Friday, September 8, 2017

When You Feel Like Letting It All Go

This feeling has happened multiple times while being a small business owner, yet each time the feeling is a little different and a little more nuanced.  I think it's safe to say that I've experienced the full gamut of reasons for feeling like I should let it all go.  This is a rarely talked about subject in the creative business world, and I want to share what I've learned about these feelings and how they have helped me, transformed me, and moved me to better places.

Issue: "I'm constantly procrastinating on certain parts of the work, maybe I'm not really cut out for this, maybe I should quit.  Quitting feels easier than forcing myself to do this."
This was how I felt when I had too many clients to manage, too many projects that were getting backed up, deadlines were being pushed further than was professionally acceptable, systems that were breaking down left and right and I kept getting bogged down in certain parts of the process that prevented me from making forward momentum as a solo-entrepreneur.

This was when I really needed to look outside of myself for help, rather than thinking I needed to do it all, but I was so entrenched in the problems at hand that hiring outside help just felt like more work and delaying everything further to get that help up and running.  I felt trapped, as if there was no way out, and as if I was failing my business and my clients, which led to feeling like perhaps I wasn't cut out to run a business at all, assuming this was my sign to quit and give up.  I was so wrong about my ability to turn it around, but the problems at hand made it difficult to see any other way.

Solution: Outsourcing, Hiring Help, Raising Prices, Fewer Projects at Once
If you're willing to give up your entire business because you can't seem to keep up with your business, than you NEED to start hiring help, outsourcing, raising your prices, or taking fewer clients.  This is a sign that your business is actually a huge SUCCESS!!!!  Hellloooo!!  You wouldn't be running into these issues if your demand wasn't exceeding your personal capacity to handle them!  Don't give up now- you're just hitting a painful growth spurt that is stretching you to expand and work in ways that you haven't explored yet!

If you're at a point where you would be willing to leave your business anyway, than you're also at a point where you can spare to throw some cash at hiring professional help or trying some outsourcing solutions.  If the alternative is not doing it at all, than you've reached a prime place to start narrowing your client focus and raising your prices so that you're only attracting and working with people who value your work at the same level that you do.

This is not an option anymore, this is clear cut sign that your business is experiencing massive growth and needs to grow appropriately to the kind of business you'd like to have in the future.  Would you like to grow into having associates, a business manager, and a post-production personal all under the same roof?  Would you like to grow toward being a more boutique, high-end artist serving only a select clientele?  This is your time to make that decision and set yourself on a better path that meets your needs in the future.  To walk away now would be to throw away your biggest opportunity for growth right at the moment you're being given the green light to grow in ways that work better for you.

Issue: "I want to let it all go.  I simply don't care anymore.  I don't even want to show up."
This was how I felt when I reached a place of depression in my life.  I didn't care about anything.  I wanted everything to fall away.  I didn't want to care about anyone or anything else except for my basic needs and survival.  Even making a plan to commit suicide felt like far too much work and energy than I was willing to give to the world outside of simply breathing and existing at the most basic level.  I often questioned why I was even alive.  I was stuck in a place of not valuing myself or my work and felt like existing was a burden to everyone around me.  I had to live through it and come out the other side alive in order to know what it really felt like and to have deep compassion for people who experience depression.

Solution: Massive Self-Care & Redefining What Makes You Happy
When I reached a place of wanting everything to fall away from me, it was largely because I lost touch with myself, with my spark, my inner fire, my reason for being and existing in the world.  I don't know how I lost it.  I don't know what brought it on.  I didn't even realize it was depression while it was happening.  I just didn't feel right, like I wasn't really myself or who I thought I was.

Later on, I realized that it may have been bio-chemical with things like lowered dopamine levels or adrenal fatigue, but it also could have been a symptom of not identifying with my work as part of my life purpose and not finding meaning in why I was creating for other people or how that work and creation was feeding my life in beautiful and meaningful ways.

What I really needed during this time was not to quit the only job that gave me creative spark when I remembered what creative spark was, but to invest in a huge boost of self-care and self-love to reconnect with why I existed and why I was continuing to do the work I was doing.  I was moving from a place of defining my existence and purpose by everyone else's standards to a place of being self-defined and self-motivated.

