This quote sits in the back of my mind at all times. After spending almost sixteen years in a job which, by the end, practically suffocated me, I am very conscious about taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity, and talent, that I have been given to truly live and not simply exist. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy as, while being an independent has many advantages, in the end, it means less of your time is your own.
It’s been almost two years since I left the corporate world to pursue my photography business full time. I remember how scared I was when I made the decision to leave, fully prepared to eat ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner if need be. It’s not that I was betting against myself before I even cleared the gate but let’s face it, many small businesses fail within the first few years; I was being realistic.
There have been bumps and missteps along the way however I am happy to say that, overall, they have been few and far between and I haven’t had to go to Costco to stock up on the 50 packs of ramen and ten gallon jugs of Jif.
That said, this life isn’t at all easy. You don’t decide to become a full time artist because you want to make millions of dollars, or at least you shouldn’t. You do it because you love your craft and want to spend as much time doing it as possible. I could, with consequences, have kept the paychecks coming in for many more years and continued the photography as a side business or hobby. What it came down to was the question of whether, at ninety, I want to look back and say, “I have a lot of money in the bank, I am tired, I am old, and don’t remember the last time I was happy. Oh yeah, I took some really nice photographs too.” That isn’t the legacy I want to leave behind. I want to be able to look back and say, “Tracey Capone Photography has been going strong for 50 years and counting, I took a chance on myself and my talent and have lived, and loved, my life.”
Here’s the hitch. It’s really easy to give yourself over to your craft full time and devote every bit of energy you have, both mental and physical, to it, especially when you love what you do. When you are a full time artist, or independent business owner of any sort, time really isn’t your own; it slips away quickly and without notice. There have been many days where I have been working on editing photographs or mounting photo blocks, getting ready for festivals and shows or fulfilling orders and one minute it’s 2 pm, the next it’s 2 am. Where did the time go? (and, by the way, did I shower and when was the last time I ate, or for that matter spoke to another human?)
As TCP has grown and expanded, as it has become more successful, the “slow months” are fewer and farther between and the “busy months” are the majority of the year. A wonderful problem to have, yes, but at what point do I run the risk of simply existing: doing what I need to in order to put food on the table, have a roof over my head, and to keep breathing? When do I start worrying that I’m not actually living? Not only loving what I do but taking time to enjoy the life that I wasn’t able to when I was chained to a cubicle? Isn’t that why I ultimately left the corporate life? Am I running the risk of ninety-year-old Tracey looking back and saying, “I have money in the bank, I am old, I am tired and I don’t remember the last time I was happy?”
This past weekend I visited Sauguatuck, Michigan with a friend of mine. If you haven’t been there, as you can probably see from the pictures I am posting, to say it is “quaint” is an understatement. It is a small art community with a lot of life; that’s the best way I can describe it. The natives there are quintessential Midwestern friendly and laid back and the town is “Main Street” picturesque to say the least.
When you’re there, you don’t feel a need to rush, in fact you actually find yourself wanting to stop and take it all in. As I sat on a bench along the water, watching the boats and ducks float by, I wasn’t thinking about the next order I had to get out, or the festival I have coming up in two weeks; I was thinking how lucky I am that I am still able to recognize a need to just stop and enjoy life, to breathe it in, and given the opportunity to do it. I was thinking about how, two years ago, even if I was sitting on that very bench, watching those same boats and ducks, I wouldn’t have truly enjoyed it because I would have been so mentally squashed that I wouldn’t know how to appreciate everything in front of me. Admittedly, I was also thinking that, if I allow myself to be so all-consumed by the success of my business: by the money I pull in, by how well I do at festivals, in my Galleria space, in my Etsy shop, that I don’t take the time to breathe, to live, I will end up resenting my craft and won’t grow as an artist the way I want to.
The point? Life is crazy and unpredictable, no matter what path you choose, and your time on this planet is finite. Don’t waste days, hours, minutes, even seconds, simply existing; life is too short to live it as a drone. Take the time, even if it’s just a few hours a week, to do something solely for yourself, simply because you want to, not because you have to. Get in your car, turn up the stereo and just drive, go out to lunch with a friend, watch a funny movie just for the benefit of the laugh or get on your bike and go for a ride. It won’t always be convenient and yes, you will have to make up the time in the end. That said, allowing yourself to live gives you a greater chance of being happy and in the end, to grow as a person and artist, and the return you will get for those all too brief periods of time will pay off a thousand-fold.
Enjoy! (and “Stop, Smile and Sit”)