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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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2023 Year In Review: Highlights, Wins, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

January 23, 2024

I am sensing a trend – the more present I am in my life, the less I am “on time” with my reflections and recaps. I still haven’t decided how I feel about that, considering part of my accountability to myself is to document life, but I am proud of how I am constantly finding the balance.

2023 was…redemptive.

If you remember, my 2022 was hard. I ended the year from a place of brokenness and retreat. An opportunity to turn inwards and let myself spin my wheels about who I was and what I wanted. It was a year of protection.

I promised myself that I would enter into 2023 with the idea of an “inspirational montage era” and I really believe I did just that.

It wasn’t an immediate shift – ironically the early hours of New Year’s Day was spent in one of the darkest headspaces I’ve ever experienced. It was a moment that I realized I never wanted to go back to again, and I leaned heavily into my word for the year – PUSH.

Push through. Push up the mountain. Keep going.

2023 was the year I found my fun and personality again.

It was the year I challenged myself in ways that I had never done before – not only physically but also mentally, finding a self-awareness and acceptance that I wasn’t capable of before.

It allowed me to find relationships that aligned with my values and release the ones that didn’t. It allowed me to appreciate all of my emotions and what they are trying to communicate to me, and to not get so wrapped up in them that I can’t see up from down. 

It allowed me to truly embrace the phrase “it is what it is” without a tinge of spite or disappointment, but instead freedom from shame and the “should have’s, could have’s, and would have’s.”

It was the year I took a little break from big goals and allowed myself to just be. To not put unnecessary or not-well-thought-out pressure on achieving things I hadn’t even fully decided if I wanted or needed. There was freedom when I was honest with myself and my team (Weston and my CFO Dondrea) about my capacity, allowing them to only hold me accountable to realistic expectations.

2023 was the year I left my 20’s and entered my 30’s with a new level of confidence and love for all of the parts of myself.

It was the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been physically, with a body I admire every day. It was the year I experienced dating truly for the first time (like real “boy you don’t *really* know comes to your house to pick you up” dates) and how to evaluate both with care and reality  – and then communicate how you really feel directly and honestly. 

It was the year I stopped drinking alcohol (except for the occasional glass of red wine because…yum) after having a terrible stomach ulcer. I accepted that I don’t like the way it makes me feel, even if it’s regarded as an expectation for fun. I don’t need it to be fun, in fact I’m actually more fun without it. I will end up on an elevated surface no matter what.

It was the year of the GIRL – Taylor Swift, Barbie, friendship bracelets, morning ocean swims in our running clothes, home cooked meals at each other’s apartments, celebration dinners, surprise birthday parties, silly videos, natural curls, compliments and deep talks, and a LOT of laughing. I have experienced so much platonic love that has healed and raised my standards for the relationships I will accept in my life. I am beyond grateful.

As 2023 came to a close, it was hard to remember that it started with a recommendation to explore depression medication…to which I promptly replied “hmm…I think I’ll run a half marathon instead.” (Spoiler Alert: I ran the half and still ended up being a Zoloft girly and it’s great. Nothing wrong with help!)

Highlights from 2023:

  • Started training for my first half marathon in only 8 weeks – completed it!!!
  • Visited my family in Arizona with my dad and brother
  • Attended the Creative Educator’s Conference and felt truly connected with other entrepreneurs in a way I’ve never felt before
  • Got comfortable with tools – built a custom bar bookcase, finished my custom office desk, changed light fixtures, and assembled furniture.
  • Visited Savannah, GA with my mom and brother
  • Became a sunrise beach girl
  • Photographed two of my favorite people get married (Drew and Jenna Coleman)
  • Attended multiple plays – Legally Blonde, Six, and Wicked
  • Shared Airlie Gardens with my nana and papa
  • Drove to Philly to see THE ERAS TOUR!!!!!!
  • Changed gyms and loved having the gym become a social event
  • Dyed my hair back to my natural color and embraced my curls
  • Started reading for fun
  • Celebrated my friend having her first baby (Abby)
  • Dealt with a 2-month long stomach ulcer in the middle of the summer that changed my diet and lead me to stop drinking
  • Partied on a yacht
  • Celebrated the 4th of July with a pool cookout, playing on the beach, and driving around on a boat
  • Took more beach thirst traps than ever before (you’re welcome)
  • Paddle Boarded with Dune 
  • Partied with my Raleigh girls for Rachael and Kelly’s 30th
  • Dressed up for the Barbie movie
  • Photographed a wedding in Charleston
  • Spent almost every morning at the beach either running or swimming before work
  • Took my dad and brother to see Simple Plan, Sum 41, and The Offset
  • Got chin filler
  • Photographed two weddings at Wrightsville Manor
  • Pierced my ears – double helix and a second hole
  • Watched my brother’s band perform
  • Bought all new living room furniture
  • Graduated therapy
  • Had the best birthday EVER, complete with a surprise party bus, hot dog bar, cake, and my favorite outfit!!!
  • Hosted a “Kinsey” level party for her 30th birthday a week later
  • Dressed up for The Eras Tour movie (saw in theaters 3 times)
  • Dressed as a “Blessing in Disguise”, “Kiss Marry Kill”, and “2319 from Monsters Inc” for Halloween
  • Ran my second half marathon in the rain with a crazy PR (20 minutes faster than my first)
  • Celebrated a year of supper club with a girls beach trip
  • Hosted my 3rd annual cookie painting party
  • Ran 20 miles!!! In preparation for my first FULL marathon
  • Started a podcast!!!!
  • Saw past couples at almost all of my weddings (keepin’ it in the family)
  • Found my joy for high school and college seniors again
  • Completed 2 huge website projects for More Than Creative
  • Photographed 19 gorgeous weddings for couples I adore
  • Found love for studio sessions
  • Photographed some of my favorite brand shoots ever

