November 5, 2020
Today’s guest is the incredible Vanessa Hicks, a destination wedding and portrait photographer based out of San Diego, California. She is a military spouse and Navy Veteran as well! She truly believes in empowering others, and the importance of documenting her client’s legacy! She has been published worldwide, and has been voted Hawaii’s #1 Wedding Photographer back to back in 2018 and 2019! When she doesn’t have a camera in her hand, you can find her with a Starbucks cup in her hand at Disneyland, watching Harry Potter or The Office on reruns, or just lounging on the beach with an umbrella drink in hand!
Vanessa used to live in Hawaii’ and I know her personally. She is incredible. We couldn’t wait to have her on the show to talk about a topic she speaks and teaches on all the time – mental health. Today’s episode is a vulnerable, honest, sit down girl chat between Vanessa, Evie, and myself. Vanessa doesn’t hold anything back as we discuss the realities of mental health, entrepreneurship addiction, the stigma around loving work, and loving “the hustle,” how to navigate covid’s effect on our mental health, and SOOOO much more. She nearly brought me to tears multiple times, and I KNOW without a shadow of a doubt how impactful her words will be on you today. If you are feeling blah…. Feeling anxious, depressed, alone, and need some sunshine and TRUTH in your life today. Look no further. Vanessa is the friend that’s gonna give you the most inspiring pep talk today. LEZZZ GO.
Vanessa is a destination wedding portrait photographer who currently lives in San Diego, with her three beautiful daughters and husband. They are a military family who recently moved from Hawaii (amidst the pandemic) where she met Lindsey! She has been full time in business for six years and has moved her business four times in those six years. Luckily with strategic planning, this has allowed her to move her business so many times with different markets. And be more successful in each place that she has gone with big hopes and dreams for the recent move to San Diego.
The most important things are that she loves Starbucks, Disney, and The Office!
Vanessa first started with a corporate job that she didn’t love, actually she didn’t love it at all. While working her photography business on the side, kind of like most people’s stories. Then one day she walked into her corporate job, a week before her husband was supposed to deploy for a year, and was told that her department was being eliminated due to budget cuts.
A week before her husband was supposed to deploy for a year and when he came back they were going to be moving. After a huge breakthrough and working her way into the corporate world it all disappeared. Her husband asked her a question that changed everything, he said, “If money wasn’t really an issue what would you do?”. He knew that she hadn’t loved her job, and coincidentally she had a photo session scheduled with a friend that weekend. So she blurted out, “I would be a photographer!”. Afterward, she sat there waiting for him to laugh in her face and tell her to get a quote-on-quote “real job”, cause she has student loans and debt and all the other things.
BUT he didn’t!
He said “Try it out, I have seen your photos!”, but that’s when you know it’s love because her photos (in her opinion) sucked six years ago. If it worked great if it didn’t when we move she would go back into the workspace. And here we are six years later and it WORKED!
After a lot of obstacles as her six years looked different than most entrepreneurs that are in one location. Vanessa had to reinvent, rebrand, regrow, remarket all of those things every couple of years. That is HARD. Believe us it is not for the weak. Realizing very early on that failure wasn’t an option and she also needed to put blinders on, because if she sat and compared herself to other photographers who have the luxury of being in one location she would never be as successful as she is now. And even now with the success that she has can still look at others. Evie and Lindsey were inspirations to her, seeing & looking at what they have created and done reminded her that every journey is a little different. And that is okay.
With anyone’s journey with social media, we’ll dive deeper into how that affects your mental health but it was a big key to her success. It is a constant mental cycle within itself of keeping those blinders on and knowing that failure is not an option to keep her moving forward.
Understanding that your mental health and foundation need to be rock solid (in any situation but especially entrepreneurship) to navigate any obstacles. She wants to help others with the road map on how to do it.
Vanessa’s journey is crazy, maybe she was blinded by her struggles but it started about five years ago. It doesn’t happen by opening the door one day and now you have a mental illness, but is something that is with you your entire life.
Growing up in Hawaii with druggie and alcoholic parents in poverty, that is where her struggles began but she didn’t know it. Joining the military at 17 was her legal way of running away from home thinking she had washed herself from what she had grown up with, but it didn’t. Finding herself in an abusive first marriage and by age twenty-five with two toddlers and a single mom.
Going through everything that a single parent could have gone through she remembers her car getting repoed, moving in the middle of the night because she couldn’t afford rent, and thinking she wasn’t a good enough parent for her two daughters. Know there are happy endings to these things because she met her current husband and got married! Finally feeling happy and not only happy but safe. The next step was starting her business!
Now the brain is funny, right when you feel safe and happy, is when the brain is like, “oh you’re good, so now all these things that you ran away from we’re going to bring that over to the frontal cortex and we are going to deal with it”.
