A Fresh Start in Frankfurt

As some of you are aware, we’re on the move again soon and will be packing up and heading to Frankfurt in just a few weeks (all things going well).

It will be our third move to a foreign country since January 2014. My fifth apartment in the same space of time.

For the past two years I’ve split my time between our home under the blue skies of Madrid and various homes in Bonnie Scotland. It’s been both hectic and brilliant, both tiring and rewarding.

Image of a sunrise out of a plane window with "Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone" quote

However, it hasn’t helped me keep my business goals clear, as the playing-field, never mind the goalposts, keeps moving.

In Madrid, I jumped in head-first and not fully prepared for what was coming. I got caught up in trying to “make it work” and took on projects that were nothing to do with my original business plan. Some successful, some not. A degree of flexibility is a huge asset to working abroad, especially if you’re self-employed, but I was bending over backwards trying to find my feet in this new place.

It was an attempt to make it feel like home.

Every few weeks I was also flying back to the UK and running parts of my business from there. The first few years of being self-employed are difficult to navigate at the best of times, never mind when they involve a fractured set-up from two different countries. It’s a constant rollercoaster and that old foe “self-doubt” regularly comes out of the shadows for a visit. I wasn’t doing things as well as I wanted to and I’d fallen into the trap of being busy but not productive.

As our move to Frankfurt edges closer, I’ve been feeling somewhat apprehensive. The idea of starting all over again and learning how to run my business as a stranger to yet another city makes me understandably nauseated. Being a soloprenuer and small business owner is not for the faint-hearted. It takes drive and determination. Dedication and confidence in not only your product but also yourself.

Feeling like a stranger is enough to make anyone feel lost and unsure. It took its toll on me these past couple of years and has had big implications for my business. Don’t get me wrong, the last couple of years were by no means a failure, but right a that point where most small businesses face a time of reflection and reassessment, I’m faced with starting over. Again.

It took a conversation with a friend (who really should consider a career as a life-coach) to recognise what deep down I really knew. Our move to Frankfurt is one full of opportunity and new beginnings. A chance to take a step back and “pivot” so my business can evolve into something I’m happy with. A time to refocus and adjust as necessary.

But to do this properly I actually need to take a step back. To take the time to get to know my new city and find out what works there. Decide the best way to continue working with the wonderful colleagues I now have in Scotland, England, Norway and Spain. Make sure what I’m doing has the impact I aim for and stays relevant in a industry known for changing at a fast pace.

As other small business owners will know, the whole reason you started can sometimes fade behind the growing expenses and realisation you’re working for less than a few pounds an hour.

So for the next few months I’ve decided to take a little bit of a break to allow myself to remember why I’m doing this. With the exception of the bookings I’ve already got in the diary (and a handful of people I’m working out dates with), I won’t be taking on any more clients until later this year.

Instead, I’ll be rewriting my business plan, taking some classes, learning about Search Engine Optimisation, updating my website(s) and practising my craft. I’ll keep in touch through blogging, eNewsletters and my #MeiPhotoChallenge so I won’t disappear altogether. It’s just time for new chapter in both my business and personal life.

And I’ve got some German to learn too…

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome. It’s a thing. No, really, it is. Here’s the definition:

Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

It was identified by researchers at Georgia State University in 1978 when they noted that successful women had a tendency towards high levels of self-doubt. Since then, more recent studies in Belgium have shown that it is common across different career types from “white collar” jobs to scientists. Men feel it too (although possibly to a lesser extent) and sometimes it’s joined by it’s unwelcome friends – anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and guilt. As you can probably tell, it’s not really a charming guest.

For me, it’s an overwhelming feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Like everything I’ve achieved has been through luck and is a fluke. Like I’m just pretending I know what I’m talking about and if pushed, I’ll flake out and be discovered for not really having a clue.

It’s a fairly regular anvil of self-doubt that hangs over my head and threatens to come crashing down with little notice. If you look for it, you can see it through the facade. The unwillingness to make a big deal of things that others would be singing and dancing about. The hesitation to sell myself and recognise the work that I’ve done and things I’ve achieved. The avoidance of talking about my work and myself for fear that I’ll let something slip that “shows me up”. The second guessing myself and wanting to “double check” everything when I do talk about my work. The never feeling quite ready to do things and being able to find a million reasons not to try.

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The trouble is, I tend to compare myself to everyone else’s highlight reel. Thanks to a mix of social media where we only really see the extremes of life (cause let’s face it, posting “hey I got out of bed today, had a shower and then sat for 10 hours working at my computer” isn’t really InstaWorthy) and knowing some super confident people who seem to do nothing but talk about all they’ve achieved. I have nothing against the latter, it’s just foreign to me and adds to the feeling that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t until I was talking in a recent interview about my meandering career path that I realised I have a lot of experience and different skills. Even writing that now makes me very uncomfortable.

I’ve been running my own business for almost three years now and sometimes I forget that in terms of a small business, it’s still early days. I hold myself to extremely high standards and get frustrated when I’m not exactly where I feel like I should be. It’s very easy for me to pattern spot and give much higher value to the things I’m not happy about and to dismiss the success I’ve had a long the way.

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Recently, I’ve been doing well. OK I’m not bringing in the money I’d like (but who is?) and I’ve got a list of ideas for improvement longer than a Mo Farah run, but when I consider the direction my work is taking, a lot of great things are happening. From being asked to deliver a photography class for Skillshare to having my #RealGirlsRealBeauty images up as part of the Visible Women Festival. From starting new collaborations for my wildlife work to finding more time to connect with my wildlife and nature photohttps://www.meiphotography.co.uk/overcoming-imposter-syndrome/ ‎graphy. It’s really all very positive.

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So why do I wake up some days and think I’m just playing “make believe” at all of it? Without reading all the research (and thus being able to thoroughly back-up my opinion without horrendous self doubt…), I guess I won’t really know. I just have to keep pushing through it and finding ways to work around it.

It seems that speaking up about it is part of that journey. Putting my hand up and saying that I often don’t feel like I’ve got a clue what I’m doing. Confessing that most days feel like “fake it til you make it” days.  Coming clean about this and finding other tortured souls helps. It’s why I’m writing this blog.

Other ways of tackling it are keeping track of the successes. Reminding myself of the victories I’ve had, how far I’ve come and accepting praise when something great happens instead of getting cagey and awkward about it.

Sometimes, through the midst of all this, there are perfectly timed moments that give me a much needed confidence boost. Like today, when I felt the sensation of that anvil getting ever closer to landing squarely on my head, this blog popped up in my feed. A review of a photoshoot I did last year.

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It made my day.

And that cheeky toddler face from one of my favourite photo sessions of 2016 reminded me that sometimes we just need to stick our tongues out at Impostor Syndrome and keep on doing the best we can. x