March 25, 2021
Have you ever hit burnout as a business owner? Ever dealt with anxiety, depression, or overwhelmed because you’re trying to hustle your business into success, but simultaneously driving yourself into the ground? Today’s episode is for YOU if so.
We had our dear friend Amanda Coker on the show to share her story and to give you a much-needed dose of wisdom and encouragement. Amanda is an Atlanta-based photographer and entrepreneur; she is the founder of Dash Photography, a wedding + senior photography team, and Revīv Retreats, wellness retreats for women in business leadership. She believes sharing her journey with mental health and business brings purpose to the pain, and empowers women to find freedom in the midst of theirs.
We talked about SO much with Amanda today. Her story of hitting complete and total burnout mentally about 4 years into her business because she wasn’t caring for her body, her time, her relationships, and sacrificing it all on the altar of achievement. She chats about how anxiety and depression stemmed from that and the steps she took to take back her life and business. Near the end of the conversation she shares how 2020 personally affected her, and we can guarantee you will relate to even a little bit of her story.
It’s powerful. It’s real. It’s encouraging.
Amanda holds nothing back, and we hope after you listen to this episode, you won’t feel alone if you’re struggling with overwhelm, anxiety, depression, and hitting burnout. It doesn’t have to be this way.
How Amanda met Evie and Lindsey was when she and her husband, Brandon and, celebrated five years ago and were wanting to renew their vows in Hawaii and started looking for a photographer. As a photographer herself, she wanted to document those important seasons and wanted something amazing. Something epic. They had booked a photographer who does beautiful work but then she came across Lindsey and saw her work. It speaks for itself but it represented Brandon and her’s relationship. Fun, messy, goofy, and adventurous and that was what she wanted. Amanda emailed the other photographer, said sorry, and then booked Lindsey!
Amanda is more adventurous than her husband and Lindsey planned this awesome sunrise hike for them and her sweet husband did it because he loves her, but it was pitched black and had just rained and was so muddy. By the time we got to the top he was sweating and we were supposed to renew our vows at the top. Amanda asked if he was ready and he said he actually needed a minute before he could actually say sweet things to her because he was not happy right then. He forgave them right after he saw the photos. It was so worth it and he said that he would do it again. That’s how she met Lindsey and then the very first Heart Workshop, Amanda attended in Malibu. Being from Atlanta their market and industries are very different from what Evie and Lindsey do so she wanted to learn more about the adventure market and intimate weddings.
In 2020 Amanda celebrated ten years in business. She didn’t go to school for photography and graduated from college back in 2009, then started Dash in 2010. Dash stemmed from a hard season, that good things and purpose can come out of seasons of grief or challenge. That is the beautiful redemptive part of God’s presence in her life. During her time in college, Amanda struggled with mental health and family issues and then had a significant death in her life two weeks before she graduated college. That sent her into a spiral of confusion and completely rocked her foundation of who she was and what she was supposed to be in this picture-perfect life she envisioned. Even though her past has been far from perfect.
Amanda moved to Colorado to get away during her grieving period so she could find herself. While she was out there she had a little Canon Rebel and started taking photos of people and snowboarding (she went to The X Games) and fell in love with sports photography. Being an athlete herself growing up, it made sense that those two connected.
Once she moved back home, she was sitting at the gravesite and was looking at the birthdate and the death date on the tombstone and the dash in between. She started thinking of all the memories that were wrapped up in that dash. All the holidays, how he taught her how to drive a stick-shift and all these memories that were represented in between these two dates that no one else would know. It settled on her and she didn’t know how or what it would look like but she wanted to be apart of capturing people’s dashes. That kind of tagline resonated with Amanda and gave her purpose.
That kick-started her journey in photography. She started her photography by shooting MMA fights. That’s where she started and realized that wasn’t the industry she wanted to be in.
Groupon had just started and she had a photography friend back home who was interested in doing some sort of mentorship or apprenticeship, and asked if she knew anybody. Her friend had been featured on Groupon and they didn’t know how to cap anything so she ended up getting 2,000 1-hour sessions from Groupon. Amanda helped her and for the next year and a half, they shot four-five sessions a day from the Groupon sessions. We shot everything from bar mitzvah portraits to boudoir to senior, to anime, everything you could imagine.
Amanda attributes that season to her skills. She had to shoot in any sort of lighting circumstance, any sort of client, and any location. It built a client base nonetheless and she still has a couple of families that she still shoots to this day. That launched her photography. Then she settled back into Dash and that is when she decided to go out on her own in 2012, right after she met her husband. They are just rolling right along ten years later.
Amanda was four and a half years into full-time photography and was like most photographers a one-man team. She was trying to do everything. A lot of entrepreneurs think to be successful you need to be good at marketing, social media, client relations, bookkeeping and taxes, and all these other things. That in any other company takes multiple humans with multiple skill sets. We just take that on, we need to do all these things. She was there.
Getting to a point where she was completely maxed out from a time perspective and had horrible time management skills or lack of. Amanda is an eight on the Enneagram, as a woman is usually frowned upon because some say men who are eights in the workplace are called bosses, and women are called a different b-word.
