We had the good fortune of connecting with Paige Nelson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Paige, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
This is the ultimate conundrum every aspiring small business owner, freelancer, creative, and entrepreneur will face during the course of their pursuit. I’ve been a full-time wedding photographer for almost 6 years now and it’s still a learning curve. Most of the time, your business grows from a passion project or a fun hobby. As you start to share your creations with the world and hone your skill, you inevitably draw attention from your peers. They begin to seek you out for your expertise and cash starts to flow into the equation. You slowly realize, “Hey, maybe I can actually do what I love for a living!” You get into it for the love of doing, making, and serving. Unfortunately, that leaves many of us vulnerable to exploitation from even our closest friends and family. There is this mentality that if someone is doing what they love, it can’t actually be considered “work.” And because of that, you should be ok working for free or for perceived ‘exposure.’ The problem is, it’s not just clients that feed this narrative. Many small business owners I know subscribe to it too. They price their work on visibility, followers, and likes, instead of on overhead expenses, taxes…and the lifestyle they truly desire. When you start to measure your worth in numbers, it’s time to hold up the mirror. It’s just not sustainable and ultimately leads to burnout. (I was totally guilty of adopting this ‘starving artist’ mindset too when I first started out). Maintaining the appearance of constant busy-ness is also over glamorized in our society. There was a point when I realized time, not money, was my most valuable resource. I wasn’t serving myself, or anyone else, well by working myself into a hole. No matter how much I love my work, OVER working wasn’t worth the blow to my creativity, my personal life, and mental health. A great read for me last year was, “How to Not Always be Working: A Toolkit for Creativity and Radical Self Care” by Marlee Grace. Grace’s book was a powerful reminder that you set yourself up for success by setting tangible goals and creating these healthy boundaries around your work. I think the first key is separating your identity from your work. Problems with balance arise when this line becomes too blurry. You don’t need to be a ‘yes!’ person all the time- it’s actually way more beneficial to say ‘no’ to the work that doesn’t serve you. You will actually help manifest more of the work that feeds your soul after you get comfortable with saying no. I did this when I established a niche in photography. Instead of taking on random gigs, photographing everything under the sun, I honed in on small weddings and elopements. Those small gigs weren’t propelling me forward or creating any sense of balance in my life: they were only draining my most valuable resource: time. By staying in one lane, I’m able to specialize my services and offer them at a higher price point. This guarantees I’m able to produce higher quality work throughout the year by working with fewer couples. It’s always been important to me to build relationships and insert myself more into my couple’s day- but I can only do that effectively and sustainably with a smaller client ratio. This is when numbers really do matter. I’m protecting my energy and showing up with a smoldering creative fire. The second key is defining what your work IS and what it ISN’T- and this is actually more nuanced than you may think! It was helpful for me to write this down in list form. For example, I use social media to promote my business…but I also use it for fun. I failed myself by keeping that line blurry for so long. Now I set limitations on my screen time during work hours. I also stopped checking my email before bed and right when I wake up! I acknowledge that my work schedule is always going to look different than my friend who works a 9-5. But I do have more flexibility in setting my own schedule (like sleeping in, taking a Monday off versus working weekends, etc). If I set my work-life balance standards to look like my friend’s, I would be setting myself up for a comparison trap. There is always going to be a gray area in my work-life balance, but I’m ok with that. Self awareness and setting healthy boundaries are what will ultimately help you strike the balance that works for YOU!