Amidst her success and running a business she finds herself having severe panic attacks and anxiety episodes that were manifesting into allergic reactions. Which led to having anaphylactic shocks and in the hospital and not understanding what was going on. Long story short, having every allergy test possible to find out she was allergic to a sycamore tree. It made no sense to her why she was having the anaphylactic shocks that the doctors are telling could kill her from an allergic reaction to a tree. So on day sixth day at the hospital a doctor that wasn’t on her normal rounds came in and started asking:
“How are you?”
“Do you feel safe at home?”
Immediately it registered, she remembers screaming for him to get out and saying that she wasn’t crazy. He left his card and after I got out of the hospital that time all her friends and husband wanted her to reach out. Now you have to remember all Vanessa overcame. All of the obstacles that came and now running a business and not understanding what was wrong.
Going to therapy was to prove people wrong, that she wasn’t crazy. Sitting in the therapist’s office and laying out her life, he looked at her and said, “I am pretty impressed with all that you have done and overcome, but you are a ticking time bomb”. Eventually bound to explode and that is what was happening. Her anxiety was playing a part in these anaphylactic shocks.
Through that, she found out that she suffers from anxiety, depression, and PTSD as well. Years of therapy learning how to work through the triggers that were associated with that that stemmed from her childhood and first marriage. Once getting her bearings under control, business was succeeding even more, and then finding out the things she had learned in therapy of working through triggers wasn’t working. Now going back into therapy has found that entrepreneurs suffer from similar triggers but we don’t realize it. And here’s the kicker, most entrepreneurs that do suffer or have times of suffering with mental illness, use it as a pro. We can be very successful with a mental illness or with mental triggers. For example, say you can’t sleep, you suffer from insomnia, due to worries and anxiety. Well, guess what that means, as a photographer you can edit all night until four or five o’clock in the morning and work on your website and do all these things.
You can build a very successful business by being an over worrier. What could go wrong?
What happens to people in the creative entrepreneur space, when they don’t recognize these triggers because it looks like a pro in their business. Thinking “I am a hustler. I do XYZ”. When that is your mental health triggers being forced upon you which will cause you to eventually crumble.
Therapy is the most courageous thing that anyone can do. Asking for help. We hope that with all of our platforms that we show and encourage that there is nothing wrong with that. If anything it is a very honorable and courageous act to do.
A few facts about mental health that plays a part in entrepreneurship:
*This is her research that she has done and with her therapist.
When she says she understands why so many people are afraid, the studies don’t lie, the facts don’t lie. That by choosing this journey of building a business of our dreams and living our dream life and not paying attention to triggers could be harming us. We speak on it so candidly because we want people to know. You can have both (mental health & a successful business), but you do need to be paying attention. For example isolation and look at what we are doing right now during Covid-19.
Therapy can be a large part of your mental health, but you also figure out what your non-negotiables are in your business. And now that can look different for many people. For Vanessa, a non-negotiable was taking off Saturday mornings for her daughter’s tennis, volleyball, or any games/activities they may have. That quickly became a non-negotiable when her eight-year-old came to her and said, “Hey mom, you know you didn’t attend any of my soccer games this year?”. Talk about mental health and a trigger! There YOU GO! And on the flip side the same day her husband let her know how she was failing as a wife. She had to create non-negotiables to take care of her because as mentioned earlier sometimes these triggers that we have look like a good thing.
You’re a hustler, constantly working, doing all of the things! Well, that is because your anxiety doesn’t like the quiet. Why? Because when it is quiet you have to listen and deal with whatever it is that you are running from. Create your non-negotiables to make sure you have days off, so you don’t work the holidays. Before 2020 Vanessa would take all of December off, why? Because Christmas is her favorite and doesn’t want to deal with any clients during the holiday season. Create a business plan that factors in your non-negotiables.
Also, make sure to feel when you have times of anxiety or depression. We can make the anxiety or depression worse by running from it, instead of feeling it.
If you are having a blah day, set a timer for an hour and I feel it. Accept your blah, eat some ice cream, cry, or do nothing. Whatever it may be. But when that timer goes off your body will be thanking you for accepting it and giving it that space. Now you are good and can pick up the pieces to move forward.
It is okay to land there, but it is not okay to unpack there. Anybody that feels like that, that it is okay to land there but the minute you start to unpack there. It is harder to pack back up and get back on the plane and go.
This might be the first time your eyes are open to your unhealthy entrepreneurs’ streaks. You may get a lot done but not in a healthy way. If you want to be an entrepreneur for the long haul, not everyone is going to have a mental health illness or diagnosis, but we all have mental health we need to take care of. Just like physical health. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with it, you can have had episodes. Everyone can name a time where they have felt anxious, that doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder, but you have mental health.
Absolutely with anything with life as long as you set boundaries. They may look very different than someone else’s because it is not a one size fits all situation. There are seasons of hustle, a time and a place for it. As an entrepreneur out there you know when you unpack the layers and layers, truly be honest with yourself, you know if you set healthy boundaries in your business.
