Caroline Ingraham Lee Teaches Us How To Pursue Multiple Passions
You don’t have to pick just one to be successful.
Are you thinking about starting a business, but don’t know which of your passions to pursue? You’re not alone. In this digital age, where there are endless career options, research has shown that when overwhelmed with choices, we often choose none. But who said you had to choose? What if your passions somehow intersect, or even better, could build upon each other?
Enter Caroline Ingraham Lee. The L.A.-based creative started Woodnote Photography with her husband, Jayden back in 2005. Flash-forward 14 years, and they’ve built a handful of successful business together that are still running strong.
After their wedding photography business got off the ground, they started Coco Carpets, a vintage Moroccan rug shop. Then came Echo + Earl, a commercial photo, video, and music production collective. With all that content being created, they needed a space to create it. So along came Light Lab. You’ve probably seen the Sarah Sherman Samuel-designed interior on Instagram (she also styled the A-Frame that Caroline and Jayden recently purchased).
Oh, and did we mention Caroline’s podcast — Out of Line — in which she interviews online personalities about their offline realities? It’s a lot, we know. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Lee, it’s that if she can do it all, you can, too.
Interested in starting a second business, or pursuing multiple passions simultaneously? Read our interview with Lee to learn how it’s done.
Lonny: You started Woodnote Photography in 2005! That was a while ago. When did you get the first inkling that you wanted to try something new?
CL: Every day? I think it’s just a personality thing! My husband Jayden and I love adventure, and we are always willing to try new things without really feeling the pressure of failing. We both know that even if whatever we try doesn’t work out, we will learn from the experience and move forward.
The first business we started after Woodnote Photography was Coco Carpets. We wanted some real, vintage handmade rugs just for ourselves — Jayden and I actually went to Morocco to go find them. Once we had the rugs, people were like, “Can I get one of those, too?” We figured that we did all of this work getting them and we knew how to make that happen, so why not? A lot of the time we end up pursuing something we feel a need for and it ends up serving other people as well.
Can you tell me a bit more about your dynamic with Jayden and how you both approach new ideas?
CL: We each have different strengths, and I think we've come to know and appreciate that fact vs. the early days when we may have been known to resent the other for not being good at something specific.
Now, when we try something new, we approach the idea with lots of communication. How would this idea play into a greater vision? How will it fit in with what we're already up to? I'm a massive 'doer' who is relentless about finding a way to make an idea happen, and Jayden is the supportive connector, who reminds me that relationships are the most important thing and to not charge ahead too fast in anything. We're definitely yin and yang, and it works.
How would you describe the feeling of passion?
CL: I’d describe it as an underlying feeling of joy, or lightness, no matter what I’m doing. There’s this excitement and airy feeling that I get knowing that I’m doing work that is bigger than just me.
It seems like a lot of of your passions overlap — is there a common factor at the core of them all?
CL: People. You could say you’d send me to Thailand tomorrow to photograph nature, and honestly, I wouldn’t be that excited about it. I think at the root of every one of our businesses is people; whether it’s telling their stories, gathering them together, lifting them up — it’s about connection.
How do you balance it all? Any advice for those looking to pursue multiple passions or start another business?
CL: See yourself as 'worthy to outsource.' In the same way that you have to spend money to make money, you can't actually do it all by yourself. Hiring strategic support is the way to stay sane and enjoy the process.
Also, it’s not as glamorous as it seems! Don’t expect to turn a real profit for the first three years. We took on a lot of not-fun clients in the beginning so that we could sustain the business, but now we’re able to do the things we choose to do because of it.
You’re all about the long game! That’s amazing. Where do you see your businesses growing over the next five to ten years?
CL: My hope is that we'll be able to shift into more humanitarian-focused work. Our hearts are both about people, connecting people, empowering people, and I hope that we will be able to make that a major focus in the coming years.
Stay tuned for the Lees’ newest project: A beautiful mid-century A-frame on the outskirts of Palm Springs where they plan on hosting exclusive gatherings, workshops, and more. Click here to keep up with Caroline on the daily.