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Rediscovering my dream job

Rediscovering my dream job

Rediscovering_Dream_JobI keep meaning to clean out my closet.  I’ve been trying to get to it for the past year or so but between photo shoots, my home office, my home studio, my husband, my daughter, the house, the dogs, I just haven’t done it.  You see, about a year ago I quit my day job as an Elementary School Spanish Teacher and decided to work for myself.

From dark room to digital

Photography is not new to me, I’ve actually always been a photographer. In college, more than 20 years ago, I would spend hours in the dark room developing photos, making prints… people had to remind me to come out for air.  It’s really a miracle I never passed out after spending hours at a time inhaling those pungent chemicals.

Back then, photography was a hobby, an expensive one that I happened to be good at and passionate about but not one likely to become a profitable business. I did the practical thing and pursued other options. I studied journalism, taught languages, and got a degree in history. I had the steady paycheck and life was fine.

No one hands you your dream job

Very few of us ever get our dream job right from the start, if ever, but most people just give up on it for the sake of being practical. We have bills to pay and kids (and dogs!) to feed, so we just stop pursuing a passion as a job, maybe keep it as a hobby. I did that, of course, but I eventually started accepting photography jobs on the side, and that was enough to get me hooked. I was hooked on doing what I love for a living and the drive to make it happen kicked in.

Finally, after years of wishing Nikon or Canon would discover and hire me, (in my dream, I didn’t actively pursue them, they just randomly stumbled upon one of my photos on Facebook and decided they had to snatch me up) I decided it was time to hire myself. Twenty-five YEARS after I got my first teaching job, I said goodbye to the classroom and became a full-time photographer.

And everyone is a “photographer”

Of course, everyone’s a photographer these days, it’s the age of digital photos, smartphones and social media, after all. This makes it necessary to acquire skills superior to anything a smartphone can do, techniques that make your work unique and special. Not to mention, photos are often a luxury, something not likely to be at the top of a family’s basic needs list. But little by little you start to stand out, you nurture the customers you have, cherish them, and they tell their friends, and then you wake up one day and realize people are seeking you out too.

The skill, however, isn’t enough. Just as you don’t want your doctor relying on information from 20 years ago, or your hair stylist giving you the same ‘do’ for 15 years, you don’t want your photographer to stop learning, and exploring, and coming up with new set-ups. I don’t know it all and I doubt I ever will, and that’s fine. The learning is never complete…don’t ever act like you know it all, it just annoys the people who have to listen to you.

I can’t do it alone

As far as a support system, I am lucky. I can believe in myself all I want, I still can’t do it alone and I am not ashamed to admit it. I have friends who love my work cheering me on, and they pass my name along. I have a husband who supported my decisions, and continues to help me in every aspect of the business, from tax documents to pep talks when someone cancels a shoot. I am learning that there are people in the community I can reach out to if I need them and I make sure they know they can come to me as well. So sure, believing in myself is important, but I also have people around me who believe in me when I have a hard time doing it.

Sometimes I also forget that having cool business cards and pretty stationery is not the most important part of running my business. Numbers don’t crunch themselves, supplies run out, there’s editing to do, deliveries must be made, things come up all the time and it can definitely be overwhelming. A to-do list is an absolute must, and mine is written on paper, with a pencil. My appointment book is also old-fashioned, not digital. There are some things that can only be synced on paper and apparently my brain is one of them.

When you work from home like I do it’s easy to get sidetracked and put all the needs of your home first, just to get it all out of the way; get laundry done, dishes put away, beds made. I’ve learned that it’s important to have a work schedule even from home, or you’ll end up using what should be your family time as office hours.

A small business, fortunately, is often forgiving, and allows you to adjust whatever needs to be corrected, sometimes immediately. I’m hoping that as the years go by there is less to correct, but that may be wishful thinking.

I have days when I second guess my decisions…days when I wake up and think “What did I get myself into?” On those days I take a look at some of my favorite recent work, and compare it to my work from 2 years ago…there’s a big difference!

