A Year Later // reflections of a rookie entrepreneur.

A year ago, after several months of freelancing, a few weeks of pro/con lists and indecisive pondering, and a somewhat ceremonial purchase of a $20 Moleskine notebook, I decided to make it a thing. I decided to start my own company and go out on my own. The past year has been challenging, stressful at times, but overall a really positive experience. It's been everything I expected, and it's just as good of a fit for me as I suspected. Following suit, everything I learned is everything I expected to learn, or at the very least, nothing shocked me.

from "The Man in the Arena" speech by Teddy Roosevelt.

from "The Man in the Arena" speech by Teddy Roosevelt.

SHOWING UP AND BEING SEEN (and the ass-kicking that sometimes follows)
"...not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles..." One of the most important things I learned was that entrepreneurship is absolutely vulnerable. I had an experience where a client was not satisfied with the work I produced, but wouldn't communicate that to me until it was too late. The first time the client mentioned this, I was shocked, and honestly, bordering on irate. I took a step back and recognized that this client knew my expectations, my process and what they could expect because I outlined it in the contract they signed. On the other hand, I knew that the work I submitted didn't reflect the typical quality that I usually present to my clients. Here I was, my face marred by dust and maybe a little blood because I stepped into the arena, and I got my ass kicked. From the day I started this, I knew I would have to be courageous, and I knew I would eventually fail. This client, even though they chose the cheap seats, showed me that I can get back up, and go back out into the arena. The experience showed me that I'm not afraid to fail and that I can recover. To stand up and go back out there after failing only gives me courage to keep going.

With running your own company comes a strong sense of personal responsibility and the understanding of what is yours to take responsibility for, and what is not yours. If you take it personally every time a client or customer is unsatisfied, or a potential client chooses someone else, or assess that situation as though it was all because of something you did, you're going to burn out very quickly. It's one thing to look for places where you could improve your approach, but if we own everything as though it's our responsibility, we will end up taking responsibility for things that we can't control. This unnecessarily sets us up for failure and misdirects our focus onto things we can't control. It's wasted energy. You can't successfully run a business that way. That is why setting boundaries with your clients is important. It's your responsibility to lay out your expectations in a way that your client can understand them. It's their responsibility to understand those expectations. Not being afraid to hold your clients accountable and not being afraid to be held accountable is key to healthy client relationships, and as a result, running a business.

I've always hated the phrase, "Fake it till you make it." I'm not really a fan of faking anything. One thing I learned in the past year is a variation on faking it till you make it. A lot of people aren't 100% sure what they're doing when they first start their own company, and no matter how much training or education you have, there is always a certain amount of swimming that you have to learn by jumping in the pool. I don't necessarily know a lot about running a company, but I have those things about myself as a creative professional that I am confident in. Instead of faking that confidence, I learned to embellish till I make it. It's kind of like when you come across a mountain lion on a trail, you're taller than the mountain lion, but warding them off is about making yourself appear bigger than you actually are by making loud noises and extending your arms out and moving them around your body. I learned to take what confidence I have and make it appear bigger and louder than it actually is. Over the past year, I've grown into that confidence, and it's just going to keep getting bigger.

These are the most important things I've learned since I decided to go out on my own. They're things I've always kind of known but not so much the way I do now. I haven't regretted my decision one bit, especially because it's something I've known I have wanted to do for 5 years now. Year one is in the books. I hope you join me for year two.

Three Common Misconceptions About Copyright

At the end of the day, an image is a product, much like a cup of coffee or a magazine, and just because it's in a digital format doesn't mean it should be free. When you see a price tag on an image, whether it be Getty Images or a local wedding photographer, you're looking at an amount that contributes to someone's livelihood. Using images without paying for them takes a living away from someone, and in a sense is expecting them to work for free.

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Entrepreneurship and Stepping Into the Arena

Brené Brown talks a lot about the Man in the Arena speech. Entrepreneurship requires vulnerability, it requires us to, as Brené puts it, show up and be seen. It requires us to be humble enough to not armor up against our critics, but to reserve them a seat in the arena. Entrepreneurship requires us to accept that the only thing that is certain is that if we choose vulnerability, we will get our ass kicked. So, here's to whatever this becomes. To mistakes and failure, to learning, to deadlines and all-nighters, to face-down moments and vulnerability that yields connection and creativity, to showing up and being seen, to being the woman in the arena.

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The Tweak: What Kentucky's 2014 Basketball Team Can Teach Us About Problem Solving

"Play for the name on the front of the jersey, and the world will know
the name on the back." —Coach John Calipari

The 2013–2014 basketball season was looking grim for the Kentucky Wildcats. They'd suffered some hard losses, including home losses to Florida and Arkansas, and a disheartening defeat at South Carolina after Coach John Calipari was ejected from the game. Despite being loaded with talent, Kentucky was not playing the elite level basketball the program is famous for. Just before the SEC Tournament, John Calipari made the now-famous "tweak." While it seemed like a change to Andrew Harrison's game, the tweak was also about what he did for his teammates. Coach Cal told Harrison that he was going to pass instead of shoot, and create plays for his teammates. Instead of being the hero taking the shot, he was setting someone else up for success. Essentially, Andrew Harrison changed the way he related with his teammates on the court. This changed the whole dynamic of the team, and landed them in the final game of the tournament, contending for Kentucky's 9th national title.