Wins: What Worked in 2023

  • Self-awareness and honesty
  • Goals with hard deadlines (race days)
  • Medication and accepting help
  • Recording videos that are easy to edit (talking in the videos)
  • Creating for enjoyment rather than to sell
  • Making personal tik toks and reels
  • Exploring what you actually want before setting goals
  • Batching content creation
  • Finding friends in the same season as you
  • Going on in-person dates rather than texting a lot
  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Moodboards, especially for interior decorating
  • Planning ahead for holidays so you can make time to celebrate them
  • Posting in (almost) real time
  • Scheduled routine dinner parties or get-togethers
  • Early bedtimes and morning swims
  • Running with a partner (shoutout Christa!!!)
  • Going to the beach in the morning
  • Confidence in doing my own thing – from meals to business to my schedule
  • Exploring how exactly you want to serve other people with your business
  • Trying new forms of content creation (podcast, short form video)
  • Making time to experience new things with your family
  • Well-planned girls trips
  • Being honest with your team and yourself about your mental capacity
  • Publicly posting runs on Strava
  • Honest conversations with friends
  • Separating work and personal conversations
  • Using Notion as a business hub for tasks and information
  • Building community around values and common activities

Challenges: What Didn’t Work in 2023

  • Overly-curated Instagram feeds and the anxiety they create
  • Not budgeting ahead and having to dip into savings
  • Flexible timelines
  • Overwhelm by email
  • Not being honest about my mental health and where I was at
  • Only batching the first half of content
  • Holding on to ideals and what you wish could have been
  • Anxiety over taking the first step
  • Not posting out of shame or fear that it’s not good enough
  • Not quarterly planning
  • Not having a schedule


My favorite list of them all. That coffee table book is coming!

  • Big goals are scary until you break them down.
  • Peace only comes from acceptance. Acceptance is only something you can give yourself.
  • Not all years are growth ($$$) years, and that’s okay.
  • I will like older kids more than babies.
  • No one will care if you’re not drinking as long as you’re still fun to be around.
  • Most conflict and tension comes from misaligned values.
  • It is what it is – not good, not bad. Just is.
  • Anyone can be a runner.
  • Invite people to your finish line.
  • Creating content should be fun and shouldn’t detract from the experience.
  • More people need chin projection, not fat removal.
  • Run your own race.
  • So much life happens in the morning.
  • The beach is best before 9am.
  • Real friends will show up for you, even in the rain.
  • The gym can feel like home and be a social place.
  • Platonic love allows you to set a new standard for romantic love.
  • There is nothing like good girlfriends. 
  • Traveling with friends can be fun as long as there’s time to recharge social batteries.
  • Say what you want. Don’t assume.
  • I do have a specific style – of clothing and interior decorating.
  • Curating a home that inspires you takes time.
  • Love will find me and I don’t need to be fearful it won’t. 
  • I love being a girl.

While a new year is an end of a chapter and a chance for reflection, I am in a place where I’m still very much taking one day at a time – also maybe some of this overwhelmed feeling is coming from the start of my 2024 being a trip to run my first FULL marathon and then promptly coming down with covid / the flu so I’m still recovering.

I started in December dreaming of my 2024 vision board and what I see for myself in this upcoming year. It’s been so fun to see myself evolve when looking back on these posts and have so many more “buckets” in my life that I want to fill.

I’m positioned better than I ever have been to capitalize on my dreams.

Next up…my word for 2024!!!!!


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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