Hustle. Good things come to those who hustle. Hustle hard. When you rest, you rust. Ingredients for happiness: wifi, caffeine, hustle, a dream.

This is just a sliver of the sampling I found for motivational quotes on hustling. The message I constantly hear, especially as a creative trying to forge my own path is DON’T STOP. It’s all up to you. If your wheels are not always moving forward in self-promotion, your’e dying. You’re losing momentum. In order to be successful you must be constantly posting to social media, generating good content, but also ENGAGING with your audience. But first, of course, you have to know your audience. Who are they, how do they spend money? Where do they shop? What do they do in their free time? As if summing up a life and personality were so easy as a few demographic boxes.

Several years ago when I began his journey of owning my own business, setting out to serve others with my photography, I learned very quickly that I needed to define success on my own terms. If I was comparing myself to other photographers who had been in business longer, had fewer or no children, had a different niche and passion, I would wither with inadequacy. I spent a lot of time thinking about what success might mean to me, what I want my life to include, how I would design my days if I could. Just because someone else’s business and life looked one way didn’t mean that should be my standard to measure myself by. I had to decide my own WHY and what success looked like for ME.

This has and will evolve over time, but when I sat down to map out what success meant for me, it included a few key ingredients. They all essentially boil down to  having time to take care of myself and my family well, to live on purpose, not accident.

Making time to exercise and move my body is a must. In some seasons it has looked like Cross-Fit at 6:30 am, other seasons it’s meeting a friend at the track and running sprints while our kids play in the stands. Lately it’s been workouts at home while my preschooler watches a morning show. It’s a non-negotiable for me. If I want to be productive and mentally clear, I need me some endorphins. Everyone around me benefits. No amount of financial success can replace this one, amazing body I get to live in for the rest of my life. Taking care of it, making sure I feel good and strong and beautiful and have the energy I need in the rest of my life is a priority.

Another ingredient is having time and energy to create and enjoy healthy meals with my family. I’m a bit of a nutrition geek and a foodie, and really do believe that you are what you eat. The more I learn about nutrition and genetics, the more important it is to feed myself and my family well. This usually means making time to plan, prep and sit down for dinner all together more often than not. I truly believe and have seen how food is medicine. I want to teach my kids how to eat well and prepare whole foods, not just get by with quick calories. Aside from the obvious health/ emotional benefits, we’ve found that eating together is a way to hold onto sacred family time in the face of mounting external demands of homework, peers, boyfriends, activities, etc. It’s one little anchor holding us steady in the waves of raising four kids. Magic happens around the table. Not always. Sometimes it’s fart jokes and jabbing and forgetting manners and bickering over who’s turn it is to clear the table (not mine). But sometimes we show up and we can just start by spilling our day, and maybe that turns into spilling our heart, or at least cracking it open a teeny bit, creating space to pay attention to each other, to practice the fine art of conversation. The alchemy of the table is not to be understated. Too often it’s the first ritual to go when our proverbial plates get full and life feels chaotic. Talk to me when I’m three months in to baseball season. I may be singing the praises of store-bought rotisserie chicken. And I’m OK with that too, of course. But creating delicious and healthy food that we get to enjoy together feels nurturing, luxurious even. There are days when I pull out something frozen and we eat pell-mell, scattered schedules, on the run between games or standing up in the kitchen past bedtimes. But the goal is a real meal for us. Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate. That is, at least, the life and the memories I am trying to create around the table, a small piece in the fabric of our family culture.

Some of my earliest and fondest memories involve being in my grandmother’s greenhouse, the earthy soil filling my nostrils in the humid air. Gardening has been such a delight to me in the last decade since buying our home. It’s become a place of communion and meditation, a place of absolute wonder and joy. To watch the smallest seed transform into a huge tomato or pea plant that feeds my family and friends is nothing short of miraculous to me. To taste summer’s sun captured in a tomatillo or perfect raspberry is a primal experience. As technology continues to create distance between us and the cycles of nature, I want now more than ever to return to the earth, return to the basics of seed, soil, sun, water. My garden isn’t always bountiful, but I usually find that the process itself changes me, teaches me truths about life and God. I don’t want to be so busy that I can’t dig in the earth and pass on that love to my children. The joy of picking dinner from your own ground cannot be compared to filling your cart at a store. 

Another touchstone for me in the quality of life equation is having time to read. Falling into a great novel for hours (or days) or more often for me, becoming engrossed in a book about creativity, business, or spiritual growth is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’m “reading” a ton more this year thanks to Audiobooks (and my wireless Beats headphones that go with me to the grocery store, while I’m doing dishes or cleaning house). I find that it’s a waterfall effect- the more I read, the more hungry I am for more books, more stories, more input. The more I follow my curiosities, the more I am rewarded.

Who says the measure of success is money and power (popularity in our currency)? What if it’s really time? Time to do the things that fill you with joy. Time to live a life you love, with the people you love. We need a new metric for success. I don’t want to chase followers, or numbers, or a full calendar. I’ve done busy. It’s overrated. I want to live on purpose this one wild and precious life I have, to love my people well, to invest in my friends and family, my four kids (some of whom are rapidly on their way to leaving the nest). The myth of having it all is dead. What would it matter if the stories I tell with my camera are better than the one I am living?

The challenge for me is that the more physically and emotionally independent my kids become, the busier they become as well—  meaning I have to choose often between pursuing my passions or cheering them on in pursuit of theirs. I fail. I make mistakes. I wrestle and am conflicted.  I am constantly evaluating these options and weighing priorities against one another, knowing that for everything I say yes to, I will have to say no to something else. That’s why it’s even more imperative to understand clearly what is essential to my purpose and passion. Not every possibility is an opportunity I need to pursue. What I do know is that I want to be at my sons’ baseball games on summer evenings (and with three sons playing there are many) and not feeling I need to be  home editing or returning emails. 

The problem with Hustle is you can miss the life you have, the life you think you are chasing in pursuit of the “next steps”, the things you think you SHOULD be pursuing. As I continue to grow my business and figure out ways I can do that better and more strategically, I come back to these touchstones and surprisingly, I find life is actually beginning to look a lot like the map I made. Not entirely, not perfectly, but close. Sometimes I dream of more clients. Sometimes I wonder if this whole photography gig will actually work as a business. But the point is perhaps it is working and it looks different than I thought it would. It reminds me how in the struggle and hustle it can be all too easy to lose sight of WHY you want to reach that goal so badly in the first place. I’m a goal-oriented person. I love lists. I love reaching goals and having a vision and completing a project. I’m beginning to see that almost more important than the goal is the answer to the question “how will reaching this goal make my life better?” Will it give me more freedom? More time? More money? More energy? More connectedness? What is it for? Even more important is the question “How do I want to feel?” I don’t want to feel scattered and stressed. I don’t want to be so busy that I’m missing out on all the ingredients that define my Success and a life well-lived.

What the Hustle does is blind us to asking WHY and keeps us just doing the next thing we think we’re supposed to do. Constant presence on social media outlets, Facebook advertising, producing content… these can be life-giving or life-draining. And if you are in a season of them being life-draining, give yourself permission to say NO to it all and lean into what matters to you. Maybe you just need to bake a cake on a Saturday, or go for a run on a Tuesday afternoon, or watch Netflix and clean the house on Monday Morning instead of hustling. You might find that the life you were hustling after is right under your nose.

I will leave you with these wise words by Frederick Buchner: “If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch taste smell your way to the holy hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

Gimme some sugar, Sugar!

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