My friend George and his wife Stephie are two of the most incredible people I’ve ever known. George is a photographer. One of the best. But every time he takes my photo he looks at his camera and shakes his head. I do not photograph well. Stephie is an artist with natural beauty inside and out. Together – they are my definitive model both for love and loving the work we do.
George is invisibly famous. What I mean is, you likely wouldn’t recognize him if you passed him on the street – but chances are you know his work. I always introduce him as my friend George who likes to take photos.
A few years ago George had to give a TEDTalk. The night before we sat in his office trying to get the words right. Afterwards he said, “When Erica walked in my talk was a mess. When she walked out it was pure poetry”.
I remember I insisted on keeping in the photos of Stephie dressed in Kay Unger pajamas wandering around Paris. George thought they were silly. After his talk, George said, “Wow…those photos of Stephie got the best laugh all night”.
George knew he was going to marry Stephie the very first night they met. It was at a dinner party. There was a slight age difference. Still, he knew they were meant to be.
When he asked her to marry him – he had her answer with a sign he made. The sign said “YES” on both sides.
We ran into George a few weeks back at The Farmer’s Market. He was fresh off a series of talks he’s been giving as Instagram’s first Artist in Residence. I laughed when he started talking about the feast or famine struggle we all have as freelancers.
I laughed because I know that struggle intimately. And because George has never been one for small talk. He is a man who likes to go deep. One day we met for lunch, and I remember the first words out of his mouth were…“Every morning when people wake up they crave two things. Connection – whether it’s connecting with Matt Lauer on their TV, or a friend on Facebook, or if they are lucky waking up next to the person they love. The second thing they crave is an experience of Beauty. And beauty isn’t just something you see. It’s something you hear, feel, taste, and touch”. See? DEEP.
But getting back to the struggle. Stephie likes to say, “The work leads to the work”. It’s a mantra based partly in faith and partly in confidence. Faith that another client will come along and see your work – and the confidence to know your work is good. Great even.
George always says, “All we’re doing is putting love out into the world“. I like that. The idea that doing great work is putting love out into the world.
Recently, I was sick for a week. Now I feel completely overwhelmed – working fast and furious to catch-up and do good work. Maybe even great.
To trust that the work leads to the work.
I love the work I do, but some weeks are a struggle. Some weeks it’s not only the work, but my own mental state I have to battle. Being a creative can feel isolating. Which might be why depression is so common among creatives and entrepreneurs. Sometimes the work is all we have.
A few years ago, Humans of New York interviewed President Obama who said it better than I ever could.
“When is the time you felt most broken?”
“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”Humans of New York
Here’s to remembering #WeCanDoHardThings. May the work always lead to the work – and may we do all our work with LOVE.