Feature photo by Zaida Lucia Ortega

As we work through the bustle of the year’s end, we subconsciously begin processing what’s next. Before one season is complete, the next one starts forcing its way into our thoughts, and new ideas bring a sense of hope and possibility for the year ahead.

Part of looking ahead is inspecting the cumulative results of the present year. Whether it leaves you feeling discouraged or elated, I invite you to use three powerful questions in your analysis; in broad terms, what worked, what didn’t work, and what is wanted and needed? The answers can help you organize the chaos, find the truth, and bring clarity as to the actions you need to take to produce the outcome you desire in the upcoming year. Let’s get down to specifics.

1. What worked this year?

It’s easy to name things we don’t like about our ourselves or our business. However, the power of this question is in starting with an honest assessment of how we have shown up and the results we have produced that can shift even our grimmest perspectives. The clients who were happy — what, specifically, were they happy with? Each sale that was higher than you expected — what created that outcome? The weeks you felt fulfilled at home and work — what actions and outcomes made that possible?

Things don’t happen by accident. By examining what worked, we can find hidden treasure to help us recreate those same amazing outcomes moving forward.

One year as I pondered what had worked, I thought about the days I felt exhausted versus the days I left work feeling invigorated. I realized I’d “accidentally” scheduled days when I focused on only one task for the whole day, like photographing or selling. I’d been able to stay in one mindset, mood and similar conversations for the full work day.

This showed me how much effort and mental energy it takes to repeatedly switch hats back and forth. I immediately revised my calendar for the next year, marking off one week of photographing followed by one week of sales. That allowed me to remain on one task for a week at a time, which revolutionized so many things. My staff and clients found this simple shift brought a positive sense of balance, and I felt like a new person.

How to be happier and more fulfilled this year

Photo by Kristen Ryan

"The Joy that came to me both at home and work from simply pondering these three powerful questions produced results that literally changed my life."

How to be happier and more fulfilled this year

Photo by Chanel French

2. What didn’t work?

Call to mind the moments you would not like to repeat. As you think about that upset client, errors in orders, weeks you felt drained, or the session that totally stressed you, what exactly was it that didn’t work? Hindsight is always 20/20, and can offer insights into ways to create better results in the future. Remember to offer yourself a bit of grace, because a mistake is a failure only if you don’t learn from it.

About a decade ago, I realized the degree of exhaustion I was feeling wasn’t working. I was putting all my energy and passion into building a “successful” business, working 70 to 80 hours a week, while homeschooling our four children and managing our staff of six. I realized I had two choices: I could continue on this freight train and become a shell of myself, or I could make significant changes.

It dawned on me that I had believed that if I produced the successful business I envisioned, it would lead to the personal life I longed for. But no matter what net sales I was achieving, my longed-for personal life wasn’t happening. So I decided to flip the equation and begin with my vision of ideal home life, then began to build a business that supported it.

3. What is wanted and needed.

The first thing that was wanted and needed was to start listening to my heart. Desires I didn’t realize I had began to emerge; I wanted to see sunrises and sunsets, take hikes, read books, eat home-cooked meals with my family, and have play days with my kids. So what I needed to do was to actually schedule appointments on my calendar for these cravings. That left me 24 hours a week for my photography business.

As I continued to press into what worked, what didn’t, and what I wanted and needed, the insights that materialized blew my mind. I began to turn my business into a well-oiled machine that focused strictly on the two types of sessions I loved to photograph, the clients I adored, and the tasks I most enjoyed doing. Much to my surprise, I found myself working one-third of the hours I had been, while maintaining the same salary. The joy that came to me both at home and work from simply pondering these three powerful questions produced results that literally changed my life.

How to be happier and more fulfilled this year

Photo by Meg Loeks

This simple process of honest inquiry puts my mind into a creative state where I can produce previously unimagined concepts and possibilities. As 2018 comes to a close, won’t you take some time to examine what worked, what didn’t, and what is wanted and needed as you move into 2019? If you will, I believe the experiences of the past will show you the way to a brighter and better future. Happy New Year!

Need even more inspiration for your photographer heart? We’ve got you.

We are constantly trying to grow and improve, and we know you are too. Here are a few inspirational photography articles we’d love to share with you as you move forward on your journey to becoming a happier photographer:

Let us know what fulfills YOU and your photographer soul. Because we’re all just trying to be happy.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Click Magazine. Subscribe now to read more great articles like this one.