When it comes to our work lives, the common mistake many teams make is relationally compartmentalizing tasks, workloads, departments, etc. Then when problems arise, we tend to focus on the immediate nature of the problem, i.e., the things that aren't working, and who is able to fix it. We forget that every problem we face has a relational component because we are relational beings. Sometimes, this compartmentalization leads us to focus on the wrong facet of the problem. John Calipari wasn't just wondering why his team couldn't win, or seeing it from an exclusively strategic standpoint. He saw it from a humanistic perspective as well, whether he knew it or not. The tweak made Andrew Harrison a more selfless player by getting him to engage his teammates and create plays. When he did this, they were cohesive,  and they enjoyed playing together even more. They weren't just a better team, they were nearly unstoppable.

When your team hits a snag, or just isn't able to go full steam ahead, and you can't figure out why, start by considering the relational component to the challenge at hand. Talk with your colleagues and get feedback. Show your colleagues that they're valued by including them in the discussion, and explore how you can use your existing relationships to devise solutions. Maybe someone is taking on too much work. Maybe someone needs to work differently, but doesn't feel comfortable asking for what they need. Cultivate trust by listening to what they have to say, and empathizing with where they are coming from. Work together to find solutions by shifting the focus more to the relational instead of the practical.

Every successful collaboration I've been a part of had genuine chemistry. We enjoyed working together and being together. Outside of our work, we were friends. The key to our success was how we invested in each other as people, and the fact that we were playing for the "name on the front of the jersey," working for the goal of the project. Because the foundation — our relationships with each other — were solid, we were able to embrace bumps in the road with relative ease, and deliver a successful product. The foundation of what makes the work successful is our relationships with one another.

It is paramount to the success of the project that we take the time to both build the foundation of relationship and nurture it. When Calipari's 2014 team made the tweak, they almost immediately began firing on all cylinders. They gelled, and working as a cohesive unit, they became one of the most formidable teams on the bracket. Next time things are feeling off, don't ignore the obvious challenges, but instead of just addressing the challenge, look at how to eliminate that as a future factor by making a tweak. A few relational changes can go a long way, and even determine the success of the project.

Happy March Madness!

Let's Talk: Mental Health and the Workplace

Mental illness is a scary topic for a lot of people to talk about, and one that many people aren't familiar with. It's likely that you know more than one person who lives with a chronic mental disorder, or has coped with it in the past. If you don't work alone, it's likely you work with someone who does. The way we address mental illness in the American workplace is costly. Between disability leave, presenteeism, and the toll on one's health from suffering in silence, the cost of avoiding this issue is high and heavy. We spend a large portion of our waking lives at work. For the sake of our friends, family and colleagues, let's talk about mental illness in the workplace.

In the midst of the changing American work culture, it's important that we look at a few of the problems with how we approach the topic of mental illness. One of the most frequent problems I read about and hear about is a lack of compassion for those who suffer. Many times this comes from not knowing how to handle the situation, and the simple fact that entering into someone else's pain demands a certain level of vulnerability, and is, therefore, scary. In place of compassion, those suffering are offered blame and shame, and careless words (things like, "Suck it up!" and "You're not the only one stressed out around here!"). After dealing with this day in and day out for extended periods of time, many people quit. At best, their ability to do their job suffers greatly (presenteeism). We can't ignore, dismiss, or minimize the problem, or reprimand those suffering and then be shocked when their performance suffers, or when they quit without notice.

Our hesitancy to address mental illness is understandable. For managers, talking about it with subordinates is risky. One wrong word can invite a discrimination lawsuit. The financial burden placed on companies by employees coping with a mental disorder is a large one. More people miss work for mental health issues than any other physical condition (cancer, heart disease) which costs employers $80B–$100B annually in lost productivity. Further, mental illness accounts for 30% of disability costs, and that number is rising. In the interest of sustainability, these numbers should motivate company leaders to ensure that their workplace is a safe place for people who live with mental illness. Most importantly, the toll that this takes on our friends and colleagues cannot be justified, and many times, only makes the weight of suffering heavier.

In the AMC hit, Mad Men, Don Draper once said, "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation." This is the first step in transforming our companies into ones that help, rather than hurt, those who live with and suffer from mental health problems. Employers can start by listening to employees who are coping and being sensitive to their needs, empathizing as much as possible. In doing this, we build relationships that are conducive to a healthy work environment, and offer support to those who need it. Another way you can support your employees is arranging a way for them to work from home in the event that their condition doesn't allow them to leave home (anxiety disorders, crippling depression, just to name a few). If your company doesn't have a mental health initiative to educate and raise awareness about mental health, get one started. Education combined with support for workers is a powerful combination that is good for the workplace and worker alike.

