Are You Willing to Go the Distance? with Karen Bagley
You have begun a long-distance race. You have miles still left in front of you. You are tired, your lungs burn, and you feel like your legs are going to give out any second. Will you make it to the finish line?
Owning your own business is just like that long-distance race. There is not a single thing about owning a business that is simple or easy. Making it to the finish line requires that you truly understand and have an accurate sense of reality around what it takes to successfully run and own your own business. I want nothing more than for every single creative to find success. So, I want to lay out the truth behind the long race that lies ahead of you and how you can go the distance and be a successful business owner.
Having a love for photography has always been with me. I was not one of those people who picked up a camera and suddenly had an epiphany that I wanted to be a photographer. Not that there is anything wrong with that at all, whenever it happens—I just always knew this was what I wanted to do. I had a camera as early as I can remember. It was my mother’s, and it didn’t work, but I carried that thing around everywhere. When I got a little older, I would beg my mom to buy me wind-up cameras so that I could style and photograph my own subjects.
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to create. As I got older, my only jobs were photography related. Developing film, working at the front desk of a studio, being a side hand for the main photographer—all of it. I was submerged, and I was hooked. Yet when the time came for me to start my own business, I was overwhelmed and became defeated. I lost the race before I had even begun. This led me to take on a job in the wedding dress industry, where I stayed for five years, hardly making enough money to cover gas. But because that job was “socially acceptable,” I kept with it, miserable the whole time.
The only regret I harbor is not pushing myself to begin what was in my heart sooner. I had no idea what it would take to be able to run a successful and thriving business. Nor did I have the brains at the time to try to learn, because hey, I was young, and I thought I knew everything. I am and have always been a very hard worker, but how can you work hard when you don’t know what direction to turn? I mean, there really is no day-to-day guide on how this whole thing should go. Knowing what I know now, I can say with quite some certainty that you have to want it with every ounce of your existence. But even with that strong fire inside of you, is that enough?
The truth is, there are plenty of people who want to be successful with everything they do, yet they still find themselves not succeeding. Why? Did they not work hard enough? Well, in most cases, no, that is not the case. So what? Why do some seem to be so far ahead, while we seem to be stuck? The more important question is, are we really stuck? Or does it just seem that way, because we are comparing ourselves to everyone else in the world? You see, we live in a day and age where everyone’s lives are plastered all over social media for us to see; we have expectations of how our business and life should be going. We see all of the success, and it seems like everyone around us has reached a level of accomplishment, and we are the only ones who have not. We are so focused on how everyone else’s lives and businesses seem to be that we think our story should be going the same way.
Comparing ourselves to others is the equivalent of not stopping to take a drink of water during a long-distance race. Our body will certainly give out before we even get close to the finish line. We rob ourselves by doing this—we forget to enjoy the ride to our own successes, big or small. When we reach hurdles, we think we must be doing something wrong, because we don’t ever see anyone else going through hurdles. So, it must be just us, failing at everything we do. This has a disastrous effect on our mentality and our business, making us in a sense fall out of the long-distance race. The truth is we have to stop putting these expectations on ourselves based on what we see around us, because the reality is that before those success stories were shared or posted, there were days, weeks, months, and possibly even years of the hardest work known to man. There were sleepless nights, tears of sadness and also joy, and that constant worry—that even though you had a good day today, tomorrow will not be good. There is always a feeling of never being fully accomplished, because there is always work to do.
Not many people talk about the hard times, because most of us want to appear like we have it all together all the time. That thinking in itself needs to be changed. I want you to know what you face. Knowing what is in front of you is half the battle. So here it is—this is your long-distance race. You will have to sacrifice so much. You will not get sleep. You will struggle with finding family time and just how you should be juggling your work and personal life. There will be guilt. Coming from personal experience, I struggled (and still sometimes struggle) with so much guilt. Guilt about not being a “stay-at-home mom.” Guilt for wanting to create a business when I could so easily go work a 9-5. Guilt for my business always being on my mind (even when I was with my family, I was there, but my mind wasn’t). Guilt for not associating with my friends the way I felt I should have. The list could keep going. You will have choices to make, and some of those choices will be the hardest you will ever make in your entire life. There will be times when you feel alone and unsupported. There will be times when you second guess yourself and wonder if you are making the right decision to keep moving forward. There will be a lot of times where you just do not have it all together.
Why am I sharing all of this? To make you feel sad and like reaching a level of success is unattainable? Actually, it’s the exact opposite. I want every creative to know what is staring them straight in the face. I want you to see the hurdles, so when you approach them, you won’t stumble but rather will soar right over them, reaching the finish line with the greatest sense of accomplishment. I want you to know that despite all of what I just mentioned, success is attainable.
So, I will ask again, are you willing to go the distance? Can you take the focus off of everyone surrounding you and put those blinders on, so you can just focus on you? Can you endure the sleepless nights and the lack of self-care that comes in the beginning? Can you make hard choices, like cutting people out of your life when you see they are not there to help or support you? Can you have feelings of doubt but look yourself in the mirror and say, “I know this is normal to feel this way, and I will overcome.” Can the only expectations you put on yourself be the one you have set in place? Can you see where your own limitations are and either outsource for help or learn how to improve? If you have answered yes to all of these, then you can go the distance.
There is a lot that comes with owning your own business, and while the positives that we know exist should absolutely be in your mind, you should be equally aware of the tough things that you will face. It is OK to have setbacks. Shoot, it is OK to have complete disasters. In fact, I hope you experience them. You will learn how to innovate and how to become better. This is a race that will twist and turn. Celebrate every success, even if it is just booking one client. Your journey is yours. It is beautiful and amazing. It is worth every single struggle you are sure to go through, because it is yours. In the same breath though, because it is yours, there should be a sense of responsibility to refuse anything except success. You have the control. If your business is struggling, that is on you. It’s not the area, the people, or anything else you may think. It is you. That is not to sound harsh, but rather to reassure you that you are the one holding your own fate. It has been and always will be the outcome you want for yourself.