Unraveling Her Heart: Meet Susannah Conway
Hello! Please introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do? How does your heart manifest in the world?
Hello! I’m an author, photographer, and a teacher. My first book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (SKIRT Books) was published in 2012, and I’ve also co-authored another book, Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids (Chronicle Books). My next book with Chronicle, Londontown: A Photographic Tour of the City’s Delights, comes out in May. I’ve been running creative courses online since 2009 and currently have six on offer: The Sacred Alone, Journal Your Life, Photo Meditations and Blogging from the Heart run throughout the year; you can sign-up to my business class, The Inside Story, any time. Plus there’s my newest class, Daily Guidance.
I have two degrees—in journalism and photography—and in my previous existence I was a freelance journalist and fashion editor. The path I am on now began in 2005 when the man I loved died very suddenly—everything I thought I knew about life changed in that instant. Now I look back and see that my life has unfolded in two acts: in the first 32 years I was lost and disconnected from myself. In the last decade I’ve healed and become the person I am today. I found my way back to myself through my cameras and journals. In the second year of my bereavement I discovered blogging and it opened up this whole new creative world to me. Being able to share my thoughts and feelings online was incredibly empowering—it was my way of ‘getting back out there’ from the safety of my living room. I started exploring self portraiture, which helped me to see myself again—literally, but also as the woman I was becoming, a woman working her way through loss and finding herself again. There were so many layers to unravel and the healing went far deeper than the bereavement alone.
In 2008 I moved to a new city and was given the opportunity to teach a photography class at a local adult education centre. As they already had a technical class I decided to create something more meaningful drawing on everything I’d learned through my healing journey. I called that first class “Unravelling: Ways of Seeing Yourself” and was excited to share my ideas with the 10 brave women who’d signed up. As we shared tears and revelations week after week I knew I was onto something, so I followed my intuition and offered the class online—within just one week I had 100 women signed up. That was back in January 2009 and the rest, as they say, is history.
My work is important because____.
My work is important because self awareness is the key to healing. I mainly serve women (though there are some beloved blokes in my tribe!) who are on a path like mine. They are healing old wounds and opening up to the truth of who they are in this lifetime. They are innately creative and curious about the world. They want to fully embody who they are and express that in the world. After doing an enlightening survey last year, I can tell you over half of my tribe are mothers and nearly 80 percent are introverts. They live all over the world and love reading, art and hanging with their loved ones.
What does soulful business mean to you? What motivates you?
I’m all about heart-centred work which I believe has two key elements to it. Firstly, it’s doing work that comes from your heart, that’s aligned with your values and what you hold sacred. And secondly, it’s work that supports and nourishes you personally, that flows with your energy levels. I’ve had many jobs and career incarnations over the years but it was only when I found my way to the work I’m doing now that I not only drew more financial abundance into my life but also started to feel sane. Working in an office just wasn’t a fit for me—self employment has given me space to bloom. I’m able to contribute to the world doing work that is meaningful and also spend my days in a way that doesn’t deplete and drain me. Being able to work from home and set my own schedule is such a blessing for this introvert!
What is the best business advice you would give?
Figure out how you work best. What way of working will help you to thrive? I read a lot of biz advice that makes assumptions about the sort of person who’ll take it. There is no one-size-fits-all way of doing business, online or off, and yet so much of what’s offered is geared towards extroverts or those with A-type personalities who like to set goals. It can leave the right-brain-leaning unstructured empath types like me feeling like they’re doing it all wrong. But they’re not: they just work differently—literally and figuratively. I think once you suss out HOW you work best your business will thrive because YOU will thrive. So I guess my best business advice is: stop trying to fit someone else’s mould… make your own.
How do you stay connected to loved ones when deeply entrenched in work?
Here’s the truth: I don’t always manage it very well. When I’m deep in the creation cave making something new—a new course, a new book, whatever it is—I tend to disappear for a period of time. I will speak to my mum and my sister on the phone maybe once a week but to the rest of the world I am off the radar. Then, when the work is nearing completion, I will tumble out of the cave, blinking in the harsh sunlight, and start reconnecting with my beloveds again. A friend of mine actually texted me one time I disappeared asking if I was avoiding her. I had to explain about the cave (and how my introverted self functioned differently to her extroverted self) and now I just give her a heads up about imminent cave projects and we’re good. Not everyone understands my hermit-like tendencies around work so it’s helpful to let them know why I do it! I’m sure that when I’m in a romantic relationship again these tendencies will need to be reevaluated, but in truth I dream of finding a partner who has a similar cave of his own…
What is your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur? How do you work with or around it?
