When I was 24, I was offered a job as a copy editor at a publishing house in Indianapolis. This was the summer after I finished my first master’s degree, and I’d been working up to that point mowing lawns at a golf course, working construction at Sears, and weighing ammonia tanks for farmers. It was the Midwest.
I was living rent free in a former horse barn in the woods, and my tolerance for the terms of that rent-free living (a meddling landlady) was running out, as was her tolerance of me. I couldn’t stay there forever, and I needed something that paid more than minimum wage. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I had no ideas. And yet I turned down that offer for a copy-editing job, because I couldn’t see myself going to work in a cubicle every day.
Six weeks later, with nothing else lined up, I called the publisher and asked if the job was still available, and it was and I took it and I told myself I would only do it for a couple years, until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Fifteen years later, I’m still doing that job. Sure, I have more responsibility now, and I’ve been freelance for well over a decade, which affords me the freedom to live where I want and set my own hours. I don’t work in a cubicle anymore, but the soul-crushing nature of the work is still there. (And yet, I have a job at a time when many people don’t, so who am I to complain? That’s the voice in my head talking.)
Throughout my 20s, I thought I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t writing, so I went to grad school to be forced to write, and I hated it. But in grad school I realized I wanted to be a photographer, and I didn’t need to be forced to do that—I loved it too much. My 30s have been about realizing what I loved, and balancing that with what I hate. Pursuing personal projects became my focus, and I thought it would be enough, that this mix of love and hate would somehow even out, and it does, but what it evens out to isn’t good enough.
Every step of the way, I’ve admired people who can make a living doing what they love. I practically cyberstalk artists like Lisa Congdon, reading interviews about how she started drawing in her 30s, and then eventually transformed it into her work, her livelihood, her life. Seeing Lisa and others like her doing what they love is awe inspiring to me. And yet this whole time, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to make a living from photography, because then I’d just hate it as much as I hate my day job.”
The truth is, I was scared. Scared to make a change, even though I hate what I do all day. Scared that I might fail, and then what? Scared that I’d lose my publishing clients if they knew I wanted to be a photographer.
Sometime last year, my therapist asked me, “What would your reaction be if you were still editing five years from now?” I said, “I’d curl up in the fetal position and cry.” Late in 2012, I was still asking myself what I wanted to do for a living. I actually said out loud, “The thing is, there’s nothing I’m passionate about, except photography.”
And that’s when it hit me: Fuck, I want to be a photographer.