JASON ATEN | MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHER

WHO HAS TIME FOR BALANCE?

Last weekend, I photographed a wedding "up north."  If you're not from Michigan, you probably have no context of why people from Michigan are always talking about "up north."  It's like there's some kind of magical place that exists somewhere north of the 45th parallel, that draws people into some kind of "heaven-on-earth" experience.  Actually, it's exactly like that. 

Over the last year or so, we've become the kind of people that go "up north," so last week, I talked Beth into packing our three little people into the car with the promise that if she was willing to hole up in a hotel room for the day Saturday with said little people, we could have some quality family time together for the rest of the weekend.

What a perfect analogy for the life I often find myself living - both as a photographer - and as a business owner.  Life becomes the adventure of figuring out ways to fit together these two - sometimes competing - pieces of family and business.  

In reality - I love what I get to do.  I love photographing weddings.  I love being a part of the important moments of people's lives.  It's a privilege and an honor - one that I take seriously.  But, all of that is small, compared to the opportunity I have to live in the important moments of my family.  

Running a small business isn't easy.  It's not supposed to be.  It's hard work and long days, and it's often very stressful.  That's the life of a small business owner.  At the same time, it comes with a great reward - freedom.  

One of the things I hear from photographers, is how hard it is to balance work-life and family-life.  It's hard to figure out where the boundaries are - or even what boundaries are!  For me, the answer is about perspective - and it's about understanding why I do what I do.

It's pretty easy to end up with a small business that consumes you - and your life.  There really is a lot to do, but your photography business doesn't have to own you.  By starting with an understanding of why your business exists, you can put everything else in perspective - including boundaries.

My business exists to:

Add value to my family, by adding value to my clients.


I value my clients greatly, but I value my family more.  In fact, it’s only because of my family that I own a business.  The minute it stops allowing us to meet our family and financial goals, and allowing me to meet my personal and artistic goals, it’s no longer worthwhile.  Here are a few of the things that might help define boundaries that make it easy to focus on that mission statement.

- Always take at least one day off a week with family.  For us, it doesn’t matter what we do, we just do it consistently (every week) and we do it together.  

- Maybe for you it would help to not check email after 6PM.  I try to not use the computer after 6PM.  There’s nothing that happens in my business that can’t wait until morning. (by the way, working from home means I suck at this, so I go "offline" from about 4pm - 8pm, and then get a little more done before I go to bed).

 - Keep to set “work hours.”  If you don’t define them, you’ll find yourself working all the time.

-  Don’t bring work home.  No matter what.  Don’t edit photos from home, don’t reply to client emails from home, and don’t answer your phone when you get home.  Keep work at work.  If you "work" at home, then leave it all in your office.  Pick a "work" space where you do work, and when you leave... do the important things.

-  Be intentional about both "quality time" AND "quantity time."  By the way, the best way to create quality time is simply spending a lot of time together.  Some of my favorite quality time with my kids is when I come out of the office (which is on the lower level of our house) and they simply want to roll around on the floor and wrestle. 

Last weekend, I took more than 1,000 photos.  The wedding was gorgeous, and the couple was stunning.  The details were flawless, and I had a great time.  But the photos above are far and away my favorite.  Those are my people.  

 

And that's why I do what I do.

 

This was a post I originally wrote almost exactly a year ago - but I revised it this weekend after finding myself reminded of what really matters....