It's so strange to think how many years of my life went by without much of anything changing. This is before I had Rory, of course. I would feel like the end of the year was my chance to make a plan, to do something different and escape the monotony of a day job that I didn't want to be doing for much longer. I couldn't see a way out, but I'd fight and fight and fill notebooks with ideas and still never be sure what to do nor be brave enough to do it even if I did know. I'd change my life for the better where I felt I could. Exercise more, take time off, travel abroad, learn something new, meet up with friends more often...all the usual new year promises we make to ourselves. I got so used to what I knew. To that day job, to the comfort of working from home and the security of a monthly pay cheque. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, you know?
I was always happy with my life in those years, but I now understand what was missing was a sense of purpose. That what I did mattered, that it made a difference to anyone but the people I worked for. I earned more money for them, built their business and moved their goals forward...but what about mine? It wasn't enough for me to have a job and a passion that were separate. I wanted to wake up every day and know that every minute of my time was spent in the pursuit of something. A dream, a calling...whatever you want to call it. I was unfulfilled, and that led to so much scrabbling around doing busy work trying to find my way. I see now that those years were important, an essential step to understanding what I did and didn't want to do. At the time they felt like such a waste.
I read back on my Farewell, 2016 post before I started writing this one, and it reminded me how uncertain everything was this time last year. I'd just quit my job, finished up a few months of having one day a week childcare for Rory and had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. It was exciting, but more nerve wracking and stressful than I anticipated. It has been a huge year for personal growth, understanding the limits of my abilities to balance everything. Have you heard the saying 'rocks before sand"? Well this year I tried to stick to that, filling my jar with the important things first, so there's space for the little things to permeate the gaps. If you go sand first, there's no room for anything else.
2017 has been a year of farming. Doing all that digging, turning over the earth and sowing seeds so that when the summer comes we can harvest. I have poured so much effort into the foundations of my business, and the rest of my effort has gone into selling our current flat in London and searching for another one outside the city. Next year, I am certain we will reap the rewards of all that effort, especially with moving home. It feels a little like we are on pause, just now, waiting for this new life and new start that is still just out of reach. I trust that it will all work out, that what is meant for us won't go past us, and that every bump in the road is an opportunity for growth. 2017 has also been a year of gratitude, and of holding on to the practice of staying close in my mind to what I am grateful for so I can keep calm in the more challenging moments. A lot of this year has been unsettling, and I needed that anchor.
I have loved this year with all my heart. It has been full of the pursuit of everything I love, and I don't think there's anything better I could ask for than that. All killer no filler, if you will. But that doesn't mean it has been a year without challenges. But I've learnt that it's precisely because of the challenges that I have gained so much from it. A winding, overgrown path you have to fight your way through tells you there is treasure at the end. That it's a path worth travelling. If you want your journey to be smooth, well lit and signposted...well that's like the department store version of life. And I don't think anyone really wants that, do they?
I'm ending this year focusing on rest, hiding indoors from the rain and sleeping while Rory sleeps. No big plans and absolutely no work. These are things that can wait until the New Year has started, because a rested mind is like a freshly turned over patch of soil. The time is coming that my thoughts will be ripe for growth, but for the next few days we will stay dormant.
I've been doing these reflections at the end of each year for the last three years. You can read my previous from 2015 and 2016. I really enjoy doing these reflections, they're wonderful to read over each year to see how far I've come and how much just little adjustments and intentions move you forward. Here are my reflections on 2017...
What 2017 accomplishments am I most proud of?
Balancing a 1-2 year old human and a 0-1 year old freelance photography business has been no mean feat, most of all in accepting my limitations within that balance. Learning not to see them as separate entities but as two parts that make me whole, and that as the demands of motherhood ebb and flow, so must my attention to my work.
What are some takeaways from those triumphs?
That I am running my own race. That trying to keep up with full time parents or full time creative business owners is an unachievable and unnecessary goal. Instead what is required is some deep and honest soul searching to get in touch with what is really important to me, and how I can build a life and business that supports that.
In which areas did I struggle most in 2017?
I struggled with being a woman in her thirties without a regular, independent income. While Motherhood might be the most important job in the world, the wages are terrible and the holidays are non-existent. This year I worked harder than I've ever done in my life, and learnt the least money. That was hard to adjust to after spending half my life so far working and earning a monthly wage.
Which of these difficult situations did I overcome? (Or work to overcome?)
It took some frank conversations with Gav to explain how I felt, and to adjust our financial arrangements so that I felt more in control of 'our money' rather than my money and his money. I know some couples do this already before children, but we didn't. We only had joint finances to cover regular expenses, everything else came from our individual earnings/savings and we liked it that way. Works great when you're both in full time employment, works terribly when one of you gives up your job to raise your child. We talked about it, and figured out a new way forward. Pivotal moment for us, and me, for sure.
Which friends supported me most this year?
I feel like my soul sister Lucy will top the list every year. She's just that kind of person. She gives so much of herself, truly listens to what you say and understands exactly how to help you in every situation. I don't know how I got so lucky to meet her, connect with her and have her be such a big part of my life these last two years. I learn a lot from her open heart, her generosity and her vulnerability.
Which friendships changed and shifted?