For employees, it is important for workers to be aware that mental illness is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When it comes to talking with your boss, it may be comforting to know that the ADA is on your side. Know that it's okay to speak out. If you don't know if you can talk to your boss about it, finding a trusted co-worker can be like finding an ally in war zone. If you're not ready to talk about it, explore what your company offers for support. Many companies have an employee assistance plan (EAP) that is designed to offer confidential support for anything you may be coping with that affects your work. Lastly, one of the best options available is seeking counseling from a trained mental health professional. The stress of trying to hold down a job and slog through the burden of mental illness is overwhelming at times. The healthier you are mentally, the better off you will be both in and out of the office. It's okay to make your mental health your top priority.

For as many people suffer from mental illness, this is a pressing issue that everyone can play a role in resolving. Through education, advocacy and compassion, we can start to lift the burden from workers who suffer on the clock. If the office can't always be a refuge, it should, at the very least, be a safe place to suffer. Let's start the conversation.

Works Cited:
Pyrillis, Rita. "A Monumental Problem." Mental Health Issues Have Become a Monumental Problem in the Workforce. Workforce, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Sept. 2015.

This post was originally written for Test of Time Design.

The Distinguishing Trait That Separates the Amateurs from the Pros

Creative professionals are great people to mingle with. They are really laid back, funny, and they often take a genuine interest in other people. However, I have had a few encounters that haven’t been nearly as pleasant. For so long, I struggled to identify what about these interactions was so uncomfortable. All I knew was that there was something that came off as amateur masquerading as professional. Something just felt insincere about these interactions.

There are endless ways to draw the line between a professional and an amateur. Some define it as whether or not a person makes a living at it. Is it their full time gig? If it’s just a hobby, some may say that they are an amateur. A few of the photography forums I’ve visited talk a lot about gear. Does a person use the camera strap that came with their camera? Do they use L-Series lenses exclusively? How many camera bodies do they have? I would argue that one can own everything that Canon (or Nikon) has ever made and have a closet full of non-kit camera straps, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use any of it. It doesn’t make one a professional. While there may be valid angles on all of these definitions, I think it comes down to something that isn’t as thoroughly discussed, especially not on the internet: humility.

In all of my interactions with other creatives, the people who are convincing bearers of the “professional” label are those who are humble. They don’t feel threatened by others in the industry, and it shows in the way they carry themselves. You can feel it in their handshake, you can hear it in their voice. From them, a quiet confidence radiates that differentiates them from an amateur. You don’t have to think about it; you just know.

Professionals have confidence in their abilities, without being quick to brag about how good they are. They promote their work by showing it, and don’t use their work to put forth an image of how they want to be perceived as individuals (e.g. frequently using circumstances in one’s life as an opportunity to say, “Look at me, I am a _____). A profession is not a status symbol. Their time is spent on identifying weaknesses, and educating themselves on how to refine their craft. A professional is all about the work, and learning to do it better.

The definition of professional or amateur isn’t a matter of “are” or “aren’t.” It’s how you present yourself to your field. When attending conferences and little events in my community, the people I take seriously as professionals are the people who are friendly and genuine, but more than anything, humble. Next time you’re out in the community or at an industry event, seek out humility and ask yourself, “Who here would I want to hire, work with, or work for?” At the end of the day, you're probably looking for a pro.

This post was originally written for Test of Time Design.

The image shown in the thumbnail is some of my amateur work. I thought very highly of this photo, and many others I took. If any were good, they were good by chance. I thought everything I did was brilliant, but I had no idea how to shoot manually, I didn't understand anything about light, focus, exposure, or how to handle photos through the post-production process. We have to start somewhere.

Wedded Bliss // Bethany & Derek (Sneak Peek)

It seems like I end up in Minnesota several times a year. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of joining Bethany and Derek on their wedding day. I have known Bethany for about 9 years, so when she asked me to shoot her wedding, it was easy to say yes. It was an exciting day, with perfect weather in a beautiful place!

In Creative Rut? Hit the Road, Jack.

You know when you're in a rut and you feel like you've hit the bottom of the bucket without a single good idea? Or maybe you feel like you're starting at the bottom of the bucket? It's so frustrating feeling that stuck, especially when you're under a looming deadline. You may think that your ticket out is in nowhere to be found, but the truth is, it's in your head. And potentially in your gas tank.

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Choosing Your Words Wisely

I am currently working on a website for a church. I'm in the process of writing copy that informs potential visitors of what a service is like at this church. In the process of describing each service, I was reminded of an uncomfortable situation in which I found myself in awhile back.

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