Personal development, faith, and hard ass work!
I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting on the beach in Florida with one of my best friends Jaime Martinez on the last day of my staycation. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that term staycation, it’s basically when you take time off work with no intention of actually doing anything or going anywhere. Literally time off just to escape my job. By this point in my life I was 28 years old, I was in middle management at a company I had been at for about 6 years. I had an awesome team and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. I was happily married to my beautiful wife Jennifer for about 4 years at that time. I was free from disease, healthy, racing mountain bikes every chance I got. My family lived close, I had benefits, you name it. This was the road you’re supposed to be on when you do well in high school and graduate college, or so I thought. I had so much in my life to be grateful for but why was I so miserable? Not depressed, just blah, yearning for something more, not quite sure what it was.
So as Jaime and I rode on our way to the beach, I tried to put my first world problems aside to enjoy the trip and the last day off work after a week off. In truth I was dreading the thought of having to go back to work. Thankfully for me, my buddy Jaime has a unique was of being able to communicate with just about anyone effectively and light up the room in most places he goes. I just sat back and listened as he told me how his life had changed, how his routine had changed, how his views and perspectives had changed and how he had been living his life these last few years. You see, our friendship started when we purchased our first home in Florida and Jaime was our next door neighbor. We all instantly hit it off and since then have been great friends, but after living there for a few years, Jaime decided he wanted to pursue something different out of life and within a month he got rid of most of his personal items, rented his house and found a place in Miami. After a couple years he found himself back in Tampa as Miami didn’t turn out to be anything more than a necessary step on his life’s journey. After listening to Jaime share what had been going on with him and how he felt like he had found new purpose and meaning his life, he asked seriously how I was doing and what I wanted my future to look like. At that point in time I really didn’t know. I couldn’t get out of my own way. I was stuck in a certain lifestyle and way of thinking. He started to pry with little questions to get me to open up (ironic since I was a counselor at the time). He asked me, besides riding your bike, what do you enjoy doing in life. Without hesitation I answered, “Dude I love this wedding photography thing Jenny and I recently got into.” He asked me what I loved about it and I must have given him a 5 minute answer of all the reasons why I loved it. He then asked me, what did I want out of life. I told him I wanted to live in the mountains of Asheville, NC which at the time was our main vacation destination. We traveled there 3-4x per year and had always talked about retiring there. He asked a simple question after that which was, "Why do you want to wait until you retire?" and I think I had some generic answer about “because that’s what you do, that’s how life works.” He further went on to ask more questions like “Why can’t you just go up there now?” “Why couldn’t I just doing wedding photography with Jenny full time?” After opening up my mind to a world of possibilities with just some simple questions and perspective changes as well as sharing his own experiences with thinking this way, something changed inside of me as we drove home that hour or so from the beach listening to inspirational downloads and motivational speeches. After the trip I thanked Jaime for the day and as I went inside my 2 bedroom townhome, I felt different. I felt like I had discovered the secret to unlocking my life’s potential. What happened next was a series of radical changes that no one saw coming.
The next day at work I put in my 30 days notice. Nobody could believe it, not my co-workers, not my family, not my amazing wife. I told Jaime what I had done, and he was like “Holy shit man!” He was trying to motivate me but I’m sure at the time he was thinking what have I done? (lol). Over the next 30 days I started a process of rapid and welcome change. No longer believing that things were impossible based on preconceived notions, we called a property management company and found renters for our home within a week. During this time Jenny had been able to find and secure a couple of jobs in Asheville one with a company she had already worked for and one with a new company that was opening. Things were lining up, and life was starting to look a whole lot different. During that time period I had adopted a few small habits that Jaime had passed along to me. I started every morning with an audio/video recording to fill my mind with fresh, positive, and thought provoking information. At the time I didn’t know why but I generally never looked at the books in the front of the Barnes and Nobles stores, my theory was if they are on sale they must not be that good. But the next time I went to Barnes and Noble a book titled “No Excuses” from Bryan Tracy instantly caught my eye. One read through the front and back covers and I knew this would be a tool to help me along this new journey. As time continued to fly by, Jenny had told her co-workers at her current job our plan, but of course we had not quite figured out where we were going to live yet. Wouldn’t you know it, God has a mysterious way of working things out, her co-worker Sandi had a rental house up there and was willing to let us stay for a couple months free (sans electric bill) in order for us to find our footing. Once this piece of the puzzle fell into place, Jenny had to head up a few weeks early in order to start her jobs which left me in Florida to figure out how to pack an entire household. Now anyone who knows me, knows that when it comes to certain things, I can be a bit disorganized, but the fact that I had to figure everything out by myself for the first time with regards to how to make this all happen didn’t slow me down. At this point after reading half the book I had just purchased and listening to my videos/audios sometimes 2-3x per day, I knew that the key was action. I started packing one box at a time. I started getting rid of one item at a time, and I started throwing away one bag of trash at a time. I posted things we didn’t need online for sale and if they didn’t sell quick enough I listed them for free. We took a massive amount of stuff to the dump. We donated much of what we had accrued over the years and I kept on steadily cleaning and packing every night after work