Self-doubt pronounced, “You’ll never have a successful creative career.” Ego questioned, “The outdoor industry is saturated with accomplished photographers; why bother?”Anxiety didn’t want to deal with the instability of work and whether I could financially support myself. Other people warned me it was a mistake to turn a passion into a day job.
These sabotaging voices kept me indecisive about making a career shift. What I really wanted (whether I believed it was actually possible or not) was to build a business I loved as an outdoor photographer and writer. What I was actually doing was going through the motions at a digital marketing job. My heart was pulling me in another direction, towards creativity in an industry I cared deeply about, and when I looked back and examined my ever changing curiosities I found consistent inspiration in words and photos.
One of my earliest creative memories is being at my family’s cabin in Kings Canyon and using up a roll of film on plants, streams, and mountains. Almost all of the images turned out underexposed and blurry, but I was enthralled with the idea of capturing a beautiful scene I could refer to later. Little has changed over twenty years, and my love for the outdoors and documenting nature feels as strong as ever. Yet, it took me until a few years ago to consider the possibility of combining my lifestyle and concrete interests into a career.
So what shifted? I began surrounding myself with examples of what was possible. I found a community of friends that shared my love for photography and the outdoors. I asked questions, listened to their stories, and witnessed what tenacity, time, and talent could yield. They had all worked hard, taken a leap, and built a sustainable creative business.
Around the same time, a mantra entered my life that wouldn’t cease. “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”
Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.
For years I thought about pursuing photography and writing, but had I ever given it legitimate engagement? Time permitting, I pursued photography opportunities and wrote for online publications as a side-hustle and passion. I invested in a DSLR, enrolled in a few photography classes, and started building up a portfolio. But as anyone juggling 40+ hours of work, relationships and hobbies understand, it’s a challenge to nourish so many aspects of your life simultaneously. I had dipped my toes to test the waters but held off on diving in.
However infrequently my side projects, the lasting impression always felt the same. I felt connected, purposeful, and fulfilled. There was a sense of being on the right path or at least heading in the correct direction.
I realized I couldn’t think my way to the answer of whether a creative freelance career was right for me. The only way to be sure was to go for it.
I realized I couldn’t think my way to the answer of whether a creative freelance career was right for me. The only way to be sure was to go for it. Engage. Throw myself into photography and writing and see where I landed. Push logic, ego, fear and societal norms aside and commit to the path. Step forward in courage when I wanted to step back in fear. Accept that I might fail, repeatedly even, and believe that my self-worth wasn’t attached to my missteps.
With my mantra in mind and an abundant group of supporters behind me, I quit my marketing job and stepped into freelancing. It’s been eight emotional months since I’ve been out on my own.
Have I found clarity? Yes and no.
I experience days where I wonder if my naivety was at an all-time high when I made the decision. Sometimes I scan job boards, wondering if going back to something steady and with clear structure is the way to go. I feel guilty for my privilege, that taking time to try this is even possible. I constantly have to quiet the saboteurs in my head that fill me with self-doubt and shame. I’m quick to compare myself to the outdoor photographers which quickly steals my joy for the art. I speculate if I should let my love for nature be simple and let go of my need to bring a camera with me on every hike.
But there are days of certainty. My spirit awakens at doing creative, purposeful work – that I cannot deny. There is a brightness and fullness of life when I engage in photography, the outdoors, and feel that I’m a part of a larger community. Through the execution of my mantra, I learned my deepest values of integrity, authenticity, and gratitude. I understand the need for my career to integrate with those ideals and ethics. I know when I keep saying yes to opportunities that align with these values, more of the same appears in my life. I recognize that despite having much to learn, I have something unique to offer.
I’m still not sure this is the path for me. Truthfully, work is looking much different than I imagined. I’m spending less time photographing in the outdoor space and more time simply honing in on my creative and business skills. My steps are much smaller than I want them to be, but I can’t forget that baby steps still move me forward. With the help of my mantra and listening to my inner voice, I took action. And at the end of the day, whether or not any success comes from it, I’ll be proud of knowing I tried.