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I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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2022 Year In Review: Highlights, Wins, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

January 6, 2023

A year recap post within the first week of the year? Is this really a new year, new me??

I’m actually really proud of myself for starting my yearly reflection so much earlier, and I’ll take that win. The truth is sharing and posting this year was more of a struggle this year than it ever has been, but I am really looking forward to writing these annual posts.

2022 was…hard.

It was full of deep self-work, unmet expectations, burnout, re-evaluating, deconstructing core beliefs, weeding through big emotions, and trying to figure out what I want my future to look like. 

You know, casual.

From the outside perspective, I was killin’ it – and honestly as I wrote my list of “what worked,” I was surprised at how many things made the list when I really felt like this was one of my worst years ever. That’s really why I love this exercise. It helps break through the all-or-nothing fallacy, which I have learned through therapy I am a frequent user of.

The truth is this year was just like all of the rest – full of highs and lows, accomplishments and missed deadlines, and all of the things that come with constantly seeking a better version of myself.

I think the biggest difference in 2022 for me is that for the first time I really retreated inward rather than bringing everyone along on the journey. Not surprisingly as an Enneagram 2, that contributed to my feelings of “not succeeding,” but I’m actually really proud of myself for tuning out the noise so I could hear my own voice. 

It’s hard to show up, period.

It’s even harder to show up on the internet in front of thousands of people (now even more thanks to going viral with a reel halfway through the year) and then also tying your way of making a living to that image.

How do I show up as myself when I’m going through a season of change and figuring out who that even is?

2022 was a year of living my life for myself so I can spend this year sharing my life authentically and confidently, like I used to. I’m slowly but surely getting to a place where I not only CAN share more but I actually WANT to, which is the key piece not many people talk about. 

Marketing yourself personally and letting people in on the journey isn’t always about “baring it all”– it’s also about knowing what feels purposeful to share and how to have healthy boundaries. 

Authenticity is important but vulnerability isn’t a commodity or a marketing strategy.

As Weston and I were talking about the other day, you can write from a place of “processing” but PUBLISH from a place of “processed.”

(PS. I’m so excited to share more of my thoughts on this via More Than Creative.)

Anyways…I just needed to preface how I’ve been feeling lately because how I connect with you weighs heavily on my heart. This yearly recap will be multiple lists of things you may or may not have seen from me this year and I’m finally excited to share. Safe to say you’ll be seeing more of this girl in 2023!!!

Highlights From My 2022:

  • Made major updates to my new house, starting with fresh paint, new kitchen countertops, new carpet, new bathroom vanity, and a lot more little updates
  • Moved into my new house!!! (This is it’s own separate item because I was so scared to actually live here…there’s no landlord to fix things LOL)
  • Went on a bachelorette trip worthy of an episode of Real Housewives with my best friends
  • Photographed a full day brand shoot in Charlottesville, VA (first destination brand shoot!)
  • Tried a new type of studio style shoot for my Senior VIPs and loved the results!!
  • Bought a Peloton AND hit 200 rides!!
  • Celebrated Weston’s 21st birthday by introducing him to the love of red wine with pasta
  • Successfully trained Dune on the e-collar so he can run freely off-leash
  • Made the decision to end my Senior Spokesmodel/VIP program to make room for new passions
  • Photographed girls from my very first spokesmodel team graduating college (how is that even possible?)
  • Swam in the ocean more times in one week than I did in all of 2021
  • Went viral with a reel that had over 15 MILLION views…and doubled my following
  • Had a 6 WEEK wedding streak with 7 weddings 
  • Celebrated Memorial Day Weekend with my favorite Minnesotans (showed them the beauty of jumping in the ocean at night!)
  • Saw Leon Bridges and Kendrick Lamar with Weston – first stadium tour! 
  • Visited both sides of my family in Arizona for the first time in multiple years
  • Survived almost two months of Dune in a cone for allergies and getting fixed
  • Celebrated my childhood best friend welcoming her babies into the world
  • Explored more Wilmington restaurants with a food tour for mom’s birthday
  • Built a custom desk for my office with my dad and my brother
  • Had my 10 year high school class reunion
  • Saw Rent and Dear Evan Hansen performed at DPAC with my mom and Weston
  • Photographed a wedding in Williamsburg, VA for another very talented photographer (it always means so much to be trusted by peers)
  • Saw Girl With No Job (Claudia from The Morning Toast) – bought a solo ticket!
  • Pulled out three bushes/trees, built a fence, re-did my flower beds, tilled and laid sod to create the little yard of my dreams
  • Started a monthly supper club with girls who love multi-course meals with paired cocktails
  • Celebrated my 29th birthday in a really fun outfit
  • Won most creative costume with Dune as “corn” with his farm family
  • Celebrated my college best friend marrying the love of her life
  • Photographed a brand session in Charleston
  • Celebrated Weston graduating from UNCW!!!
  • Joined a 6 month Mastermind with Kat Schmoyer
  • Paid off my jeep AND all of the renovations to the house
  • Photographed 86 sessions (brands, seniors, engagements, etc.) and 19 weddings!!!!!! 

Then arguably the biggest highlight of all…LAUNCHED A BRAND NEW BUSINESS, MORE THAN CREATIVE! 

What a year. I’m actually feeling more positively about it just from writing that list.