Amanda had to dig into the root of why she felt the need to achieve so deeply and why she felt this desire to be a success story. Determined to be a success story and prove a lot of people wrong in what they thought her life would be based on the environment she grew up in. She got to the point where she wasn’t sleeping well, started having breathing episodes, and went to the doctor and thought it was asthma. Using an inhaler to go to sleep at night and was having heart palpitations where her husband could put his hand on her chest and his hand would move. She didn’t recognize these sirens that were going off in her body so she kept pushing and pushing to the point that she hit full-on burnout.
So many people get to the point of burnout before they make a change. One of her biggest purposes now is to help and encourage people to recognize these sirens before they are needing an epic restart or help.
At the end of 2016, she was done, was tired and it wasn’t worth it anymore. As much as she believed this was her calling and there was a divine purpose in it, it wasn’t worth what she was experiencing on the inside. That took a turn into depression, which she had struggled with before, and all of this stemmed from this desire to achieve. Once she recognized that it was either her health, marriage, and business, or everything falling apart, she decided to get help. Starting therapy multiple times a week and then started saying no. She got time back so she could reflect on what was going on inside of her. Through therapy, one thing that she recognized was that she came from a performance-driven home. One where she never felt good enough or that her abilities and performances ever outshined what she could have done better. That was at the root of why she felt this need to prove that she was good enough and can be a success story. Just because she had come from a broken home doesn’t mean she was going to be a statistic.
It was much much deeper than just wanting to be good at her job and make a lot of money. A lot of people don’t realize the connection there. There is a connection there a lot of time.
It’s a lot like getting your oil changed in a car. It can keep on trucking for a while, but eventually, your engine is going to be blown. This is very similar to our overall health. If you are under a significant amount of stress it is the same as your body is in fight or flight mode. If you are constantly in fight or flight mode you are constantly pumping out cortisol and adrenaline, which is then triggering your liver to produce glucose for energy cause your body is preparing to run from a bear, when you’re just trying to return your emails. You do this over and over for weeks and months and years, stuff starts shutting down because your body can’t sustain itself when it’s constantly in that state.
It’s easy for us to get comfortable. We still have to go back and check ourselves. Are you drinking enough water? Are you saying no to things? It is important to have this foundation that you go back to and recognize signs so that in the future you can stay healthy even when you are doing okay.
People don’t think that it is all connected but it is. Your emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health is all intertwined. Which is the beauty of how we are created but is also one of the reasons it is so important to keep that all in check.
It could be so much, but if you think about it as an entrepreneur to this day the possibilities are endless. There are endless possibilities of what you could be or do. It is like drinking from a fire hose. When before social media and you could be a plumber or a teacher and that was the extent of career choices, but now you could be whatever you want to be. We are taking it all in so there is this pressure to achieve quickly and a lot quicker.
It is crazy how young people are who are starting businesses and succeeded in the business world because creativity is rapid. This is beautiful and amazing, but the pressure that comes along with it and seeing people who are seemingly achieving on social media and everywhere else, and if you are not at that level at this point you are failing. There is all this noise that we feel as entrepreneurs. That probably contributes to that.
There is so much that goes into a successful business that one person can’t do and people don’t see that. People just see a face of a brand or business and they see how well it’s doing and they think they have to do all the things too.
If Amanda felt this then surely there is someone else who feels it. If other people aren’t sleeping and not eating right or hanging out with friends then that’s just what you have to do to be successful. That led her to the point of thinking she wasn’t cut out for it because she couldn’t sustain life that way. It took that love out of it for her and I think a lot of people quit because it is not manageable when you are not given the tools to learn how to manage it in a thriving way.
A couple of big steps that Amanda took at first was she cleared her calendar. It was her and Katie (interned at first and now she runs Dash on day to day basis) and we cleared her calendar and hired a day-to-day manager/schedule keeper. Giving her the freedom to block off times, block off days, and to say no before even bringing her opportunities.
Let someone else take the burden of saying no because we can’t sometimes.
Amanda got into therapy which isn’t for everyone, but it’s another one like getting your oil changed. There is a stigma around therapy and counseling that you have to be broken to need it and there is so much shame wrapped around it. It’s the most freeing thing and she can’t encourage people enough to even if you don’t feel you have a need but to have someone to talk to, have a sounding board, ask hard questions and guide you into these sections of self-discovery.
She started working with a hormone coach because they were completely out of whack which was a result of that excess adrenaline and cortisol. She started to address her physical health as well. Brandon and her had some hard conversations and overhauled their marriage and she had to repair relationships and friendships. In her full steam ahead she didn’t realize the damage she was leaving behind her. In the wake of her drive which is looked at as a good thing, but it also can be a weapon if it is not stewarded well. In the business, I hired a day-to-day manager, was already outsourcing taxes, but then hired a bookkeeper for the day-to-day stuff. And just figured out what in her business did she need to offload and outsource? So that she could then do what she is really good at.
