Every morning, millions of women across the U.S. make the daily commute to the office. For many, that means wearing the proverbial pantsuit and answering to the boss. For some, this upward trajectory is a symbol of personal power, and each step on the ladder is an exhilarating climb. For others, like myself, it’s quite the opposite, and their dream is to one day leave the corporate confines to pursue a more creative outlet. It’s an internal conversation we’re all familiar with, one way or another.
If you’re in the latter group, then you’ll relate to my story. Three years ago, I was slogging through my corporate life in scrubs as a medical device spine consultant, recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer and dreaming of a career behind the lens. I eventually bowed out of my profession in lieu of my passion, and I can now happily report that I work full-time as an architectural and interior design photographer. Ever since I left it all behind, my work has taken me across the country, capturing images for interior designers, architects, and some of the most respected design publications in the industry including Architectural Digest, Domino, Elle Décor, Good Housekeeping, and of course, MyDomaine.
While it hasn’t always been easy (and I can honestly say it’s not for the faint of heart), I feel like I’ve found my way, and considering my success, I wanted to share how you too can turn your daydream into a dream job. Whether you want to start from scratch or you’re looking to launch a side gig, I hope these six steps will guide you while also providing you with some encouragement along the way.
First things first, there are a few questions you need to answer. What do you love to do? What is your escape? What do you do when you have an entire day all to yourself? You need to be in the right frame of mind to first identify what you love, and you have to be willing to accept and embrace the idea that you can actually make a living from your passions. I am not telling anyone to quit their day job just yet, but I am saying we all have things we love to do, and life is too short to not pursue them.
Small forward-moving steps lead to larger goals. During your free time, start researching your passion, and invest some time (along with a little money) into yourself. You’ll be surprised how far it will take you.
Fight through fear
We all have it, and we all know it’s there, but the important part is to not let it own you. Identify your fears, understand the emotion attached to it, and then own it. Fear does one of two things, it will stop you or fuel you. Rather than giving fear the power to paralyze you and bring your dreams to a halt, embrace it. Fear perpetuates action, and I’ve found it can actually start working for you. Fear is an invaluable tool, and I’ve used it as a litmus test or a compass of whether I am going in the right direction or not.
If my dreams are scary, and I feel the emotion of fear, (and quite frankly terror at times), I know I am on the right path. I finally gave fear the middle finger after I became a cancer survivor three years ago, which was right about the same time I started my photography business. I’ve learned to let the hard times provide a silver lining in life and to give myself permission to push fear aside and dream as big as I want.
Build a Foundation
Just like building a home, you have to start with the groundwork, and lay a strong and stable foundation. You have your passion and business idea, so the next two phone calls that need to be made are to your accountant and your attorney. Contracts will need to be set in place and business organizations need to be clearly defined for tax purposes.
This all needs to be done while chasing the dream, and I promise you, this will be a stable start to your business, while also giving you the protection and structure you need to operate in a successful and responsible way. If you don’t have either an accountant or an attorney, I always suggest approaching a small business owner you admire, and ask them if they would share their recommendations. Don’t be so focused on the end goal that you forget all the steps in between.
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I consider myself grateful to be living in such a digital age, but my creativity and inspiration do not come from the internet or Pinterest. Rather, I grow the most during moments of silence and when I’m truly able to unplug. Disconnecting will give you the opportunity to not only be more creative but also enable you to hone in on your authentic voice. This is the only way to produce a brand that will be lasting.
The secret to your success is being honest and true to your vision. There is only one of you, and you are special. I guarantee you will shine bright and differentiate yourself from others in your field when you stay true to your individuality. I have also found when you are authentic to your voice and brand, you are only competing with yourself.
Learn to Hustle
My definition of hustling is leveraging how many ways I can be of value to not only my business but also my clients’ businesses. I have found that value attracts value in business and also in life. In order to do this, you first have to be hired for your knowledge. Know your industry inside and out, and don’t be afraid to do things your own way. The art of listening is also vital—I find it so important to initially understand your client’s needs by listening twice as much as you speak. It’s important to operate from a place of not what you can do for me but, what can I do for you? while incorporating creative ways of exceeding expectations.
Start with an internal dialogue for instance, does my product or service provide a solution? How can I show a return on investment with my services? What is the prescriptive benefit of what I’m offering? Once you can confidently answer and show your client how you and your services can benefit them, this will become the gift that keeps on giving to everyone involved. Value attracts value and has been the essence of my success.
My Golden Rule: Connection Over Competition
Now that you have your authentic voice and all the sticks in the fire for operating your business, it’s time to connect. Connect on social media, connect with your community, and connect with your peers. Start to release content that communicates your brand and embodies your authentic voice. I believe success is a team sport, and connecting with other creatives will allow more doors to open for opportunities, collaboration, and growth.
Are you dreaming of a creative career but not sure where to start? Ask Alyssa your questions in the comments below.