Sadly, I lost a friendship this year. I've found some friendships difficult to maintain since having Rory, and it has certainly shown up holes in relationships that were there before but went unnoticed. My instincts are to always patch things up, always be on good terms with everyone, but sometimes I think thats impossible to do without giving too much of yourself. Honestly, it's a sore spot for me and a low point of the year.
All my other friendships I think deepened. I feel more respect and love for my friends than ever, seeing them navigate challenges in their work, life and family. As always, I feel blessed to call all these wonderful women in my life good friends.
What are some new skills that I learned?
Parenting a toddler, does that count? I'm not sure I am particularly skilled at it, but it sure is something I didn't know how to do this time last year. My focus wasn't on learning new skills this year, but on improving the ones I already have. I've learnt to create more meaning in my photography and my writing, in my connections with clients too. It's been wonderful to be so focused on building on current abilities, instead of always looking for what's new. I'm excited to develop those further in 2018.
What are some things I’ve learned to accept about myself this year?
That I have a quick and bad temper, and how unacceptable I find that now I am a mother. Anger goes against how I want to parent, and it upsets me that I have to work through this personality trait. I feel like a fraud, sometimes, preaching kindness and love and understanding when sometimes I can be the opposite of all those things. I know none of us is perfect, but does that stop us from expecting that from ourselves?
Name 3-5 positive memory-making experiences from 2017.
1. The mornings spent with Lucy, co-working at her home with Rory and her son, River. We eat breakfast together, listen to music, burn incense, talk about life, the universe and everything. And get some work done too.
3. Ending the year with the most beautiful family session I've ever had. For parts of the session everything was so quiet all you could hear was the click of my shutter. Such comfortable silence is a powerful thing.
4. Rory taking her first steps in January, and buying her her first shoes in the February. We took her for a walk in Dulwich Park and it was amazing to be able to walk alongside her and hold her hand.
5. Travelling to Germany in April to photograph Eva and her family. It was a special experience to be invited into a stranger's home (we only knew each other via IG before that) and to be so welcomed by her and her husband. I was humbled by their openness, generosity and friendship. We had such great and interesting chats, I wish only that we lived closer so our families could meet over dinner more often. A highlight of my year, for sure.
Name a couple of negative memory-making experiences.
Losing the friendship I mentioned above. Selling our flat...so laborious, frustrating and unsettling. Hunting for a new place to live, because the novelty wears off fast. The pressure I felt at the start of the year to earn money and gain clients, instead of giving myself space and letting things evolve.
In which areas did I see the most personal growth and change?
This was a huge year for personal growth for me. Having a baby become a toddler, starting a freelance business and trying to move home are opportunities enough for growth on their own, but all together? Well you learn to grow or you drown. I discovered how to use a gratitude practice to anchor me, how to slow down and create space in my schedule to give me time to rest and time to work with clarity and focus.
What did I learn about myself in 2017?
That it's alright not to be perfect, and to always strive to be better. That being a mother and a creative business owner represents a state of continual learning and improvement.
What am I most grateful for in 2017?
I am grateful for all the opportunities that came my way, the serendipitous ones and the ones I sought out. I am grateful for the high standards Gav and I set for ourselves, for each other and from our life as a family, because it keeps us working hard to show up for each other. We both want lives full of love and happiness, support and freedom, understanding and empathy. We don't settle for anything less, and keep demanding that of each other.
What did I gain in 2017? What did I lose?
I gained a certain level of comfort in my role as a mother, and as a creative business owner. I feel like that limpet on a rock, that shuffles and shuffles and creates a groove until they feel at home. This year I've shuffled uncomfortably in may ways, but now I've made a little groove.I can nestle in.I gained a confidence to run my own race, focus on what's right for me instead of worrying about what everyone else is up to and how on earth I might catch up. I lost the friendship I mentioned above. I also lost a whole lot of time talking to estate agents and lawyers and filling in paperwork and house hunting!
What things do I want to leave behind in 2017?
The disconnect between Gav and I during parts of the year, that we worked hard to sort out towards the end of the year. It feels like I have my love and my best friend back, and it's scary how easy it is to fall into bad habits and drift away from each other without realising it. My non-exercising post baby body - I say that with kindness, of course, but now it's time to focus a little and get some much needed regular exercise. Can I also say house hunting? I'd like to not have to do that for much longer.
Which things do I want to take with me into 2018?
The enthusiasm and love for my work that I have finished up 2017 with. I feel surer than ever that this is my path and I just want to keep walking it.
What are some hopes you have for the year ahead?
I want to get back into reading in a big way - I'm aiming for two books a month. I want to move home, to a new town and a proper house with a garden. Get some childcare for Rory a few mornings a week, enabling me to have some time to grow my business. I hope to go deeper with my creations, produce more meaning and connection through my photography and my writing. I'd like to work on my writing, at some point, perhaps this year. Take a creative writing course, start journalling regularly, move beyond just keeping this blog as a practice for my writing.
Thank you, as always, for being here and coming along for the ride with me. It means a lot that you read what I write, follow along and support me, even if you do it silently. My aim is to encourage you, inspire you and serve you in whatever way I can, whilst ultimately doing this because I love it. This space is a great source of joy, creativity and comfort to me and I love to have you here to share it with. So thank you. Wishing you a peaceful, happy and fruitful 2018!
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