Lucky to be a work in progress

Most days, however, I’ll have a camera in my hand, or I’ll be in my home office, working on editing a shoot, or planning an upcoming one, or designing a promo, or making prints, and I look around in amazement because I just can’t believe that I GET to do this for a living. I never drag myself to a photo shoot, I don’t groan when I realize I have to edit 500 images…I do it all marveling at how fortunate I am to be doing what I do. Yes it’s tough, and there’s still so much to learn, but I believe the rewards far outweigh the challenges. My business is an awesome, imperfect work in progress!

My closet, by the way? Still not done.

Growing a better life

Growing a better life

20150526_091012When I go into the garden, my fast-paced life seems to slow down. The texture of the soil, the sounds of nature, and the sights of new growth all coalesce into a joyful experience that transforms me from stressed out drone to peaceful human being.

Knowing that the simple act of gardening has numerous benefits eases my goal-oriented mind. Some might call this getting a lot of bang for my buck; the field of sustainable agriculture calls it stacking functions; I just know that growing my own food makes sense on a lot of levels. One small act of tending a vegetable plot benefits me, my family, my neighborhood and my world.

First off, gardening is my therapy.

My mantra is:

“I go into my garden with problems, and I come out with dirty hands. Then I wash my hands, and my troubles go down the drain.”

There’s something totally satisfying about playing in the soil. I thought it was just me, but then I read about research suggesting that one of the components of dirt could be the new Prozac*. Yes it’s true, soil really is good for the soul!

Gardening facilitates life.

To be sure the seed grows itself, but I help the seed land on fertile soil and nurture the plants. I feel incredible pride when my plants are successful and produce. I photograph my harvests regularly, as my Facebook friends can attest.

My garden helps me eat better. Because I grow mostly vegetables, fruits and herbs, my better half and I eat a lot healthier during the harvest season. I hate to see garden produce go to waste, so we are almost obligated to eat our homegrown harvest daily. And let’s face it, fresh food that is grown and prepared with love tastes and feels better.

Gardening has other physical benefits as well. My garden is a great incentive to be outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. I exercise more: moving in and out of the garden, digging my planting spaces, even adding a few yoga stretches while weeding.

Growing my own food increases my self-sufficiency, which feels empowering to me. I’m making a political and an economic statement. My food is grown according to my values. I am less dependent on Franken-farms and big box retailers. And I can do this for little or no cost by saving seed, utilizing free seed libraries, turning foods scraps into compost, and reusing containers that would otherwise go in the trash.

Gardening grows relationships.

In my experience a garden is a kid magnet, inspiring interest and dozens of questions from all who enter. I get to know the children in the neighborhood and the parents who tag along. As our neighborliness grows, I swap my berries for a fresh baked pie, or just share excess harvest for goodwill.

Gardening also helps me learn about cultures. When I grow a plant from another region, I connect more with the place where it grew and the people who cultivated it. Sharing recipes with neighbors teaches me about their culture and family traditions as well.

So not surprisingly, gardens grow communities too. Gardens can beautify a vacant lot or sterile lawn, transforming them into fresh food oases with fruits, vegetables and flowers. The people tending the garden send the message that someone cares, so gardens make a community seem friendlier too.

Gardens can benefit our environment.

When I grow naturally using sustainable practices, I promote a healthier ecosystem, preserve water and natural resources, and protect pollinators. Plus I spend less time and gas driving to the grocery store.

So next time you see me in the garden, I hope you’ll see more than just a woman digging in the dirt. You’ll see a person who, with one small act, is exercising her body and soul, growing healthy food, connecting with her community, enhancing the environment, and flexing her political power, all while increasing her self-sufficiency.

Would you like to join me? Drop me a line at jean@necic-ohio.org or 419-525- 3101 to learn more about free gardening classes and resources, community garden grants, and even a farmers market to sell homemade and home grown goodies.

Dig in and grow!