Four years ago, I quit my day job. It was the same day I stared fear of the unknown straight in the face, embraced it and decided to explore the world of self-employment as a photographer.
And because of that decision, I can sit here today to share my journey from a dissatisfied former corporate fashion employee, to a self-employed girl boss who turned her love for photography into a full-time career.
Now, the title of this article may be misleading — a full-time career didn’t just pop up in my face one day, ready to greet me with open arms.
This was a moment that was years in the making — built upon a lot of tears, sleepless nights, 15-hour work days on weekends, and risk-taking.
I knew for a while that I was unhappy with my job. And it wasn’t that I hated the job itself. I just recognized that I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing. I woke up every morning dreading the commute to my desk, wanting desperately to escape.
I had dreams. And they were dreams that were bigger than what was right in front of me. But instead of constantly complaining about this life — settling for the dissatisfaction — I took it upon myself to act.
1. I believed in myself.
If you don’t think you’re d-mn good at what you do, how do you expect anyone else to think that about you? No matter how many people told me that I could do anything I wanted, at one point I never believed them.
For a long time, I wasn’t confident in myself or my abilities — and that got me stuck into a cycle of self-doubt, insecurity and self-loathing.
I remember having a slightly drunken conversation about life and the future with a friend about 5 years ago.
We were walking home and he asked me, “Do you think you could make a million dollars one day, doing what you love?”
And I told him no. Because I genuinely believed that I wasn’t good enough become successful. How sad is that?
I felt stuck, and I was worried that I wasn’t good enough — which only made me want to quit. And do you think that this mindset helped me pursue my dream of becoming my own boss?
If you are constantly questioning your ability, your talent, your passion, your past, your future, and your prospects of success — you will never win.
Every decision you make from now on regarding your success, is dependent on your ability to believe in yourself. Now that we know this, how do we get there? Read on.
2. I practiced, practiced and practiced — every chance I could.
Confidence comes with practice. The more you dance, sing, bake, stretch, draw, shoot, speak in public — the more you DO — the more confident you will become.
I practiced taking photographs every chance I got. After finishing my day job, I would come home and get straight back to work. I would work on things that I knew would help me perfect my craft.
I knew I wanted to get better. I went out to explore new places, googled photography and lighting tutorials, researched cameras and lenses, and spent hours editing photographs to better understand the software and its capabilities.
I worked for free. I volunteered my time and worked with people on weekends or holidays to get better at my craft.
There is no shortcut to getting better at your craft. You have to put the time in.
Don’t make excuses for why you can’t do something. If you want to become successful and eventually have your hobby become your full-time career, you have to be d-mn good, or even the best, at what you do.
3. I never stopped learning.
If you think you know everything about what you do already, feel free to click off this article and carry on with your life.
Humility is paramount — in work, relationships, and life in general. There always is and will be something new to learn.
I picked up my first DSLR when I was 21 years old. I knew absolutely nothing about photography. I didn’t go to school for it. I still don’t even know how to shoot film (something I’m hoping to change in the next few years).
It’s been 7 years since then and I am a MUCH better photographer than I was before, but I know I’m still not as good as I could be.
I try to push myself and my own boundaries — I learn from others, gain inspiration from those more experienced, ask questions, and yearn to learn more to better my craft.
If you are not excited about the prospect of learning something new to help further your craft and career, what is the point?
The more you are willing to learn, to dig, to research and invest your time into discovering new tricks/tips — the more you will get out of it.
4. I started taking responsibility for myself.
I look back now, and I realize how many things that have happened in the last few years have been blessings in disguise.
I wouldn’t say that I grew up with everything handed to me on a silver spoon, but I certainly grew up taken care of. My father worked his a-s off to make sure I never felt the way he did when he grew up — in need of anything.
And that gave me a sense of security — but sometimes, security can be crippling.
If you have always had things handed to you, what incentive do you have to work hard to attain them?
When my father passed away four years ago, I lost every bit of that security. If I “accidentally” spent too much money one month, I would have no one to transfer me that extra few hundred dollars to help me out. The thought smacked me in my face and woke me right up. I no longer had a Plan B.
And that which was overwhelmingly paralyzing at first, eventually turned into motivation. I knew that I had to start taking responsibility for myself — especially when it came to managing my money and my business.
Last February, I was digesting a late dinner in a hotel in Bali, when I got an email from the Virginia tax department saying that I hadn’t filed my state income taxes for 2011. They said that I owed them almost $5,000.
This ended up being a mix-up, thank God (I just had to show them that I filed in NY, and was technically a VA resident because of my driver’s license.), but it was certainly more than a wake up call.
I knew I needed to be better organized, and stay on top of all aspects of my career — taxes included.
Navigating the tax world as a self-employed freelancer is A LOT different than sending in your company-issued W2’s for a clean, easy and eventual tax return.
I had expenses. Business expenses. Expenses that I could and needed to report, in order to minimize the amount of tax that I OWED to the government. That’s right, when you’re self-employed, you’re not receiving money every year in your return (Oh, how I miss those fat checks coming in the mail and surprising me once a year).
Instead, you’re likely going to have to pay the government for the income taxes that weren’t taken out of your checks. So after a lot of research and that tax-related scare I had last year, I’m going to remind you to start taking responsibility for yourself, your business and your taxes this year.
