I grew up with a mother who works her ass off as a mortgage officer, and makes a good amount of money. My father built and ran his own custom construction business that, after 30 years, tanked for no other reason than he could no longer do the physical labor after a grueling spine surgery. I admire both of them beyond measure, for facing challenges and overcoming them in their own ways. Having two highly successful parents set a bar for me, before I even realized there was a bar to be met. My parents are two great examples of the classic American dream – build a business from scratch, work your ass off, continue to work our ass off, and eventually succeed. I did not grow up wicked poor. I also did not grow up filthy rich. I was an only child, with something unknown to prove, and an growing unwillingness to live a life similar to everyone around me.
When I got my first job at the age of 15, working at a dry cleaners, I very quickly became disgusted with the idea of a 9am-5pm job. No part of my brain could wrap around doing something so mundane for hours on end, only to be rewarded with a paycheck. This is where most people would roll their eyes and comment something along the lines of “Well, welcome to the real world.” And then that is where I sit back, cross my arms, and roll my eyes back at you, wondering how and why that mentality is the world we live in. So let’s define a “real job”, because you all know what I am talking about – salary, benefits, retirement, health insurance, two weeks vacation, steady income, 8 – 12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, etc. It seems that our culture as a whole has a hard time accepting anything outside of that definition as a real job.
My “real job” was a good job. It paid well, allowed me to work from home, and taught me many new things over the course of a short period of time. I had a good CEO, a good manager, and a lot of opportunity. I was earning a pretty solid paycheck, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy staring at my computer all day. I wasn’t happy looking out my office window and wishing the sunlight shining through was touching my face instead of my office desk filled with reminders and sticky notes. I went back and forth for months, wondering what I was doing with my life, and if I was on the right path. Nothing felt right, and it felt like I was working towards nothing – or at least a future that didn’t mean much to me. Day in and day out, I felt like I was dragging my teeth across a chalkboard. Dramatic? Absolutely. But the truth nonetheless.
After wrestling with my options, asking everyone I could think of for their opinion, and getting answers I both hated and loved, I made a decision. This decision meant I would be giving up the comforts and security of a regular paycheck. It would mean I would be stepping out of the norm, throwing myself onto an uncharted road that I would need to pave. Uncertainty would now be the anthem to my everyday, but a song I would be happy to sing. The new life I have chosen to pursue head-on, no excuses? The adventurous, sunburned, wet and withered career of a professional photographer. This is my REAL job. A job I can hold above my head with both hands and scream that I am proud of what I do. A career that when I am asked “What do you do for a living?”, I will smile, look that person in the eyes, and say with full confidence, passion, and proud love, that I do what I love everyday. And damnit, it feels good.
Will it be all rainbows and unicorns? No. Will I rub it in the faces of my adversaries? No. Will it be the hardest and most rewarding attempt at a fulfilling career? Yes.
I will not bow down to a life of desks and computer screens. I will not be a victim to the safe haven of a 9-5. I will choose the unknown. I will bury my face in the grime of it all. I will remind myself, everyday, of what the alternative would be. It will be hard. It will not be glamorous by normal standards. It will be fun. It will be new, constantly new. And I will succeed.
[I originally wrote this back in 2016. It still rings true.]