If you are trying to juggle fourteen plates and are only skilled to juggle three, all fourteen are going to be a mess if you are trying to do it at the same time.
One thing that a mentor had said was to hire to your weaknesses. Think about what you hate doing or not good at, and who would thrive in that area. It is hard to let go of control initially. Trusting someone else to step in and do it to the caliber that you would is hard. There will be a lot of mental shifts that take place.
Then her business began to grow because of that and she started dishing out stuff. Offloading so you can get time back, which is the most valuable thing that you have, and can’t put a price tag on that. The only way a business is going to grow upwards is growing horizontally.
2020 started in such a beautifully ironic place. Amanda started Revive retreats, where she wanted to create a space and experience that she needed. They launched at the end of 2019 and their first trip was to Puerto Rico in January and was immeasurably more than she could have planned. Revive are wellness retreats for women in business and is a time for you to unplug, recharge but also learn boundaries and learn healthy work habits. Delve into areas of your business that you need to let go of and also just a time to chat with other women who are in the same situation as you and bounce ideas off each other. Our first trip was in 2020 and that is how the year started. They had nine women who came from all areas of work and the stories that have come out of that retreat are a pillar in her faith and look back on when hard times come. That there is beauty from ashes and purpose from pain.
It was funny that that was how 2020 started because two months later the world went to crap. Amanda also found out she was pregnant with their first child the night before she flew down to Puerto Rico for the retreat. The year started with amazing beauty and then got pushed off the mountain.
When all the pandemic stuff happened, everyone felt the effects of that. Her husband is a musician so he does live events as well so they both halted at work. Because it was so unknown people didn’t know how to handle it. Amanda had several team members realize the risk that you take as an entrepreneur and self-employment, that there is no cushion to fall back on if things take a turn, so they recognized that and it spooked them. One by one people started peacing out. This was April and the straw that broke the camel’s back was Katie who had been her right hand, came to her and said she thinks it is time for her to go out on her own. It caught Amanda off guard, she was the one person who she did not doubt in her mind would be with her forever.
She remembers sitting in the bathtub and crying and questioning so much. Asking God if she was holding this too tightly, was it too much of an idol in her life? Why was He taking this away from her? She was on such a high coming into it and felt so abandoned in that moment that in reality, it wasn’t that at all, it was life. Life happens, there isn’t a specific reason why bad things happen.
That was the second turning point that triggered this spiral of going into depression and anxiety on a whole different side of the spectrum from when she had experienced burnout. This was now she has a baby on the way, her husband doesn’t have work, her team is leaving her everything disappeared. A lot of people experienced that to some degree.
There is so much fear in the unknown so for her, it was okay that all of this can be taken away but she started from the bottom before and can start from the bottom again and rebuild. That is what 2021 has been for them. Katie did not leave, but they had a lot of internal work that needed to be done, that they didn’t realize and only a pandemic would make them rebuild that.
Amanda has no doubt now that they are going to be stronger because they had to strip everything down and do surgery on themselves. They ended the year with the birth of her son and it was a rollercoaster year, but was also so magical in so many ways, and she is so thankful for it. Looking back she would have never wanted to go through it again, but am so thankful for the lessons it taught.
A Lot of times we want to know why and know why in a certain situation and sometimes we are not going to get that for a very long time. That is what the season of 2016 reminded her is that I didn’t see the fruit of that until 2020. Who knows when she will see the fruit of the work that they did in 2020. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t valuable or necessary it just means that you have to trust the process and that you are putting in the necessary work. It is okay to sit in it for a little while.
First of all, we are sorry. We are sorry because it is a dark place to be. It is a scary place and it is a lonely place. Amanda wants you to know that you are not alone. Something that can be so isolating is one of the biggest tools the enemy uses in this season. She encourages you to find someone you can talk to, whether it is a professional or trusted mentor. As you start to speak on these feelings and thoughts, they lose power. She truly believes if you are a spiritual person or not, words have power. As you speak these fears out or whatever it is you are struggling with, she promises you will see light at the end of the tunnel.
View it as being in the wilderness and wandering around and eventually getting to the point where you just sit and play in the dirt. Then start to tell people, you are not the only person experiencing this, as you start bringing people into your story. Power is in that and you can start having the energy to get up and walk in the wilderness. You might stay in there for a little bit but at least you are up and moving.
You are not alone. It is not a part of running a business. SO many people think it is part of their job description as an entrepreneur to suffer, not get sleep, not take care of themselves, not have relationships. It is not a part, so you need to turn and address that because it will wreak havoc on you and your business. The most important part of your business is you and if you are not taking care of yourself then everything else is mundane and useless. At the end of the day if you crumble everything else will crumble. Turn and pick up your head, self-reflect, and not just grind and keep going. It is easy to try and push through all that by achieving and it is not worth it. It is not worth your health and the effects it will have on your health and relationship. You might not think it’s not that bad, but Brene Brown says, “Your body keeps score and it always wins”. Whether it wins today or in five years, it will win.”
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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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