If my worth wasn't placed in what other people thought of me, how would I measure it based on what I think of myself?  What's really important in life?  What have I been ignoring?  What has been making me feel bad?  How do I reckon with that and reverse the apathy back into passion?

I had to tune out all the noise around me about what I should be doing and focus only on the very few small things that made me feel good at a basic physical and mental level.  Until I filled my own cup, it would never be filled by anyone else- not by any other job, any other relationship, or any other identity.

Once I recognized this and narrowed my focus on the things that actually made me feel good, rather than the things that everyone else said should make me feel good- I slowly gained my strength back.  I slowly began to remember who I was and how my work brought value to my own life as well as to the world.  My spark returned slowly and gradually, and I felt really lucky that I didn't completely give up my work, my relationship, my home, or my life.  I never would have been able to get to the other side and discover all the abundance beyond that depression if I'd given up everything that once made me happy and hadn't done some massive self-care to help me get there.

If you're feeling like giving everything up, recognize this as a sign of depression.  Tell your friends and family how you're feeling.  Ask for help.  Accept the help others want to provide.  Force yourself to be around people and places that used to make you happy.  Learn how to ask for support.  Remember how much you are loved by people who want nothing from you but your own health and happiness.  You can and will get through this.  It is possible.  It may take longer than you'd like, but keep on moving through that mud until you find dry ground.  Once you do, you'll learn how to weather any future storms better than ever before.

Issue: "I feel like I really need to create something else right now, and this is holding me back"
I remember this feeling very clearly from when I decided to leave my path on a music education career to become a full time photographer.  I was leaving something super safe because I was feeling so pulled and compelled to try and make photography work full time.  I simply couldn't give any more time to writing lesson plans in classrooms and dealing with parents and administrators, not because I didn't like it as much as I simply felt like I needed to spend all of my time working on wedding photos and learning post-production techniques to get the results I wanted in the final product of my photography.  Teaching was holding me back from spending time on photography, and even though I didn't see any security or know how I would make a living in photography, I just had to go for it and not get caught up in the what ifs.  My soul wouldn't allow me to do anything else.

Solution: Build slowly on the side, or make a clean break and run for it.
When I think about all the insecurity I felt in the beginning, it's ridiculously amazing to now look back at this fabulous creative career and small business that has supported me through multiple moves, through traveling around the world, through understanding the difference between low end and high end clients, learning how to go from 4 figures to 6 figures in just the first couple years, being published in international magazines and winning really cool awards for the artistry of my work, to being invited to present at some amazing conferences, to going on the road with my own workshop tour, to being flown to five star resorts in tropical locations just to take photos!?

Now that I look back at all of that I think- I had no idea what amazing abundance was on the other side of all my insecurity about how I would make it work.  Now I feel like I would be INSANE to let go of this AMAZING creative career that has created a life that has surpassed all of my dreams and all the things I thought were possible in a career as a creative.  Now, the security I once felt about a life as a music educator is the same security I feel about the life I've had as a photographer for the last 13 years.  I'm so glad I made a clean break and ran for the hills with my photography business- it was by far the best decision I could have possibly made at that point in my life.  I knew it was the right decision because no matter how much I feared what was ahead or how I would make it work, I knew that my passion for making it work simply could not be ignored or set aside, and that any moment I wasn't trying to make it work, was a moment that I was holding myself back from doing something greater than I'd ever done before.

When the universe calls you in different directions with a relentless passion to focus on something, to opportunities you haven't fully explored, and you have a very hard time ignoring it, that's when you know it's actually the right time to start your transition out and get to building and working on that next thing.  Whether you do it slowly in your spare time (which you need to create for yourself in order to have any spare time to begin with) or you just rip off the old career like a bandaid and wrestle with the sting of creating something new, your passion will not be silenced until you answer it and it calls you to begin NOW.

The future is always far more uncertain than the past.  You don't know if you'll have a full time job tomorrow even when you work for a corporation, despite how predictable it feels.  Would you rather someone pull the rug out from under you first, or would you rather build your next big thing while you still have security to work through the mistakes of trying new things?  You may not understand what the revenue stream or business plan will really look like, but you'll figure it out as you go and as people tell you what they value and want to pay for.  Trust in your passion to help you create the life and work you really want to be doing.  It's a call from the universe to expand, to grow, to be something you've never been before, and if you don't follow it, you'll be wasting the chance to live a life you've never imagined before.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.