I recently had to type up a bio about myself and how I got into photography. It is a story I’ve told and retold numerous times; about how I was a journalist in college covering a story one night when we were all out of staff photographers and how my editor made me photograph some images to go along with my article – thus sparking and igniting my passion and interest in photography.
The reader’s digest version feels so clean. The reality however was a much bumpier road.
The first job I can remember doing where I was handed money at the end, was helping my father with his work for his own business. Shortly after that I was applying at Safeway grocery store where I went from a bagger, to the head courtesy clerk (a fake title the manager and I made up to make me feel more important) to a cashier. Three years after that I quit due to a disagreement over scheduling with my new manager.
I applied at Radio Shack, but they decided not to hire me. I guess I was not good enough for them.
Eventually I picked up what I thought would be a quick summer job at a crappy mall record store. But I fell in love with it, become a manager, and spent even my free time at the record store hanging out, listening to music, talking about music and sometimes selling music. The Internet killed that business and we had to close up shop.
Around the holidays I got a job, under the table, selling candy apples at a mall kiosk. After six hours, eating two apples and selling none, they handed me some cash and fired me – which is a misnomer since I was never legally hired to begin with,
This was around the time I was picking up small writing jobs as a journalist and when I actually first started taking photos. Yet it was not even on the top ten of possible career considerations. Also at this time I was doing a bevy of side gigs including running a small promotion company that would send models out to events, bars and night clubs to hand out sample products or drinks.
I even hosted a few shoot out events collecting together models and photographers, charging everyone a small admission fee to come together, meet and work together. I still did not even consider taking photos as I was more interested in being in the images. I modeled a tad doing nothing worth mentioned except maybe appearing in some ads for a dodgy student apartment complex.
Around this time I was in debt to my father, so I picked up some extra work on a farm, moving heavy bails of hay for nine hours in the Arizona sun. I walked away with around 80 bucks, which was 20 less than I thought I was getting paid. The farm owner’s justification was that she bought me a bologna sandwich for lunch so that took 20% off the top of my paycheck.
Needing more money, I got a job at Office Max where I lasted a few months bouncing around from selling printers to working the copy center to once again being a cashier. One weekend morning I had a bad interaction with a customer who yelled at me and demanded my manager fire me because I told him to have a good day instead of specifically thanking him for his purchase (which if memory serves, was under ten dollars). My manager apologized to the customer and as soon as the jerk left the store, turned to me and told me not to worry about him. However it left such a bad taste in my mouth that my manager would apologize to someone over something so ridiculous and especially over such a low dollar purchase that I had to leave.
I managed to float myself along hosting shoot out events, doing the promotions company, still freelance writing and even picking up a few small portrait gigs as a photographer (done more for money than an interest in the art) a bit before I needed a paycheck again. Thus I picked up a job selling low quality diamond rings and overpriced jewelry at a mall store. It didn’t take long to realize that I neither had an interest in jewelry nor in ripping people off. After a few conversations with my manager about how I needed to sell more, I elected to focus on school instead. Or at least that is what I told them when I turned in my notice.
I managed to sustain myself for quite sometime after that. Moving back in with my family helped of course. I did promotions from time to time, started an online magazine, closed it, started a production company, closed it, started another online magazine, closed it. However I did start to pick up a few extra photo and writing gigs for some small paychecks here and there.
Then I met a professor who apparently saw something in me that I did not see in myself. He demanded that I push harder into photography. He made me a staff photographer of a newspaper he managed. Eventually he moved me up to photo editor. He helped me pick up a second photo editor position as a new startup magazine, which I remained at for two years. He arranged me to get my final upper division credits I needed to graduate by teaching his classes. After college I even continued to teach his classes, only this time for a paycheck.
However I am slightly getting ahead of myself. He also came across an opportunity for me to work in marketing. With no speak-able experience, I picked up this marketing job based off his good word where I worked at for seven years. During this time I was promoted to lead the marketing for the office and was even made into one of the company’s regional photographers.
I still freelance wrote and shot for a bevy of publications and commercial clients – but I was happy and comfortable in my marketing career. It challenged me and I had the opportunity to meet two new mentors. One who taught me the importance of being seen, being heard and being read as well as the need to pursue better work, not just more work. The other taught me the value of networking and how to be an invaluable asset, even in a shrinking economy. After seven years there, I was finally ready to chart off on my own.
I had built up my business enough and had that burning fire inside my heart telling me what I had to do moving forward.
As you can see, my path (much like yours) has not been a straight arrow, but filled with roadblocks, detours and distractions. It took me far more than a decade to find my true calling – but I did finally find it.
Sometimes you just have to take a longer road to get there.