“When does Jenna feel like the healthiest version of herself?” As the question filled the room, my first reaction was to push back - to dub this appointment a mistake and walk out the door. The reason why: I hadn’t thought for a second in the last five years how and when I feel healthiest. I simply saw a goal and pushed through, whatever it took, to achieve it.
If you’re familiar with the Enneagram test, I’m a type 3. And if you’re unfamiliar, a type 3 is the classic achiever: the type of person who sees what it takes to achieve what they want and goes for it, sometimes neglecting other important areas of life to get there. They hustle hard, often to the detriment of themselves and others if they aren’t careful.
This is where I found myself at the end of last year. Hustling hard in my business, and burning out as a result. I’m a people-pleaser and a “yes” girl at heart, simply desiring to make others happy, with a desire for affirmation. So somehow, throughout the years, I allowed my schedule and my life to be dictated by everyone but me: I found myself bitter towards others for decisions I alone had the power to make, and that’s when I knew I was in a dangerous place. I knew it was really dangerous when I “suddenly” wanted to quit. But really, it wasn’t so sudden. I had been doing this to myself for years, and it had finally caught up with me.
So, I asked myself the same question my therapist asked me: when do I feel like the healthiest version of myself? And what will it take to get there?
The biggest word that stood out to me - the constant theme that kept popping up as I began to seek answers and healing was this word: boundaries.
If you’re anything like me before I actually set up some good, solid boundaries, you’re probably thinking: I’ve heard this all before! I know I need to set up boundaries. But then you just… don’t. You know you need to, but you keep moving at the pace you’re currently moving at, because, well – something about it feels good. It feels validating, even. That’s what busyness does – it falsely validates achievement and success until busyness becomes our idol. For example, in the wedding photography industry, we love to talk about how many weddings we have booked. It feels good to hear that number and for it to be the highest in the room or in the Facebook group – until you’re actually grinding through all of those weddings, and they aren’t fun anymore. They’re just work.
And really, that’s the LAST thing I ever want my work to become: just work. I started photographing weddings, seniors, and families because it’s my passion. I feel alive and like I was doing what I was created to do when I’m loving and encouraging people with a camera in my hand. But the biggest thing that has the power to destroy my passion is my pursuit of busy.
When I realized that, I knew immediately that something needed to be done. But what? Lucky for me, I had a few months of an “off” season from weddings with light work (January through March) to really think things through. What boundaries would I need to set up to make sure I stayed passionate? Or, as a friend of mine likes to say: what was my “long game” going to be? If I focused on the short term – booking the maximum amount of weddings and shoots I could for the year – I would inevitably burn out. But if I focused on my long game – what would allow me to do what I love (and keep loving it!) for the longest amount of time I possibly could – I could continue to love and serve my clients in the way I desired to, without growing any bitterness in my heart.
I decided to set up the boundaries listed below. But before you read through these, let me preface this list by saying that I know that everyone is different. What works for me might not work for you, and what works for you might not work for me. You might be able to do more and still remain passionate – but for me, these changes helped me avoid burnout and while remaining passionate:
I took at least one FULL day off per week – mandatory! For me, that meant no shoots, no email, no meetings or phone calls, and no editing. Typically, my day off fell on Sunday.
No answering emails on the weekend (and I put up an away message to make sure I stuck to it and had NO excuses!).
No answering emails past 5PM, unless I designated the evening a “work” evening (i.e., if I started my work day a little later).
I took only one wedding per weekend. Period.
No sessions the evening before or morning after a wedding.
I limited the number of sessions I took, especially during wedding weeks. My goal was one to two shoots on the weeks where I had a wedding scheduled (this one was harder to stick to during my busiest months, but was much better than last year!).
I set up a calendar for people to schedule their sessions from dates I picked out in advance, rather than having a free-for-all when it came to booking.
In addition to a booking calendar, I invested in a management software called Pixifi, where I can manage clients, invoices, contracts, proposals, workflows, automation and questionnaires – all in one place! I really believe that this is the best piece of software I’ve ever invested in - it’s been like having a virtual online assistant for super cheap! If you’re interested in checking it out, click here!
I limited my social media usage. Because, let’s be honest – social media is a breeding ground for comparison! I started using apps like Hootsuite and Grum to schedule my content so that it would automatically post, instead of me having to log into the app every time I needed to post!
And here is how these specific boundaries impacted my year:
I was able to enjoy my job SO MUCH MORE! There were still periods of time where I felt overwhelmed, but overall, I feel like my workload was much more manageable!
I was able to give each client my full attention at their session, instead of worrying about how much work (or editing) I still had to do.
I was able to pour more into my relationship with my husband. Instead of constantly working, day and night, we were able to enjoy more time together and continue to build our relationship!
I picked up a couple of hobbies and made time for them! I know it sounds crazy, but for one of the first times in my LIFE I felt like I could take the time to enjoy things that I wanted to do for myself, and not just things I needed to do to get the job done. A few mentionable include: writing, knitting, baking, and reading! (Just call me Grandma Jenna!) And I’m hoping that list keeps expanding!
I was able to invest into other areas of my business. I found something else that’s fun for me – photographing stock imagery! It’s something that I can do on the side of my full time business, but without any pressure!
I ended 2018 in a MUCH better place mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually than I ended 2017. I feel like I have more clarity, stability, and grit than ever before! (But still with a long way to go and lots to improve!)
And the real kicker: I set up these boundaries thinking that it would mean taking a pay cut – and I was truly okay with that. But, surprisingly, the opposite happened – I actually made 25% MORE this year than last year!
My question for you is the same one that was asked of me at the end of 2017: When do you feel like the healthiest version of yourself? And what boundaries do you need to put in place to make sure you get there? Are you playing the short game, or the long game?
If you’re in the same boat that I was (and that I sometimes still have one foot in! ;) ), know that you aren’t alone. Don’t allow yourself to go through another year – or, heck, another week without sitting down and putting even one small boundary in place to work towards the healthiest version of yourself. Make 2019 your year. I’m rooting for you!