One of the triggers that entrepreneurs face is the fact that they have their identity and self-worth a part of their business. A quote that exemplifies entrepreneurship from Lisa Harris, “The adrenaline of the launch, the calm energy of focus flow, the brittle jittery high of riding a 2 am workday, the terror of feeling the mass slip. Of telling an upbeat story to customers as panic churns in your guts. The grief of failure and the relief of failure too. The ghostly lost limb feeling that asks who I am if I am not running my business.”
That quote is such a powerful quote because it encompasses everything we think about entrepreneurship. But if you ask yourself “Who I am, if I am not running my business?”. Then there is a deeper issue there.
There is a healthy hustle. You have to determine what your healthy hustle is. The high of running a business is addicting, which can be very dangerous. Have a due date of when you are done being unhealthy because it shouldn’t be all the time.
The first thing that everyone should be reminded of is that you are NOT alone. Understand that you are not alone and you are not crazy. You are not any of the stigmas that are attached to these triggers of mental health illnesses.
Secondly, try to find a therapist or someone to talk to. A key thing a therapist once said is that your husband/wife or spouse is not your therapist. We come to them saying, “Why doesn’t he/she (your spouse) understand XYZ?” and it is because they ARE NOT your therapist. You need to have someone else outside of your circle to talk to.
Third, figure out your non-negotiables. Sit down today and if you were running your best business in the world what would be your non-negotiables. Maybe you are like Vanessa and don’t want to work in December, maybe you want to go live in Hawaii a couple of months out of the year. Whatever your non-negotiables are then rework your business plan to do just that!
Even though we are amidst Covid get outside, you would be surprised what vitamin D does to you. Get outside, get out of the four walls you are in. One of the triggers for entrepreneurs is social isolation. It doesn’t matter how big your office is, the walls tend to cave in so we encourage you to go outside and find something outside of your business. We promise you, doing something for yourself is not going to ruin your business.
“ Ugh if I take a bath I am going to miss an inquiry and then my business is going to fail.”
“Oh my gosh if I go for a run I am going to miss something and my business is going to fail.”
“If I take a VACATION, take some time off, I am going to miss all these things and my business is going to fail.”
We promise you that it WON’T. Once you understand that you will be healthier, healthier for your clients, and business. It is such an incredible thing once we realize that our businesses won’t fail.
Are you building your house on a rocky foundation? Are you building your business on a rocky foundation? It will look good for a little bit, but on the inside you know it is held by duct tape, we don’t want that for anyone for their mental health.
If you look at any research you can see that mental health will be one of the hardest hit with quarantine and the pandemic. We are stuck inside and a lot of us are grieving not realizing it. Not the horrific amount of deaths but our normalcy, our business, and being able to walk outside without a mask. We are grieving normalcy.
As mentioned at the beginning, Vanessa moved her business in the midst of all of this. Moved from Hawaii to San Diego, and all the plans and road map she created to successfully move her business and now couldn’t. Feeling as though she was a whole quarter behind and getting nervous if she would survive this. Social isolation is a trigger for entrepreneurs on their mental health and most people already have suffered mental health issues. When we watched all of that go away at the beginning of the pandemic from rescheduling to canceling and know that it is not your fault AT ALL. But again we are thinking it is our fault.
Remember to bring it back to the basics. Your business is changing. Our world is changing. How you look at things and how you run your business has to be different. You can do one of two things. One, you could sit there and unpack and woe is me, or two, you could use the thing that most creative entrepreneurs ask for all the time and that is TIME. We all say it, “Once we have more time…”. Well, now we have forced time, use this time to do exactly that.
Do all the things you wish you had more time for.
Stop focusing on what was supposed to have been. We all do it. Maybe you were supposed to be at Disney, or shooting this wedding, or even on a vacation.
Supposed to be’s…
We all have done it, some of us have sat in that for far too long. If we stop focusing on what was supposed to be and start focusing on what is. And how can I be creative? How can I think outside the box? Start looking at what were the positives of this and have the understanding that you are still working in and on your business. The ones that stay numb are going to have a hard time reopening their business when this opens up. To keep your sanity, I had to stop focusing on what was supposed to be. What you do now is going to pay off in quarter four.
You are supposed to feel it. Set a timer and feel it. But only for a set time and then after okay keep moving forward.
The most important piece of advice to give is to fail forward. Failing is going to happen in your business, but fail forward. Every time you fail and pick yourself back up, you are moving the needle forward. We do have to understand that failure is part of the equation of running a business. HECK, it is part of life! We are all going to fail but if we fail forward we are better off than the moment before. Fail forward EVERY TIME!
WASSUP FRIENDS. We’re Evie + Lindsey, co-founders of this wild partayyy called The Heart University. Our goal is to empower entrepreneurs to kick freaking BUTT in their businesses, dive down into the heart of their why and how, and serve you with all possible tools you’ll need to up-level your business game and CRUSH those goals of yours.
Whether you’re coming to an in-person workshop, joining our online course, or soaking up all the strategies via this blog or our podcast, we’re STOKED you’re here + can’t wait to see you out there kicking butt.
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