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I’m a small wedding and elopement photographer, born and raised in San Diego. I graduated with my BA in journalism and freelanced as a writer/photojournalist for a handful of local outlets. It was one of my fellow photographer friends in college that asked me to second shoot a wedding with him. He introduced me to this new umbrella of photography that I quickly fell in love with: it was the perfect balance of documentary imagery and the creative, editorial work I craved outside of the hard lines of objective photojournalism. For almost 2 years straight, I balanced working a full time 9-5 job as a marketing coordinator along with my side hustle of photography. I was focused on building my portfolio, my gear, and my network. In 2015, I quit my job and leaped full time into wedding photography. No regrets- I don’t see myself ever going back to a 9-5! I’m a romantic through and through. I knew early on I wanted to forge my own path and do something I truly loved…because your work dictates your lifestyle. Wedding photography has introduced me to more wonderful people than I can count and broadened my world perspective. I am fortunate enough to bear witness to one of the happiest days of a person’s life…and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. It’s work that always keeps me on my toes. I approach my work with a sense of dreamlike wonder for the world around me. I tend to gravitate toward imagery that capture the lived emotions of a wedding day and help highlight our shared humanity. I think my work is a little softer around the edges, with a focus on the quieter in between moments of a wedding day. Opting for a creative lifestyle is never going to be easy. When you choose the road less traveled, you’re going to hit roadblocks. There are a lot of people out there that will project their own insecurities and fears onto you because deep down, they truly envy what you’re doing and can’t fathom doing it themselves. I’ve learned passion intimidates people. Really, doing anything outside the norm with your life terrifies most people. It took me a long time for me to see that it says more about them, than it ever did about me. The best thing you can do for yourself is become your own advocate. No one else is going to believe in you if you don’t first! Dig deep, feel the fear, and do it anyway. Limit your exposure to people in your life who are invested in tearing you down or draining your resources. Trade them for people who believe in what you’re doing and will root for you. Say yes to the work that feeds your soul- you will manifest more of it!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As someone who was borned and raised here, I feel like I know this city better than the back of my hand. I personally love a good balance of the outdoors and good food when I travel. If a friend wanted to experience the best of San Diego (as a local), here’s what our week together might look like. DAY 1- Beach day in La Jolla at Windansea. Rooftop brunch and drinks at George’s by the Cove. Rent a kayak or check out the cove. On the way back, stop at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood on Turquoise St for the best seafood tacos you’ve ever had. DAY 2- Hike through Torrey Pines to see the best of the coastline. Lunch or dinner at Bangkok Thai. Walk through the Design District in Solana Beach or catch a late show/concert at The Belly Up. DAY 3- Ferry ride to Coronado from the harbor. Rent a bike and ride around the island. Grab an afternoon gelato on main street or a drink beachside at the Hotel Del. Watch the sunset over the skyline. DAY 4- Be a foodie in Little Italy. Dinner reservations at Civico 1845, Buon Appetito, or Monello for some of the best Italian food. Drinks at Born & Raised or Kettner Exchange. DAY 5- Chill beach day at Sunset Cliffs. Brunch at Little Lion Cafe. Hike down to the tide pools and watch the sunset. Lots of photo ops here. DAY 6- Day trip to Julian/Mt Laguna. Hang out at Lake Cuyamaca in the afternoon for a picnic or check out some of the scenic pull outs in Mt Laguna for sunset. Stop at Julian Cider for a drink on the way home! DAY 7- Be a foodie (again) in Normal Heights/North Park. Visit some of the local record stores and shop for plants at Pigment. More tacos at City Tacos or Mastiff Kitchen (inside of North Park brewing). Drinks at Polite Provisions, Park & Rec, or Jane’s Gastropub in Normal Heights!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many who have played an integral role in building my business that deserve a shout out. Organizations: 1. The Missouri Photo Workshop (M.65) was one of the most raw experiences I had in my career. A week long, hands on intensive photojournalism workshop run by some of the most esteemed leaders in the industry. My mentors for the week were Think Tank co-founder and photojournalist, Deanne Fitzmaurice, and Brian Kratzer, Director of Photography at the Columbia Missourian. 2. WPPI- Early in my career, I attended 3 years in a row. I’m still in touch with many friends I met there. Sue Bryce’s keynote speech in 2017 is imprinted on my mind forever. I was also introduced to the work of Susan Stripling, inspired by her approach and business. 3. Trevillion Images- a UK based stock agency that found my early work on Flickr! I’ve been a contributor since 2013 and have had my work featured on numerous international book covers! (Including one by a favorite childhood author). Individuals: 1. Andrew Greene- my fiance who has been cheering me on (and carrying my bags) since day 1. He just launched his own woodworking business in SD, Casa Dega Design, making custom furniture and decor. I’m excited to help him build! 2. Jamie English (formerly based in SD, now in Sacramento)- together we built a community of wedding photographers in San Diego. She is a dear friend, passionate humanitarian, and an absolutely wonderful wedding photographer. 3. Brogen Jessup. Another one of my good friends I met in San Diego and one of the most talented photographers I know (she also is working on starting a new wedding styling business!). She has an insane attention to detail and creative eye for design. Books: 1. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert 2. How to Not Always be Working by Maggie Grace
All by me (Paige Nelson Photography)
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