Month: January 2017

3 things I did to overcome self-doubt and a major creative block

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A common misconception about artists and creatives is that they can simply turn their creativity on and off like a faucet; but, that’s not even close to true. It takes really hard, consistent work to maintain it. You have to challenge yourself continuously, and push really hard to have creative breakthroughs. To be honest, it can be exhausting. There are times when you just lose your confidence and feel uninspired. If you have felt this way before, you’ll be happy to know that it’s 100% normal, and something all creative people have to go through. I would even go so far as to say that feeling uncomfortable is a necessary part of the creative process, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier. I experienced my first major creative block two years ago when Elsie was born, and it took me a full year and a half to break out of it.

Becoming a mother was such a major lifestyle change, and I struggled so hard in every way imaginable. I was constantly tired, and every ounce of energy I could muster up was directed toward figuring out how to function in this new reality. I felt empty creatively, and this might sound dramatic, but it was heartbreaking for me. That was always the one thing about myself that I have never had a doubt about. I am a creative person; it’s been part of my identity since childhood. I knew that everything about my life would change when I had a baby, but I really wasn’t expecting to lose such a defining piece of who I was.

For the first six months of her life, I stuffed my personal feelings away so I could focus all my attention on learning how to be a mother. Then, my wedding season started, and I was so excited to get back to doing what I love to do! I showed up to every wedding with so much love and gratitude in my heart for the people I was photographing, and I gave it my all, but I just felt…different. Something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was; all I knew was that I wasn’t who I used to be, and I was literally mourning that loss. I felt awkward in my new post-baby body, which led to a complete loss of self-confidence and a creative void. When I finally acknowledged that I needed to move forward and start the process of reinventing myself, things started to feel a little bit less awful. I researched “how to bust through a creative block,” made a list of action steps that were relevant to me as a photographer and business woman, and started following through with them. Slowly and surely, I rebuilt my self-confidence and creativity, and made a full return to joyful living. I will never be the same person I was before I became a mother, but that is as it should be. It really was a full transformation that made me into a much better person, artist, teacher, and friend, but it was not without growing pains.

There were three things that really helped me break through my creative block, and these things can be applied to any one in any creative field:

1. Reach out to people outside of your industry. I needed a source of inspiration that was outside of the wedding realm. Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings. I love weddings because I love people, and emotion, and the intricacies of relationships. Weddings are my comfort zone, and I needed to get uncomfortable in order to grow. So, first, I reached out to a friend and did a “no rules” shoot with her just to get my creative juices flowing. Then, I reached out to a couple of local fashion bloggers. Fashion shoots are NOT within my comfort zone. I’m not a fashion oriented person; I’m a people person. I don’t think too much about what I wear, and I don’t typically read fashion blogs, but these ladies were so awesome to work with. It was challenging for me, and made me feel uncomfortable, but I pushed through it and created a few images that I’m really proud of, AND I made some really good friends in the process.

2. Take on a new creative hobby. This is kind of hilarious because I barely have time to take a shower, but I decided to give hand-lettering a try. I purchased an online course, bought some special paper and pens, and would practice every night after Elsie went to sleep. Spoiler alert: I never became good at hand-lettering. BUT, putting my creative energy into something that was not photography or related to photography really helped me find my way back to a place of self-confidence.

3. Make time to breathe and meditate. I am a person who loves to work, so believe me when I say that I had to FORCE myself to do these things, and it was not easy. When I say “time to breathe,” I mean I put the baby in the stroller, put in some headphones, and went for a 30 minute walk. I listened to audio books, I brainstormed ideas for shoots, and sometimes I even talked to myself. It was great. As far as meditation, I did some actual meditations with chanting, but it also came in the form of journaling, free writing, collaging, and reading. “Meditating” can be anything that helps you work through the “stuff” that is holding you back. I had some of my best creative breakthroughs during these sessions.

One of the most important lessons I learned through this awkward transitional phase of life is that creativity is tied to our emotional health, and that self-doubt is the driving force behind creative blocks. If you’re feeling blocked or “stuck,” don’t fret; it’s only temporary. There are many ways to break on through to the other side and find your creative spark again. If these three things worked for me, then I’m willing to bet they would work for you, too. Self-doubt is a tough thing to overcome, but it’s totally do-able. It’s always worth it to do the hard work that gets you to where you want to be. Motherhood is an incredibly beautiful blessing, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity; but I think a lot of people just walk away from themselves when they have a baby, and in my humble opinion, that’s not okay. For me, becoming a mother doesn’t mean putting my dreams on hold until my children are 20; it means that I now have to fight even harder to go after them, because someone else is watching every step I take. My daughter just turned two on Sunday, so it’s been two full years since I started this journey, and I’ve finally made my way back to a place where creativity flows freely. I’m sure there will be more self-doubt and creative blocks in my future, but I know I can overcome those easily now.

Have you ever experienced a creative block? What did you do to break through it?

