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.
Sometimes I daydream about leaving my job to start a goat farm. Its seems kinda random but its something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl. Goats and a few crops on a big ol’ plot of land seems like heaven. I know it would be a ton of work though. Having the option to follow our dreams is a privilege. I think we should take the opportunity whenever we can ;).
I LOVE your idea of starting a goat farm. I can imagine it so clearly. 🙂 I’m sure it would be a lot of work but the beauty of engaging in what you love is that it’s work you feel inspired to do- it feels purposeful right? I’m working harder than I was at my corporate job but I’m learning, growing and feeling fulfilled (most days lol).
I completely agree with you that following your dreams is a privilege and that we should jump on the opportunity if we’re able. It’s a big first step, but necessary to get your dreams in motion. Best of luck and thank you for reading and commenting. xo
Leslie, great article! Whenever I’ve considered doing something new and potentially risky, I ask myself, “What is the downside, how likely is the worst to happen, and how permanent would it be? “. Almost always, the real downside is not so bad but the potential upside is terrific. Getting to do something you love and actually make some kind of living at it has got to be one of the greatest gifts in life. And if we don’t find out if we can do it, we’ll never know and we’ll always wonder. Bravo to you!
Thank you for the kind comment. Your questions of “what is the downside, what’s the worst that can happen, etc” is s great way to combat the fear that rises from beginning something new. I agree that getting to do something you love for a living is an ultimate blessing and so, here I am, giving it a go! 🙂 I really appreciate your words and thanks again for giving my piece a read. xo
Love this so much! I can definitely relate as I’m still hanging on to my part time employment while trying to get traction with a side hustle. The way you talk about whether or not you’ve found clarity – you stole the words from my mouth. It’s such a paradox some days. Thanks for writing this.
I’m glad this resonated with you. Even before I wrote it, I knew I wasn’t alone in my situation or feelings. It’s been humbling to hear from others. 🙂 Regarding clarity, when I can dismiss the inner voices that make me second guess my decisions, I find that I’m right where I need to be. The challenge is not paying attention to them and directing that energy towards believing in myself. I wish you courage and self belief as you gain momentum with your side hustle! Please feel free to reach out if you ever want to chat creativity and freelancing! email@example.com. xo
Looking into 2022, what are you doing now? Did the dream work out?
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