Give to Gain, or Gain by Giving?..
It took me 21 years of self-employment to realize what success really is.
Hanging the shingle on my first studio in 1996, after reading the "failure rate" statistics on my industry, had me believing that only a rare bird would be successful in this craft. I had just cashed in my 401k from Fred Meyer Inc. to roll the proverbial dice on my life-long dream of being a photographer.
Starting at zero, it's easy to say that I doubled my sales every year for my first five years. But I didn't start at zero because I was hungry! Not "driven-to-sell" hungry, driven to GIVE, to SHARE and to leave my clients feeling better about themselves at the end of every session. It was like a Pollyanna dose-of-denial that amplified my enthusiasm, while ignoring the gloomy statistics.
I grew my numbers fast. Looking back, I had no clear strategy - I was simply sharing as I went. Mentoring students/interns that wanted my career path, donating my services to non-profits and pulling over to assist stalled motorists nearly everywhere I went. (pre-smart phones).
I had this little speck of my grandfather Raymond Geraths' in me. The guy I would joke as my "real life Mr. Rogers". The guy refused to let a depressed child feel less than important. He inspired me to be in service for as long as I can remember, and he was my greatest cheerleader to pursue my passion in photography.
The first sign of this I can recall was round 12 years old when he saw my trigger-happy smile as my parents handed me down their Kodak 126, 110, and as the disc camera was the next in negative size-reductions, he gave me this Sabre 620. It took 2 1/4" roll film, easily 10 times the detail of everything I was playing with prior.
I went on a 15+ year tangent into retail management, with one goal in mind - to buy better gear and feed my rather expensive hobby of photography.
The day I opened my studio was an exciting one, but even more exciting was the day I got to photograph my grandfather Ray.
To show him that his inspiration and encouragement was not wasted. Having his Saintly presence in my new studio, was like a reminder for me to also remember what I was made of.
When the World Trade Center buildings fell in New York, it ran a shock-wave through my otherwise-Pollyanna perspective on life. I felt everything except for the ash falling directly on me. I had just mailed out my High School Senior brochures (pre-internet marketing), but the phone was not ringing.
I wasn't swimming in money (to say the least) and yet, all I could think of was "What can I do with what I have to make people feel better?" I felt this burning desire to serve people that had greater problems than I did. I called one of my regular commercial clients, a non-profit called Metropolitan Family Service. Having created lifestyle images for their annual reports, I knew that they served a great number of at-risk families.
I tossed an idea by them to provide free family portraits to their recipients, with no-strings-attached copies of the best pose, and the negative to allow them unlimited printing if they wanted to share more. I discovered that I was not alone. In Bend Oregon, one of my peers, and a HUGE-hearted giver named Kevin Kubota was doing the same thing. I called him to swap notes, and to make sure I didn't overlap his day, since both of us were putting out the call to photographers all over Oregon to assist.
Year number one, there was one other photographer, the late Bob Welsh (and AMAZING human being of Moments in Time Photography in Hillsboro) who came to my call, and a few enthusiasts to assist us. (Thank you Jackie Maxwell, for always being a part too!)
With two cameras, we served between 80-100 families in about 4-5 hours. We all walked away realizing that it was not us doing them the favor, rather the opposite. I don't know that I had ever felt so fully paid as I was that day. Stories of "First time my parents in Mexico will see their grandchildren." and "Thank you Brian, this was our last chance before my husband passed away from his aggressive bout with cancer."
I still get blurry-eyed even thinking about these and many others that reminded us all about what mattered. After showing up on TV news and local papers, it was much easier to get additional photographers to expand the program in the next five years.
So here's the interesting takeaway for me. Up until last year, 2006 was the last time I had seen my sales on such an incline. I shared the same experience (if not worse) as many in 2007 with ongoing war news, "2008 with the bubble", and my own little journey in dealing with excessive damages to a house I was trying to sell.
