Wearing multiple hats has been a status quo of mine dating back to when I was a college student who was also working as a photo editor of two small publications simultaneously. This trend continued into my senior year and post college where I balanced my life and nearly all of my free time between a career I was attempting to grow in the field of photography as well as working as an in-house marketing coordinator (and company photographer) for a professional service firm.

For seven years I balanced the two (as well as being involved and sitting on the board of directors for several professional trade organizations including Ad2 Tucson, ASMP Tucson, SAAEMA and Toastmasters) with the help of a lot of coffee, nearly no personal vacations or weekends off, a little hair loss and a small group of very understanding friends who can attest to not seeing me very often.

The reality is that I devoted 100% of myself to each individual facet of my professional life. As I unfortunately learned, being committed a sum total of 600% to anything has its consequences.

A little over a year ago I was not feeling well. For weeks upon weeks I was fatigued and sensing that I was on the verge of coming down with something. It began to inhibit my ability to workout in the mornings and to get work done in the evenings. I went to the doctor who gave it to me bluntly.

“You’re not sick. You’re suffering from exhaustion and stress.”

I laughed for a moment until I realized he was being serious. It was then that I first learned that despite the drive I had mentally and emotionally; I, like everyone else, was subject to being limited physically in what was possible. I had just pushed myself too far for too long.

From that point I began to inventory where I spent my time and what I invested myself into. The truth was that I loved everything that I was doing; however I was spreading my energy so thin that I was eliminating the impact I could have in any one field.

I began to think very strategically about what my true goals were, where my true passions were and what I needed to focus on to achieve both. At the start of each year I began setting goals and milestones for myself in a variety of categories from health and fitness, to photography, to writing, to my marketing efforts and so on. Yes, I was still wearing many hats, but I became more focused and was better at understanding where I should put my energy into and where I should pull it from.

This past Friday I took off one of the biggest hats I’ve ever worn as I concluded my work as an in-house marketing professional for the company I had been with for the better part of a decade. In seven years I had the opportunity to work on hundreds of projects, travel the US and make connections with some fantastic colleagues.

It was time for me to put forth all my energy and attention into the growth of my own photography and marketing company.

Resigning from full-time employment comes with a bevy of fears and challenges making it the hardest thing I, and many other entrepreneurs, have done. There are no longer benefits and we have to get our own health insurance. Say goodbye to sick days and paid vacations. Most important, get used to not having the security of a regular paycheck.

Welcome to a world where everything you do (or do not do) can add to or subtract from your potential for success. A life where you feel exhilarated, excited, scared, happy, and anxious all at the same time.  The reality of fully living and breathing in a career that you are passionate about.

Yesterday, Monday, was my first day in which I would normally be going into an office that I began my completely freelance lifestyle. I woke up before the sun even rose feeling truly happy – partially because I had just gotten over the flu and could breathe again, but mainly because I was waking up to a life that I was in total control over. My first decision of the day and my fully-independent career (if I am being honest) was to go back to sleep for another hour and a half. Waking up the second time, even more refreshed and happier I began my day. In the following nine hours I worked vigorously and intensely and completed more in a single day that I can ever remember doing previously. All on only one single cup of coffee mind you. I looked at the clock and even though it was before 4pm, I chose to conclude it there and conserve some of the drive I had for the following day. It was not even quitting time for most and I already felt more accomplished then I had in years.

In the early 1990s my father began a company of his own after spending more than a quarter century being employed by a large international firm. As a kid then I never fully understood the gravity of his decision and the risk he took upon his shoulders to not only better his personal life, but also the lives of our family members. In fact it was not until yesterday that I knew how he felt when he set up his own office in the loft of our house. I still remember waking up for school in the morning and walking out of my room to see him already at his desk working away on building his business. I have no doubt that I gleaned so much of my entrepreneurial spirit from watching him daily pursue his own goals. I also learned some very important lessons from him on how to self manage as a solo business owner.

1. Set a rough schedule. One of the perks of being a freelancer is the escape from too much routine. However a little structure helps in moving forward with goals and action items needing to be done. For example I will start my day between this time and this time, spend about this much time working on currently projects and dedicate this much time to business development and trying to bring in new work.

2. Track what needs to be done. At the start of each day look at what needs to get done that day and give it top priority. Focus on it early without distractions so you can move onto the next item. At the end of the day think about what needs to be done the following day and write it down. Think about smaller and easier to manage tasks as well as the bigger goals that you are attempting to work towards.

3. Know when to stop. Yesterday I could have worked 12 or even 15 hours with the amount of energy and excitement I had. Which would have left me feeling depleted and maybe less ambitious today. End the day on a high note with a lot of tasks accomplished and enjoy the personal time you can chalk away from yourself.

4. Lastly, enjoy the ride. Not every day is going to be a great day and not every paycheck is going to be something to have a beer over. There are going to be hard times ahead with the roughest of challenges. Yet because of the fact that you entered this path for the right reason; the overcoming of these obstacles will be one of the most rewarding aspects you can have.

I wanted to conclude this week’s blog with a thanks to all of you that have either subscribed to my blog, are just reading it for the first time or have even had the chance to work with me. Every interaction I’ve had, every comment I’ve gotten on my photography or my writing, every project I’ve taken on and every person I’ve met has led me to this moment in my career. Thank you all for your inspiration to me in making this journey happen.

James Patrick