Anniversary

Ten years ago today I became a photographer.

On May 1, 2003, I left a career in the corporate world—everything that was familiar, everything I had been formally trained to do, and what all my peers were doing—to place a risky bet in pursuit of my long-term happiness.

I had been an artist all my life, but my art was practiced as a self-guided hobby. My academic degrees were in Rhetoric and Business Administration. Most of my oldest friends were business and technology professionals, working very far from the creative arts. Up until age 28, all of my work experience had been in business and technology. In my 20s, I had no reference points for the creative arts as a professional endeavor.

My business career had been going along ok, but despite the challenge and stimulation of the tech industry, it never inspired me. The topsy-turvy wave of the dot-com boom and bust left me exhausted and cynical, and craving the ability to chart my own course. Some bad work experiences left me desperate to make a change. And 9/11 made me re-evaluate everything.

At the beginning of 2003, the economy was in recession and I had an expiring contract position that I wasn’t eager to renew. For the past few years, I had been doing photography more and more seriously as a hobby. I even bought some fancy professional lighting equipment and taught myself how to use it. When my contractor gig ended, I took a long and much-needed trip overseas. I backpacked through Japan for three weeks with a friend who was living there at the time. I took a lot of photos, but mostly just got away from all of my day-to-day reference points. I returned home just before my 28th birthday, which I spent reflecting on my adult life so far.

I was terrified of stepping out of my comfort zone. The corporate world had started to suck pretty bad, but it was familiar. It paid well. It had validation from peers and society. I wanted to be a photographer, but I also didn’t really know what that meant. Where would I go when I got out of bed in the morning? How would I determine my goals and set about achieving them? And how on earth would I pay my rent while I was figuring all this out? (After all, I was already a month into unemployment and had spent 3 weeks traveling in one of the most expensive places in the world.)

I took the leap.

For the first time in my life, I shut my analytical brain off and made a big leap of faith. I had some money saved up. The corporate job market would be down for a while anyway. Why not give photography a shot? So I did. For a year. Or for however long my savings lasted.

Ten years later, I have never gone back. And I have never once wanted to. In fact, I have frequently thought to myself that I wouldn’t trade my worst day as a photographer for my best day in the corporate world. I have been lost at times—creatively and professionally. I have been broke. And I have occasionally been very, very lonely. But I have also been more alive than I ever had been before. I own every bit of my successes and my failures. My work has meaning, at least to me. I feel like I matter.

I feel very lucky.

After ten years, I am not as far along in my career as I would have wanted. Honestly, I am a bit embarrassed at how much is still left to figure out and to achieve. But I am also proud of how far I have come, and how purposeful my life has been. It makes me excited by—rather than intimidated by—all of the challenges that are left to face.

Thank you to the people in my life, particularly my parents, who have supported me through the most challenging and important decade of my professional life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Sam in Japan, April 2003