When I was eight, my friend Anna and I cut down mistletoe from the walnut tree in my backyard. We wrapped it in ribbon, attached small bells - basically just decked it out with various holiday-themed accoutrements. We carefully placed each mini bundle in a basket and walked all around the neighborhood with my dad, going door-to-door like traveling saleswomen. We took whatever we'd made from the 10 or so sales and donated it to a homeless shelter. When I was nine, we made potions in my bathroom. Toothpaste, glittery body spray, shampoo, hair gel, costume eye shadow – nothing was off limits. Into a little jar it went. We put the camcorder on a tripod and made long, rambling sales pitches about why our potions were the BEST – infused with a bit of nine-year-old "comedy," of course.
Around the same time, Anna and I spent weekends scavenging the sideyard at my parents' house, looking to "invent" things. We marveled at our transportation-related inventions: a steerable "wagon" of sorts made from wheeling plant dollies and a cardboard frame. A second iteration made out of an existing gardening wagon that was now a rocket, thanks to the addition of some cereal boxes and some shiny paper. I remember feeling so inspired by the fact that we'd empowered ourselves with a vehicle in which we could roll ourselves down the driveway. I told my parents I wanted to be an inventor.
When I was ten, we collected all our unwanted "little kid" toys, carefully displayed them on trays, and set them on a table next to some lemonade. We sat at the bottom of Anna's driveway, patiently waiting for cars to turn the corner – in a very un-busy neighborhood. When a rare customer dared entertain the offers that our hand-drawn signs promised, we sat poised to pitch them our unique selling proposition: while you're buying lemonade, would you like to buy a toy? I'm sure we were the only lemonade stand in town selling lemonade AND toys. Needless to say, it wasn't a very successful venture.
Throughout high school, I immersed myself in music. I musically directed a play, led a band, learned music theory, composed songs, and I even played keyboard in my middle school's production of Beauty and the Beast (and got paid for it!). While this wasn't truly entrepreneurial, I put all my creative energy into music and felt the same passion for it that I now feel for photography.
When I was twenty-one, I spent hours at the beach after class, scavenging the shores for sea glass. I had jars of sea glass segments, some common, some rare. I watched one video on wire wrapping, and off to the jewelry store I went. I calculated the cost of each necklace's store-bought materials, combined with the perceived value of the glass (based on size, color, degree of smoothness), and I was in business. I launched a sea glass jewelry store and sold my handmade necklaces at a craft fair, to people at my college, and, of course, to friends and family.
When I was twenty-three, I launched a photography app on the app store. It was intended to be a location-based platform for people to share their photos and their favorite locations, so it would be easier for photographers to find a place to shoot with specific parameters in mind. It was short-lived, because I simply didn't have the time or money to maintain the app, but I consider it my brief foray into Bay Area tech.
From the time I was able to conceptualize what a nine-to-five job was, I knew I didn't want one. Without knowing it, throughout my childhood I was fostering an entrepreneurial, creative spirit that I am now realizing cannot be suppressed. I have always been filled with an intense drive to create, to strive for success on my own terms. And there has never been a time in my life where I have not been brimming with creative energy. If I try to walk away from a creative project that's been plaguing my mind, I can't. In high school, I would sit in my room for twelve hours straight without even remembering to eat because I was writing a song. I find myself addicted to art, addicted to the flutter of my heart, the way it feels when I've just created something. Sometimes, it's music. Sometimes, it's writing. Lately, it has just so happened to materialize through photography.
It also just so happens that photography is a viable business idea for me.
The intense creative fulfillment I derive from photography, combined with the potential it has to be my main financial lifeline, is why I'm here, writing this post.
Starting in 2018, I will be attempting to "make it" in photography. Full-time. No other steady paycheck of my own.
It's really hard to walk away from the benefits, predictability, and all around simplicity of my current job. I don't mean that my job is simple, but that my taxes, my healthcare, my all-around finances are all part of one streamlined system that makes it easy. I guess I just like to torture myself with things that are hard.
Being my own boss will probably be ten times harder than having a boss. There's no one to deflect to, I'm personally liable, and I don't have the option of calling in sick. Sure, I may have a more flexible schedule, but my sustenance is based on me pushing my business forward and not just giving up even when the rest of my life gets difficult or busy.
That's why I need your help. Friends and family, please understand that my photography is not just a hobby anymore. I need to charge professional rates to survive in the Bay Area, where the median cost of a house is $645,000. I love helping out when I can, but please don't feel slighted or surprised when I quote you a rate that may feel high, or when I can't shoot you for free because I need to spend the time on paid projects.
Fellow photographers, and strangers around the globe, I need your help, too. All of you who watch my YouTube tutorials or buy my presets, I am so thankful for your support of my efforts to share what I've learned with the photography community. Don't sell your own work short, and be mindful of the true cost of photography. In a world where everyone is a "photographer," our industry is diluted and needs professionals to stay true to their value and reflect it in their pricing.
The good thing is: I'm ready. In 2015, after I graduated college, I felt like I was ready to launch into my own business then, but looking back I was a bit naïve and definitely not ready. I hope I don't say the same thing in 3 years! :D
I don't know if this will work out. Maybe in five years I'll find myself pining for the predictability of a 9-to-5 job. But what I do know is that I need to try. I need to follow the instincts that have been slowly manifesting since I was a child.
I'm going to try to follow my own advice that I tell myself when I face a difficult project – to "make it happen." Making my dream of being self-employed in a creative field happen. Making a lifestyle of flexibility and choice happen.
So – that's what 2018 is all about: making it happen.
I can't thank you enough for the support you've shown me so far, and now I'll need it more than ever. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the adventures that are sure to come.
[On that note, Padraic and I will be kicking off this new chapter by traveling in Europe for six months starting at the end of February. So book me for shoots in Europe! Or reach out to me if you want to collaborate! We'll post our itinerary soon. :) ]