Self-Employment: Presence vs. Paranoia ~ Life Behind the Scenes of a Small Business

So… I’ve been living out of a place of fear lately and have been holding this post close to my heart for a while because:

  1. I’m worried what people will think of me/us/our business… all of it.

I know in my heart that all the things I’m going to say right now seem silly (and so does James because he tells me every day that everything will be okay), and that most of you will shake your head and say, “It’s just not true, Christy! You aren’t any of those things! Don’t worry about anything!” but in my heart of hearts – I can’t shake these thoughts lately. And I contemplated not sharing any of this for fear of looking like we don’t have it together… like we aren’t successful or thriving… because at this point in business, aren’t we supposed to have it all together?! But the truth is – I’ve shared these kind of vulnerabilities over and over on this blog and it only led to growth, support, and understanding… so I’m really hoping for the best here.

So here goes…

Lately I’m so afraid our business is going to fail and will slip right through our fingers. I’m afraid the life that we’ve built is only temporary and that this way we’ve become accustomed to living is only a season that will come to an end just like summer turns to fall and fall to winter.

There, I said it. Whew.

I guess I’ve always felt this way to some extent (which you know if you ever read any of my blog posts early on about self-employment where I freaked out about making this whole thing work), but once you have kids and a mortgage… and life insurance… and crazy high health insurance premiums… and many more responsibilities – the pressure is just multiplied. So I suppose this feeling shouldn’t come as a total shock to me… especially because I’m often convinced when things feel too good to be true – they probably are. (I kind of blame my dad for this feeling because I’m pretty sure every other week growing up my dad came home from work convinced he was going to be laid off in the next round of cuts at his company. I feel like for a little kid I was acutely aware of these conversations between my parents and it felt like it was a constant fear of my dad’s that he was only weeks away from unemployment. The irony? He ended up working at that company, Proctor & Gamble, for 35 years!! So clearly his paranoia all those years was totally unfounded!!)

Anyway – I digress.

Since I first started this business in 2008 and James joined me in 2010 – we had 6 years of growth. Every year we booked more and grossed more than the last. Within one year of taking our business full-time we had doubled my income from the law firm and within 3 years of going full time we made almost 5x more than I used to make at the law firm. In the two years to follow (2015 & 16) we held steady, comfortably and turned our focus on how to continue to thrive as a business without working ourselves into the ground (which we had done early on). It was also in these years that I finally got pregnant and we welcomed our boys into the world. Even after the boys arrived, we managed to keep our calendar full – shooting 28 weddings last year with newborn twins.

So it kind of came as a surprise that this year we only have 20 weddings on the books so far (8-10 weddings less than normal) and naturally – I’ve gone into full-on freak out mode over it most days. You guys – we don’t have a single wedding this month and only ONE in June! What is that?! I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a wedding in May, and June is usually booked to the brim with 1-2 weddings each weekend and often is our busiest wedding month of the year! (A friend of mine pointed out that it isn’t natural to have so many years of growth in a row and that it is inevitable to have a slower year at some point… which I suppose could be right – though I don’t like it!)

Naturally, I’ve started to try to think of all the reasons why this is happening (even though all my friends who are at the same stage in their business also said they are having weirdly slow years this year as well – what is up, 2017?!)… but I can’t help but think instead:

  1. Are we un-relatable to clients because we have kids now?
  2. Do people not enjoy following our journey now that we’re homebodies and haven’t traveled in a year and a half? Do we post too many photos of our boys and not enough about the two of us? Are people sick of seeing photos inside our dirty house? (haha, seriously though.)
  3. Are we just too old for this? Do our couples have trouble feeling connected to us because we’re old married people now?

I’ve also been thinking – you know what is really weird? Working in an industry where nearly all of the “big name/super successful” people in it don’t have any kids. (I know if you’re a photographer and you’re reading this – you’re going to run through your brain to point out the people who do – but most of those that I can think of that do either just very recently had a baby so we haven’t seen the effects yet OR only one of the people in the couple runs a photography business – and the other has their own separate income/benefits/retirement from a “normal” job). I noticed it before we ever had kids that there were only a handful I knew of that were married with kids AND running a business together, but I kind of shrugged it off – not ever thinking too much about why that may be. But since we had the boys it is a thought that kind of drives me crazy! I wonder why it is that almost nobody has kids? Maybe because this is a very young industry full of 20-somethings chasing their dreams and traveling the world…? Or maybe more realistically, I’m just internalizing everything…? I have just felt the comparison game hitting me like a ton of bricks since I had the boys and I know it is silly to compare apples to oranges, but I can’t help it. Every day on social media I see these other photographers traveling the world, hosting sold out workshops, launching podcasts and “shops” and meanwhile – I’m proud of myself if I managed to cross a few things off my MUST DO list and managed to brush my teeth before bedtime for once!

