20 years ago when I first started this business, I made myself my very first business cards. I was 21 years old, I had a 2-year-old on my hip, and I had just been laid off from my first real design job in a firm that had to close its doors.
Despite my terror, I decided to set out on my own. On the front of the cards was my business name, which at the time was Bella Fiore Art & Design (obviously since re-branded), and on the back, I wrote out my name and title: Sunni Chapman, Owner & Art Director.
Since it was my business, I could give myself any damn title I wanted, and this thrilled and delighted me, but of all the titles I could have chosen, this is the one I chose. It would take me another 17 years before I realized the significance of that moment, and the true depth of what that really meant to me, and why.
In retrospect, it was a seed of intention I didn’t even know I was planting, a desire I didn’t really know the depth of.
To be honest with you at the time I didn’t even really know what Art Director MEANT. I had a general idea, but not really, I just loved the sound of it. It just felt RIGHT. And I would continue writing that on my business cards and my email signature title for all the years to come…
but I was not yet an Art Director.
Nor was I really an Owner.
Did I own my business? Absolutely. Did I art direct? Absolutely. But it would be a good 20 years until I’d actually begin to TRULY embody those things.
And why is that? For one simple reason: I was still under the delusion that I was only valuable for my labor, and not my VISION and IDEAS, and that is the fundamental shift that has to happen to be either of these two.
If you would have told that 21-year old that she would one day have annual retainers ranging from $3k — $10k per month and getting paid primarily for her vision and ideas, she would NEVER have believed you. She could not possibly have fathomed such a thing.
She started out cleaning houses and hotel rooms, she had a baby at 19, she barely made her $400 rent every month. Her HIGHEST HOPE at the time was to maybe land $3k website deals with any kind of regularity at all, in which she would do ALL the work and then some.
Being an Art Director means you are the visionary, you set the tone and the vision, you consult with the client, you help discover it, establish it, and you direct others to implement it. Being the true ‘Owner’ (and not the whole company yourself) means the same thing. That is what I really wanted all along, but I could not allow myself that.
I’d later get team members, coders, programmers, and various help over the following decade, but STILL, I could never really step into that leadership, I was STILL trying to do it all myself, I was STILL refusing to COMPLETELY step out of that role because I was hanging onto it for dear life.
It seems counter-intuitive, right? Why the HELL would we NOT want to get all of that off our plate and step into the role we’ve always wanted if we could right? But in truth, it’s the hardest thing.
If you are like me you may be telling yourself it’s about control, or about trust, or about ‘that no one can do it likeI can so I should just do it myself’, but the truth is if you came from any kind of a working-class background, you’re going to equate your “hard work” with your worth, and you’re going to resist stepping out of earning your worth with your labor SO FREAKING HARD, because deep down you’re afraid that to do so means you’re going to be seen as an outsider at best, and as a selfish bitch at worst, and that hurts.
When you start shifting your value to your ideas and your vision, you lose that ability you’ve had your whole life to “PROVE” your worth. When you’re proving your worth you can point to your labor and say “well you can’t call me selfish or entitled because look how I suffer and toil.”
When you start shifting your value away from your labor you also have to actually create and uphold boundaries, you have to learn to actually ask for what you need and want and let yourself actually receive it, and you have to risk people judging the shit out of you for it.
So you avoid it, like the plague.
You tell yourself it’s because no one can do it like you, no one understands it, no one can implement it, it will take too long to train someone else anyway and you don’t have time for it. You tell yourself you can’t afford it, or will get help later, you juggle the thousand balls… and you just keep on juggling.
You juggle in the hopes that one day you will finally arrive at a point where you feel worthy enough, and have proved yourself good enough — like you’ve earned your place enough — and you’ll be able to let them drop.
But that’s not how it works.
If you don’t start dropping at least one or two of those balls now, you’re gonna juggle yourself into the grave. But what’s more heartbreaking than that to me, is you will never realize what you’re really worth beyond your labor.
Do not get me wrong here: labor is beautiful. Labor is wonderful. Labor is necessary and a part of you and your life always, as it’s been part of mine and still is, but it is NOT the only thing that you’re valuable for.
And as long as you believe so, you will do more and more work to earn that value, and you will manifest more and more overwhelm, and you will not be able to imagine higher income levels because you will not be able to stomach the level of labor you think that’s going to take you.
So how you get paid for your gifts — your vision, your ideas, your most natural strengths — instead of your labor, is about a fundamental shift in the way you value yourself, and what exactly you value yourself for.
If you value yourself for being able to do it all, you’re going to get a lot of “doing it all” in your life. If you value yourself for your blood, sweat, and tears, you’re gonna get a lot of blood sweat and tears. If you value yourself for your ‘selfless giving’ you’re going to get a lot of opportunities to give without receiving anything for yourself. Makes sense right?
And if you fear that your people won’t value you for things besides your “doing” and your “giving”, then you need to take a deep look inside at where this began, and start to challenge all those messages you’ve just ingested over the course of your life without even knowing it.
As I have continued on my journey of valuing myself differently (it’s never-ending by the way), what I get paid, and by who, reflects that change. And it just keeps getting easier and better. The hard part is the mental and emotional growth that this requires, with that, the rest becomes a WHOLE LOT easier.
Are people going to judge me? Are they going to shame me and / or possibly try to take advantage of me? Yep. They sure are. But I am going to just keep moving ahead and using my privilege to do good, and give back and create change and opportunity in the places that I can, just as I ALWAYS HAVE since the beginning.
I’m good with it. Because I’m good with me. (most days 😂) And when I’m not, (which also happens frequently) I know what to do to get myself back. I know who to reach out to who REALLY KNOWS ME and will tell me the truth. It’s easy to throw trash from the cheap seats, but as Brené Brown says, “if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
So Hi! I’m Sunni Chapman, Owner & Art Director at The Salty Olive. I am also a Consultant, Writer, Teacher & Mentor, and I get paid primarily for my vision and ideas. I help people realize their dreams, and feel that they matter and have unique value, I help them get clear and get in the way of what they want, be it through design, mindset, or all the things.
How about you? What’s the title on YOUR little hearts business card? And how are you living into that right now?
Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to take you 20 years! :D I just took the long route.
P.S. If you’d like to work with me as you move through all this, I’ve got a brand new way to do that coming soon. So hop on my list to be the first to find out when it releases.