It's been exactly 365 days since I walked out of a full-time "real" job and into my DREAM LIFE!

I'm celebrating this milestone by photographing some fabulous families in sunny California - but really? I've been celebrating every morning, noon and night since May 25, 2012. Besides, isn't life so much more fun with cupcakes, good pop music and gold glitter hearts? 

This life hasn't come without challenges, victories and all the in-betweens. Over the past year, I've met so many fabulous people who have taught me the ways of the business, but more importantly, their example of a work-life balance has shown me exactly how amazing the freelance life can be.

My little sunny place on the Internet has been a starting place for several conversations about this journey. I had the privilege to meet and mentor beautiful Quyen, speak to my alma mater (both of them!) on numerous occasions and honestly, this "work" has shown its rewards infinity-fold. Standing in front of a classroom filled with students and you remember the roles being reversed 3, 5, 8 years ago is a hugely humbling experience. I wondered if I would say enough to inspire them to make things happen. But apparently, I said enough for them to ask me back! To choose me for "interview a professional photographer" assignments, to review portfolios, to meet for a more personal question and answer. Quickly, I'm realizing that I really am making it. I am really, truly, honored. With my whole gold glitter heart.

With this first anniversary comes a few sparkling changes. Click around the site (thank you, Rae - your design is fantastic! Sara, your camera always shows my truest self - you're a diamond!). Let's get reacquainted in the Sydnee section. Ask me a question in the contact section. Check out the Pinterest boards. There will be more changes to come, so come back often. I can promise more hearts, more sunshine and more reasons to celebrate!

Put on your dancing shoes, throw up some confetti and grab a cupcake - here are the top 5 lessons I learned in the last year:

"You are an island." My dear friend Melissa Oholendt told me this after I sent a frantic email last summer about all those behind-the-scenes things you don't get to see. It was both humbling and intensely inspiring to read these words and those that came after. "No one will care about your business more than you." And she's right: No one else lays awake at night, hoping the gold glitter hearts from my amazing South African Etsy seller come in time to make more Spread the Love packets. Of course friends and family are cheering me on, encouraging me in both success and failure. But the foundation of this business lies in MY heart. I need to be it's biggest advocate, waking up every day wanting this life. Otherwise, it won't grow. I have to fill the watering can as much as possible.

This filling happens when I pay it forward. Speaking to photography students, my work at Photography @ the Center, volunteering with the Liz Logelin Foundation, donating my time and the occasional family sessions to nonprofit auctions and causes I believe in. All of these experiences the last year have filled me in ways I still can't even see. Business has BOOMED because of it. I'm putting my name out there, but most importantly? This foundation of service and love is spreading. Quickly. Love is the name of this game!

With all this opportunity, it's easy to be a "yes" person. Yes, I'll donate these 10 sessions. Yes, I'll be in 28 places at once. Yes, I'll work every weekend and never see my family. In the beginning, even before 2012, I was a yes person. I wanted so desperately to work. I was hungry for experience and growth. This hard work and dedication paid off and now I'm standing in 2013, listening to my beautiful friend Erin Bell say (over a cone of Sebastian Joe's ice cream, of course!): "Syd, it's okay to say no to good things. You need balance. You need to live a full life and not an over-full life." Whoa. I've always been an overachiever, overplanner and type A + firstborn kind of girl. Erin's statement was EXACTLY the bold permission I needed to know that even with all the gold hearts I was spreading, my well was running dry. I needed balance. 

I started to turn my phone off and leave the phone at home. SHOCKING. I had a full-on anxiety attack the first time this happened. But, without the distraction of text messages, Instagram opportunities, tweets and emails, I walked outside my apartment door into THE WORLD. As in, birds chirping, trees blooming, sun shining. Of course I thought, "oh man, if I Instagrammed that #sunflare, I would get SO MANY LIKES." But immediately after, I smiled and remembered it in my MIND instead of my iPhone camera roll. Of course I don't keep my phone off during business hours and if a client emails, I respond appropriately. But us freelancers are people too. We have families and hobbies and lives that are begging to be lived to the fullest. 

So! In the next year, let's keep dreaming. EVEN BIGGER. Goal #1 is to continue watering this business and myself too. As you're reading this, I'm on a plane to California to photograph some fabulous families in the sunshine - I'm bringing this business coast to coast in 2013 and I couldn't be more excited! I'm simplifying my business model, increasing pricing and offering new session options for families. STAY TUNED!

In both business and real life, I am running a marathon. I'm seeking balance, longevity and a healthy lifestyle. I want to see this business SOAR and that means I've got to put my best self forward, right?

In running, it's about the preparation, the self-encouragement and setting the pace to endure the mileage - whether it's an easy 3 or a challenging 13. In real life, I'm set to run The Twin Cities Marathon, all 26.2 miles, come October 6th. Come cheer me on! I'd LOVE to see your face on the sidelines. 

Until then, I'll be photographing, editing, running, goal-setting, resting, dreaming and growing all summer long and I can't wait! I'm so honored you're on this journey with me. 

This is the life I was born to live - I'm convinced of this more every day that I meet more of you and we tell your story together. If we haven't met yet, know that I'd LOVE to have you along on the journey, because really? Life is way more fun with friends: cheering, dancing and eating cupcakes :)