Going Full Time Month 21

In November of 2018, I left my full time job to pursue photography full time. Every month since then I’ve blogged what I learned from the previous month. This is month 21.

You get to define success.

This is something I’ve heard over the last several years at various conferences and webinars, seminars and virtual meet ups. Whenever I heard this, without thinking, without blinking, I would define success.

Instantly I knew what my success looked like to me. It looked like [not her real name] Jane. Jane came into the photography industry around the same time I did but she was instantly popular. Jane booked over thirty weddings in her first year of business (something I still have never done). I saw Jane make an appearance on the blog of every photography giant I knew. Jane also had some rad style. She would sport a panama hat, or bold hoop earrings, or expensive ankle boots… often all three. Jane got invited to be on interviews, she started teaching workshops that sold out within minutes, she was everywhere. Jane was shooting the most extravagant weddings at the most beautiful venues and the first ever Q&A I signed on to watch, she had crashed the servers with the amount of people trying to log on to ask her questions.

That was success to me. A hundred thousand followers, $12,000 per wedding, ankle boots, and so much adoration that it crashed internet servers.

Over the years, many more “Jane’s” had popped up, latte in hand, sitting in front of an Apple laptop set against a Pinterest perfect office. A million podcast downloads in the first six months, Facebook groups of tens of thousands, even a few with features in The New York Times. And my definition of success hadn’t changed. It was still exactly that…money, followers, the biggest weddings, and Instagram ready hair to boot. The problem was, I didn’t have any of that. No matter how many times I put on sparkly lip gloss and posted to Social Media, I didn’t have a hundred thousand followers, I didn’t even own a pair of hoop earrings. There were so many things standing in my way of that life. From being a single mom, to having to hold down a full time job, to not having enough weddings to market to new brides. As the list went on, a new list started forming.

The adoration for these woman had also brought scrutiny over every written word, every Instagram post. Their massive Facebook group also brought constant fighting and discord among their members (Facebook, amirite?). Their demand brought a tight schedule with 4:30 wake up times. And as their audiences got bigger, they also started to get louder. One woman had her audience rain anger and disapproval on her after she had interviewed a man on her podcast who was later accused of sexual misconduct. I remember telling Raffi, “Can you imagine how that must seep into her real life? She can try to have a quiet night in with her husband and child, but that noise is going to be louder.” She had built a foundation that shakes every other part of her life anytime she does or says something her followers disapprove of. And the craziest part was, how was she really expected to keep a million people happy all at once?

One lazy July night, Raffi and I reminisced over the last three months. We shared a plate of cookies and remembered the first dozen or so masks we made. We remembered the first time an order came through our shop that wasn’t a mask. We remembered hitting 100 sales and celebrating by staying in. We remembered hitting 500 sales and celebrating by staying in. We remembered hitting a thousand sales and celebrating by… staying in… it’s a pandemic, people! We remembered coming up with our processes and systems and when we used to buy envelopes in packs of ten and now we buy them in packs of 500. And I thought, “I didn’t have to put on a single pair of ankle boots for any of it.”

Since April, we’ve picked up Click Bloom and built what has been the business of our dreams. Raffi and I have had the best time focusing on packaging and customer experience. I’ve loved being able to hit pause whenever I want to share a mid day bowl of ice cream with Kayden. It’s been so fun to dream up new products and see them make their way out into the world.
My definition of success now exists in two forms. No one can deny the Jane’s of the internet are successful. Making millions to thunderous applause while looking like a magazine cover still screams success in my mind, but over here there’s this other, more tailored definition involving no makeup on days that end in Y.

We aren’t all meant to have the same business. We aren’t all meant to have Jane’s business or Jane’s life. So before you define success, map out what you want your days to really look like, from morning to night, month to month, then start building a business that allows you to live those days.

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris