What Success Means ~ Chicago Wedding Photographer

This post has been brewing in my brain for quite a while.

At first I didn’t want to post it – for various reasons. But lately it has been coming up in my mind more and more… and since part of the way I work through things is by writing – I figured I’d finally write it down to get it off my chest. So here goes…

I’m just going to say it:  The wedding photography industry is a lot like high school.

There are cliques. There are the artsy kids, the preppy kids, the nerdy/technology kids, the drama club kids, the seniors, the freshmen, and so on. And throughout all of those groups there are the cool kids (who are seen as successful for various reasons), and then some wanna-be cool kids (who do anything they can to get closer to the cool kids). I say this without judgment – I’m just trying to explain this in a way that kind of makes sense. And of course – within all those groups – there are nice people who have good intentions (I’m not saying it’s all bad).

But there are also a lot of people who are in this for the wrong reasons. (Or maybe they started out with good intentions, but got lost along the way.) They started to see all the cool kids (those successful in the industry’s eyes) and convinced themselves that THAT is what success means. It seems like some people will do all they can to climb up the ladder of “cool” to be known among other photographers in the industry – and to be honest – it makes no sense to me.

Because none of this is about who knows who, or who is cool, or who was at what event. It is about running a business that pays the bills and makes you happy. Truly happy.

So as just as a little reminder to myself when I start to allow myself to be led astray (because we can all get a little off track sometimes and forget what is really important, including myself) – here’s a little list I made about What Success Means, and What Success does NOT Mean to me. (If you define success differently, that’s totally fine. This post is meant first and foremost as a reminder to myself to keep my goals in check.)


Success to me Does NOT Mean…

1. How many likes you have on your Facebook page

2. How many followers you have on Twitter

3. How much validation you get on your Instagram photos

4. Who you know or hang out with in the industry

5. Speaking at WPPI or any other event

6. Hosting a workshop (for the wrong reasons)

7. Shooting a certain number of weddings

8. Shooting at a certain venue

9. Shooting a destination wedding

10. How many comments you get on your blog

11. Being so busy you can’t think straight & telling everybody, “oh my gosh I’m sooo busy”

12. Getting your work published on blogs

13. Booking weddings at $_____ (fill in whatever number here you’ve convinced yourself means you ‘made it’)


Contrary to popular belief – none of the things above mean that you are successful. None of them are about your clients, or those you serve. All of those things are about YOU and about appearances. But, it can be really easy to get caught up in all of that if you let yourself. It seems the industry is consumed by all of those things. It seems everybody around you is trying to work their way up this ladder that they’ve convinced themselves exists.

So I’m doing my best to write my own rules for what success means for me, and if I ever find myself getting caught up in all the appearances and events and networking that can take over sometimes – I’m going to come back to this blog post to remind myself what really matters…. what success really means to me.


Success Means to me…

1. Working with clients who trust you and love your work.

2. Creating work you’re proud of, that lights your heart on fire, and that you are passionate about.

3. Paying it Forward to causes and people you care about.

4. Helping answer others’ questions and openly sharing your experiences to help others chase their dreams as well (whether via emails, blog posts, or workshops)

5. Being authentic and real.

6. Giving clients images that they will cherish and love for a lifetime.

7. Creating lasting relationships with clients.

8. Getting paid a fair rate that allows you to pay your bills while doing what you love.

9. Balancing work and life. (“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”)

10. Changing how people see themselves… helping them realize they are beautiful.

11. Accepting your own artistic voice.

12. Living a life you’d be proud to tell your children about. All of it.


Because your clients don’t care about what awards you won, who you know or hang out with in the industry, or how many comments that post got on Facebook. They care about you treating them like people and not a paycheck. They care about getting quality images they love, that make them feel something. They care about the experience of working with you. They care about feeling like their investment was worthwhile…

Because contrary to what we convince ourselves of – none of the rest of it matters. And none of the rest of it will give your business anything to stand on.

If there is no heart or passion behind what you do… If you’re doing this for the notoriety or awards or followers… If your business is all about YOU, and not about THEM… it will not last.


Do this because you love it and could not imagine doing anything else. Be kind. Pay it forward. Focus outward on others, not inward on yourself.


And in the words of the oh-so-wise Conan O’Brien….


And that has been my public service announcement for the day… I’ll get off my soap box now and back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow – promise! 😉 xoxo!



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Christy & James are Chicago based but happily travel anywhere in the world that beautiful love stories take them!