“When do you sleep?”
I get asked this question often. Friends, family, and people that one way or another have been watching me build my dream often wonder how I can manage a full-time job and a part-time dream if the day only has 24 hours.
I just finished listening to the book “Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job”, by Jon Acuff; and besides the fact that he is hilarious in the narration of his book, I felt every word in my body. It was the reaffirmation I needed to trust that I am on the right path to achieve the life and the dream I want more than anything in the world.
Like Jon, I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, a business owner, to own my schedule and every decision I make; but also, like Jon, I have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and the reality check that, unlike fairytales, dreams take time.
The amount of courage it takes to finally pursue our dream it’s something we cannot borrow or steal. I am turning 45 today. Do you know how many people start a business this late in life? Not many. Because at our age, we are supposed to be catching up on our 401k accounts, count the payments left in our mortgage, and wait for sweet, sweet retirement. People my age are not supposed to have a TikTok account, make silly Instagram reels, and share our lives in our “Insta-stories”. People my age are not supposed to go to bed late at night unless it’s because of hormone-induced insomnia.
Making the decision to build a full-time dream while working a full-time job is so conflicting. How to do it becomes more important than why to do it, when it should be the opposite. “If only I was younger”… “If only I had more money”… “If only I had more time”… “If only I had more support”… “if only the market wasn’t so saturated”. I could have made up a whole list of reasons why I shouldn’t start it to convince myself that I was incapable of building this up, but in my heart, I had a very clear “WHY” I should do it.
Starting a business was scary, not because I was planning to quit my job to pursue my dream and put all my finances at risk, but because I had to tell people I was a real photographer and not just someone “with a good camera” that loved taking photos. It was scary to think of the embarrassment I would feel if things didn’t work out, or if no one hired me or believed in me. It meant making myself vulnerable. Vulnerable to judgment, vulnerable to doubts, vulnerable to pry. It meant that for me to do this, I had to change. A lot.
Back to the question. I get plenty of sleep. I have juggled a full year of a full-time job and a part-time dream, and I have not lost my bearings in the process. It sounds hard and stressful, but instead, it has been sweet and satisfying. What changed radically for me was the kinds of things I did, and still do, with my “free time”. When I started this dream it was clear that I had the passion and some experience, but I did not have a plan. In my opinion, when chasing a dream it’s better to have a passion without a plan, than a plan without passion. I knew that if I wanted to make something out of nothing, I had to make some serious changes but I decided to build the plane as I was flying it.
For a full year, before I hit the “submit” button with the RI Business Department, I made the necessary changes to see if this dream could work. I changed “sitting on the couch watching meaningless TV”, for sitting on the couch taking online courses. I changed “scrolling through the radio during my 35-min commute to work” for business, growth, and mindset audiobooks. I changed “the no-plans Saturdays and Sundays” for low-paying second shooting gigs and free photoshoots to practice my craft. I restructured my “free time” for a real, tangible purpose. I was preparing to become the person I was building in my mind.
Carefully selecting how I spent the time before 9 am and after 5 pm was a pivotal decision. The corners outside my full-time job held the key to my dream job, and I knew that consciously choosing what to do with the hours sandwiched between dinner time and bedtime were the biggest asset I had.
Yes, I know I have it “easier” than others because my kids are grown and I don’t have to take them to school, to practice, or to dance, but this kind of attitude can be scaled down to fit our family’s needs. As long as we keep showing up, our dream will be there. Taking in what we give it, building itself up with what it has.
I do stop and smell the roses. If you follow my stories on Instagram you have probably seen that I love to have fun and that most of my weekends have a pretty good balance of pleasure and work. I don’t sacrifice my personal life and my family for my business. Knowing that when saying “yes” to something, I am also saying”no” to something else – whether personal or business; keeps me balanced. I still go to the beach. I still watch football with friends, I still spend one hour at dinner time chatting with the kids, but I hustle and I hustle hard in my free time.
I don’t spend every single night working hours on end on my business (ok, sometimes I do), or every weekend shooting weddings and portraits, but there is one thing I do every single day: I show up for my business, even if it’s to give it 10 minutes of a busy day. I am not a website guru, or a social media expert, or a copywriter wizard, but I show up every single day. One email… one blog post… one picture shared… one how-to-video… one client interaction…10 Pinterest pins… anything that can help keep the momentum going.
This has been the constant in my business for the past 16 months, and it has been the biggest momentum builder I’ve experienced. In one year, I went from zero weddings and free shots to 12 weddings and 30+ paid shoots. In my first full year of business, I grossed the same amount of money I made 10 years ago in a full-time position at my current job, and although it doesn’t sound like much, it is 10x more than my original goal. Just because I show up every single day, but most importantly because I learned to be patient.
Dreams are made of instant gratification moments and delayed gratification strategies, and that takes a boatload of patience. I had to let go of the “I want it and I want it now” mindset. Dreams take time, commitment, sacrifices, and more commitment. We tend to look at how big someone is in our dream field, or how much more experience they have, or how much more money they are making, or how much busier they are, and that makes us feel like we’re failing because we haven’t gotten there yet. That’s so, so unfair to us and our journey.
When I feel things are going slow and I feel the urge of comparing myself to other more successful photographers, I go and scroll their Instagram grid, but I check their posts from their first, second, and even third year in business. It’s so eye-opening to see that they too started small. Comparison is a momentum killer – a joy killer, so if I am going to compare myself with someone with a larger following, or someone doing weddings at breathtaking venues or making six-figures in their first quarter, I will make darn sure I comparing myself to their “1-year-in-business-self”, and not to where they are right now. That quickly gets me out of the funk and back to the groove.
I don’t have a blueprint, heck, I barely have a 3-year business plan. But also, I don’t daydream anymore because I am actually living it, full-time job and all. I know that in 10, 15, or 20 years from now I will look back at my 45-year-old self and thank her for what she did in my life, and I will read back this post and go…. ohhhh… that’s how I did it 🙂
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