When we adopted Sophie from the Golden Retriever Rescue of CNY, we didn’t give much consideration to how she would be with children because that wasn’t even on our radar at the time. We knew we were adopting a dog with disabilities who might never walk without a wheelchair, but we didn’t know that she was also a complete mess mentally and emotionally due to her rocky start in life. She had severe dog aggression and honestly had no idea whatsoever how to be a family pet. Anytime the doorbell rang she sounded like a viscous lunatic ready to attack. If she could have bit a hole through the front door, she would have. The entire first year with her was pure insanity.
Our other Golden. Lily, whom we’d had from a puppy, took her under her wing and patiently taught her how to be all of the things that a Golden Retriever is supposed to be. Sophie followed her lead in all things and their friendship started to slowly transform her. You could see in their interactions that there was actual teaching going on and it was remarkable to watch. Sophie made her biggest strides mentally and emotionally by learning to trust and rely on Lily.
When I found out that I was pregnant with Elsie, one of my first thoughts was, “Omg, how is this crazy nut going to react to a baby?!” Around the same time we found out we were expecting, we also found out that Lily had a rare heart valve defect that would ultimately result in congestive heart failure. She was only 5 years old, so we were completely blindsided. Devastated. We did everything we possibly could to help her, but in the end she was really suffering and we had to let her go.
Sophie laid next to her until she took her last breath. That was absolutely the hardest day of my life. After they took her away, Sophie went and laid down in Lily’s bed and would stay there – uncharacteristically silent – for the next 24 hours. The following day, she emerged a different dog – calm, poised, maybe even a little bit wiser if that’s possible. It was almost as if (and this may sound crazy but I truly believe it) she knew that it was time to step up to the plate and put into practice all that Lily had taught her over the past two years. She saw me through to the end of my pregnancy, providing me with steadfast emotional support just as Lily would have done (which was much needed since I didn’t stop crying for at least a month), and when we brought Elsie home from the hospital, Sophie fully blossomed into the proper Golden Retriever we always hoped she would be.
With every new stage of development, we would have new doubts. “What if she pulls her fur? What if, what if, what if…?” But every single time she proves herself to be the world’s most perfect family dog; amazingly tolerant, sweet, and loving. The way their relationship has grown over the past three years has been such a joy to watch. If you’ve ever seen my Sophie and Elsie IG Stories, then you know exactly what I mean. ;)
My favorite part of this whole story is that it seems so obvious to me that Lily knew her time was short. So she hand picked the perfect dog for us, brought her into our lives, and prepped her and primed her for life as the Ayres family Golden Retriever. Every time I watch Elsie layer her with dishtowels or brush her hair with a doll brush, or try to feed her plates of imaginary food, it feels as if we’re honoring Lily’s memory, and that is so special. Forever grateful that we took a chance on a crazy special needs dog who was looking for a miracle. She is the absolute best friend we could have ever hoped for.
Well, here we are. It’s the beginning of January 2018, and I’m working my way through the goal-setting process. Last year around this same time, I had all of my goals set and was already chipping away at them. This year, things don’t feel quite so urgent, and for whatever reason, I decided to give myself the entire first month of the year to decide who I want to be and what I want to accomplish. Last year was a very interesting year for me. I accomplished a lot of what I set out to do, but there’s a lot that I didn’t even come close to checking off my list. We had a good year business-wise, but the greatest strides I made in 2017 were in my personal life.
I learned how to surrender more to the flow of life instead of fighting against it (which is no easy task and very much still a work in progress!!). I became even more comfortable with being a mom, I gave myself some extra space to allow for the unpredictability that comes with having young children, and I settled into a much healthier balance with my two (very different) roles of “mama to Elsie” and “do-all-the-things superwoman entrepreneur.” I just feel better about everything overall, which is probably why I’m okay with taking things a little bit slower this year. Elsie turns THREE in a couple short weeks, which is just mind-blowing. As soon as you start to get a handle on this parenting thing, they’re heading off to pre-school. WHAT. THE. HECK.
I wrote a post like this last year (here if you want to read it!!), and it was so helpful for me to read it this year and see how far I’ve come since then. My favorite quote from last year’s post was this one:
“When you’re living your life day to day, it can sometimes feel like you’re just stuck in the same place, stagnant and accomplishing nothing; but, when you look back at your life over a longer period of time, you can really see the growth and change that has taken place. We’re always moving forward, even if we’re not fully aware of it.”
