I’ve written and re-written this post in my head for over a year, but I know it won’t ever be perfect. So I’m just going to let it out now.

      In March, 2010, I asked some of my friends if they were living their dreams. “If you aren’t, are you working towards it in some way? What is your dream?” I had several responses. Yes, no, somewhat…

      But I asked because of myself. I didn’t think I was working towards my dream at all.

      Let’s back up for a moment. High school. I went to an arts high school (HSPVA) where half of my day was taken up by creating things. The idea behind PVA is to be pushed and to know how to push yourself. To find out if this is what you want to do… to make a career out of art. My “major” while there was fine arts photography (there were no other types of photography to study, such as commercial, wedding, product — just fine arts). I loved it, but didn’t think I could make money from it. I resigned myself to study academics in college.

      I graduated from university when the economic recession was beginning its downward slope. My liberal arts degree helped me land a position at a state agency, where I was given a cubicle, an ID badge, and good insurance benefits — the things that I thought meant that I’d “made it.” I felt like a grown-up. I proudly told my father to take me off of his insurance since I now had my own. He told me: “I’m glad that you found a job. But make sure that you do something for yourself in your off time. Something just for you. Remember that.”

      I didn’t know what he meant. I had gone through school with relatively few problems — everyone around me groused about how much they hated classes, schedules, homework, etc. but I rarely minded — that I thought I’d be fine with a new routine. The difference was that I’d be doing something and that I’d be able to bring home a paycheck, too!

      I was naive.

      Within two weeks, I understood my father’s message. I wasn’t learning anything. I was trained, sure, and trained quickly. But I wasn’t growing. I’d show up, type in data, eat lunch, type in more data, and go home. Day after day. My cube was located in a basement with no windows, just fluorescent light. Six months in, I was rewriting the procedure manual during my downtime. I brought my iPod and listened to music. Walt, who worked at another state agency, advised me to listen to audiobooks, so by year two, I had a library of audiobooks on my iPod to occupy my mind. My boss told me during my evaluations that I was an intelligent person and even admitted once that I was smarter than she was; even while distracted by audiobooks, my production was the highest in the department and my error rate was the lowest.

      Sure, I tried to look for something else. I had a few interviews with other places, and sometimes it was close. But I never got the new job. Walt and I were engaged about six months into my employment, so we both worked at our respective agencies to save money for our wedding, which we paid for ourselves. He quit his job a month before our wedding to go back to school, and I continued to bring home the bread. And I knew, This is not what I want to be doing. 

      So, March of 2010, I asked my friends if they were living their dreams. Why am I not working towards my dream? What is my dream?

      And I knew. I wanted to photograph things. I wanted to be creative again. I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t want to sit in a basement 10-keying SSNs all day for the rest of my life. I didn’t ever want to be in a structure where I would be required to work strict 40-hour weeks with a time sheet and a fluorescent bulb buzzing over my head, creating ocular migraines. I didn’t want to be in a place where no one trusted anyone else when they called in sick, and when people who were sick showed up to infect the entire department because they didn’t have leave time left. I didn’t want to be in a place where you were forced to stay for the full 8 hours, even if you filled your quota before noon, or there was nothing else to do, because you were required to occupy a space behind a desk for a set number of hours. Efficiency was not rewarded, so it made more sense to mess around and dawdle. But during my 8-hour days I filed a lot of death certificates and that begged the question — why waste MORE time doing NOTHING when life was so short?!

      Don’t get me wrong; I appreciated what I had. This job paid for our the roof over our heads. It was actual, solid employment in a time where many people my age, my husband included, could not find anything that paid. But it was a means to an end. It did not make me happy.

      I wanted to make beautiful images. I wanted appreciative clients who chose to work with me and to spend time with me. I wanted the experience to be personal. I wanted to be my own boss, control my own hours, and be able to take a two-hour lunch if I felt like it. I’m a motivated person; I’m sure that all the ridiculous rules set up in a government office are there because people abuse any freedoms, but if I’m relying on myself to get a job done, I can trust myself.

