One year ago today, I slept through my alarm without a care in the world. The previous day was the last day at my job, and the next morning was the first day of one of the best decisions I've ever made.
From July 2016 to January 2017, I worked at a thrift store, making minimum wage. I made some really good friends, and I met my current boyfriend. But to be quite honest, I did not like this job one bit. I started as a cashier, then worked my way back to the production area, and while I won't go into detail about the inner workings and happenings of this nameless thrift store, I will go into detail about how I was feeling at the time, and why I had decided to quit.
Since I was old enough to appreciate God's earth and all of the beauty in the nature and people on it, I have wanted to preserve it. My memories and my imaginations went hand-in-hand with my surroundings, and photography was a way that I learned to save those moments and memories. For the longest time, I knew it had to be my career. I got my first point-and-shoot camera around age 13, and shortly after, my mind was made up: this was my calling and this was what I was passionate about. It was the only thing that I felt deeply confident about. While other art forms or career paths had a big question mark of ambiguity slapped on them, photography felt right, and it fit my heart and mind like a glove. There was certainty and opportunity written all over it.
While my certainty for photography was painfully clear, the hard part was finding out how to make it my career. It took a lot of misguidance to eventually guide me in the right direction, and having jobs that I hated or disliked was a part of that process. I have worked with my Dad in two of his businesses, first his lawn mowing business, and his current window cleaning business. While I did dislike certain aspects of these two jobs, I recognize what a tremendously positive impact they had on me as I grew up. I had the opportunity to earn money, meet new people, learn discipline and do things that I didn't really "feel" like doing, and a bit of customer service. This was over the course of my pre-teen and early teen years. In fact, I still work with my dad occasionally, and I am managing their social media pages for them.
But the older I got, the more I wanted to do something different, and felt that I needed to get a job outside of family. This led me to a coffee/tea/bistro place, which will also remain nameless. I walked into this position a little naïve - and now that I look back, I was completely naïve. The amount of work that was required in order to make these beverages was a lot more than I was willing to do. It stressed me out, and I didn't feel like I fit in with any other the other employees, mainly because I was the only white girl without an accent besides one other employee. The job was stressful, and overwhelming, and that work environment was not something my mind could handle at the time. Plus, all of the delicate glass tea cups that I accidentally sent plummeting to the floor and shattering into a million pieces was starting to weigh on my conscience.
This led me to the thrift store job. I was 18 when I got this job, and I needed something full time. I remember walking out of the interview with such relief because they told me that I could start the following Monday, and I cried a little. After all sorts of stress with the previous job, and applying at other places with no luck, this felt like a Godsend. Of course, it wasn't a hard job, so I didn't have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get it, but like I said, the misguidance was necessary. While working at this job, I learned a lot more about customer service; learning when to bite my tongue, and when to connect with the people in front of me. While some customers were just plain rude and made me cry, others were the highlight of my day. But no good customer could fix or cover up the unhappiness and wasted time that continued to build up, until it eventually burst open. I was so unhappy and unfulfilled, I poured so much energy, work, and unnecessary worry into something that brought me no joy whatsoever. This is a grim way to live life, if you have it in your mind that it will be forever. I knew that it wouldn't be forever though.
My parents have always been very supportive of my siblings and I. They take a great interest in our future, and our careers, while never overstepping any boundaries. They supported my photography from the very beginning, and I suppose they felt it was more important than ever to encourage and advise me as best they could. They saw how unhappy I was with this job, with what I was spending so much time on. And they kicked it into full gear. While their talks did stress me out, and I know I did not handle it the right way, I am certain that it was just the thing I needed to hear. All of the times they told me that I could be doing things that made me happy, and would bring more money in, stuck with me until finally one day, it all became so clear. I was wasting my very precious time, time that I would never be able to go back and change, and it made me mad. The spark was lit, and what was just embers and ashes, finally and suddenly turned into a blazing fire that I couldn't have tamed even if I wanted to. I was taking orders from someone else, when I was the one who knew what direction I wanted my life to go in. I finally decided that I was going to be my own boss, and start doing the things that I wanted to do.
So, I started. Plainly and simply. I had saved up a great deal of money, and I bought a gently used full frame camera, and a new 35mm lens. I joined a networking group with my mom, took advise from anywhere I could, and started to build my portfolio and my repertoire. I met some amazing people, challenged myself, and felt a great deal of contentment. I was doing what I loved.
Among all the sunshine and rainbows, there were definitely rain and thunderstorms... well, I love rain and thunderstorms, so I think that tornadoes and hurricanes would be a more accurate analogy. And this is when the self-doubt, anxiety, fear of failure, and many tears, led to thoughts of "what if I'm not cut out for this, what if this is only meant to be a hobby?" My photography was not just a hobby, it was so much more than that. It was what gave my life purpose, it was the tool that I used to mold my personality and my outlook on the world. It was my gift to others when I had nothing better to give. It was the steady boat on a sea of troubled waves. It was one of the few things in my life that was not fleeting, it was constant. So when that thought popped into my head, I was horrified. It scared my socks off, which led to a much better thought of "not trying is not an option". Needless to say, it scared me into getting my shit together.
With the help of my parents and this new motivated fear, I got better. I got more confident, and I stopped worrying so much. I learned to really listen to the people I was supposed to be networking to, I learned to channel my empathy into the business world, I learned to provide value to others, and I felt much better. I haven't seen a tornado or hurricane since.
There are still rough days, and times where I don't have that same spark than what I started with. There are times where I want to hide away and flee, and burry my head in the sand. There are times where I have to do something that I really don't feel like doing or that scares me. There are times where I mess up, slip up, screw up. There are times where I lose sight of what is actually important. Sometimes my priorities get pushed out of whack. There are times when I am unprofessional, inconsiderate, and not in the present. But, that's what it means to be a human being, trying to find their way in this unpredictable world. I am not perfect, and no one else is either.
It's been a year since I made one of the best decisions I've ever made. I've gone through the bad to get to the good, and I'm not even done with this adventure yet. I learned a lot, but I still have a lot more to learn. Here's to another challenging, amazing, fulfilling, and perfectly imperfect year of doing what I love every day.