Have you slowed down long enough to see if you are just going through the motions?
Four years ago, our business was rolling. We had made our photography business into something special. We had optimized it to the point where Elizabeth and I had to work twenty five percent of what we used to have to work, while more than doubling our income and profits.
It was the dream scenario.
But something was missing. It was hard to put a finger on it, though. Photography had been a passion for two decades for me. I love business. So what exactly was going on? We were photographing weddings between fifteen and twenty times a year. The first sign of this awakening came discreetly. I noticed tension in my body many Fridays- right before the weddings Elizabeth and I would shoot. Saturdays were a whirlwind as we put maximum energy and effort into each client. But it was the only day of the week where I constantly looked at the clock to see how much time was left. I was useless every Sunday after each wedding.
But- as they say- it paid the bills. We had so much to be grateful for, I told myself. We had a level of time and financial freedom that so many others were chasing. So there was more than a twinge of guilt when I allowed myself to go down that mental path. The thing that paid those bills was the same thing that I was losing energy for by the week. It’s a difficult idea to acknowledge.
One Saturday night, I was finishing up a wedding after Elizabeth had went home to relieve the babysitter. It was late, and found myself mentally struggling to finish up the night. It was then that a drunk, loud and obnoxious young man fell into the DJ’s table and knocked it over. I went over to help the DJ when the intoxicated guest turned towards me.
“Take my picture, dude,” he yelled out in an aggressive way. I had dealt with drunk wedding guests on a regular basis, so I learned how to diffuse the situation. I continued to try to help when this guy turned his attention to harassing the DJ. I called the best man over to end the confrontation because I would do everything to not get the bride and groom involved.
The confrontation ended without incident, but I only had one thing on my mind as I drove home. I entered our bedroom and saw that Elizabeth was still awake. After the drive home, I was still irritated and I made a declaration.
“I am done photographing drunk people dancing at 10:30pm!” I stated. Essentially, I was making a statement that I wanted to kill the wedding photography business. A six figure business that was our primary income. I realized in the coming days that it wasn’t the drunk people dancing that made me make such a dramatic declaration. It was the acknowledgment that I had been going through the motions for the past two years in my work. I did everything I could to re-engage. I can honestly say that I gave it my best effort to care again. Elizabeth was amazing. She didn’t get mad. She didn’t get scared. She just asked one question.
“What are we going to do?” She asked.
I knew where my passion was moving. I knew I wanted to be in the world that I am right now. But the combination of not doing this work, as well as doing something that I was going through the motions on, set me on a direct negative path. The money didn’t seem to matter as it once did. For so long, the work was done because we needed the money. I rarely had time to think about what work would look like when it wasn’t based on the money.
It’s in those quiet moments when life hands us lessons. And doing work that I wasn’t passionate about slowly blended into doing work where I was going through the motions. Going through the motions, it turned out, was an excruciating way to approach work. Work, in it’s highest form, invigorates us. It has us excited to create, to help, to grow. My idea for work does not involve looking at a clock to see how much time is left but eventually looking at the clock and wondering where the time went.
Maybe one of the upsides of this global reset going on is that it affords you the time to slow down, reassess and evaluate why you are doing what you are doing. Life is too short to spend our time going through the motions. And if that means leaving something profitable because you feel it taking your soul, then now might be the time to start planting the seeds to grow the thing that will keep you energized, engaged and purposeful.
In other words, that thing that you always wanted to do, but have been too busy working to actually do it.