      In a leap of faith, I registered my business with the county and got set up. A gifted D90 — a wedding present — and a 50mm lens was my kit. I did sessions off Craigslist to build my portfolio. Spent money we barely had in order to pay for a few pieces of gear. Paid for gear insurance before I had my first session. Booked my first wedding for a pittance. Shot it. Knew I had the bug. Scrimped for advertising, scrimped for used gear, scrabbled to find friends who wanted engagement sessions, had people take chances on me. All the while, pulling 40-hour weeks while watching my inbox for any activity at all. Cried. Cried a lot. Walt was amazing. He told me it wouldn’t last forever, that things would get better. He finished his schooling and got his certification, but his job search trail ran cold. He went back to slinging ice cream for grocery money, then accepting a part-time job to gain experience in his new field, only to be let go a few months later. I was getting better, honing my eye, gaining faster reflexes, and the Austin photo community supported me, gave me chances to second-shoot weddings for cash. Booked weddings of my own. Team Practical cheered me on. Went to work in the morning, came home in the evening, and edited weddings at night. Shot on Saturdays and slept all day Sunday. Cried. Cried some more. Wept to Walt, “I can’t do this anymore.” Stretched so thin. We were living paycheck-to-paycheck. Money goes in, rent goes out. Groceries and we’re back to square one. Stopped looking for other jobs so I could use my leave time to recuperate after wedding weekends instead of scheduling interviews. Squeezing my eyes shut at work for a few moments every day, dreaming.

      The entire time, knowing that one day… one day…

      One day I’ll make enough that we can survive off of this. That we can pay our rent, buy our food, and have insurance. The world will be our oyster. One day Walt will get a full-time job and I can stop this exhaustion. I can focus full-time on being a wedding photographer, and I will be able to… breathe.

      I didn’t tell my clients that I had another job. I avoided talking about it here on the blog. I was afraid that people wouldn’t take me seriously as a photographer if they knew that I was paying our rent working behind a desk; that I wasn’t a “real” photographer who could command real prices for the work I put into their wedding photos. If they asked outright, I didn’t lie, but I wouldn’t offer the information. “I am not my job. I am not this state agency bottom-of-the-rung worker.” I didn’t tell my colleagues at my day job about my photography business, either. When I once mentioned how much we spent on our wedding photography, they guffawed: “Give me a bunch of disposable cameras and a thousand dollars and hell, I’ll shoot your wedding.” I knew they wouldn’t understand.

      I wore my symbol around my neck; I’d catch sight of it in the bathroom mirror at the agency — a reassurance that I was still me, even though I felt like a mushy-brained drone. I put a small pile of my wedding packaging ribbon on my desk at work to remind myself that it is all temporary. (It looks like a little ball of trash sitting there, but it’s so important to me.) I told myself, It’s not forever. It’s NOT forever.

      elissa and walt by nessa k

      And then.

      Walt had a series of interviews with a few different companies. For the longest time it was a bleak stretch of nothing, and in a month he had phone interviews and even some in-person ones. And we held each other, clinging, hoping, but trying not to hope too much in case the news we received back was not what we wanted to hear.

      When Walt got hired — full-time, with benefits, salary, at an amazing office in town — I cried. We went out to eat for the first time in what seemed like forever — just to the café down the street, but that was one amazing burger. And he said: “You can quit now.” He’s got this. My knight in khakis.

      Dear readers: I know some of you have known about all this, and to some it may be new news. But I just want to say… after a little more than 3.5 years of being trapped in a cubicle every day…

      I gave notice, and my last day at my day job is June 29th. After that, I’m a full-time wedding photographer.

      .

      And I’m so fucking happy.

      .

      Photo of Walt and me from our two-year anniversary session by Nessa K.

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      COMMENTS

      I just re-read this to inspire myself. I’m so happy for you and you’re such an incredible photographer!!

      Hey, don’t know if you remember me — not sure we’ve MET, but we’ve floated around each other on the blogosphere, thanks to Rose — but I just wanted to say that this post brought tears to my eyes, because (a) I am so happy for you!! congratulations!!! and (b) it’s really inspiring, and a wonderful reminder to me to keep working hard and following my own dreams. Thank you. <3

      hurray elissa, SO proud of you. you are so amazing.

      I don’t know how I missed this post the other day, but I FEEL YOU GIRL. It’s so much work, and it’s hard not to get bogged down. I’m so happy for you!!

      I could say so much more, but we’ll get to that over coffee soon. :)

      I don’t know how I missed this post, and I already knew about your new plans, but here I am tearing up reading this. So, so happy for you. You’re such a talented photographer, a really hard worker, and an amazing person. You deserve this and I can’t wait to see what you do with it!

