When I was younger, the cover letters I would include with my job applications would always include the line “everything I do, I do 100%”. It was like my tag line. Now, years later, while pretty much everything else in life has changed, that one tag line still rings true.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve thrown myself into my various chosen activities with passion and commitment. I’ve gone in assuming, or at least believing and hoping, that I will succeed, and even dreaming of becoming the best in the world at whatever it was I was doing.
It started with gymnastics. Gymnastics was my life, my be-all-and-end-all obsession until the age of about 18. I wanted to go to the Olympics. I nagged the coaches endlessly to give me a shot at the competitive programs. I trained hard and tirelessly, but alas I was never quite coordinated, nimble or talented enough.
Then came university, where I studied engineering. I barely knew what engineering was when I started, but I went in like gangbusters; scholarship laden and dedicated. I studied, traveled, worked, worked overseas, studied some more, then passed with flying colours. I went on to land the ‘perfect job’ in a small corporate office applying my specialized knowledge in biomechanics. I was right where I had always wanted to be careerwise – working my way up working at a good company, planning to get to the top.
Outside of work and career, I took every opportunity I had to travel. I became a SCUBA Divemaster on a remote island off the Tanzanian coast. I trekked to Everest Base Camp and the top of Kilimanjaro. I photographed the midnight sun above the Arctic Circle. And I began to obsess over capturing my travels on film (yes, film), documenting my every sightseeing adventure. I poured my passions into creating shelves full of travel photography albums and books.
Then I decided to change it all up; study something new, work overseas at an NGO in East Timor, then take up a new job in the environmental consulting field. All done with gusto, and 100% commitment each time. Again, working my way up with my eye on being CEO of something one day.
I started riding my bike for exercise and commuting, and that tendency of always committing 100% reared its head again and I began training harder and harder. Cycling became a second job, training and riding 20-30 hours per week on top of my increasingly less-interesting desk job. I wanted to go the Olympics (again). I worked my way up in the ranks and at one point made top 25 ranking in Canada. While I thought that was pretty promising, I could also hear my biological clock ticking, and family was on the list of things to ace one day too.
So I married my man and became a mom to an amazing little boy. Maternity leave was blissful and I loved being a mom – 100%. Suddenly though, everything was changing. I no longer wanted to wear a powersuit and become a CEO, my sporting dreams were behind me and I found myself in my employer’s office a month before my scheduled return to work, with my 11-month old crawling around on the boardroom table, telling my bosses I wouldn’t be returning. Although it was a decision (or realization) made over time, it was still a bit of shock to me (and to them).
What had happened, without any plans or intentions, was that I had started down the path to being an entrepreneur. I had no idea at the time, but my business actually started while I was whizzing around a street circuit on my racing bike trying to keep up with a dozen hard, fast women and earn a spot on the podium. I had allowed hubby to borrow my camera gear and take photos of me racing. He got so good at getting great action photos that fellow spectators and racers started asking for him to share and sell his images. He started a little photography business doing just that. It was that business that I took hold of on my mat leave after retiring from racing, and morphed into a portrait photography business; Fun Love Photography.
The learning curve from mastering travel photography to mastering portrait photography was huge (something I didn’t know going in), but I was determined. In fact, I had my first paying client for a family photo session when I was 41 weeks pregnant. Yup. You read that right. Hubby carried my gear for me and my client was on standby for a possible reschedule. It was amazing – I loved the experience and my clients, who remain clients to this day, loved their photos.
As always, I threw myself in 100%, using every moment my little son slept to work on client photos, and every moment he was awake to use him as a model to improve my skills. There wasn’t a whole lot of ‘business’ going on, just clients coming through word of mouth, photo sessions, endless nights editing in Photoshop, sending CDs of images in the mail and taking cheques (with relatively small numbers on them!) to the bank. There was no business planning, no marketing, no sales funnels, no social media strategies, no established workflows, no time management, very little accounting, no work-life balance and only a miniscule salary. Thankfully (in hindsight), I was yanked from that situation after only a year.
My husband took a one-year contract job in Copenhagen, so off we went with my little guy in tow, leaving my fledgling business behind. One year turned into five, and our time away was marked by my son’s early years, meeting new and amazing friends, struggling in and eventually embracing a different language and culture, a ton of travel (bringing the country count up to 71!), the heartbreak of five pregnancy losses, and the eventual birth of my sweet daughter. It was also marked by an amazing growth in my business, which once again, I unintentionally started and built up to a point where I had the ex-pat market cornered. My confidence peaked when I was hired to photograph a reception for Prince Charles and Camilla and Denmark's top celebrity actors.
Now back in Toronto – four years ago now! – I’m proud to say I’ve rebuilt my business once again. This time intentionally, and this time with all the business planning and marketing and sales and strategies etc. actually included. This time I’m supported incredibly and tangibly by a network of photographers literally all around the globe, as well as a more local squad of powerhouse women. What a difference!
My business has morphed too. While I used to toss a CD of images in the mail and try not to bother my clients too much, I now take great pride and pleasure in providing a luxury, high-touch portrait photography experience to families with all the bells and whistles thrown in. I love to show moms how beautiful their families are, I want to make moms feel super-special and gorgeous, and most of all I strive to capture moments in the time of babies and children that otherwise pass all too soon. I provide all sorts of tips to moms to prepare and I offer hair, makeup and wardrobe styling services. I shoot on-location in the places that mean the most to families, and I come back to them soon after to debut their images in the comfort of their own living rooms. I work together with them to design the perfect albums and wall pieces to fill their homes and hearts. I even hang the pictures on the wall for them – a finishing detail that recently caused one new mom to exclaim “I LOVE instant gratification!” Now THAT is rewarding!
I’m still working at my business 100%, and while that fact might be worn as a badge of honour, I’m slowly starting to learn (and practice), that it’s okay to step back sometimes. It’s okay, and in fact necessary, to spread a lot of that 100% to taking care of yourself and your family and enjoying life. The constant nuggets of wisdom I’m learning from my support networks remind me to strive for balance and that by working smartly, diligently and intentionally, I can build my dream business and be as good to myself as I am to my clients.
Success this time won’t be going to the Olympics or becoming CEO of a major corporation or wearing a power suit; it will be making my clients, my family and myself happy.