I want to share some of the activities we're doing to prepare for this huge change in life we're planning. Planning is the big word here because without a plan all you do is talk. I'm a technical person (as you know if you read earlier posts) so I like to start any plan with the end in mind. So let me describe what we want our lives to be like in 4 years:
We live in a relatively small house, somewhere in the United States, that has a number of key characteristics: A small, easy to maintain yard or perhaps no yard to maintain whatsoever. I've enjoyed gardening and yard maintenance in my current and previous homes but it is a huge consumer of time. We want to spend our time doing other things so minimizing this is important. Optimal house size would be around 2,500 square feet, including a master suite, a smaller guest suite, a good sized kitchen with modern appliances, a large garage and a Huge (500+ square feet) general purpose room like a FROG (Finished Room over the Garage). Why that big room? Well, currently we need three separate spaces to get things done, including a small home office where all the computers live, an art studio including storage for photo gear, and a loft as a home portrait studio. We want to combine all that functionality into one larger working space that's flexible and re-configurable. The house has to be compatible with us from a feng shui perspective. I'm thinking that finding this perfect home for us already built will be quite a challenge, so I'm readying myself to the challenge of having it built to our specs. We want to live in an interesting area not too far from a major airport. We're leaning toward the left coast but not sure about that yet.
We travel frequently. We plan and take three big trips each year to new locations around the world. We choose locations that support our ventures (my photography and Denise's healthy living) I can envision both of us hosting workshops and making instructional videos, taking still and moving images, learning local homeopathy, etc. And we spend quality time where we visit. No canned package tours, and enough flexibility in our schedule to allow us to explore a spot for a few extra days when we find something really special.
In between those big outings we might take smaller trips within the US, but the down-time will mostly be spent tending to our businesses. Those businesses will be our new garden and like any garden it only yields quality fruit when tended to with constant care. In a small business you wear many hats. Only a small percentage of your time do you actually perform the function that directly brings in money. The majority of the time you are the office manager, research assistant, accountant, VP of marketing, and sale director. Not to mention CEO and custodian. Striking a productive balance between all of these jobs is what makes any small business successful, in my experience.
We are always learning, researching, watching trends, and making sure that we are relevant and accurate. If we come across a promising home remedy, we do our own research and apply scientific method to reach conclusions that are based on objective quality evidence. So any recommended we give are substantiated and where possible, corroborated by experts.
Do we have a 4 year plan with every tiny detail and step all written down to get us from here to there? Nope. But we do know the big changes in our lives that we need to be working on now to begin the journey. The plan will mature along the way and will certainly need adjustment as life continues to be "what happens while you're making other plans." We are starting to work on those big changes the way you eat an elephant, "one bite at a time" as the saying goes.
For example, this huge house we live in now is full of stuff. Things collected over more than a decade. We're starting to discuss what's going to go and what we're going to keep. To help this effort I've made a promise to get rid of at least two boxes of things every week. I'm giving them to friends that might want them, donating the remaining useful items, and tossing the rest in the trash. I hope after a year of culling down junk, it will be a lot easier to work through what's left.
While I feel my photography skills have improved over the past years, I've still got a long way to go before my images compare with folks that are making a good living at it. I set aside time each day to shoot, practice processing, read, and learn from on-line experts. I take a critical view of myself and so if I think I disagree with something said, I ask myself why I disagree and can/could I do it differently. If I can't then I add it to my list of things to practice. I'm still experimenting with different photographic genres. If one emerges as "my style" so be it but I'm also OK being a photographic generalist.
Networking - we are starting to seek out friends and acquaintances to add to our professional network. We want to foster those relationships to everyone's mutual benefit. For example, we recently met a doctor with a background in pharmacological research, but has turned to homeopathy. I recently shot with a model who also makes her own organic soap. We have friends that are into paleo lifestyle and are cross-fit instructors. I have pro photog friends that specialize in everything from newborns to scientific instrumentation. We'll call on these folks as we build our content along the way.
Branding early is important too. I mentioned that Denise is re-vamping her web site, so we're redesigning that layout, making a new logo, migrating to a new hosting service, and changing the overall feel from text heavy descriptive content to one with more visual balance. She's started working a shot list so we'll know when an image presents itself and will think to grab it.
I use this photography web site as a gauge of personal progress. My goal is to replace the weakest image in this portfolio with a new, stronger image each month. This is a great tip I learned from Tony Northrup.
Having a viable financial plan is critical. Downsizing will certainly give us some seed capital but you shouldn't jump off a career cliff with just that in hand. Other's have gone through late career changes without a penny and survived fine, but most of them were pushed off that cliff through unplanned circumstances. I'd rather do things with a little less risk to my wallet if possible. So, I'm evaluating my 401K and estimating where it needs to be when I set it on autopilot for several years. I'm looking at options for evolving my current photography business and what costs to expect (commercial studio space, equipment budget, etc.) Denise is growing our anti-aging products business by working it almost every evening after leaving her day job and experimenting with home remedies we're soliciting from folks we know.
This blog is a big part of making progress as well. When you write things down, they tend to gain weight and importance. By sharing these plans it puts us on the spot to perform. I got the idea for this blog from the photographer Stephen Dennstedt who retired from corporate america to become a wildlife and landscape photographer currently traveling through South America but he might be in Asia or somewhere else in the world by the time you read this.
It will be interesting to revisit this blog in six months and see how we're doing eating our elephant. So, I'm putting on my calendar to do just that in mid-September.