Also a little anxious because I have a lot to catch up on with sharing because I do want to give the details about a lot of these things. Baby steps.

Wins: What Worked In 2022

  • Buying a used Peloton but keeping a gym membership so I can get out of the house
  • Realizing that the Senior VIP program was no longer serving me and ending it to make room for other passions
  • Starting therapy again
  • Having multiple wedding weekends in a row = more weekends in a row off
  • Not scheduling morning sessions during senior season (I showed up a lot happier!)
  • Creating and sticking to a morning routine with Dune
  • Budgeting to pay off big purchases and be debt free
  • Spending a lot of time researching and planning house projects
  • Not being afraid of putting nails in the wall
  • Creating a project management system, first in Clickup and then in Trello
  • Adding albums to all of my wedding collections
  • Hiring professional movers
  • Finishing the biggest house projects before moving in
  • Doing my best to make sure everything in the house as a place
  • Spending a lot of time with Weston
  • Using the Full Focus Planning system – journaling every day
  • Having an office with a desk that makes me excited to sit at
  • Decorating my house and filling it with things that bring me joy to look at
  • Spending time doing more marketing strategy work and creating images with purpose
  • Figuring out how to create reels that feel more authentic to me
  • Learning how to groom Dune myself
  • Prioritizing training Dune and using him as an excuse to be outside more
  • Spending a LOT of time on the beach and swimming in the ocean
  • Creating a supper club as an excuse to make fun food and visit each other’s houses
  • Prioritizing experience gifts with my mom and Weston (plays, food tours, etc.)
  • Planning “work weeks” with dedicated time to knock out big projects
  • Outsourcing fully and trusting my team to handle it
  • Starting “theme days” for work and taking Fridays off
  • Saying no to working holiday weekends
  • Digging into my Strengths Finder strengths to learn where I should be spending more time
  • Listening to my body and what I actually want – not always seeking other’s opinions or validation
  • Taking videos and photos even if I don’t have a plan for sharing them

Challenges: What Didn’t Work in 2022

  • Doing things for other people that made me feel resentful
  • Not being detailed enough in my planning – not thinking through all of the steps to get to a big goal
  • Setting deadlines but not maintaining them
  • Sacrificing my boundaries for the sake of others
  • Mini sessions
  • Not planning out my week with the major things I wanted to get done and when
  • Coping with overwhelm about posting with just sharing nothing at all
  • Spending more time on task-oriented things than strategy (not playing to my strengths)
  • Procrastinating
  • High expectations of myself and feeling shame for not meeting them
  • Not putting more money in personal savings
  • Not maintaining quarterly planning and weekly check-ins with my businesses
  • Needing to better evaluate large business purchases
  • Not having a business partner / sounding board (other than the amazing CCFO)
  • Not marketing brand photos like I have with past offerings

I’m really proud that the list of things that worked is longer than the things that didn’t, even though the challenges feel like they take center stage. 

To be honest, this year was a constant battle of feeling like my usual confident, positive, ambitious self while also battling a darkness and weight I’ve never felt before. I’m still working through finding balance in giving grace to myself and also refusing to be stuck.


One of the best parts about life is that there’s always more, if you want it. That can feel overwhelming at times but I choose to be excited that things will never get boring because if you want to grow and explore, you can. 

In the moments I feel anxious, I find comfort in the fact that I’m almost 30 and I’m STILL learning things about myself and life.

One day I’m going to compile all of these life lessons and observations into a coffee table book.

  • Having a dog is key to routine.
  • It’s okay to just rest and take a break. There is no shame in taking what you need.
  • Most expectations of you are set by yourself, not others.
  • Pain is impatient and healing is slow.
  • I feel most at peace when swimming in the ocean.
  • Power tools aren’t that scary and YouTube is your friend.
  • Laughing with your friends is the best feeling.
  • Experiences are better than things.
  • Decorating my home makes me feel calm and joy.
  • Going to the gym and getting out of the house is good for the head.
  • Girl’s nights should be prioritized, especially as you get older.
  • Life is more fun when you don’t save all the big events for the weekend. We love a weeknight dinner party!
  • Dune and I have the same allergy seasons.
  • My brother is my best friend and I am so thankful.
  • Tough, honest conversations can be exhausting but it’s better than pretending the pain isn’t there.
  • Group chats are the great connector.
  • Buy the concert ticket.
  • If you want to go see the show, go see the show. Don’t wait for other people to give you permission.
  • I love my freckles.
  • Yard work is just as satisfying as it is difficult. You’ve earned the right to stare out the window in accomplishment.
  • Therapy is key to not only understand yourself but also to add tools to work through and improve.
  • It’s really important (and equally challenging) to feel your full range of emotions.
  • Depression is really hard to fully understand until you experience it yourself.
  • When someone shares their feelings with you, they aren’t always looking for you to fix it.

I want to say “bye 2022, I won’t miss you!” and that is partly true. I won’t miss the uncertainty, the confusion, the darkness…but like all hard things, it’s an imperative part of the hero’s journey. 

As the beautiful Kasey Musgraves says, “There’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”

I’m thankful that even in the midst of mental health battles, I have surrounded myself with so many wonderful people who believe in me – and that I will never stop finding ways to believe in myself.

Let’s hear it for the “inspirational movie montage” era.

Next up – my word for 2023. I’m really excited about this one!!!! 


I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer Helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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