Defining Legacy

In April, my business celebrates its 6th official birthday.

I started taking on some side development work and projects for friends 7 or 8 months prior to making the big leap away from my non-profit job and into working for myself. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

In the past 6 years, I have grown and learned so much. You have to if you want your business to be successful.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Things go wrong, team members make mistakes, there are misunderstandings and problems that creep up unexpected along the way. But there’s a lot that goes right too.

For the past year, I’ve been thinking about ways to share the knowledge I’ve collected with other business owners. I’d like others to have an advantage I didn’t have, to have a collective of people to support and encourage them, to use what I’ve learned to help others.

I find myself wondering what my legacy is going to be.

I don’t have a neatly packaged answer to the question of legacy yet. Some people leave a company a behind, some people leave children. Others leave works of arts or books or a poem. Mother Teresa taught us compassion, Maya Angelou taught us about courage, Mary Oliver gave us little snippets that reminded us to find the wonder in the world.

What will my legacy be? What will the lessons of my life lead me to share?

It’s beyond business how-to’s for me. It goes deeper. All I have ever done has been in the name of freedom, of figuring out what freedom looks like and feels like. So many of us are not free. So many of us are but cannot see it.

So maybe I start there, with simply finding the common themes that have guided me forward for years…

The Magic of Photographs

I don’t remember exactly how long my boyfriend and I had been dating when we went to the Grounds for Sculpture here in New Jersey. It was early on — maybe just four or five weeks into us knowing each other, before we dared use words like boyfriend and girlfriend to describe our relationship (that came a few months later). But I knew the relationship was something special that day, not only because we were strolling around looking at art together but because, at a few strategic times, he took photos of me.

These weren’t creepy stalker photos. He was documenting our time together, capturing little moments of this day to hold onto.

I personally have never been great with photos, despite owning a fancy digital camera. I pull it out when I’m traveling, mainly to take photos of sweeping landscapes and places I visit. Photographing people — and being in photographs — has never really been my thing.

I appreciate that my boyfriend is the way he is, because we have some great photos together from events we’ve been to and trips we’ve taken. I framed one recently, not too long after he moved in, and stuck it by the television.

Photos have taken on a new significance in my life. There aren’t many photos of me over the years. I wasn’t actively avoiding the camera at all times, but after my high school graduation, my parents just weren’t as fastidious about taking photos as they did when my brother and I were younger. Couple that with the rise of social media and people’s constant selfies and it’s easy to see how you could develop an aversion. I wanted to be there, live my life, and not worry about capturing the moment for some sort of social proof.

At the same time, I missed out on a lot of beautiful moments and opportunities without camera phone or digital camera in hand.

On my nightstand, I have a picture of me and my mom, taken when I was about 12 years old at a picnic hosted by the company my dad still works for. I’m making a funny face and holding a hamburger. My mom is smiling and looks beautiful. That’s the photo I look at every night to remember her.

I don’t have many photos of me and my mom from the past decade. There’s one somewhere in my brother’s collection, from his wedding. That was the last photo we ever took as a family, back in October 2017, two months after she was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery. She didn’t like those photos, and in all honesty, she didn’t look like her normal self. She was thin and sullen and had taken a beating from the disease she was dealing with.

How far back in time I need to go to find another photo of all of us together I’m not sure. Two years? Ten years?

I wish I had more. More of me and my mom. Me and my dad. Me and friends.

There’s a balance somewhere between capturing moments and obsessing over photos in this digital age.

What I can tell you is that I’ll be using my camera a bit more, maybe even asking a stranger or two to take my photo, but most importantly pulling the people I love into the frame with me.

Loss of Self

Death and grief are funny things. In the months since my mother’s passing, I’ve been grieving her over and over again — not in the big way one might immediately after a death, but in all the little ways, at all the times that person would have been there for you or with you.

A disagreement with my boyfriend that I wish I could have called her during for her comfort. Holidays. My birthday. Her wedding anniversary, my dad’s first without her. When I see a movie she’d love.

But there was an unexpected partner to grieving that I didn’t expect: a profound sense of that somehow I was no longer the same person. Grief changes you, both in ways that are good and not. Without my mom here, I don’t have her to turn to when I need advice or comfort or acceptance — those are things I need to find within myself and from other people. And there’s a fear too that I didn’t expect: a fear of using my time wrong, of getting sick the way she did, of not fully living, of not being the whole person I truly am, of not making her proud.

I’ve been asking myself lately to look at my relationships and spend time building the ones with friends and family members who I want to keep close. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is in my life that makes me feel most like myself, what activities or habits or moments. There was a lot I put on hold during the months caretaking: archery, writing, motorcycle riding, seeing friends, taking care of myself in some ways.

The time now is like a void, a container, asking me who I want to step up and be, how I want to affect people, how I want to live. There are thrummings of what I desire inside of me, which I need to give voice to.

This moment isn’t about settling on answers quickly. It’s about exploration to find the answers that truly align.

Start Where You Are + Know Where You Want To Be

I had a call with a new client yesterday. A designer referred her my way for a conversation. They were planning to work on the client’s visual branding, but since she was still in the early stages of her business, she wasn’t in need of a custom website.

As I listened to the client share her story with me, I was struck by two things: her story needs to be shared and her mission will help give voice to so many people. But there was also something else I discovered along the way: this was a passion project for her. She didn’t have plans for how she would bring money in or what services she would sell. She only knew that she needed to do this.

In this situation, every business owner has a choice. You can make a sale or be a guide.

I used to hate sales calls. I convinced myself a long time ago I would never be good at sales because I wasn’t an extrovert. The advantage I did have and what got me through so many of those first calls was that I was an introvert who loves people. But even more than that — I love helping people. My first business coach taught me how to reframe a sales call to something new: a service call. For the last few years, my job simply has been to serve people, to guide them, to show them what’s possible and help them make the right decisions.

And so I told this potential client something unexpected. I told her not to invest in a custom website or even one of our smaller website packages. Instead, I advised her to start creating content and use YouTube to circulate it. If she really wanted some sort of landing page site, I told her, we could help her set up a simple website with a homepage and blog. But that’s all she really needed to get started. Nothing fancy. No big investments.

The most important thing is that she create. She doesn’t need a website to do that, and I wouldn’t want her to be pulled away from creating by the website process.

Maybe in six months she’ll need a fancier site. Maybe it’ll be a year or two. She understands the work she’ll do will have an impact and it will need a container. But right now, I did my best to reminder her where she is and what’s most critical to her future success: not the website we could build together, but her doing the work she is so passionate about and ready to give to the world.

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Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.