In high school, I had an amazing teacher who insisted I enter a photo in a local contest and I ended up winning the student category. That award gave me so much confidence in my work and really sparked my love of photography, though I didn’t ever consider it as a full-time gig. I thought I had to get a “real” job and use my Environmental Science & Policy degree. After graduation, I worked for two non-profits and, though passionate about the causes, I knew deep down it wasn’t the right fit for me.
My parents are entrepreneurs, so the “language” of running a business and the example of a lifestyle outside of a typical 9-to-5 was always familiar to me. They definitely worked a lot when I was young, but the freedom of running your own business, every day being different, not having one boss, getting to decide what jobs you take on, and your spouse/the whole family being involved was the norm to me.
While I was working a desk-job and feeling uninspired, my sister Carla encouraged me to take up photography again on the side. Through her encouragement, I launched my Emily Belson Photography website in the summer of 2017 and spent the first several months finding new clients and happily working many hours outside of my day job to grow EBP from the ground up. I loved it and wanted to quit my 9-to-5, but couldn’t muster the courage to leave my great salary and the stability. I thought that maybe I’d take it full time when Patrick and I were ready to have kids in a few years, but six months after launching my business, I was let go from my job. The decision was made for me and it was the best day of my life, wedding day excluded.
Taking that opportunity, I ran full speed ahead to build my business and now, two years later, I run my own photography business and a photography and videography creative studio partnership business called Sister Social with Carla.
It’s up to each of us to decide what we want from this life. My younger brother passed away unexpectedly at 21 years old last year, and it fundamentally changed me. I am a different person now and as clear as I thought I was on what I wanted, I’ve never felt more assured in my vision for this life.
I have this theory that each of us has a void of space where our priorities, desires, preferences, limitations, and beliefs live. If we don’t have the self-awareness to fill that space with what we know to be true for ourselves, that space acts as a vacuum that sucks up everything around us. But when the space is filled with knowing who we are and what is right for us, it provides a stable foundation for everything else to build on. Whatever you need to do to connect back to yourself is the best investment you can make for your business, because that clarity will guide you to building a business that is successful by your standards.
That same intention informs my boundaries around work, like who I choose to work with, how many jobs I take on, and how much of my personal life I’m willing to sacrifice for work. I mess up all the time, but I come back to this quote often: “Of course, it might be pleasant to be extraordinary, famous and world-beating, but maybe it will be an even greater achievement to stay sane and kind.” It’s not what we achieve in life, but how we show up in it.
Right now, my time priority is having the hours available to me that I want to commit to growing our businesses and serving our clients well. For this season, that’s meant taking a break from teaching yoga, cancelling a fitness class membership I was feeling pressure to attend, and outsourcing our house cleaning (much less expensive than you think. Everyone should do this, especially entrepreneurs!). These aren’t permanent changes, but they’re what I need right now to commit my focus where I want it to be.
Another important lesson is having your personal finances under control. Money, as a necessary resource, allows us choices in life. Defining your goals, being on the same page as your partner, and living on a budget means options and room for spontaneity! The less you need to live on per month, the less you need to be making in your business to go full time (and the more choice you have in the work you take on). I love listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast for inspiration on living with financial peace.
What time do you wake up everyday?
Between 6:30-7 am, sometimes later on the weekends. My love of freedom and my inconsistent work schedule isn’t always conducive to keeping a regular daily routine, but I try to because it makes me feel grounded.
If you had $10 in your pocket, what would you do with it?
Sweeping my dad’s job sites. I inherited his appreciation for a tidy, clean space and can’t think straight if things are a mess, hence the cleaning lady.
A habit you’re really proud of?
Journaling. I’m an external processor and writing gives me clarity. One day, I can imagine rows and rows of bookshelves filled with my black moleskin journals, haha!
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Give time time, in reference to my brother’s unexpected passing last year. It applies well to business, too.