It happens to all of us at some point or another. The best intentions are laid. We carry them out to the best of our ability. Yet still, somehow, things don’t work out quite as we planned. Maybe our calculations were wrong, maybe we didn’t really give it our all, or maybe the timing just wasn’t right.
Regardless of why, we all deal with failure at some point or another. For those of us who strive to always do our best in any given situation, the disappointment that comes with failure can be devastating. In fact, many individuals in creative or entrepreneurial fields give up on their dreams after their first taste of failure to venture back to the illusion of the safer road more traveled.
My first business was a complete failure. To outsiders, it looked like I was building a happy and successful career but, what I was actually doing was quite the opposite. My first true venture into the world of entrepreneurship was my wedding planning business. I started by helping out and shadowing other wedding planners and volunteering to work at charity galas. I quickly discovered that I had a knack for planning and decided to open a business. I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur but I didn’t always know how to get there.
My event planning business took off quickly and quite successfully. I was booking weddings left and right. I even found myself turning weddings down occasionally because I was already booked on certain dates. I added on photography services and started getting more work than ever. I dropped out of school to focus more on my business and I sold my first car to purchase a better camera. I was making gambles left and right. For the first time, the always careful, over-analyzing, type A person that I normally am was nowhere to be found. I was now someone who had money in the bank, which at the time to me meant that I had a bright future.
The brightness didn’t last long because my flame fizzled out almost as fast as it was lit. At first I felt pride in calling myself a workaholic but a few years later, I felt constantly exhausted and creatively unfulfilled. I was burnt out completely and feeling trapped in a career that I no longer loved. First, I tried cutting out event planning to focus on wedding photography to see if that would help. For awhile things got better but, quickly I found myself with those same feelings of entrapment, exhaustion, and confusion of how something that use to be so great ended up making me feel so horrible. I felt like my once over-flowing cup was now completely empty. Then my grandfather died.
His death was slow and I was there daily to watch it happen. There were times I thought he might get better but ultimately, I was wrong. His sickness forced me to slow down for the first time in my life and focus on what was most important to me. For the almost six months that he was sick, I saw him every single day minus the day of my cousin’s engagement in North Carolina. We would talk about politics, life, creativity, art, and business. We would read the paper together and play Sudoku. He watched golf while I answered emails. I took on a lot less work to soak up every last minute I could with him. For the first time since I started my career, I finally put it second.
After he was gone I was left with a hole in my heart and a massive amount of spare time. Even before he was sick I spent most Sundays at his house and I now had to find a way to use that time productively as well. I sat down with a clear head and asked myself the following questions:
- What do you enjoy spending your time doing?
- If money were no object, what would you do?
- When do you feel most fulfilled?
- What makes you happy?
The honest answers were and still are:
- Being creative and spending time with loved ones.
- Helping others.
- When I have successfully helped others and when people genuinely love my art.
- Travel, reading, creating, and helping.
Because I had fallen out of love with weddings, I could no longer find the creativity in it. I longed to shoot more social justice projects, creative portraits, and travel images but I never had the time to focus on them. I hated giving up my weekends to work. Although many entrepreneurs work on weekends, working a wedding is much different than taking a Saturday meeting or answering emails for a few hours on a Sunday. I was often missing important family events and I missed spending time with friends. Worst of all, I no longer felt like I was helpful because I felt like I wasn’t finding the creativity in my career anymore. My cup was bone dry.
Don’t misunderstand me. There are clearly many wedding professionals out there in photography and other fields that are making a huge difference in this world. They are delivering images that people will cherish for the rest of their lives. They are making families feel at ease during a stressful time. They are capturing time and gifting it to others. Their cups are so full that they are filling up other cups and handing them out to those in need. I just knew that this was no longer what I wanted to do.
This led me to pull out my camera and focus on a subject that brings joy to my face. Creative portraits. I started thinking less about booking my next gig and more about why I want to work behind a camera. Feeling better about what I was doing led to my work getting better which led to more gigs. I spent time working on Equal and Forever, which makes me feel fulfilled because I am helping others. This led to more views, more user engagement, and more vendors joining our program. Last but not least, I realized that other entrepreneurs and those who are considering entrepreneurship were often asking me to sit down for coffee or tea so they could ask me about owning a small business. This led to me using my knowledge on both success and failure to consult other businesses in branding, social media, and entrepreneurship.
The truth is, without failure, I would never have known which questions to ask myself in order to get to where I am now. Finally, my career answers all of those questions. Finally I feel like I am helping others, being pushed creatively, and still having the time to spend with my loved ones. Because of where my career has been in the past, I know how much to appreciate where I am now. I know to be thankful for every opportunity and to shower gratitude on every moment that has led to this one. I feel balanced, I feel fulfilled; I feel happy. And I have failure to thank for all of that.
My cup has never felt more full.