Before you dive into this blog post, PLEASE take the time to watch Shonda Rhimes’ amazing Ted Talk. She talks about the year she lost her “hum” and I hung on every word she said. She was telling her own story of feeling overworked, overused and empty. And I related to it all.
It was THIS DAY exactly one year ago.
April 24, 2017. That was the day I lost my “hum”.
The company, from the outside, was at an all-time high. The Saturday just 2 days before, Old South Studios captured not 1….not 2….not 3….not 4….but 5 weddings. That was truly a company record. If you are not very familiar with the photography world, the VAST majority of photographers are solo-preneurs. Even those who specialize in weddings will shoot on average 10-15 weddings in a calendar year. WE DID FIVE in one day.
Occasionally you might stumble upon a duo (typically husband and wife photography team who captures about 20 weddings/year) but at Old South, we were a bit of a unicorn. What started as a solo-preneurship in 2008 (by me, Julie), had now grown to a multi-photographer studio with a commercial studio space in an upscale area of Charlotte, NC. We were easily the busiest wedding studio in our city (if not our state) booking brides sometimes faster than our calendars would even allow (I never dreamed we would STILL turn brides away even with 5 photography teams on staff). We had even gotten national attention by my professional print lab, Millers, who was running a 2 page spread about Old South in hundreds of thousands of photography magazines on May 1 of that year. People were noticing us and how unique Old South really was.
The gradual climb began in 2012 when I took my part-time business to a “full-time/all-in/100%-of-our-family’s-income-is-from- this business” level. We had outgrown my dining room (that morphed into a home studio during 2008-2011) and began leasing a beautiful commercial studio. Was I the best photographer in the world? No. I consider myself to be a good photographer but I will forever have more to learn. We were thriving in our industry because of ONE key factor. I considered myself an entrepreneur FIRST and an artist SECOND.
I was all about deadlines, work flows, process, the client experience, vendor relationships, exceeding expectations, etc. And our brides kept telling their friends about us. They felt loved, heard, and important to us and we delivered a quality wedding gallery in RECORD time (often beating the couple home from their honeymoon). On average, I would correspond with any one Old South bride 30-40 times over her year of wedding planning. From the time the sun would set on her big day, to nap times for flower girls and how to include her wheelchair-bound grandma into group shots….we were involved in a thousand tiny decisions. Our brides felt more like family and I was having the time of my life!
Somewhere in 2014, I believe my ego got the best of me. When others were struggling to shoot even 1 wedding/month, we were getting up to 8-10 new bride inquiries A DAY. My ego believed that unicorns are rare and therefore, if we have a great system in place, than bigger must be better. So we grew from 2 photographers (Julie and Alyssa) to 6 photographers (Dana, Allison, Autumn, Aleta) then 8 photographers (Alisha, Lindsey). We even took on interns (Sarah and Krista) who developed into second shooters over the years with us. WE WERE DOING SOMETHING so different. We were running a very profitable business AND keeping up outrageous company expectations (14 day turnaround for all weddings, 21 day turnaround for all vendor images, attending all networking events, all calls/e-mails handled within the same business day, hosting brunches/parties in our brides’ honor, etc.) And for a time, life felt VERY good.
For a few years, I was living in the “hum”.
The hum is that vibration or pulse that I feel when the company is thriving. That amazing, feel-good effect I virtually swim in when brides are e-mailing me with raving reviews, vendors are singing our praises and sending us more brides than we can service and I am telling beautiful stories of love from behind my lens. That hum that tells me I am doing exactly what God created me to do and it is intoxicating.
But, back to April 24, 2017…..that is the day the hum stopped.
It was Monday morning. I had driven about 400 miles that weekend to shoot a destination wedding. 11 photographers had worked for me (throughout the state of NC) the Saturday before and my labor costs were upwards of $10,000. I had excited brides, planners, florists, etc. e-mailing me about sneak peeks from the weekend before. I had lead photographers calling/e-mailing me telling me all about the weddings they just shot and when they would be delivering the images to the studio. AND MY HOME was a disaster. My hubby had done a great job of shuttling kids to sports events and sleepovers while I was away but the laundry was piled up in every room and there were no groceries in the house. My youngest daughter’s birthday was less than a week away and I had not even thought about her party or even a gift for her. Oh, and I’d steadily gained about 30 pounds at this point from overworking so I was in a funk in a major way. From the inside out, I was overworked.
I was EMPTY. Shonda said “what do you do when the job you love so much suddenly tastes like dust?”
Around this time, the studio began receiving calls from venture capitalists wanting to invest in and potentially franchise Old South. Y’all, we had grossed about $2 million in revenue over a handful of years and suddenly, I had people far wiser than I in the business world wanting a piece of the action. Y’all, I never took one business class in college. This hobby turned profession was now at a level I never intended to take it.
But, all I wanted was time to finish my laundry. Time to take a walk with my girls and my dog in the sunshine. Time to have a date night with my husband on an actual SATURDAY (since I’d given nearly all of those away for 5 years). Time to go to gym untethered from my cell phone that never ever stopped buzzing.
Alyssa, my office manager, was also dealing with a very serious family tragedy that week so there were many tears shed between us. We were both emotionally and physically overwhelmed We were in charge of about 10,000 images from the Saturday before AND a 2 week editing turnaround for all of them. I told her I didn’t love my job anymore and the words tasted like acid in my mouth. By nature, I am a storyteller and when storytelling no longer brought me joy, I seriously questioned walking away from all of it.
But, instead, I called a meeting with my amazing team of photographers and told them I need to pump the brakes on the company. I was no longer going to book 3, 4 and 5 weddings per Saturday. While I loved giving them jobs, every new bride still took a considerable amount of my time. I booked them at the studio meeting. I corresponded with them on all vendor choices, invoices, wedding day timelines, etc. I personally looked at EVERY single image that would ever bear the name Old South. I missed my family and my personal life. I needed more time to play to truly begin loving work again.
So, instead of nearly 60 weddings captures (like 2017), we will only capture about 30 in 2018. I have my life back. I workout every day and have lost 15 pounds. I go dancing with my girlfriends again. I have date nights with my husband on the actual weekends!!!! There is margin in my life again and I feel that hum getting louder and louder again.
Time is the only commodity we will never get back. Yes, I am proud of the company I have built, but it will not define me any longer. I am Andrew’s wife. I am 2 girls’ mother. I am a daughter, sister, friend. And, relationships and love are built with TIME. I owed them much more of my time. Oh, I happen to be a storyteller too and hope to continue to do that for many more years to come. But in order to feel the hum again……I had to step away.
Now, on this day, April 24, 2018, I am the happiest and healthiest I have been in many years. I work less but the world keeps spinning. The company is still thriving. And the hum…..
I’m so happy to say that it is BACK.