Wading through the challenges of 2020 has really stirred up my need to solidify the values at the centre of my business and the boundaries that guard its perimeters (and protect me within it). Burnout seemed to lurk around every corner, with little progress or profit to show for that energy, now lost. Here is what I learned as a business owner because of this pandemic:
1. To create and communicating my boundaries.
I decided to start with the biggest, most important lesson which is all about my boundaries. A pandemic, apparently, makes one acutely aware of the dangers of being in close contact with others. I will sheepishly admit that I allowed myself to enter into situations in which I did not feel safe. And well, you may believe that I’m overreacting, that photography couldn’t possibly be that dangerous because I, as the photographer, can stay far away and wear a mask, but I have been in situations where I’ve come home and it hit me how scary it would be to be notified that there was a Covid positive person in that group of maskless people I was just surrounded by. Worst yet, me and my hypochondriac ass start to experience phantom symptoms as soon as I think about them, and then I think of having to call and notify that group of maskless people, some of which are immunocompromised, that I myself have a positive Covid result. And I spiral for a little.
This is what I want to avoid; unknowingly passing on a deadly virus to clients. It is what I have to consider now before replying to your inquiry and completing your booking. Dear ones, I would love to photograph you and your favourite humans, but if I believe that that cannot be done safely (and regardless of janky government restrictions that don’t make sense unless you think of them as an attempt from irresponsible officials trying to make a bid for reelection) I will not be capturing your beautiful faces. And if you decide to skirt those boundaries, by, for example, inviting more people than is recommended or safe, or not wearing a mask when you aren’t in front of the camera, or in general just flaunting a disregard for the seriousness of a deadly virus, for the sake of my other clients, my friends and family, and my damn self, I will kindly refrain from completing our business together.
2. To recognize the difference between unsafe (see above) and uncomfortable.
Discomfort is a whole lot different than safety concerns. North America seemed to erupt with discussion about racial equity and anti-racist work this past year, with protests that reached our little city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. And yes, those of us with white privilege that would otherwise shield us from the discomfort of facing the very real problems of systemic racism and oppression that our countries were founded on, may have quickly become exhausted or fatigued with the onslaught of emotional labour we now realized we should have been doing this entire time.
I’m talking about me. I was quickly exhausted and fatigued, which in turn made me instinctively want to set some “healthy” boundaries to “take care of myself” until I also realized that this instinct was bullshit and that I need to face the discomfort of learning, being held accountable, striving for equity and justice and being okay with the (loving) correction that comes with messing things up because there is not one chance in hell I’m going to get it “right” on the first try. And so I’ve been learning to keep trying, to face the discomfort of not understanding and of getting it wrong because, in the end, the point here isn’t at all about my own comfort or even about me in the slightest.
3. That my people are out there.
On a less serious and more cliche note, this year I discovered, and I truly believe, that my people are out there. Humans who will gush over the stained glass I created because they love their furbabies just as much as I love my own. Humans who think my photographs are stunning and they actually want to pay me for that art and work, without a second thought given to asking about discounted rates. Humans that support and trust me and allow me into their stories for brief moments. Humans that are my kind of clients, and I’m even starting to find them (or they are finding me)!
This is exciting but it hasn’t been easy. One of the keys to finding my people, I discovered, is vulnerability. Putting yourself, your art, your passions out there is terrifying because you don’t know how others will react, if they’ll even care, if you’ll lose some of those hardwon followers under your tiny corner of influence. But here is the thing; your people will stick around through it all. And showing the world who you really are, warts and all is the only way your people will ever truly find you.
4. That I really do love my craft(s).
Art (along with my little zoo of pets) has kept me sane. I’m happiest when I’m creating. Give me something to design. Let me shadow you and capture your story on camera. Give me a pen and paper (or laptop) and some time to work out my thoughts with ALL OF THE words. Let me break some beautiful glass to put together an even more beautiful piece of stained glass art.
Creating reconnects me to my body. The process of visualizing an idea and bringing it to be in the physical world is some sort of healing magic. When I’m cutting and grinding and soldering glass, I escape my anxieties for a brief time. When I’m behind the camera I gain confidence and surety. When I mine my mind for words to articulate my experience, my spirit becomes just a little freer.
What have you learned over the past year? Leave your response in the comments because we all need to hear about that healing these days!