Five Years Later

I am currently celebrating five years of running L J Zuber Photography. Two and a half of those years I ran the business part-time while being a web-developer and marketing manager, the other two and a half years it was pursued full-time. Over a hundred weddings and over a hundred different varieties of shoots has built my portfolio and while I’d like to share how humbled I am by being fortunate enough to work for myself and how much I adore my business, I also want to share that not everything is rosy in life, no matter what social media can represent.

My business has been the making and breaking of me. I have flourished and thrived in my passion, while the stress has also brought on an illness I never anticipated. However, through each and every stage of building this business, I have learnt and grown.

Recovered doesn’t exist – that means that there’s a complete end – like I am doing well now and therefore I will always be fine. While I wish that was true, mental illness will inevitably involve relapses. It isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t shameful and doesn’t mean I’ll return to my old ways. Struggling with anorexia isn’t synonymous with restricting. I now know getting over it and fixing myself sets me up for perfection once again and it doesn’t mean I have to live in fear of relapse, I know I have power over it and it no longer controls me, I am not responsible for fixing everything.

It’s difficult for me who likes structure and organisation but it makes it easier to work and be creative when I have everything else in order. I can use both my left and right sides of my brain, which is often why I feel conflicting thoughts but is helpful to enable myself to be methodical and creative.

Through years of building this business, I have released myself from attachment to outcomes. We all become far too focused on achievements and expectations in the modern world. Put your faith in spirit and allow yourself to release assumptions on how your life should be. Learn to trust that the universe has your best interests at heart and cherish what you have rather than longing for what you feel you deserve. I constantly compared myself to others, felt that I had a tick-list of achievements in order to be deemed successful, the biggest learning curve in my five years of business has been to let go of that and make myself proud, my own happiness will ultimately shine through in my work and therefore (hopefully) make my clients happy and satisfied too.

So far in my life I have been about ten different versions of myself. Each chapter and stage of your life will require a different kind of you and it’s important to not compare and reflect wishfully on who you have been previously. Take you as you are now. Just as places change, so will you and that’s great and scary. How do you ensure that the decisions you make now are not ones that future you will come to regret and how do you make sure the essence of you stays the same? Tune into your soul and not the shell that adapts, stick by your morals of honesty, integrity, kindness and light and as long as you hold that dear, your essential morals will always be with you, no matter what. I hope to have always reflected my personality through my work, I have endeavoured to be a person and not a business.

Before I tried to make a living from being a photographer, I wanted to wait until I was perfect. But I knew that any shoot I did wasn’t going to be perfect, so I kept waiting until I felt more confident about getting it right first time. I worked full-time in marketing and web development but every Sunday I would dread the start of another week. I looked enviously at other people who were making their living from their cameras. I would return to my day job, feeling stuck and miserable again.

I came across an insight: ‘confidence comes from doing’. I realised that it was pointless waiting to feel confident before I made my dream a reality – I would never feel ready.

Like most things, photography isn’t a talent you’re born with, but a skill you work at. I practiced. I created a lot of portraits that weren’t very good. I did free shoots, then cheap shoots, then properly paid shoots. My ratio of good shots steadily increased. I don’t obsess about perfection anymore, instead focusing on incremental improvements: making each element of my business work, and then making it better. Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time.

Why are there no good words for hobbies? Pastimes, interests. They all sound a bit banal, conjuring visions of stamp collecting in musty sheds, or trainspotting on a dreary February morning. There’s nothing aspirational about the word ‘hobby’; it’s diminutive – these are small, unimportant things that fill time and in the digital age, they seem to be a bit outdated I used to be somebody with lots of hobbies. In fact, it was something people commented on: “You’ve got so many things that you like to do!” I blogged, I took photos, I was an active part of some thriving online communities I hoarded novels in a vast, rainbow-spined wall, I took yoga classes. My hobbies, in many ways, were my identity and then things changed.

The development of my illness meant I had less energy to do anything physical and mentally I was preoccupied with tumbling down the rabbit hole. Then I launched my business, turning some of those hobbies – photography, writing, the internet – into my every day. For a long time that sustained me. My work was my hobby and my hobby my work – if I was bored, I would work more, and that suited me. When you love what you do, why would you need to do anything else?

I’d like to say my mind goes simply blank, when someone asks about my hobbies now, but the truth is, there’s nothing for me to try and remember.

I’d love to report that I came away and made some changes, but the pace of my life meant there was still no space for anything more but what rushed in to fill that space when not working was boredom. Not the calm, peaceful boredom of a sunny Sunday afternoon but a prickly fidgety feeling of irritability and malaise. I wanted to do something, but nothing appealed any more. What I’d forgotten, in those long, hobbyless years, was the high school – all the hard work you put in before it becomes meaningless. When we stick to the pastimes or skills that we’ve been perfecting for decades, we have the luxury of expertise and practice to make them easy. As a beginner, it’s full of friction – the discomfort of doing things wrong, the unease of treading unfamiliar territory and does something even exist if it isn’t good enough to share on Instagram? Therefore I turned to what I knew I was good at, which was food control and exercise.

It’s how we grow, how we build empathy, how we learn, we like to treat others, as a parent or auntie, teacher or friend. It’s where we practice patience and kindness to ourselves. It’s how we know that anything is possible, if we stick at it and, it’s where our creativity gets to come out of the cage, and stretch its wings in a fresh patch of sun. It took me a long time to realise I was so much more than the walls I’d trapped myself in.

Not everyone has the luxury of free time, and how to fill it is a bit of a first world problem but that doesn’t mean that hobbies are unimportant along with finding your purpose in a career. It’s important to nourish yourself not only in your job, but physically, mentally and soulfully.

In fact, I think my hobby might be the most important thing I’ve done for myself, which is to travel. From social media I suppose I look like I live a glamorous jet-set life. I do to some extent. I have an incredible family, a wonderful business and I’ve seen the world. Yet in reality I don’t drink, eat out much, buy things for myself and my life is extremely low maintenance, therefore my spare income goes straight into planning my next adventure. Seeing a different place, a new view, fresh colours and cultures is truly what lights up my soul.

So, as I celebrate five years of business in the beautiful Croatia, I mull over the fact that although I may have experienced many ups and downs through my business years, some of that due to natural quarter-life crisis development and other to stronger forces, but fundamentally I have discovered a career that’s my passion and a true hobby which feeds my soul and my sense for adventure. You can overcome everything, no matter what bizarre curve balls life throws at you, as long as you never falter from what your soul craves.

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