Last year, I spent New Year’s Eve doing a bunch of different and random things.
I was still new to Los Angeles and didn’t have a group of friends to hang out with, so I did things that I thought might help me feel some kind of closure on 2017. I watched the sunset on the beach. I went to church. I went to a house party of an acquaintance, thinking maybe it’d turn into a friendship. I was trying a lot of things and hoping something worked. This year was a lot of the same–– trying a lot of things and seeing what worked. Narrowing my vision. Getting clear and getting rid of what no longer served.
This year I booked some of my most exciting projects to date. At the same time, this year was one of the most difficult years of my life. My calendar was full, but my tank was empty. I burned myself out, and discovered that balance was a lesson I desperately needed to learn. I was spinning so many plates that my health suffered. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be straightforward and transparent with you here about the highs and the lows.
Here are the truest things I learned this year.
1. A GOAL WITHOUT A PLAN IS JUST A DREAM
Ok, maybe not “just” a dream (ummm hello, I LOVE DREAMS), but if you set a big goal but don’t have any plans or habits to support it, it’s unlikely that you will accomplish the goal. You can’t just hope for the best, you have to plan for it! This year, I had a lot of goals, and I accomplished some big ones. But others were left hanging because there was no actual plan to achieve them. Moving forward, I am setting deadlines for myself and breaking my goals down into small steps that make them more achievable.
2. YOUR CAPACITY IS LIMITED
Your energy has limits, and your creativity relies on your energy, so guard it carefully! I was truly blessed to have many opportunities come my way this year, and at the same time, I did not say “no” enough. I tried to do it all, and by the end of the year, I was fried. I didn’t have the energy to hold space for anyone else… something that is normally a joy for me to do. I also didn’t have capacity to engage in the community issues that I had previously prioritized. I ended up taking the last few weeks of 2018 off from client work to take care of myself and my health.
3. MAKE YOUR HEALTH YOUR PRIORITY
It’s hard for me to write about this, but I think it is SO important to talk about mental health. I have dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life, but this year was by far the most challenging time I have had with both. There were days when I simply could not see how I would bounce back. When I was really struggling, I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t going outside, I wasn’t seeing friends, I wasn’t doing anything except isolating myself and sinking deeper into a hole of self doubt. I know now that I need to prioritize therapy, exercise, nutritious foods, social life, and my faith. I know that my issues aren’t just going to disappear altogether, so I need to figure out how to live with them and not allow them to knock me off my center. I learned that I need to do the work to set myself up for success, even if I’m not feeling great in the moment.
4. HABIT IS THE ENEMY OF ANXIETY
Routine and habit had a big part in pulling me out of dark times this year. I started getting up at the same time every day and going to yoga in the mornings. I started eating the same healthy foods every day. I started journaling daily. I developed practices to anchor me and I made them non-negotiable so I wouldn’t sink back into the comfort of depression. So many highly successful people talk about the importance of their morning routines, and it’s not a coincidence! Having a morning routine that you do every day really helps to frame your day (and your life) for success. Practicing healthy habits consistently helps me to create a foundation for a full and balanced life.
5. CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY
This should practically be one of my catch phrases, but it’s true… look at the 5 people you spend the most time talking to or engaging with. You are probably a combination of them, down to what you’re interests are, what you believe, where you stand on issues and how much money you make. As my life becomes busier and time seems to be speeding up more and more, I am learning the importance of being selective with the people I spend my time with and my energy on. I don’t think you have to dramatically cut people out of your life just because they don’t have the healthiest habits–– we are all a work in progress. But just take inventory. Your circle should be reflective of the kind of person you want to be. Your friends should be cheering you on, pumping you up, and rooting for you even when they don’t get credit for doing so. And you should be doing the same for them.
6. FORGIVENESS IS A GIFT YOU GIVE TO YOURSELF
Holding grudges only hurts you, not the other person. Learning to forgive is one of the most important things we can learn to do. This year, I felt that I had been holding on to a few grudges that were clogging up my own freedom and preventing me from trusting people. There were painful situations I was still carrying that I needed to let go of. There are just things in life that aren’t worth hanging on to–– resentment, wanting to be “right,” feeling like you’re owed an apology… sometimes it’s better to forgive and let it go, with no big announcement. Quiet and humble forgiveness is a profound gift.
7. DO THE WORK YOU WANT TO GET HIRED FOR
I give this advice all the time to aspiring photographers and entrepreneurs (seriously, raise your hand if I have given you this advice!). This year, it rang especially true for me (!). A year ago, I made a list of dream clients, and this year I crossed several of those companies/brands off the list… because they approached me. When you do good work, consistently, for a long time… when you find your lane and run in it with everything you’ve got, people notice. Eventually, you will get an email that says, “Hey, we love what you’re doing, and we want to be a part of it.” From my Greece adventure retreats to my work partnerships, the people and companies I was attracting through my brand were well-aligned and shared many of my passions.