      Elissa, longtime friend, I am SO happy for you. Congratulations!

      I am beyond excited for you. Congratulations!!! You have worked your tail off for this and you deserve it. So happy!

      Rock on Elissa. You are bound for awesome things, and I look forward to reading and seeing them along the way. : D

      Elissa, I am so absolutely thrilled you’re going to be a full time photographer soon. Congratulations! :)

      Elissa I am so proud of you — I knew this would happen for you someday, your talent for art was evident ever since we were in elementary school. I’d remember how you were crazy amazing at drawing anime figures, do you remember that? LOL Then I watched you create even more amazing work in high school, I mean art is in your blood, it’s undeniable. I am so happy that you are following your heart and you are blessed to have such a supportive husband to stand by your side through it all. I am lucky to have had you as our wedding photographer and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Congratulations Elissa, you freaking rock!!!!!!

      Elissa,

      You are amazing. I am so so so happy for you!!! I’m not sure if I would have the guts to take such a huge leap of faith. Congratulations, Elissa!

      Awww. This makes me smile.

      That… is a VERY well deserved F-Bomb ;-) Congrats Elissa, you’re gonna go places!

      it’s more worth it when you’ve to work hard for it :)
      I know some of my friends think my art business went up awfully fast, but they forgot.. I spent 10 years in the corporate world.

      10 years.

      So you escaped much faster then I did. Congratulations. Now go kick some butt!

      YAY! Congratulations!!

      Powerful post Elissa. You are my inspiration for the day :)

      Ellisa your story is inspiring. I’m happy for you:)

      You deserve this moment a thousand times over. I am so happy for you, so proud of your perseverance, and so excited for what you’re going to bring to the table in the future if your work was THAT good alongside a 40-hour workweek.

      High fives all around.

      YAY YAY YAY! Congratulations, Elissa! : D

      High-fives girl, that is awesome. Also, I had no idea you had a fulltime job!

      I don’t know you with the exception of via APW, but I’m sitting at my desk crying happy tears for you. Congratulations!!!

      Go Elissa Go!!! So happy for you :)

      YAY! So so happy for you… and excited, too!

      Happy tears here. So happy for you and Walt. You are going to rock this, guaranteed.

      Whew. I had trouble keeping it together while reading this post because I’m brought back to all the feelings I had such a SHORT time ago. And I am SO SO happy for you that you made it. I knew you would. I always knew you would.

      Also – when I got to this part: “And he said: “You can quit now.” He’s got this. My knight in khakis.”

      I lost it. Dammit Elissa. Now I’m crying. Love you lady. I’m so incredibly happy for you two. Can’t wait to see what you do with all the time you have to focus on you and your business now!!!!!

      XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Holy moly! Congrats!!! I knew I needed to meet with you for some reason :)

      Way to live the dream!!!

      Congrats to you both!! So very awesome! As someone also counting down my cubicle days I so feel your pain AND now excitement!! So much amazing!

      So first off, I had no idea that you were working full-time… so I’m sure you totally understand when I say that I envy you so wholeheartedly but in a good way. I am sooooo very very glad you get to pursue your dream and I totally feel ya.

      Friday, I was having a really bad, thankless, awful day at work. Just awful at this admin associate position that people do not respect at all and also has the droning 8 hour days that are not rewarded with efficiency. That’s the state (UT) for you. Then I got an email from my prof from the grad class I had just finished with comments on my final paper. She said it was great and was glad I am pursuing grad school b/c I’ll make an excellent academic mind. I almost cried I was so happy. The validation… the reminder that this job is not me. This is not what I wanted and it’s only temporary.

      I am soooo glad for you and I can’t wait to post about the day that I quit my job. It’s all be worth it in the end and all part of the path and plan to you being an amazing person. I respect you more knowing you had to work that job and produce such amazing photography and hone your skills. I feel like I’m under-working at pursuing my dream now, b/c you did amazing, Elissa. Truly amazing.

      HAPPY^2. Hug.

      I am SO happy for you, Elissa. I know how hard you’ve worked for this, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving to be able to follow their dreams full force than you.

      I am so excited for you!!!!

      Congratulations Elissa! I’m so proud and happy for you!!

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