sometimes until 1-2 in the morning. After a couple of fast paced and focused weeks everything was packed and in the garage, and I had nothing left but a queen size mattress and box spring in the living room floor, my book, and our two dogs. Jaime had come back from his last trip to Miami to gather the rest of his things and when he looked at the progress that had been made, he was like “I’m proud of you dude.” At the time, he along with the rest of our friends and family were skeptical, but we now had a vision for what we knew our lives could be and we were finally out of our heads and out of our own way. As I continued to read and listen to audios daily, the messages really started to sink in and I started to take even more action. Messages like “You have to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” “Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” “The only thing standing in the way of you and your dreams is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself.” “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful.” Concepts like the 80/20 rule started working their way into my life. I started to focus on the positive and solution in every situation and looked at obstacles not as problems but opportunities to learn and get better. By the time I arrived in Asheville, Jenny almost didn’t recognize me lol.
I have always been a Christian and my faith was something that I’m sure at times was not where it needed to be. But as I started this process of personal development, it started teaching me not only to again have faith in God and what he will provide when you follow in his light, but faith in myself. Faith in the universe that as long as my goals, purpose, and intentions were clear, it would continue to provide for me. The quote from the late great Jim Rohn was something I carried with me daily at this point “What you have in life you’ve attracted by the person you’ve become.” That message was strong and impactful and I knew that if I wanted something different out of life, I was going to have to become a different person. Enter the law of attraction, law of averages, etc. I truly became a believer and still am to this day that the universe is conspiring to do good for me. This attitude along with my rejuvenated faith, found me my first week in Asheville with no job, only one more paycheck coming in, bills to pay, but despite these things that would have usually stressed me out and to be frank, kept me from taking action in the first place, I was cool, calm confident that God would provide for us. Prior to this I had been putting in 5-6 applications per day in the Asheville area for different positions while I was still in Florida. I was blessed to set up my first interview on my first Monday in Asheville and I got the job. I knew in my mind I would need to get income coming in while Jenny and I started building our business and further developing our craft.
Hard ass work
As many of you may or may not know, the next two years we hit the ground running. We knew that being in a super competitive market for photographers like Asheville that we were going to have our work cut out for us just to get noticed and start building a reputation. As I continued the process of personal development I worked on an action plan like my book had directed me to. I put down on paper exactly what I wanted to accomplish, the action steps of how I planned to do it, and the potential barriers to watch out for. This process included actions steps like 'what are 20 things I could do to accomplish this goal, write them down.' If I had to leave out of town for a month and could only accomplish one thing one this list to have the biggest impact what would it be? DO THAT ONE FIRST! Just simple steps and principles but the key was taking action and not just talking about it. I had set lofty goals in that first year and even Jenny thought they may be unrealistic when she looked at them, but I continued to have faith in God, faith in the process, and faith in myself. Over that first year we literally volunteered and shot for free every chance we got some for non-profits and some for local companies. We handed out business cards, we attended networking events, we told everybody about what we did, we utilized new and different platforms in order to find potential clients. We studied marketing, we researched the area. We researched business practices and principles. We continued learning to photography techniques and all of this while working 2 and sometimes 3 jobs in order to make sure we could keep a roof over our heads. We got out of our comfort zone and proved to ourselves we were capable of so much more. As we started to reap some of the early fruits of our labor, we were blessed to start building a reputation and getting booked, getting referred to, and even getting some inquiries from other local photographers who were like “you guys have only been here for a year, how are you this busy?” We saw so much growth within that first year, that we were able to come together as a married couple and make a big decision and that was for Jenny to make the jump into becoming a full time photographer! At first she was scared but as we continued to have faith and practice the principles we had been building our business on, she began to take flight and improve some of the key things we needed to work on. Also during that time, I can’t stress enough how much another one of my best friends, Michael Baughman, helped us out. As we started to take note of our website and getting found by potential clients in this day and age, we soon realized we were on page 26 of google….not good. Just when we thought we had learned enough to be a sustainable business now it was time to learn the art of search engine optimization, key words, website platforms, meta tagging, hash tagging, back linking. Needless to say we had to learn a lot of this in bite size increments but with the technical help from our buddy Michael, and a continued hunger to learn, we were able to soon find ourselves on the first and second page of google most days of the week. At that point we could be found, and on top of the amazing connections we had already made with some local professionals like Michelle LaCosse from Party Envy, Wendy Knowles from Wedding by Wendy, Nikki Sciurba from Carolina Love Events and Nick from Blue Bend Photography, we really started to grow. Just a little sidebar, we also can’t stress enough how kind hearted and genuine the 4 aforementioned local professionals were to us when we first arrived here and were very much instrumental in helping us develop, learn the area, and make adjustments to our processes to become better. Thank you all for your generosity and bigger sense of community over competition. We will continue to strive to show the same kindness to those young in the industry as you all did for us.
