Juggling motherhood, a photography business, a full time job, and personal projects

I am by no means Wonderwoman. So I’m going to start this post by saying I don’t have superpowers or even a magic system that you can follow to juggle multiple priorities in your life. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m sorry to disappoint.

(But, to be clear, if you find that formula, email me. Mmm’k?)

Here’s what I do have: hard-won experience and a ton of mistakes. And maybe this will help you as you fret about how to fit everything in, whatever those everythings are in your life. But let’s begin with a little backstory.

I started my photography business when I still had a full time executive job at a software company. I was in my mid thirties, a new mom with health issues, and experiencing a bit of an early mid-life crisis. I’ll cop to it: I started my photography business way too early in my artistic journey. I had a 24-70, a Canon Rebel, and some friends with kids who wanted photos. I had no idea what I was doing and no business charging them. But, at the time, photography suddenly became an escape route from the 9-5. Really, there was some desperation and it wasn’t the most auspicious beginning.

I picked up a lot of clients in those early days, as one tends to do when you’re undercharging and have no clue what you’re doing. However, it gave me a false sense of confidence to keep pushing forward and I started thinking that, if I could make a go of this photography business thing, then I could quit my day job, be a less stressed and more patient mother, and enjoy the kind of freedom I had always dreamed of. So I dug in and, in the process, was forced to start prioritizing pretty fast; there just were not enough hours in a day to add in learning photography and building a business while living life the same way I always had. Something(s) had to give.

Some of the somethings in the early days were TV time, my tidy house, and some of my early-morning gym routines. Since my business came to life, my tv time has probably decreased to virtually nothing. (This occasionally leaves me out of polite dinner party conversation but otherwise has had nothing but positive impacts throughout my life.) All of these things were exchanged for time in front of my computer screen taking classes, culling, managing websites, submitting images, shooting, or editing.

Then, when I finally took the big leap and quit my extremely well-paying job about 4 years ago, the financial things were next to go: massages or pedicures or clothes or really a lot of things that I used to “care” about but suddenly were shoveled to the bottom of the pile in importance. Vacations back home to England (or anywhere) were squashed. There just wasn’t room for everything anymore.

In the process, I basically flipped our family’s life upside down. Damn if it wasn’t the scariest and most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. I remember my first day of freedom clearly. A friend had had her first baby and I went to visit her. On the way home I realized for the first time in 15 years that I didn’t have to check an email or worry about someone else wondering where I was. I can’t describe how happy I felt in that moment. It was everything my wild heart and head had ever wanted.

However, in the coming years, I also lost my house, savings, financial security, and had to completely change my relationship to money. The revolution took a toll on my marriage, even as it gave me space to explore the previously dormant creative sides of me for the first time since I was a kid. I emerged a changed person, financially broken but spiritually the richest I have ever felt.

For all I sacrificed, I would never give up that time. I became a better, more patient, connected mother and human being. I got the time to explore who I was as an artist, to let go at night instead of switching gears to something else; time to work on my business exclusively, to understand what it takes to build a profitable photography business that had to pay real bills; and to battle with the often competing priorities of art vs. money. There were many times when I had to sacrifice artistic integrity for financial benefit. I was constantly conflicted between the two. Many photographers have the benefit of a second income in their family as they build their business and can be more discerning, however, my husband was also trying to survive as a small business owner during this time.

And then, in July of 2016, I took another full-time job, back in the industry I had left four years prior. If leaving the corporate world was the easiest professional decision I had ever made on the surface, then returning without the raging success I had envisioned as a photographer was the hardest. But sometimes you’ve just got to be practical.

In the world of paychecks and PTO, where I have sacrificed freedom, I have gained financial security and the ability to run my business in a way that is more in-line with my artistic integrity than my bank balance. I’m back to juggling again, although, in truth, I never really stopped; it’s just what I was juggling that changed. Now, I have a deeper artistic and technical skillset, and a greater appreciation for what life looks like on “the other side”.