So, on that note, here’s the 2017 version of what worked and what didn’t. :)
3 things that worked really well for me in 2017…
1. I outsourced even MORE than I was already outsourcing. So, here’s the thing about being a hard-working, overachieving, “type A” business owner – you have a TOUGH time giving up control. It’s not easy to outsource your biz tasks because you know that no one will do it exactly the way that you do it. I FEEL YOU. There are still areas of my business that I would never want to let go of, but I’m telling you…when you finally do take a leap of faith and unload just one thing off your plate, you will be so much more effective at your job. Outsourcing is like giving yourself a gift of an extra hour per day (or more!) to work on your business and propel it forward. If you’re sitting there thinking, “Oh, I could never outsource my editing/housecleaning/social media/album design, etc.,” trust me, I have SO been there, but once I saw the difference it could make for me and the opportunities it can open up for advancement, I was ALL IN. Last year, we decided to bring our assistant on for an additional 10 hours per week, and the difference was INCREDIBLE. We did monthly “Strategy Days” to plan our content and it rocked my world in the best way possible. I brought her deeper into my editing workflow and had her take charge of a few more time consuming steps that I didn’t really need to be involved in, and it was so freeing. My eventual goal is to be able to hire our assistant, Rachel, as a full time employee who works 40+ hours per week. 2018 is not the year for that, but 2019 is looking really good. :)
2. We got even more clear about who we’re best suited to serve. We’ve had a pretty good idea of who our “ideal client” is for a lot of years now, but at the beginning of last year we sat down and honed it even further. We got super specific about our core values and made the time to write them down. I kept that page of notes next to my desk all year and it influenced everything from the wording in my emails to my Skype chats with new couples to the stories I shared on social media. Every time I talked to a new couple about the possibility of us being a part of their day, I would ask, “So, what would you say is your BIGGEST priority for your wedding day? What do you want to feel on that day?” And I would listen. Very carefully. At this stage of my career, I’m not that interested in things like the color palette or how many people are in the wedding party. I want to know the hearts behind the people I work with. I want to know what they value most in life, and I want to know the story behind those values. It’s hard work get down to the core of who you are as a business and what you value, but I swear…if we did only one thing right last year, that was it.
3. We automated as much as possible. Automation is everything, friends. The more you can set it and forget it (okay maybe set it and don’t forget to check on it once in a while), the easier your life will be. We put automation to work in several different areas of our business last year and holy cow was it the best thing ever. For the sake of this remaining a reasonably short post, I will give you just one example of how we put automation to good use. If you want 10 million more, get in touch and I’ll talk your ear off!! Okay, so 3-4 weeks before a wedding, we send out our Wedding Day Online Questionnaire. In previous years, this was a task that I put on my calendar individually for each couple and an extra thing I had to remember to do. Last year, I had Rachel batch write the emails and pre-schedule them to be sent out on the correct day and time. It took maybe 2 hours to do this, and then the whole system just ran like clockwork. It was so wonderful I could cry.
Annnnd 3 things that didn’t go as well as I had hoped in 2017…
1. Self Care. Blah. #realtalk This one is ugly and hard to admit, but it’s true. I think I made time for one hair cut the entire year. I attempted to take Elsie with me to yoga maybe 3 or 4 times and that just wasn’t working so I quit going. When things got really intense in the Fall, and my assistant had to go out on maternity leave earlier than planned, I basically gave up sleeping. I would work all night long to make sure I met my editing deadlines. Of course, not sleeping is the best way to get sick, so I caught the flu and was down for the count for like 2 weeks solid. I didn’t hang out with friends nearly enough, and I didn’t give myself much downtime. I had a goal of one date night a month and I think we had two the entire year. Not proud of any of this, but writing it down is helpful. I need to do better. I know the toddler stage can be a very difficult season of life, but I’m SURE I can do a better job of taking care of me. What are your tips for prioritizing self care?
2.Screen Time. It seems like I have a goal of reducing my screen time every single year, and every year I don’t do as well as I had hoped. This is a really tough one for me because I like to feel connected – especially on Instagram. I love my Instagram community, and truly enjoy checking in with them every day to see what they’re up to. I also use my phone to stay connected to my email when I’m on the go because that’s life when you own a business. You have the flexibility of making your own schedule, but along with that comes the responsibility of staying in touch with your clients wherever you are. One thing I did differently this year was to turn off my email notifications and that did help some. I’m one of those people who sees the little red circle pop up on my email app and immediately feels like I have to get rid of it. Anyone else?! ;) Now that those are turned off, I check my email 3-4 times a day when it’s convenient for me and it has reduced my anxiety by a ton. I do sometimes find myself with my nose in my phone when I should be giving Elsie my full attention and I don’t feel good about that. However, here’s the thing…sometimes I hit a point with “mom-ing” when I just need a break from whining or having a kid stuck to my leg, and I escape for a few minutes by diving into pretty IG photos. Or I’ll reach out to a friend and say, “this kid is killing me today,” and just having another mom say that she feels me can make all the difference in my sanity. It’s not realistic for me to severely limit on my screen time, but I know I can find a better balance somehow. If you have ideas for this, please share in the comments!!
3.Time Management. Been struggling with this one since like 1987. Most creative people have ADD. It’s just the way we’re wired. I’ve had to really train myself to work on one thing at a time, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Last year I worked on minimizing distractions by turning off notifications and focusing on one task at a time, but it’s REALLY REALLY hard for my brain to operate this way. I think a lot of the goals that I set out to accomplish last year but did not are the result of poor time management, difficulty focusing, and fear of things not being perfect. It’s so weird because when I’m out shooting, I am LASER focused. I’m totally aware of how much time I have, I move quickly, I know what shots I need to get and how to get them. But when it comes to sitting at a desk and working in an office? Struggle. Bus. I have such a tough time staying on task. One thing I’m going to implement this year to help with that is a new (to me) form of goal setting that I’m going to call “goal chunking.” More on that soon. If I have any fellow ADD creative friends out there with time management and focus tips, please share!!
And that’s a wrap on 2017! I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do, but I did accomplish a lot that I’m really proud of, and made huge leaps in my personal growth journey, too. What about you? What is one thing you know you did right and one thing that didn’t really work out for you? Please feel free to share in the comments here or hop over to Instagram and send me a DM. :)
Cheers to growth and change and transformation and moving forward!! Happy New Year to you, my friends! Thank you for being a part of my journey!