Hard ass work (part 2)
After that first year of growth we saw our company progress from 15 weddings the year prior to 50+ that first year. This second year to present we have continued to grow booking over 60 weddings this year and building a team of ridiculously talented individuals who’ve been a part of our journey and helped to take us to that next level. Once this level of growth happened I soon found myself working 7 days a week. We were blessed to have a wedding every Saturday and Sunday for most of the year and sometimes we would get the occasional Friday wedding and I would get a weekend day off. It seems with this level of growth and business I would have been able to make the jump with Jenny into being a full time wedding photographer but we soon realized that wasn’t the case. This is where the hard part really kicked in for me which was just having patience. Anyone who knows me from my mom to my wife knows that being patient is something I have always struggled with and unfortunately this defect of character plagued my life for many years prior to this. This lack of patience fed the mindset of buy now pay later which many of us succumb to here in America. I was always trying to keep up with the Jones’, if my friend got a new bike I needed a new bike. If my buddy just got a new tv to watch football, we need to get a new tv. If that family member went on a 2 week vacation , we needed to go on a 3 week vacation. In theory it sounds good but this sense of entitlement led us as a married couple to racking up a massive amount of credit card debt on top of our massive student loan debt, and the burden of having a house in Florida which we still owned but was being rented. I knew I didn’t want to just quit my job and make just enough money to get by. I was tired of living that life. I wanted something more. I wanted freedom from that constant need to feel like I had to keep up with everybody, everything, and everyone. We started the process again of evaluating where we were and where we wanted to be and how to get there. Over the next year, we were blessed enough to get our house sold. We started focusing on putting all of our extra money towards paying off the credit debt, and we started saving for the first time since we got married. I sold my bikes, guitars, etc. in order to give us a jump start towards helping pay off these things. At first it was like pulling teeth but we knew these sacrifices would be necessary to get where we wanted to be long term. To quote Dr. Eric Thomas, “You must be willing to sacrifice who you are, for you could be come.” I won’t say this last year has been easy and I won’t say we are completely debt free, but through our determination, strategy and team work, we were able to make enough positive strides and progression through our continued personal development, faith, and hard work, that we are finally starting reap the benefits of a crop that we’ve been tending to for a little over 2 years.
As cheesy as it may sound, today I am a changed man. This journey which we are on and the experiences gained over the past two years have been some of the best education I’ve received in life. It has taught me what I value, where I want to spend my time and how I want to impact others. I have been visualizing this moment for the last 2 years where Jenny and I could live a self-directed, purpose driven life doing something we love, sharing that gift with others and continuing to grow as a married couple and as of October 24th this year, I will get to see that dream come to fruition as that will be my last day at my day time employer and I will be a full time wedding photographer. This journey of personal development, faith, and hard work as taught me how much more I am capable of, how much I can overcome, and what we as humans can accomplish if we put our minds to it and keep our faith in God. I thank all of you that have been a part of my education, development, support network, and life. Even if you were a pain in the ass, you served your purpose. I am grateful for this gift called life and my new perspectives on life. I am so glad I decided to go with my friend Jaime to the beach that day. Little did I know that afternoon would change my life.