I had to let my full-time office manager go, negotiate out of my last few months of a five-year lease, and moved my studio back into my home. Like you, I've got chapters to fill that book with, but mostly for me, it was lessons in humility and complacency.
Humility, in letting go of my "professional image", only required me to meditate away any traces of an ego that might have crept in.
The lessons in complacency?..
Until around 2012, I was regurgitating my victim's mantra. About the $30,000 equity loss before I finally listed my house in 2006. About the turd-contractor that did $69,000 in damages during his lease option on that semi-sold house, (before getting it back). About how GRAY, man's law is. About how unfair it was that I had to rebuild the house that I had spent 10 years improving before the dominos fell.
THEE day, that I TRULY let go of my soggy script of shit-happenings, was THEE DAY, that the full price offer came in on my house. Nearly seven years to the date.
Within two weeks I was on a plane to Kenya. The trip was paid for by my client who had NO idea that it was on my bucket list to do a safari there. I arrived four days before the ribbon cutting on the Chwele Community Center, and there were many set-backs, making it look nearly hopeless to create a photo-worthy completion before the Governor arrived for the big ceremony.
Drawing on my frequent role in Fred Meyer remodel meetings (how to keep a store safe, presentable and functional during disruptions) I met with the engineer Eddie. I asked to collaborate on a plan to assure that my trip was not in vane, which he was very open to.
The biggest priorities needed money to finish. The reason I wanted to help. I felt my safari money burning a hole in my pocket, so we plotted to maximize on what little I had to offer. My contribution helped to finish the veranda tiles, some plumbing and new shower heads for the guest quarters.
I knew that I would go back for a safari on another day, and just wrote this off as my recon trip to plot a course. I felt just like the day that I opened my studio in 1996. I suddenly felt ALIVE again!
Before this begins to sound like I'm some sort of altruistic saint (far cry, much to learn still), I want to make my point. I spent my "down" years, thinking about how great it would be to have more money to start giving again.
To the truly Rotarian-minded givers that laugh at me, YES, I eventually got it.
I was not giving because I was earning more, I was earning more because I was giving!
The fact that 2017 was the best year I'd seen since the '08 recession had nothing to do with anyone else. I became aware that I was in charge of my own personal economy.
That I gave and FORgave my way out of the darkest experience of my life. I didn't wait for big chunks of money to begin giving. I gave when it felt difficult. I recalled a quote from one of my Spiritual Mentors, (and will fill in their name once I recall the source) that said:
"Why would the Universe trust you to give $100,000 of a million dollars, if you're not willing to share 10 cents of that dollar in your pocket." DOH!.. Guilty as charged, and thank you _____ for the wake-up call!
Sure, the historical headlines can paint a parallel explanation to my financial roller-coaster, but I was in the front seat and know what I saw. It was not until I made the decision to give, and I mean SINCERELY SHARE, that my trajectory returned to one that allows me to share even more.
Thank you to all who kept me going through my years of Spiritual complacency. You know who you are. And to those anonymous givers who left their parking passes in the payment slots downtown (with an extra hour on them), I hope you were in line at Starbucks when I handed the barista a loaded card to cover anyone that came after me until it's gone.
I know how amazing it feels to receive now, so I'm learning to just smile and say thanks, without feeling a sense of owing.
To whoever anonymously donated the money to the Paul Harris Foundation in my name, and to former Lake Oswego Rotary President Terri Childress, for making me a "Plus 1" (2x Paul Harris recipient) I thanked my Grandfather Ray. I was only emulating the deeds that gave me the fuzzy pangs as a kid, and an immense gratitude when I felt "at-risk" myself. We are all in this together, yes?
Success has nothing to do with our bank accounts, rather how well we circulate this shared experience of being human. (Spiritual BEings, in a human experience).
That said, I wish you the best of success for this year and the rest of your life! It's a great ride, and we're on it with some incredible Go-Givers!