This time of the year marks my anniversary of when I left my career in marketing to pursue my passion in photography full time. In hindsight the decision to make the transition was as simple as deciding what to eat for lunch. It needed to happen so I made it happen.
The truth is that the decision was a culmination of years of effort, thought, worry, fear, anxiety, pain and self-induced turmoil.
For myself, as for many working professionals, my full time job represented stability and security. Sure, my photography work seemed to be taking off and I was spending nearly all of my free time on it – however I had a guaranteed paycheck, I had benefits, I had a safety net.
Stepping away from that meant that I would truly be on my own. If things got rough and lean I would need to figure out a way to make it work – I couldn’t just wait for my next pay period. I would be in charge of every paycheck that would be brought in.
My mind immediately went to the worst possible scenarios. I would strike out on my own and I would lose any big clients I had, perhaps they would go out of business or hire another photographer and I would have no way to support myself. I would need to foreclose on my home and move back in with my parents.
But most crucially – I feared that the market would tell me that I simply was not good enough to be successful at doing what I loved to do. As long as I stayed at my other career, I would never have to face the potential of failure.
Change often occurs when there exists a catalyst pushing for a shift in direction. For me, that catalyst was measured in discomfort. The more uncomfortable I got in my marketing career, the less daunting it seemed to do something else. The company I worked for at the time was dealing with the economic hardships striking most businesses. We went from a booming office of around 130 staff members to less than 40 in a now barren-feeling building.
As a result we moved locations to a smaller office complex and I went from a nice big office with a great view to a small cubicle in the middle of the building next to the elevators. My travel time to work went from 40 minuets round trip to more than 2 hours round trip. My workload seemed to more than quadruple as I was picking up work from other offices that lacked a marketing lead – in addition to the reality that we were simply chasing more work than we had in years past to attempt to recoup our losses.
For the first time in the seven years I worked there I was absolutely miserable. People in the workplace, including myself, became a bit more distant. We had shorter tempers and lacked any resemblance of patience with one another. In essence, many of us became hostile towards each other.
It was becoming clearer that I had to make a change.
The week I planned on putting in my notice I was having anxiety attacks over the ordeal. My manager was coming to visit me from the corporate office for my annual review.
My entire drive to the office was consumed with me practicing over and over in my head what I was going to say. My mouth was dry and my body temperature was spiking.
I would estimate that more than fifty percent of me was certain that I would not go through with it and that I would stay at my job for the foreseeable future.
When my manager showed up to the office my heart was pounding so loudly that I could barely hear what he was saying. I was fumbling over my words unable to even make small talk.
We sat down in a conference room and began to go over my annual review in which he believed I once again was doing a great job, despite all the struggles the office was having relating to lay offs, the economy and the added workload.
The words that I wanted to move on were starting to be swallowed deep down by my fear. I wanted to scream them out so bad but elected to remain seated quietly and gaze out the fourth floor window.
As part of the process he collected reviews on my work from all my co-workers and fellow-leaders in the office. These were to be recited to me as anonymous sources to help with my growth in the company. However my manager seemed hesitant to share them all with me.
Curious as to why I asked him to let me hear them. He tried to preface it by saying “although I can’t tell you who said this, just know that he was asked at a bad time and he probably didn’t really mean it.” I persisted for him to read it to me.
The comment on my report from my co-worker was “I’ve lost faith in James’ ability as a marketing lead.”
When I think back to that specific moment I try to recall exactly what I was feeling but truthfully it all became very cloudy at that very moment. I’m certain I was shocked and hurt by the comment but at the same time it made me feel numb.
There was no hesitation at that point for me to turn in my notice. My manager’s response, which I won’t forget, was to say, “what took you so long?”
Evidentially, he and many of my other colleagues were waiting for years for me to make the move. They saw what I was preventing myself from seeing.
It was the day before Thanksgiving that this all transpired. My manager and I made an agreement that I would stay on through the holiday season before the announcement became official to help the rest of the team with the intense backlog of work that was forthcoming.
However I went to visit my parents that Thanksgiving to tell them the news. I remember overanalyzing their response. They were obviously and with good reason nervous on my behalf. They wanted the best for me and I was taking a risk like none I had done previously.
My last few weeks of full time employment flashed by leaving this impending feeling of fear as to what would possibly come next. I recall on my last day I was only given a half day and I sneaked out of the office before I could talk to too many people fearing someone would try and succeed and dissuading me.
The first morning of solopreneurial employment is still vivid in my memory. I woke up before the sun rose and made a full pot of coffee. I had no assignments to work on but instead a list of potential clients I could contact to try and get work from.
Over the next ten hours I was glued to my e-mail sending off dozens of various pitches and promotions to past clients I had worked with and prospective clients I wanted to work with.
At about four in the afternoon I looked at the list of things I wanted to do as well as having my mind flooded with an endless list of new things I could do. Yet it was at that point I made the decision to turn off the computer. It was the first of many times I had to learn to put a limit on myself.
The next few days went about the same. Having about seven years of experience working in a corporate setting I had some basis to build my day around. Yet over time my structure loosened. I developed a system that worked for me and how I operated.
The big change however, was the fear. It now began to feel different. It was no longer suffocating me. Now it seemed to just be standing next to me – no longer in control. I had pushed it aside a bit. But the only thing that pushed the fear aside was actually doing what I was afraid of.
Now, several years down the road, the fear still exists. Yet I can never let it dictate how I run my business nor how I run my life. Everything has a way of getting figured out. The transition was never the hard part. The biggest obstacle was the willingness to make the transition.
I encourage you to make yours.