It’s interesting how dreams and plans change over time. I remember trying to figure out what I wanted to go to college for. I had my hopes set on being a personal trainer, but my dad kept telling me to do something with Business. About a week before classes started I switched to Business, and accepted the fact that my dad probably knew better (he always does).
I was working with my American mom, helping her with her Daycare, and taking many photos of the kids. Little by little I realized I should charge for it, and Poly Mendes Photography was born. It took me about a week after deciding to take it seriously to get a crappy website together, and order some FREE business cards from Vista Print. Hard to believe that was about 14 years ago! I never dreamed back then photography could be my full time job, but man, did I love taking photos.
I was lucky enough to graduate and get a job at the largest privately held corporation in the United States right away. I remember driving up for my interview at their main office in Wayzata, and just saying to myself I HAD to work there. Everything about it took my breath away. From the long driveway, to the beautiful building with walking paths and it’s own little pond in the backyard, to the Lake Office which looked like a castle. Funny enough I brought my PHOTOGRAPHY portfolio to my Cargill interview… And I got hired!
It was a whole new world for me, I felt like a grown up, and I worked hard trying to do more and more. I got trained to be a power user, I was able to use my Portuguese, Spanish, and English skills, and I thought wearing business attire and heels to work was just about the coolest thing ever.
But it drained me.
I was working 40 hours a week at my corporate job, and what felt like another 40 hours a week with my photography “passion.” Two and half years into it I even developed stress hives which I have to this day. When the economy took a tumble, and layoffs started to happen, I clung to my job thinking there was nothing else out there for me. And how dare I even dream of photography being my full time job. What about health insurance, and a 401k, and stability? There’s no way to have that being an artist. Or so I thought.
And then I got let go.
It felt like being hit in the gut with a sledge hammer. The sad part was that I didn’t really see it coming. I thought I brought so much value to the table being the only trilingual employee in my department, and a power user, and someone who always said “yes” and worked hard. But still, I got called into an office, and I was told they were letting me go. I remember getting home and falling asleep on the couch after crying my heart out. When I woke up I thought it had all been a dream, but then it hit me again, it was all true, and I was officially unemployed.
I gave myself a couple of days to feel sad about the whole thing, and then I put my big girl pants on and went to work trying to find another job. I had probably six months of expenses saved up, and I went on three interviews after coming to the conclusion I just HAD to give photography a try. This was a moment I had nothing to lose, and I had six months to make it happen or I would really need to find a real job. Thankfully, my part time photography business was already generating just about as much as my full time corporate job was, but to keep things as they were, I’d have to double that income to do it full time.
It was in that place of desperation that something beautiful happened. I realized if I spent all those 40 hours I was spending at the office working for MYSELF, I could grow, and I COULD make it! The first three weeks were all about researching, marketing, and making a lot of changes to my pricing model. I had just attended a couple of photography workshops a few months before being let go, and they did light a big fire in my heart. Maybe doing it full time WAS possible, maybe I could be successful and self employed as an artist.
It wasn’t easy. There were SO many moments of doubting myself. As a photographer in Minnesota, I’m pretty seasonal working a lot from April to October/November, then things slow down considerably. I have to say I see God’s hands in the timing of being let go. It was October, which means my savings got me through APRIL! Which means I had 6 months of slow time to market, to change pricing models, to do research on what works for my market, to find products that my client would want to invest in. By the time April came, I had lots of bookings with the new pricing. I was TERRIFIED, but ready!
On October of 2010 I was let go from the corporate world, and was inspired/forced to see if I could do photography full time. You know what’s pretty awesome? I haven’t had to find another job since. I’ll do the math for you, it will be nine years this October. I’m not a starving artist, I’m a successful one. I wake up everyday without an alarm, I get to be my own boss, and live the most fulfilling life I could ask for. I’ve also had health insurance this entire time, and a savings, and investments for the future.
Oh how life could be different now. I think of scenarios like me still working at that same corporate job, doing the nine-five and feeling like there’s so much more out there. Or I could have just found another corporate job, and another, and another, and staying in that cycle. I also could have just given up, and gone on welfare. But I WORKED hard for a future I could be proud of.
Change only happens when you’re so pissed off about your current situation, you’re willing to do something about it. My hope for you is that you don’t settle, and when you see a door closing, you kick that window down.