8. WORK IS JUST ONE PART OF WHAT YOU DO
If you love a good personality test as much as I do, you may know about the Enneagram. I’m a Type 3, “The Achiever,” and I relate so much to this type. I get so much satisfaction and validation from the work that I do and the way it’s perceived. I don’t love that this is my nature, but I can’t hide from it. Along with all the mental health challenges that came up this year, I was reminded that my career is just one part of what I do or who I am. There are so many other things I care about, and so many other ways I want to spend my time, and I have been learning to set firm boundaries between work and non-work activities. A few examples: This was the first year I actually allowed myself to watch Netflix… and not a documentary either. I went to events just for fun, not for the exclusive purpose of networking. In an act of defiance against my achiever-ism, I am prioritizing unstructured play and just enjoying the moment instead.
9. STAY IN YOUR ZONE OF GENIUS
There are a few things I know I am good at. And of course, there are some other things that I am completely dismal at. There isn’t a good reason for me to do the things I suck at when those things are no doubt someone else’s passion–– the things they were put on this Earth to do. Going into next year, I am filling my calendar with things that are in my zone, and saying no to things that could be done better by someone else. There’s no shame in things just not being a good fit. I believe that in order to use our gifts fully, we need to use them wisely too.
10. THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO LEARN
The older I get, the more I learn that I know a b s o l u t e l y nothing :). Any time I got a tad overconfident this year, I got smacked in the face with something I didn’t know, or an assumption I was toootally wrong about. I know we were supposed to learn this in middle school, but truth be told, am still learning to never assume. I’m heading into the last year of my 20’s with my palms up. God, world, people, what do you have to teach me?
At times, this year felt like nonstop punches. It was really hard. It was also really, ridiculously beautiful. I slept in a traditional Chinese tolou and woke up in the mountains. I saw the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico, spoke to creatives at some unique events, led 18 people across Greece to explore a new country and themselves. I re-visited Australia and Kenya, and learned first-hand about incredible cultures around the world. There were times I wanted to press pause just to have an extra moment to enjoy it.
All of the things that happened this year are turning me into the woman that I am. And I am proud of who I am becoming. It’s taken a lot for me to be able to say that. And everything that didn’t work out this year, last year or anytime before that, was in my best interest.
If this year was a tough one for you, I want you to know that you are not alone–– you are why I choose to share things so transparently. I really hope this post offers you some encouragement.
Looking forward to 2019, I am creating actionable and achievable goals for myself. They include writing more here, prioritizing my mental and physical health, and showing up for this community on other platforms (any guesses where? 🙂 ). I know that I will see positive change through consistent habits, healthy choices, and intentional decisions in my business and personal life.
Writing this and reflecting on 2018 has reminded me to never lose my curiosity or my passion for this world and the people in it. I hope you never lose yours either. Here’s to bright days.
If you are curious, here are my thoughts from the last few years: 2017, 2016, and 2015. Photos by Ari-An Watkins and Tiffiny Costello.
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I loved this post. The point I took to heart the most is “Your Capacity is Limited”. So many people I meet, including myself, just do not get this point. They run and run and run until they break down and crash. I learned this one the hard way – ran and worked myself into a terrible mental state and struggled to overcome it. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.
Thanks so much for reading, Jai! SO important to recognize when we are at capacity and make sure to give ourselves rest. Appreciate your comment!
Wow Erin – so thoughtfully written. I’ve been ‘on’ Instagram in a more active way this past year and your feed is one that I’ve stumbled on and really enjoyed. You have some really cool adventures and look to be building a real purposeful career. Like so many Instagram feeds you always see the coolest angles and moments that can make one go – ‘wow wish my life was so exciting!’
Thanks for sharing some of your deeper thoughts – especially the things that are no doubt tough for you as I am sure many of your followers do have a perception that life rocks all the time for Erin. We all learn that life isn’t a perfect Sunrise or Sunset all the time. There are plenty of cloudy rainy days in between those and plenty of absolutely ordinary ones too.
I look forward to seeing what you do in 2019 – you have talent and passion. I really like what you said about doing the work you want to be hired for and focusing on your genius. I am over 50 and while I ‘knew’ this I often tried to do what others thought should be done in my role. Now I focus on the stuff I am good at I can tell you it is true – people who appreciate it will call and they ARE the clients with whom you like to work with – no splashy marketing required.
Power on Erin – thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Tom! You nailed it about social media–– 99% of it is highlight reel, which is OK. But when we start comparing our real lives to other people’s highlight reels, we get into trouble feeling like we aren’t enough or like the grass is greener somewhere else.
