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ESP turns 5!

Photo cred: Taylor Lenci Photography

November 3rd. 

This day had no significance to me until five years ago. On November 3, 2016, I skipped a spin class on a Thursday evening, and I told myself I needed to be productive in some way to make up for ditching the workout. Nothing like a good guilt trip, huh? Out of the blue, I decided to pull the trigger and declare myself open for business. It was something I knew I was going to do for nearly a year, but, for months, I didn’t quite possess the confidence to put myself out there despite the unwavering encouragement from my friends and family. I had a website. I had business cards. But I didn’t have the belief in myself to put my skills on the market. November 3rd was random. It was a date that held absolutely zero significance to my life until I hit that button to say, “Hi, I’m Ellen, and I’d like to take your photo.” Then, everything changed.

These past five years have been a roller coaster ride, to say the least. I started my business while I was still teaching sixth grade in Greenwich, Connecticut. I moved to Boston in the summer of 2017 and continued my teaching career. I taught middle school English during the day and returned home to run my business and edit photos each evening. It was exhausting, but balancing both at the time was my only choice since my business wasn’t quite something I could support myself off of full-time just yet. Fast forward to June of 2019. I left the classroom for the last time and dove into running my business full time (read more about that here). At the time, I didn’t know that a global pandemic would disrupt life as we knew it during my first year as a full-time photographer, but I’m so proud to say that my business has survived one of the biggest challenges it will probably face. The pandemic derailed the wedding industry in the spring of 2020, and with postponement and cancellation emails landing in my inbox weekly, I wasn’t quite sure what the future held. Thankfully (and I mean that with every ounce of my being), I have the pleasure of working with some of the most incredible couples who partnered with me to ensure that we could work together whenever their wedding took place – even if it was a Tuesday!

As an art major in college with a focus on photography, I honestly never thought I’d be a business owner. It wasn’t something that ever entered my mind. I loved creating images I was proud of and that other people enjoyed. The most challenging part of this journey has been taking my art and teacher-focused brain and learning how to run a business. During a therapy session this week (sidenote: the best thing I did for myself in 2021 was getting a therapist. Cannot recommend it enough), she asked me what was the highest and lowest point I’ve had during this solo entrepreneurship. Pinpointing just one was hard. But I settled on three highs and one significant low. 

Highs:

  1. Pressing publish on my website and putting myself out there as a photographer. One of the most vulnerable moments of my life but also one of the most impactful. 
  2. Meeting with my head of school in January of 2019 and informed her that I was not signing my contract for the next school year and diving into my business full time. It was one of the scariest moments to articulate my decision to my boss but also the moment I had worked so hard to achieve. 
  3. TODAY! I’m patting myself on the back for achieving five years in business. Did you know that about 50% of businesses fail within the first five years of existence? I’m SO grateful to not be part of that statistic!

Lows

  1. The loneliness I felt during the winter of 2020. Before the pandemic hit, I was living alone in Boston and working from my living room desk. I had full autonomy over my schedule yet days passed by where I didn’t speak to anyone or leave my apartment. It was such a juxtaposition between being in a classroom of eighteen middle schoolers all day, and I was taken aback by how lonely I felt. It was hard editing other people’s love stories as a single woman. It was hard to get excited about photos of weddings, babies, and families when those were all things I didn’t have myself and felt a longing for. I’m still working through this and working on my relationship with myself rather than relying on another person to bring me happiness. It’s a journey I’m still on, but again, I credit a lot of progress to a really good therapist. Thankfully, I had the best support system who has helped me through some of my hardest days, and I would not be celebrating five years without them. 

I know I haven’t won an Academy Award or anything, but that support system deserves a shoutout. I wouldn’t have started this journey without the incredible encouragement of one of my closest friends, Britt. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders and constantly reminds me of what I’m capable of when I am down on myself. Kiley, Megan, Ashton, Cannella, and Katie – thank you for being there from the start and telling me this was a realistic goal. Susan – thank you for being my very first client! Looking back on those photos of Janie makes me think that I should have paid you to let me take your photos – eek! Taylor – your kindness, advice, and wisdom during that pivotal coffee date in June of 2016 forever changed my life. You inspire me and continue to cheer me on from afar, and I can’t thank you enough. McKenna + Mariah – thank you for being my go-to support and friends in Charlestown. Photo assistant, cook, chauffeur, sounding board – your roles are diverse and oh-so-important to the day-to-day operation of ESP. Janelle, Jenna, Kelsey, and Danielle – not sure where I would be without my photo friends! You make me feel sane and supported, and I’m not sure how the last year and a half would have gone without you! Ali – this past year has been the hardest one yet, and while it’s not over, I could not have made it to November without you. So grateful to have you as a client and now a co-worker and am so excited for what the future holds. To my family, thank you. You have supported this dream from the beginning and have been the subject of my photo work since 2003. I wouldn’t be here without you, and I can’t wait to establish a better work/life balance next year to spend more time with you. 

I’m not an emotional person, but I got a little emotional typing all of that out. Wow. It takes a village, and I have the absolute best village.

Five years ago, I hoped you might welcome me into your homes, your milestone moments, and your families to do what makes me happiest: capture time in a bottle. The response has been the biggest privilege of my life—I feel lucky everyday that it’s my job to help you remember the moments, people, and days that you love the most. Thank you to those of you who have been following along since Thursday, November 3, 2016. Thank you to those who have started following along today. And, thank you to those who have joined this wild ride sometime in the last five years. I never take your support for granted.

Cheers (with a maple latte of course) to five years of Ellen Sargent Photography!

Photo credit: Janelle Carmela Photography

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