bump into friends at the grocery store, its hard to be in a particular mood for a particular bar with a particular few people and know it just ain’t happening. And none of that seems to change, no matter how much time you give it.

But what I’ve also learned that is does not matter. If (as detailed in #15) you know who your friends are and you know who ya love, it just does not matter.

(I’d still rather you lived in Illinois though, Kate.)

17. Imagine it working out perfectly.
Do you know what Story People are (is?)? If not, you need to: Story People.

I get these Story People in my inbox daily. It’s fun. I got one a few weeks ago that said:

“I can imagine it working out perfectly, I said. I can’t, she said &  I said no wonder you’re so stressed.”

And right then and there I think I learned the most important lesson I’ve learned all year.

Your imagination has no control over how anything in life will actually turn out. Your actions, sure. But we all know that its our silent thoughts, our imaginations, that control our happiness throughout any given day. It’s the thoughts we have swirling around in our heads that effect us most. And if our imagination has no control over reality…then we might as well imagine it working out perfectly.

And there you have it, 17 things I’ve learned this year.


  1. AWasson

    You are a greater writer, I always love to read your blog updates and I have given your name out to tons of people for photos. Very proud of you and your success. You were one of my favorites at The Alestle and it is great to see you so successful, even if it isn’t with money. Success feels best when it has nothing to do with money…

    • maggieandzac

      Thanks, Arla! That means a lot! And I couldn’t agree more about the success part…another lesson to add to the list!!

  2. 11.19.10

    you rock!! Love this entry, your writing is always so entertaining and inspirational :)

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