In my time away from the corporate world, I became a Certified Moment Design Photographer, and I started a number of personal projects to help me explore creatively. Obviously, I joined Sham of the Perfect (best decision ever), but I also started and finished my first ever 365 Project, and began The Butterfly Project where I have extended the “Sham” concept to photographing women exactly as they are: strong, beautiful and imperfect.

In my four years working on my photography business and myself, I gained insight and skills that I have taken with me in my return. I’m better at re-connecting to family life at the end of the day, I know what kind of photography jobs I want to take on and am not wasting my limited time on anything else, plus I’m keeping my personal projects going so that I can continue to grow and stretch myself as an artist. My TV time is still virtually non-existent and my house is still messy, but now I can afford the odd pedicure without having a guilt hangover, which makes them even sweeter now.

It’s no mistake that the word I have used over-and-over again in this story is “sacrifice”, because, to me, that’s the answer to the opening question of how you do “it all”. First of all, you can’t. I learned that you have to define what “all” means. What are your priorities? What is your heart, your soul, your very being calling out to you to do, right now? What is the cost of that? Can you bear it? Are the people who love you and support you along for the ride? Write that stuff down, tape it to your mirror, and keep checking in with it. Are you staying true to those priorities and letting the rest go? Or are you beating yourself up needlessly for not doing things that really don’t matter to you at the end of the day? (Notice I said matter “to you”… you kinda gotta say screw it to what everyone else says matters. Unless, of course, pleasing them matters to you.)

For me, my #1 priority is my daughter. Time with her and being fully present in that time, is the most important and fulfilling thing for me. If that means the bed doesn’t get made or the dishes stay in the sink a bit longer, so be it. The great thing about your personal work being more documentary in nature is that you never have to sanitize your life to capture it. That’s HUGELY freeing. It also means that, if I need to put down the camera to participate vs. observe, then that’s what happens. She’s 7 now and so there are more opportunities to observe than when she was younger but she’s also quieter, less active, and more introspective than she was as a toddler. I use those times to capture that part of her and have let go of trying to capture ALL of the moments when we’re doing something together. Sometimes I’ll take my camera, sometimes I won’t. A lot of the time, I’ve found, even if I take it with me, I won’t use it because I’m busy being in the moment with her. In the past I would have let the pressure of comparison – seeing all the beautiful shots on Instagram or Facebook from other mom photographers – convince me that I needed to capture every cute moment or beautiful scene. Now I content myself with feeling them, being there in them, and committing them to memory. I’m sacrificing images for presence. I’m totally ok with that and there are a lot more decisions like that I make every day.

In short, I don’t juggle “it all”, I just try to make a conscious decision about which balls I’m going to drop. And some days I’m pretty lousy at it. It often ebbs and flows where I find myself putting almost all the balls down because I’m just so damn weary, slowly picking some back up until I throw my hands in the air and decide it’s time to hit the reset button again.

So, if there are things that you want to say “yes” to but you’re just not sure how to fit into your life, don’t just take your inner “no” for an answer. (It’s probably your fear talking anyway.) Maybe your life is already full of priorities or obstacles you can’t overcome to get to yes, or maybe there is that one thing you could let go of to give you just enough space to work it in. Maybe one of those things is photography. So take it one day at a time and keep checking in with that your priority list; nothing in life is static, view it as a process. Take on and let go of one thing at a time. Do what you can and let the rest go. It won’t ever be perfect but that exquisite tension is exactly what will keep you transforming your life and your art. At least, it has for me.

that you 

 

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Originally from London and hoping one day to return to a little flat in Chelsea, Michelle has been living in the U.S. now for half her life. World travel is her greatest passion next to photography but right now she's set root in suburbia with her husband and 7 year old daughter. When she's not behind the camera for personal projects or her business Memories by Michelle Photography, she writes about parenting and non-profits for local magazines, is a bit of a self-improvement junkie, loves to cook, and most of all enjoys exploring new places with her daughter.
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