Great to hear that you are working in your zone and attracting the folks who appreciate your talent! Thanks a ton for following along on my journey.
I’ve been following you for a year now and you’ve been a great inspiration to me as I am just at the first steps of becoming a fine artist & writer. Funnily enough, one of the things you’ve said that stuck with me the most was when you were writing about your time in Australia shoveling shit. Everytime I get down on myself that I’m not succeeding fast enough or that my path is not direct enough, I think about how you started out. And it brings me a sign of peace, feeling like others who have succeeded have had to shovel shit on their way up too and it’s okay to have to wander for a few years before finally finding your path upwards.
Thanks so much for your honesty and for the absolute beauty you put out into the world with your photographs. Heres to a brighter 2019 for us all.
Hi Abla! Thank you for reading. Indeed I recall my time shoveling shit fondly!! 😛 It all takes time. It’s easy to convince yourself that folks got where they are overnight, but real life is a process that takes time. Thanks for following along with me this year and wishing you all the best in 2019 🙂
Oh, Erin. You’re an absolute gem and wealth of wisdom. The way you express yourself so candidly and vulnerably is so aspirational. You’re so brilliant and poised and I’m honored to call you a friend. I have no doubt that 2019 will be your best year yet, and I’ll be there, in your corner, cheering you on each step. You deserve every, single blessing coming your way. Love you! <3
I CAN’T!!!! Ok, I can but THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. So honored to have you as a friend and can’t wait to cheer you on in the coming year. Love you!
Really enjoyed reading this and love your style of writing. Feliz año nuevo de México!
Thanks Katie! Happy New Year! 🙂
#6 hit home. I love the true authentic nature of this post. Thank you for sharing your reflection writing. You inspired me to write mine. May your New Year fill with Peace!
Thanks Poe say! Wishing the same for you 🙂
Thank you for your transparency and for sharing your deep thoughts. Today I have on my to do list to write down my learnings from 2018. So the last days I’ve been reflecting and gathering thoughts. When I was reading your post I often had a smile on my face as I can find myself reflected in many of your points. Dare to say no, put priority to your health, work is just a part of what you do and to put a plan to your goals… reading these they seem so obvious but living them often is a challenge. I wish you all the best for the new year 2019. I wish you a lot of energy, positive thoughts, time to enjoy, the courage to say no, solutions in situations with high pressure and all the best for your health. You are a very inspiring person. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. All the best from Germany, Steffi
Thanks Steffi! Hope your writing and reflection session goes well and wishing you all the best! Really appreciate the kind words and support. xo
Really enjoyed reading this and all of the points you made resinated with me, especially number 1 and 7. As I get older I am constantly struggling with wanting to get into the travel and outdoor industry but scared to put myself out there for those types of jobs because I don’t think I am qualified. Especially when it comes to getting my blog to where I want it, this helped me to start writing my goals down for this year, what steps I need to take to achieve them, start putting myself out there more and not being scared of rejection. Nothing happens by just hoping. Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable about your experiences this year, you have helped me and know you are helping many others. Happy new year and can’t wait to see where your adventures take you next. Cheers.
What a beautiful and honest blog post Erin – thank you for sharing! So many of the points you shared resonate deeply with my own experiences and current life situation. Especially when you speak of burn out, self care, and goal setting. I have enjoyed watching your 2018 adventures and how you have evolved into an even more inspiring photographer, writer and bad ass woman. I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds for you!
I think I fell in love with you ; ) I just really like your honesty, your thoughts, your inspirational being – just all together. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned, your advice is invaluable (sorry if my English is not too good, I’m a Swiss Girl from Bern – by the way, you have to come to Switzerland!!)
Wishing you all the best for 2019, I will couriously follow your path of learning…
Erin, I always look forward to reading this every year and this year was no different! I’m so so so proud of you and love getting to follow you on this journey. I cannot wait to see the big things you accomplish in 2019!
So many things rang true to me in this post! I struggle so much with time management and just getting things done. This week I set a serious schedule in place to balance my personal and professional life. It’s great when people as successful as you express the struggles we all go through and not just the “Instagram” life. It’s easy to get so caught up in that and forget that those perfect pictures are only a small fragment of each individuals reality.
I’m sure with a more positive and balanced mindset you will have a wonderful 2019. I’ll look forward to following your journey.
[…] bikes that get the likes – but after reading a very insightfully honest post about 2018 by Erin Sullivan, I wondered whether it was perhaps also a little useful as a moment of reflection on a tricky year. […]
This is beautifully written and so much of what you’ve written here really resonates with me. Thank you for your pure, honest voice. Authenticity is healing. Cheers to this year, cannot wait to see what you’ll be doing.
Thanks for sharing 🙂 the honesty is a breath of fresh air in this online world. I had a tough 2018 year as well!
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