Small Success, Big Fulfillment

Coach Taylor said it best: “Success is not a goal. It’s a by-product.”

He was, of course, paraphrasing Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words on happiness, but for a small business owner, success and happiness may be one and the same. Personally, I’d call it “fulfillment.”

For me, success is a feeling. I may look at someone else’s nice home, big income, or killer wardrobe and think, “Wow, they’re successful.” But I know that my life could mirror theirs, fancy-for-fancy, and I’d still be scrambling to catch up because I wouldn’t feel fulfilled.

2013 brought me several beautiful moments of success — perhaps not successes by anyone else’s standards, but successes nonetheless, because I knew I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. In honor of the new year, these are my top five most fulfilling moments of 2013, the experiences that made me feel truly, irrevocably successful in life, love, and work.

5. I didn’t get a tattoo. Silly, I know.  I entered my 30’s CERTAIN I was finally ready to get my tattoo. But as the past couple of years inched by, I’ve struggled with finding the right artist, choosing exactly where my tattoo would go, and finalizing precisely what it would say or be. One day, in my car, I heard a beautiful NPR piece discussing our tendency to underestimate how much we change as we grow older. According to the study, any given age we tend to believe we’ve finally become who we will be (more or less) for the rest of our lives. But the truth is, we change constantly throughout our lives. Ask a person how different they are from the person they were ten years ago, and regardless of their current age, they will invariable say, “I’m a completely different person now!” Finally accepting that I’m still changing allowed me to just drop the whole tattoo thing — for now. In the meantime, I’ll be pinning them on Pinterest.

4. I fell in love with photographing families. When I finished photo school, the first thing I did was burn the family portrait I’d been required to include in my portfolio — that’s how utterly atrocious it was. (Honestly, I wish I still had it just so I could show you. You would probably vomit.) But this year, as the Christmas cards started rolling in with photos of the beautiful families I’ve photographed throughout the year, I realized: I LOVE to photograph families, and I’m finally, at last, pretty okay at it.  I’m so thankful to the hundreds of families who have allowed me to learn from them over the years.  I never knew I could love wrangling toddlers and exhausted parents — but I do!

3. I outsourced 80% of my editing. This was my 2013 New Year’s resolution, and I’m proud to say I stuck to it. I brought my co-tographer Erin Schopf in to edit for me, and her hard work every week has kept me on track, improved my finished product, and given me more time to do what I love: make pictures!

2. I stayed married. In 2014 I will celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary with my husband. If you’re married, you know that every year you are married is a year that you fought for. Some years are blissfully smooth and easy, and some years are so damn hard you really do wonder how you’ll ever make it. Thankfully, 2013 was one of the smooth years for Dan and me, but we’ve had other years that were incredibly challenging. I am immensely thankful for his unwavering commitment to us as a team, and his constant, active love for me. I’m sure we could survive without one another, but I honestly wouldn’t want to.

1. I followed my gut. I’ve never been scared of confrontation, per se, but I don’t seek it out either. So I’m not sure what I thought would happen when I decided it was a good idea to post, live on the internet, a letter I’d written about something I believed so strongly, it simply couldn’t go unsaid. The chaos that followed felt unravelling at times, but I know so much more now than I did before about myself, my industry, and the world around me. Most importantly, I am convinced ever more deeply in my soul that we are all in this together.  In the aftermath, I spoke with two people whose business prowess, creative agility, and social understanding I have tremendous respect for.  I asked if they had just one piece of advice they would mind sharing with my frazzled, overwhelmed, caught-offguard self.  After a thoughtful moment, they responded in sync, “Follow your gut.”  As life takes me down new paths and I find myself in unfamiliar places again and again, that simple wisdom remains the most valuable.

As I hit restart and begin fresh with a brand new year ahead of me, I reject success as a goal, and instead strive for greater compassion, renewed creativity, and strengthened friendships. This may not result in more money or more things, but I do not doubt the resulting fulfillment. And that?  Right there?  That’s success.  2014 is going to be a year rich with success; it is already a year big on fulfillment.

Happy New Year!

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