How personal projects can save you from despair

Hindsight is 20/20.

This time last year was not a happy one for me.

To be totally honest, I had taken on too much work throughout the year and was burned out. I accepted work that was not my style and that I didn’t enjoy–because we needed the money.  Though 2010 had been the most profitable year to that point, I felt more  “poor” in spirit than I had ever felt before. To top things off, 2010 ended with a challenging client experience that was the final straw that pushed me into a year long sabbatical. Today I look back on that trigger moment that caused lots of tears and now I couldn’t be more grateful. I thought the world was coming to an end, but really it was an opportunity to rethink my life and business and go in a new direction I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Sometime soon I’ll write about the miracles that have occurred from choosing to step back. But today, I want to explore the magic of personal projects.

I knew that taking a sabbatical would only be as effective as I made it out to be.  I didn’t want to stop shooting, I simply wanted to stop shooting for other people for awhile.

I wanted to shoot things for myself and not for someone else’s expectations.  I wanted to explore my own vision. My own style. My own inspiration.

I reverted back to my beginning photography days in what I might consider now a “portfolio building stage”.  Only I wasn’t setting out to build a portfolio this time around as much as I was setting out to find joy and heal. I needed to fall in love with photography again and it needed to be on my own terms.  I gave myself homework for a shoot a week, just like I did back then.  Only this homework had a few important rules:

1.  It must be fun and make me happy.  I was shooting to find joy again, not to meet anyone’s expectations.

2.  It must push me creatively or technically.

3.  It must happen on Friday’s at 10:00 a.m.  (This last rule was only to keep me on task.  If I knew that there was an allotted time slot every week that was my personal “photo hot date” then I knew I would be more likely to make it happen.)

So WHO did I shoot?

Golly… I shot family, friends, friends of friends, my students, neighbors, total strangers that responded to a casting call on facebook, and our backyard goats for good measure.

No strings attached

Each shoot was completely pro bono. The subjects were gifted the images, but I was calling the shots for the session.  Remember, this was about my vision, not theirs.

Did it work?

Yes! Here I am in December 2011 quite delighted with photography and loving every bit of it!

Keep in mind that I set out to have fun. To find joy. In order to keep that as the main focus of these shoots, I did not treat them like I would handle business shoots ( I took out the parts that I dread about business and what stresses me out…the printing, ordering, burning CDs, packaging, pricing, selling, emailing, managing expectations, honoring special requests, having deadlines, etc.). I simply shot, edited, uploaded to an online gallery when I got to it and called it good. The end. Happiness sustained. Stress avoided.

You don’t have to take a sabbatical to do personal work.  But personal work can be the very lifeline of your creativity and sanity.  Fit it in somehow, on your own terms. And see if it isn’t just the very ticket to holding it all together with a smile.


What do you do keep the joy?





Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She used to believe that taking time for yourself was selfish.  She is much smarter now and understands that time for yourself makes it possible for you to give more and better. Cheers to taking time out for YOU.

Brooke teaches inspiring online photography classes that bring you confidence in your skills and creativity.

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