Not being able to clone myself. If I could do that I would be set for life. For now I am learning how to share more of the workload with my fabulous VA and trust that eventually the day will come when I have a (tiny) team to delegate to—whether I’ll be able to let go of the reins is another matter!
When you feel burned out or uninspired, what lights your fire again? Please share a personal mantra, motto, or ritual for when you feel drained. How do you stay nourished and inspired as a soulful creative?
The fastest way to relight my fire is to get as far away from my computer as possible. Living in London is helpful as there’s always something new going on. I like to head out with my tube pass, a camera and a journal and just see where I end up. Lunch in Shoreditch is usually on the agenda—the street art changes so often you’re guaranteed to see something new—and then a wander around the museums and art galleries. Trips to the coast to see my family always fill my cups, and I’m convinced time spent with my nephew is the secret to eternal youth—he is pure joy.
How do you start your work day?
Coffee and eggs. Tarot cards. Journaling and/or meditation. Spotify. Gratitude to be able to work from home.
If you could do something else as a vocation, what would it be?
In a parallel world I am a perfumer. Scents are my other obsession and I could happily spend my day concocting fragrances and playing with essential oils.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
It never occurred to me that I could be or would be an entrepreneur, so it was less a decision I made and more of an evolution. When I decided to take the leap from teaching in person to offering a course online I only knew of one other person who had done the same. Now it’s so common everyone’s creating them but even just six years ago it feel so new and risky. It hadn’t been my intention to create a business and I honestly didn’t think the “courses thing” had any longevity—very grateful to have been wrong about that!
Do you have a first memory from childhood that connects you to what you have created today?
One of my clearest first memories is reading a sentence in a book by myself. I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, looking at the words on the page and saying them in my head. I can recall how amazing that felt, like I was unlocking a treasure chest full of secrets. Reading and books have been the through-thread of my entire life.
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
An artist or a veterinarian.
What did you know you did NOT want to be?
Anything involving mathematics :)
What is your business philosophy?
I believe in the beauty of small. While others work their asses off to achieve global domination and multiple seven-figure glory, I don’t have any desire to do that. I intentionally have a business that fits me and supports my way of working (right-brained, largely unstructured), rather than dictates how I must live my life. I have no ambition to do a viral TED talk, for example, because all I can picture is the amount of work (and pressure) that would follow that. To be able to do work from my heart I need space to flow with my inspirations and a feeling of freedom in my day. There are times when work feels like work but most of the time it feels like play and I don’t want to ever lose that feeling.
What was the biggest "lesson" you've learned through your experience in business?
I know what my business needs. It took a few years to really trust that, but once I did everything felt a lot more solid. In the first year I signed up for a biz course that wasn’t a fit for me at all but at the time I felt I needed to learn how to do all this “properly.” Turns out the only person who could teach me that was me. My business is Susannah-shaped and while I do read a few biz blogs and keep an eye on what’s happening in the online world, I trust my gut over anything else when it come to decision-making. My ideas are the raw materials and my journal is the laboratory—everything gets brainstormed in there.
Tell us a story or describe a time when something occurred in your business that made your heart leap and you KNEW you were doing the right thing.
The first year I ran Unravelling, my first e-course, I discovered how powerful bringing groups of women together was. The brave women in those first sessions bonded like glue, sharing photographs and personal stories, and supporting each other through the journey. I know many of them met up in person, and friendships were formed that remain to this day. One group of Unravellers banded together to make a surprise for my birthday: they each took a selfie holding a piece of cardboard with a word on it then stitched the photos together into a video with a message for me. I couldn’t stop crying as I watched it! It’s one of the kindest and sweetest things anyone has ever done for me. That’s when I knew the work I was doing was exactly what I was supposed to be doing—my healing journey had happened for a reason.
Susannah Conway is the author of This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart and forthcoming LONDONTOWN: A Photographic Tour of the City’s Delights (Chronicle Books, 2016). A photographer, writer and teacher, her classes have been enjoyed by thousands of people from over 50 countries around the world. Co-author of Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids, Susannah helps others remember their true selves, using creativity as the key to open the door. Visit her at SusannahConway.com and say hi on Instagram.