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5 tips for effective goal setting

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Have you written down your goals for 2017 yet? Wait…is this yet another post about goal setting in January? YES. Yes, it is, and here’s why: goal setting is one of the most effective (and fastest) ways to achieve success in business and in life. I recently read some stats on goal-setting that blew my mind, and led to me wanting to write about it. Harvard did a study on their business grads that measured the power of goal-setting, and the data collected is pretty impressive. Did you know that people who write down their goals make up to 10 times more money over the course of their lifetimes than people who don’t? I was really shocked to read that, but it actually makes perfect sense. Most of us at least think about what we’d like to accomplish at the beginning of a new year, but the physical act of writing down (or typing out) our goals is actually the most important part. The moment that you get clear enough about your vision to put it into words, you start the process of achieving your goals. I have done a lot of experimenting with different goal-setting methods in my own life over the last 3-5 years, and I’ve learned a lot about what works best for me, so I wanted to share the five things I do that give me the best results.

1. Write down your goals (or type them out) and read through them every day. Just look them over. If you have 10 minutes to scroll through FB and Instagram, then you have 10 minutes to read over your goals. This keeps them active in your mind, and keeps your energy focused where it needs to be. If you write them down in January and don’t look at them again until December, your chances of achieving them are pretty slim…speaking from experience, lol. Reading your goals keeps you accountable and motivated throughout the year.

2. Separate your business goals and your personal goals. For me, these are two different lists that require different action steps for achievement. For example, on my list of business goals this year is “complete and launch new coaching packages by May 1st, 2017.” The business list is all very serious and task related stuff. On my list of personal goals for this year, is “spend more in-person time with friends and family,” and “read five books.” Those are things I need to do to be a better person. I have to focus my energy in different ways to accomplish different goals, so I find that I’m more successful when I keep them separate.

3. Be very specific with dates and quantities. Last year, one of my goals was to “read more.” Well, I may have read more, but I don’t really know whether or not I achieved that goal because I had nothing by which to measure it. This year, I wrote down “I will read FIVE books,” and so far, I have one started and four to go. I know I will achieve this goal because I assigned a number to it; a way to measure my progress. I also assigned deadlines to all of my business goals this year so I can create an action plan and a timeline to achieve each one. This brings me to my next tip!

4. Create a three step action plan for each goal. I don’t do this with my personal goals, but I absolutely do with my business goals. Goal-setting for me is a month long process. I scribble things down to get clear about my vision. Then I type out my goals into two separate lists. Then, I create an action plan for each business goal. Then, I create a vision board. This process takes me all of January, so I’m not even done yet, but I can tell you that focusing that much time and energy into goal setting will 100% set you up for success! One of my business goals for this year is to blog twice a week – one personal post (like this one) and one photo-related post. So, just to give an example, my three step action plan for this is: 1. Make a list of blogging content. 2. Create a blogging calendar. 3. Pull photos and write content weekly to stay on track with calendar. It’s not a perfect solution, and I’m sure there will be times that life gets in the way, but it does give me a road map for success. I am much more likely to blog twice a week with this system in place!

5. Take one small step toward accomplishing one goal on your list every single day. I am a mom of a toddler and I work out of a home office. We have a babysitter who comes to our house two to three times a week, so I can get work done, but there are days when it’s just me and a clingy, needy child and I feel like I will never accomplish anything ever again. If you are an entrepreneur who works from home with small children in the house, I KNOW YOU FEEL ME. I struggled so hard with this last year. There were times that I even felt resentful toward my baby because all I wanted to do was work and she wasn’t having it. I recognized those negative feelings in me and knew that I didn’t want to feel them, so I had to create a workaround. For my own sanity, I need to feel like I am doing something to move forward every single day; even if it isn’t the kind of progress anyone else can see. Reading through my goals every day allows me to choose one small action step I can take toward achieving my goals, which keeps me on track (and sane). Example: one of my personal goals for this year is to visit my best friend in Philadelphia. On a recent day when I felt like I had zero time to be a person, I read over my goals, saw that one jump out at me, and took the action step of researching flights from Buffalo to Philly on my phone while Elsie was watching Sesame Street. Aside from being a mother and a wife, that was all I was able to do that day; but, it satisfied my need to feel like I took a step toward achieving my goals, however small that step might be. All of those tiny steps might feel insignificant, but they keep you moving in the direction of your goals. Progress is progress.

If you still need to write down your goals for 2017, it’s not too late! We’re only half way through January. I hope these tips are helpful to you! They have certainly made a huge difference in my life. If the idea of getting clear about your vision or writing down your goals seems overwhelming to you, just start small. Even if you write down one goal for this year, and apply just one of these goal-setting strategies, you are well on your way to making your dreams a reality.

Which of these tips resonated most with you? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Ayres Photography SAYS...

    Awwww, YAY!!! So glad they were helpful to you, Catherine! And, I’m so happy that you’re going to write down your goals. It feels so good to get things down on paper. xoxo

  • Catherine Hood SAYS...

    Love these Jenn! I have been meaning to write out my goals this year and this has motivated me to do just that so thank you! I especially love tip #5 because IT’S so true about TAking small steps towards our goals! Before we know it, we’re almost there to achieving it ???????? thanks again for these great tips!