A year ago Saturday, Tim and I pulled on our fancy pants, invited everyone over for a champagne-soaked bash and launched Sullivan & Sullivan for the very first time. So today is kind of like our birthday.
*First of all, ok, we’re not really one year old. We spent two years as Lightworks360 and I literally cringe whenever I think about our old name– I think we once heard some graphic designer say that business names should have a number in them to make them more easily roll off the tongue, aaand the rest is history. Thank God. Let’s never speak of the fact that we used to watermark images, ever again.
(cheers to leaps. pc: Alexandra Celia)
ANYWAY, I’ve been thinking a lot about our first official year and the things we suspected might be true that feel truer than ever. And maybe they’ll be true for you too. Strap in, ya beautiful bebes, and let me tell you three of them:
1) Say yes.
Well, actually, do one better. Say “Yes, AND.”
When Tim and I were first dating, we began to abide by the philosophy that “the universe only responds to your yesses.” The universe will always give you more more more of what you say yes to, whether that’s conscious or not. This isn’t hippy dippy voodoo– whatever you spend energy on will come back to you tenfold, be it positive or negative. So we began to be very conscious of our yesses: yes to bold moves, yes to travel, yes to attracting good people (of course… I have to always veer away from accidentally saying yes to fear of the unknown, but… it’s a process ok people). And as we sifted through what we wanted our business to be about, how we wanted to share our little humble view of the world, the idea of doing one better and saying “Yes AND” became central. Our entire philosophy, sandwiched between us.
Yes, AND. Given the choice of two options, say yes to both of them, and yes to even more. Keep saying yes to the most interesting things you can find and somehow even more interesting things magically appear, and pretty soon you’re down the rabbit hole of an interesting life that you can never turn back on.
And on a business note, when we were first starting out, we said yes to EV-ERY-DAMN-THING. Opportunities to shoot events and babies and lawyer headshots and yoga classes and random strangers on the sidewalk. It didn’t matter to us that we didn’t know HOW to shoot any of these things (cough), the point was to be in a constant state of being scared, because that’s how we knew our limits were stretched. We said yes to everything and peeled away the things we didn’t like doing and created our business from there, but we certainly didn’t fly out of the shoot saying no to things. The universe responds to yes. Keep saying it.
2) “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” -Henri Matisse
Or as Kurt Vonnegut said it, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”
Or as I like to translate this, “if champagne is only for celebrating, I’ll have it five times a day.”
Growth, man. Growth. It can be so painful. My friend’s three year old was up all night the other week, crying about mysterious pains in his legs. He was literally growing in front of their very eyes. Except they couldn’t see it the next morning, exactly. It’s only until a month or two or six from now, when they look back on this week, that they’ll be able to say “oh shit kid, you got bigger.”
When we left on a one way ticket to Thailand, we never saw a beach. Yep, we did lots of honeymoony type things: skinny dipping in remote northern waterfalls and motorcycling through rice paddies under the stars and drinking too many Changs (actually we’re Leo people, for those keeping track), but more than that we huddled in our friend Alana’s house, fighting over what our fonts and logo should be, fine-tuning our client experience, rewriting endless copy and trying to figure out ways to start a new career. We were suspended, mid-air, between two lives. A continent and an ocean away from home, plotting what we hoped might be our next steps. My legs hurt just thinking about it.
And at first my instinct during that time was to work harder the scareder I got. The fear of the unknown made me want to lash myself to the computer and put in more hours to compensate for the big, misty future that didn’t have shape yet. But then it dawned on me (and continues to dawn on me)… no one ever “makes it,” per se. You set these goals and stress until you reach them and think that you’ll be able to relax once you get there, until you get there, and realize there’s a new, bigger goal taking their place. This process is endless, and it’s how we grow, and the growing is part of the fun. Because God forbid you didn’t enjoy the process along the way. We just keep feeling pains shoot down our legs in the middle of the night, and get up the next day a teensy bit bigger. But what if one day you grow up and realize that your mechanism for being happy is broken? What if the dubious end goal changes and you realize you didn’t even enjoy the process? I never want that to be me. I want to see the flowers, all of them. So we’ve committed to celebrating just about every tiny thing along the way.
When we booked our first photo shoot, we popped champagne. When we booked our first wedding, same thing. Last autumn we won an industry award and just about pooped our pants about it (double champagne), but we celebrate those big wins with the same giddy spirit we celebrate the tiny ones, which makes this whole ride feel so fun. It’s way more fun to pop champagne on a Wednesday morning because of a tiny victory than it is to save up all your joy, all your celebrating, for some unknown future goal that you may not even be excited about once you get there. We have celebrated the process of becoming a real boy so wildly along the way that reasons to celebrate just keep showing their faces, every day of the week.
OF COURSE there are always things to critique as you grow, it’s part of the hurt. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever been happy with like, two images we’ve ever created. But don’t let it stop you from celebrating the process.
(this is one of the images I like, FYI)
There are always flowers for those who want to see them. We’ve been rolling around in a garden of them from day one. Do not miss your flowers. Find something to pop champagne about asap (and then tell us what it was so we can celebrate too).
If you can’t find a job, create one.
In the summer of 2013, I had just finished my masters degree in a field I had ZERO interest in continuing in (cool smart move, Laura), was struggling like hell to find a job, and basically was bummed the fuck out. I’ll never forget the day Tim asked, “well, what do you really want to do?” Me, mumbling like a little kid because I suddenly got shy, “I want to be a photographer.” Four years later, bam! We’re full time photographers who are booked into 2018, and it was easy!
HAHAHAHAA just kidding. What actually happened was four years of
a) continuing to work our day jobs, shooting every free moment we could, staying up until 2 am learning how to edit and repeating it all the next day
b) saving all our post-grad pennies to buy a decent lens without going into debt
c) begging people to let us photograph them
d) starting whole projects like Dispatches on Love so we could practice photographing strangers and asking them super intimate questions
e) almost having a panic attack the night we quit our jobs
f) selling everything we owned except the pets and buying a one way plane ticket to Bangkok
g) living for super extra super cheap for six months while we built the business
>h) starting projects like Lipstick and Libations so we could afford our plane tickets home
i) starting projects like Moveable Feast Retreats to have side gigs and other things always cooking away
j) tweaking everything precisely one million times
k) the kindness of strangers and future photo subjects, time and time again.
And so on. Getting booked up for forty weddings this year felt like a straight up miracle (seriously, y’all are the real MVPs, we’re so grateful), and being able to say no to work that doesn’t fit our plan now feels so luxurious, but if you pull the curtain back, the leg work and hustle that we put into making this our job was muy real. Ya catchin’ my Tokyo Drift here? There is no work just sitting and waiting for you on a golden platter. You have to invent it and keep inventing it until you invent your way into the job and life you want. And bring people along for the ride, because other people are the crux of what makes any project worthwhile.
So our first year of Sullivan & Sullivan– aka the outcome of multiple years of trying everything under the sun and hoping that people would come along for the ride– reinforced all our core philosophies times a million. Yes, And. There’s always flowers. Create your own job. And in the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”