Published in the "What I have to Say" series at The Define School
We are the generation that leaves desk jobs to start businesses in our living rooms. Many of us are self-taught, creative, and young. We dreamed of being our own bosses, traveling, calling the shots, and making the shots. We are see-ers, artists and creators. We want to make, we want to do, we want to be alive and live our dreams. We want to be successful, we want to mean something; we want to make magic. Somehow we got to this point of courage where we realized that we could each pave our own way, and we stood at the edge and jumped, freefalling into freelance.
And sometimes it feels like outside of the “system,” outside of punch cards and time clocks, we are free. But there’s a different class system here. Now we’re in the dog pack of people just like us and in order to get jobs, we have to stand out. We have to get noticed, advertise, brand, network, and sell. And then suddenly it feels important to be published, to be on blogs, featured in print and wherever we can be seen. And we’re using our social media to express our “honors” and pimp out our work, to get people to follow us and make ourselves known. And even if you don’t want to care, you can’t help but peek up at the number that dips and rockets above your tailored Instagram feed. And it never feels like it’s enough. We’re adults, competing with ourselves and internet strangers and all the beautiful imagery is pumping out, filling our feeds with white light and coffee cups and features and more numbers.
And the battle begins between authenticity and need. Do we sell out and self-promote? We need business, we need money; we joined this world, we have to make it work- but do we become our own agents, hash-tagging and submitting photos and hustling in the public, fighting the grind? Everyone around us becomes our prey… maybe they can be our next client. And the glamour of sitting in our living rooms editing in our jammies and the dream of no boss, no weekly commitment, can get lonely. And eventually, secretly, we don’t want to see anyone’s shoes or dresses and we don’t give a shit about wedding cakes or people in love, and the glow wears off and we realize we have to actually work- work to stay interested, work not to compare, work to get business, work to maintain relationships, work to stay ahead, and work to be authentic, unique, and marketable in one package.
And we huddle at workshops and “the successful” will talk about being picky about your clients and only doing things YOU love and tailoring your life around what YOU want to do and who YOU are as an artist. And sometimes (just sometimes) in this, we move from being dreamers and artisans and those that want to live unfettered and alive inspiring beauty and culture to being the entitled, the snobby, the elitist above the working class. Because we’re not bussing tables or building homes in the heat or taking out trash for a living. We’re not sitting at desks and living for five o’clock… no, we are creative, and we are living our dreams and bitching about our clients when they don’t fit our aesthetic, the people who pay us to live this lavishness. And we’re socializing our work so that people know we’re doing something with our lives- we’re not freeloaders or lazy workers, we’re editing and traveling and booking- but sometimes (just sometimes) we yearn for a salary and steady paycheck and somewhere to be at 8:00 AM. And sometimes we wonder if it’s worth it.
And no one can tell you if it’s worth it. No story is the same. And some seasons may be hard and if there are people in your life you have to live for, you might have to pick up another job or do work you don’t want to do, and it’s okay- you’re not a sell-out, you’re responsible. And some seasons you’ll be published in everything and your calendar will be full and you have to turn people away. And sometimes you’ll look at your camera and it will make you nauseous. And other times that perfect light will melt into your lens and glow and retract and you’ll feel high off the colors bouncing and the arcing curves of top lips smiling and dresses floating and fog billowing, and you’ll move with your camera like it’s attached to your body, and a force will come over you like wind inside your sails and in that moment you’ll know you were made to do this very thing. And other days, you’ll download or get the roll in the mail or get the dreadful note that a client won’t take your work, or you’ll have Vogue dangled in front of your face or a cover shot that was supposed to be yours and without blinking, it will belong to someone else, and it will launch their career, the career that you thought you would have- and it’s okay. And sometimes you’ll live the dream and be overflowing with goodness and possibility and publishing and money and everything you wished for, but with an ache so deep that all the accolades in the world couldn’t transform that emptiness into happiness… but it’s gonna be okay.
Because wherever you are in the journey- just leaping or just thinking of it, in the middle or feeling like the end, if you have a ‘k’ beside your following or you’ve lost it all because of a bad food pic- just know this: wherever you are: it’s okay. Because it’s all necessary, it’s all life, and it’s building something deeper in you that can’t be smoked out by followers or unbelievers or critics or praise-ers. Because in the end, or really in the midst- the struggle, the fight, the loss, the grit, the hustle, the dance- those things will take you from imitation to genuine, from photographer to artist. The triumphs and the crushing, those moments of inspiration and devastation- they will weave together into the tapestry of your story, and despite the success of your career you’ll be alive because you lived, you experienced, and you learned that when it’s all said and done, you may find you are, after all, the piece of art you’ve been working so hard to create. You are the artist, but the art you are creating is actually you.