I recently discovered the concept of The Window of Tolerance. It’s a psychology phrase that defines the conditions in-between where you’re able to function with full access to your internal resources – ie. you’re managing ok. Life is good when we’re inside the window but when we get outside of it, we either respond with fight/flight or freeze responses. These responses are not pleasant for us and for some people, getting outside of the window is utterly debilitating. In time, it is possible to expand your window of tolerance to make difficult circumstances more bearable, but often not without significant effort and support.
This window of tolerance exists in our photographic world too. I’m sure you’ve all had the feeling of a tight chest, anger or anxiety in certain situations when we’re stretched to our emotional limits as photographers and businesspeople. You might have been asked to do something you’re uncomfortable with or been treated in a way that you haven’t enjoyed. But knowing what you stand for and what your values are can help define what direction to take with your response and how to prevent it from happening again in the future. You create a situation where you don’t need to stretch outside of your window of tolerance and life feels more fulfilling and satisfying.
Our values are pretty simple but they define everything that Kristen and I do. We don’t really care about money – it’s a means to an end and we want just enough to be able to have a life that makes us happy. We value experiences, interactions and relationships. We both abhor inequality and hierarchy and when the powerful do nothing to change unjust or unfair circumstances. Most importantly, we both know we have a responsibility to create a little bit of happiness in the lives of each and every person we meet.
Immediately, you can probably already see that a few of these points are contradictory to the objectives of much of the wedding industry. Success in our field is often defined by how much money you can make each year and being visible as an expert in our industry whom people aspire to be like. And there’s a lot of perpetuation of bride-centric and beauty-centric weddings. The places where non-white, non-heterosexual couples who don’t conform to society’s notion of beauty can be seen is limited and I haven’t seen many of the powerful voices in the industry tell us to challenge this.
Kristen and I rejected these traditional industry values – not because we wanted to be an “alternative” business but because we actually didn’t agree with them as people. What I’ve realised now is that being myself actually turned out to be a great business decision and it IS possible to have a sustainable business even if you don’t follow the industry norm.
From nearly day one, we built the business around working with couples that had a similar way of viewing the world. Things like where we advertised, offering to barter with people, how I wrote the about-me section on my site and the information sheet that I sent to prospective couples not only encouraged people to hire me, but discouraged the people that could potentially drag me out of my window of tolerance. For example, this is from my info sheet: “I believe in equality in love and think that gender roles are silly and outdated. That is, a wedding is about both people, not just the bride – so it’s awesome when both people are invested in their wedding and its planning. I also believe any two people in love should be able to get married, love is love regardless of what gender they are.” I use my honesty as a filtering tool and people know from the moment they read my info what they will get. And I must admit, it never feels like work when I’m photographing people that I enjoy being around.
At the end of it all, this stuff means that I usually sit inside my window – I’m in a circumstance where I’m ok and I’m not experiencing things that make me feel angry, resentful or unhappy about what I do. My career is sustainable and I wake up excited about what my day has in store (except culling photos, I HATE culling photos).
So take a little time to think about what your values are – write them down on a sheet of paper. How do they match or clash with what you do as a photographer? We don’t think everyone should run their businesses like us but we’re confident that once you’ve worked out what YOUR values are, you’ll be much happier if you can work consistent to them and sit within your very own window of tolerance.
Images in this post from myself and Kristen’s trip to Iceland in 2013.