I often get questions about how I knew I wanted to be a photographer. And for me, it was something that ran deep into my soul most of my life that I felt destined to do.
Ever since I was a little girl growing up in rural southern IL, I remember the excitement I felt each time my parents took out their camera. It was the 80’s, and my parents were a bit ahead of their time, documenting the simple joys of each day. I kid you not, my dad would bring the big film camera, as well as a video camera, almost everywhere we went! Something as simple as a family walk was a reason to take photos and videos.
A few years ago, I was putting together a slideshow of photos for my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary when I realized this value of photography wasn’t just given to me through my parents, but also my grandparents. They have so many wonderful memories documented throughout the years, from holidays, to happy times in the back yard, to vacations. It turns out my husband and I have photos in some of the same exact places my grandparents do years before (like the Grand Canyon!). Without their deep level of appreciate for documenting memories, I would have never gotten to see all of these wonderful moments. (P.S. – How cool are my grandparents?)
Because of the value of capturing moments was instilled in me at a young age, I was always the girl with the camera. While in school, I would switch my schedule to include any class that incorporated photography. I was on the year book staff and newspaper staff in high school. In college, I took film classes and developed my own photos in a dark room.
But instead of following my heart and pursuing photography as a career, I got a degree in Healthcare Management and landed a corporate job. There were times of contentment but I was never truly happy at any job I had and I would sit in those cubicles day after day, at job after job, hoping something would fulfill my passion like photography did.
Photography would always come back around to me throughout my life and my family and friends would encourage me to continue to pursue it but I felt I completely overwhelmed by letting my photography skills go untouched for so long and I had no idea how to move forward. I was literally watching my dream vanish in front of me.
As a wedding gift, my husband gave me a computer specifically for starting a photography business. The next year, my parents bought me a new camera (to encourage me to start my business), my mom made me business cards, and my best friend asked me to shoot her wedding! I did shoot her wedding and I knew I had a passion for photography but the fear always took precedent over my passion.
My cousin asked me to shoot her wedding in 2014, and although I should have jumped in to that honor and opportunity head first, I declined. I started a new corporate job that year and had resigned the idea of ever doing anything professionally with photography.
2 years later, I was off work for an entire month for a surgery. This was a surgery I had suspected I needed for 10 years. But instead of taking action, I waited. I suffered in pain. I lived with a debilitating disease because I was living in complete fear of all of the “what if’s”. I was scared to death of the surgery, but I was left with no choice but to go through with it, and when I did my entire life changed. It changed for the better and I realized how much of my life was being stolen by fear.
One of the days during the month I was off work, I was home alone, sitting outside on my deck and I started reading a book called “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and something clicked within me when I read this line: “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” Courage. That’s exactly what I needed.
I remember reading this book like it was yesterday. Because it was the catalyst that changed my entire life. I had been far too fearful for too long instead of taking steps forward for things I really wanted. It was time to make changes.
After Big Magic, I took the Europe trip I’d always been too scared to take, I made a plan for where I wanted to be in 5 years, and I fully immersed myself in photography. I realized it was 100% up to me to nourish this gift I’ve been given. I will be forever grateful for this book and its impact on my life.
There hasn’t been a single greater moment in this journey than the night I told my husband I wanted to go to a week long workshop in Texas. At this point, I didn’t even own a full frame camera, much less know how to use one! Even though I had made up my mind that I wanted to pursue photography, I was still scared and hoped he would tell me I was crazy so I didn’t have to actually follow through. Instead, he fully encouraged me to go. I was completely terrified and a million miles outside of my comfort zone but I followed through. I can’t imagine where I would be if his answer would have been different that night. I am so grateful to have such a supportive partner in life.
Next, I went to my best friend and told her my “crazy idea” too. She fully encouraged and supported me as well and has never once stopped supporting me since then. She watched me spend year after year unhappy at all of my jobs, shedding tears almost daily because I knew I wasn’t on the path I was meant to be on. We would meet for drinks after work and I can remember crying time after time but not having a clue what tools I needed to take action on my dream. During times when I felt like no one else could understand me, she provided constant support, encouragement on my good days and my bad days, and continues to cheer me on daily.
And then on to my family, who was incredibly supportive. It seemed the more I spoke my dream to life, the more motivation and courage I found from within. It’s incredible what can happen when you have a complete support system of people that believe in you.
I did attend the 5 day workshop in Texas. I had to use FIVE out of 15 of my precious PTO days. But that’s how much I wanted to make this happen, once and for all. I purchased a full frame camera 2 weeks before I left, and I shot with it one time before the workshop. I was 100% outside my comfort zone. But I went, I tried, I learned, and boy, did I grow. So incredibly grateful for the opportunity. It will always be the time I took a chance on dreams I never knew could come true.
After that, I leapt head first into this passion, completely immersed myself in it (basically being an unpaid intern!), and eventually, with lots of hard work, I traded in my cubicle in corporate America for a chance at chasing my biggest dream. When I really dove into photography, I was traveling for work. Some of those travel weeks I would work close to 60 hours a week, travel to and from the client and would get back home to shoot weddings on the weekends. Those weeks were so long, and so exhausting, but I was so motivated by my passion.
I remember being at my birthday dinner with my parents and my husband where I thought I was trying to convince them on why I should quit my corporate job. It turns out it wasn’t them that needed convincing, it was me. I was sitting at a table of 3 of the most important people in my entire life, who were there telling me they believed in me, and they believed that if I wanted to make this dream a reality, I could do it. As my dad said “I think the potential is unlimited, Aim.”
I went home that night and decided it was time to set a deadline for quitting my job. So I did. I promised myself I would work up the courage to quit within 6 months. It took me the entire 6 months to take the leap, but I did it!
It was (and some days still is!) the most terrifying feeling. But being a photographer is the work that excites me, that I’ve dreamed of doing for so long, the work where I finally know I am supposed to be. Right here, right now.
I feel a deeper level of purpose by photographing others and I feel incredibly grateful that I now get to live the life I always dreamed of. I photograph people who desire to have their lives beautifully documented. I am lucky to give them the gift of freezing moments in time.
If you have a dream that you’re letting fear dictate, take the leap! I promise it’s worth it. It’s such a cool feeling to conquer your fears and see your dreams come true!
5 tips for chasing your dream:
Find your tribe. Surround yourself with people that lift you up, believe in you, support, and encourage you. You will need these people countless times.
Dive in and Do the work. Take classes, get hands on experience, even if it means you have to make sacrifices. Learn as much as you can so that you have the confidence to continuing pursuing your dream.
Find a mentor. There will be so many times you need advice from someone that has learned the ropes before you. Having a mentor is invaluable.
Try, try, try again. Don’t give up. There will be so many days that are a complete roller coaster. Chasing dreams ain’t easy.
Make a list of short term and long term goals. You’ll be amazed at your progress just by moving forward everyday.
Bonus: If you are still trying to figure out what your dream is – Think about what makes you so happy that you don’t notice how much time passes while you are doing it.