I know there are people out there with families making this work, but lately – maybe because life at home just feels SO GOOD – I’m so afraid and convinced this isn’t going to continue to work for us. I’m afraid if I don’t start doing EVERYTHING again within my business, like everyone I see out there – it is just going to crumble beneath me. I’m paranoid we’ll have to get “normal” jobs and not get to raise our boys at home together. I’ve tried so hard to shake this feeling and to stop being paranoid – but this slow season is not helping my cause here!

So I’ve decided to do a couple of things:

  1. Write. Here I am… writing this post because getting these feelings off my chest always seems to help.
  2. Act. James asked me what I was going to do about it… meaning – he was sick of hearing me freak out everyday so I should really just figure out what steps we need to take to get things moving and ACT. So we wrote a list of “Actions for Business Growth” recently. Even just writing that list made me feel better in the moment – even if doing these particular things may not help (though I really hope they do!).
  3. Have faith. James always says this to me and also reminds me that, “We work way to hard for this not to work. We just have to keep showing up, keep doing the work, and trust that it will be okay.” 
  4. Budget better. Over the years we have gotten used to buying whatever we needed each month on our airline points credit cards and at the end of the month we pay off the balance. We still do this – but realized this month that it is really silly that we don’t have an actual budget we stick to. It became apparent that we were spending way too much money each month on who knows what?! and that we could reign it in. So starting this month we set a budget for each week and are planning to stick to it as best we can. **Which brings me to a quick question – for those of you with kids what is your weekly budget for food and Target runs? (You know, toiletries, clothes, odds & ends AND food – because you know all those odds and ends add up!) If you don’t mind sharing your budget and what city you live in – I’ll love you forever! I’m trying to get a better idea of what is a good amount for this when feeding a family of 4 in a big city, but am having trouble knowing what makes the most sense!
  5. Enjoy the quiet. So far we are doing okay, things are just tighter than I’d really prefer they be, but I’m trying my best to trust it will be okay and that we will find a way to make it work (just like James keeps telling me). I keep thinking that maybe God planned it this way for us so that we have time to be home more and enjoy our boys. Goodness knows that last year was SO crazy and so non-stop (we shot 16 weekends in a row at one point with no days off!) – that perhaps we could use a year that is more about being home and cultivating things here instead of just within our business. I even just realized/remembered that the word I chose for this year was PRESENCE so maybe God took that even more literally than I intended. 😉
  6. Stop comparing. I just need to do what I did years ago after the What If Conference and unfollow people whose profiles make me feel like crap. Maybe it is nothing they’re doing in particular, but everything to do with me… either way – I need to follow people who inspire me with their humility and make me nod and clap with their realness. I need to focus on the important things in my life and turn down the noise elsewhere.


Given all of that above, I’m going to do my best to work hard while also trying my best to enjoy this quieter than normal time with my family. When else do we have weekends during warm months to enjoy with our family and friends? When else do we have time in the summer to take our boys to the pool? When else are we able to explore local parks when it is above freezing?

This season, just like all those that came before it, is just that… a season. I’m doing all I can to remember that and to believe that it will be okay. I have to trust that summer is coming, not winter… and that perhaps after this season of quiet will be another season of growth. Or more importantly – that this season, as all of those that have come before it – is just as it is meant to be… is just what we need right now… and that it will all make sense to me in retrospect. I have to hope that people aren’t bored with my oversharing of baby photos, and that potential clients still feel connected to us for who we are at our core and not just when we used to be way more fun and adventurous. 😉

In the meantime, if you could do me a favor and if you feel drawn to – please continue to share our names with your families and friends. Since our wedding calendar isn’t as crazy this spring and early summer we have more availability for other shoots, elopements, family sessions and last minute weddings/events. We’d so appreciate if you continue to send people our way and would be forever grateful!! In the meantime, I’m doing my best to follow my word for the year and remembering to enjoy this time and be PRESENT instead of paranoid (as I clearly tend to be more than I’d like to admit). Because after all these years of trying to build a family and now finally having that dream come true – I should probably let myself just enjoy these sweet boys while I can.


Self Employment Life by Christy Tyler Photography_0001


Thanks so much for reading this jumble of emotions and over-analyzation, friends. I so appreciate it.  XOXO

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