You can start by using Turbo Tax Self-Employed. A new, innovative platform specifically crafted for self-employed people like me.
If you pay for advertising, supplies, office furniture, electronics, insurance or other goods and services that directly relate to your business, you can take those expenses off the income you earn as a freelancer. If your office is in your home, you may be able to deduct some of your household expenses as well, including rent and utilities.
Turbo Tax Self-Employed helps me deduct expenses that are considered reasonable and necessary to my profession. More business expenses = less taxable income = less taxes owed to government. And I track + keep all my expenses organized using Quickbooks Self-Employed software.
- Quickbooks Self-Employed software : Tracks all of my expenses — including automatic mileage tracking and receipt capture to manage my self-employed expenses easily.
- ExpenseFinder : Gathers and automatically scans your bank and credit card transactions to help identify business purchases so you can keep more of the money you earn.
And if you’re still overwhelmed by it all, you can get advice from a self-employment tax guru live on your screen with SmartLook.
- SmartLook : You can connect with a live, credentialed expert who specializes in self-employment taxes. So you never feel alone and can file with confidence.
I knew that I had to take control of things like my taxes — and not let these logistical parts of self-employment slip through the cracks. Because if I knew that if I did not take care of them myself, no one would take care of them for me.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for yourself. Even if you have all of the best advice from the most experienced people, you will eventually have to make decisions for yourself and for your business. And the more comfortable you get keeping yourself on track now, the better off you’ll be in the future.
5. I took risks. Often.
There were more people in my life who told me that I was crazy for leaving my job with no Plan B, than those who supported me in my decision.
And that’s normal because leaving a secure job is a risk. It’s a big risk, and it’s one to take only when you’re ready. But in order to move forward and make something great happen, you have to make the leap. You have to take the risk.
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” — C. JoyBell C.
Consider the fact that most successful people in this world have taken risks in life. But it is also important to be prepared when taking the risk.
I saved up some money before I left my job. I sold most of my belongings for cash, changed my spending habits and created a new, more financially-mindful lifestyle. This was all essential to my success as a freelance photographer.
I knew that if I was going to jump into a life of less steady income, I’d need some money saved up just in case. I didn’t want to fall into a cycle of debt, so I made sure I stayed smart about my spending.
There were sacrifices that I made to ensure that I could reach my goal of leaving my job — less nights out, less dinners and drinks, less coffees purchased in the morning, less shopping altogether, and less vacations to just ‘get away’ for the weekend.
This all helped me get prepared to take the biggest risk I had ever dreamed of taking in my life — quitting a secure day job in exchange for a life of less stable income, but one that I knew would make me happier in the end.
If you are comfortable with where you are, then good for you.
If you want something more, crave a life with more freedom to do what you love, and turn your passion into a full-time career — start formulating a plan and don’t be afraid to take a risk.
It may very well be the only thing standing in the way of you living the life you’ve always dreamed of.
6. I started using ALL of my resources.
Networking will only help grow your business and solidify your career. The more people you meet, the more relationships you foster, the more success you’ll have as a professional.
But where do you start when you feel like you don’t know anyone? Start with who you DO know.
I didn’t know tons of people starting out as a photographer. I didn’t have clients coming up to me asking to hire me.
But I realized that I actually knew more people than I thought I did — because the people I knew, knew more people, who knew even more people.
There was potential in growing my network. Six degrees of separation is a real thing, people, remember?
So it all started with me reaching out to friends, family and former colleagues. I updated them on my career change, showed them my portfolio, and expressed my desire to connect with others who may want to collaborate.
Again, I worked for free. A lot. It helps you build your portfolio, meet more like-minded professionals/serious amateurs, and gain more confidence altogether.
My network of no one eventually grew into a few key people, here and there — over the years, has grown and continues to grow through the connections I made in the very beginning.
Look up groups on Facebook or other social platforms to connect you with people who are interested in the same things you are. You will be surprised at the power of connection, the power of community and the power of a simple email or in-person hello.
7. I did not quit.
My friend, you simply cannot expect to jump into success right away. You will encounter more failures than successes sometimes. Life has a funny habit of bringing you back down when you’re feeling like you’re on top of the world. It also has a way of sending you a Godsend opportunity when you’ve been feeling unaccomplished.
The important thing is to never give up.
There is no such thing as an overnight success. I don’t care what people tell you. Some of the most successful, self-made people in the world failed more times than you can count, but they never quit. They never gave up.
Shift your perspective if you are impatient with your successes. You’ve got to go into this knowing that sometimes, it will not work out. But that is not a reflection of your potential. And failures are moments that provide opportunities for self-reflection, change and growth.
The fact that you’ve failed is proof that you’ve tried anything at all. And your efforts will not be in vain. Because hard work will always pay off in the end.
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This post was inspired + sponsored by TurboTax — a product I actually use + believe in. As always, all opinions are my own.
Thank you so much for reading. Find @projectinspo on instagram + facebook to join us on this journey of happiness, hope and self-discovery.
P.S. I wrote two (cough, free) in-depth guides for those of you who want to learn more about how I created the life I wanted to live.
These are the secrets I’ve used to:
- Travel the world for 11 months for less money, and even score free flights.
- Blog smarter, not harder. These are ten free productivity tools + blogger resources that I’ve personally used to boost Project Inspo and get it to where it is today.