How I Balance A Full Time Job While Pursuing A Creative Career
Growing up, it seemed like everyone had something they were good at, except me. I never had my “thing.” Watching the people around me know exactly what they wanted to do when they grow up was inspiring one moment then discouraging the next. That wasn’t me. I bounced around between multiple majors in college, starting with biology for a year then switching to accounting for just one semester then business management and I finally graduated with a Communications degree. I love the fact I spent four & a half years and tens of thousands of dollars to STILL not feel passionate about anything. While I may not have felt an overwhelming calling towards a particular career, I did know I never wanted an office job. I spent several years as a student assistant during college & the thought of spending 40 hours a week in an office for the rest of my life seemed like a prison sentence. Just two months after college graduation, still with no idea of what I wanted to do, my sister & I moved to Philly. Just before the move I bought a Nikon D3200 to take photos in my new city. For the first few months, I was very unemployed which left me with plenty of time to explore the city with my camera. I’ll save the rest of this whole life story for another time but suddenly I had something I really enjoyed doing. I eventually started working a part time job but still had enough time to continue photography (which at this point was still mainly street photos) When I started doing portraits, I was maybe shooting once a month, if that so balancing whatever job I had & photography was not an issue. Everything was going fine until two years ago when I started my first full time job. One one hand, I could finally pay all my bills on time but how am I going to keep up my photography while working a 9 to 5? It’s taken a lot of trial & error, burnout & frustration to finally get to where I am when it comes to balancing a full time job while trying to grow my photography business but here are some things Ive learned along the way.
It seems like society glorifies the 24/7 worker. You can always hustle harder. After all, the grind doesn’t stop, right? But sometimes a bitch needs a nap!!! Do not feel bad for taking time to yourself. When 40 hours a week are dedicated to a job you may not feel as passionately about, it’s so easy to want to pack your free time with shoots to make up for the time lost. This is the quickest way for me to burn out. You can love what you do and still need a break from it. I used to think if I had a free weekend I was wasting my free time if I wasn't shooting as much as possible but then I had to remind myself that true downtime is not a waste. Now I've gotten to where I would rather shoot during the week while I'm already in "Go" mode versus on the weekend when all I want to do is relax and catch up on all the things I didn't do during the week. Editing counts too! I find myself spending hours each day editing my latest shoots but I often watch my favorite shows while doing it so it doesn’t feel like work. After a little while, it can still drain you. Sometimes I just need to take a step back from everything from shooting to editing to even planning shoots because it can all get too much. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy doing all of the above, but occasionally time away from the things you love reminds you why you love them. Breaks & rest, whether it's physical or mental work, are so important.
Also, with limited free time, shoot when you can even if you only have 15 mins. While extravagant shoots at a cool location with a stylist, makeup artist and ten other people are exciting & fun, they require a lot of planning & time. With the right people, you can create amazing images in just a few minutes at an unexpected location. Don't think you can only shoot on the weekends. As many of you know, I shoot on my lunch break regularly after being inspired by phobymo. I’ve been doing it for pretty much the whole two years I’ve worked at my current job and it’s amazing to see how much can be done in such a short amount of time. The photos featured throughout this post were taken on my lunch break (even though I may have been a little bit late getting back to work oops.) I do realize I’m lucky enough to work in the downtown area of a major city so I have access to cool locations & a wide variety of people but even if you live in the middle of nowhere, shoot with your best friend in front of a cool wall near your work & see what happens. Recently I’ve even started shooting before work. As an anti-morning person, getting up to shoot at 8 am then going to work for 8.5 hours is not my idea of fun. The night before my most recent 8 am shoot, I was complaining to my sister about how much I wasn’t looking forward to waking up that early, but I was excited about the shoot, and I made some comment like “it’s a good thing I love what I do.” She goes, “if you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t do it.” Such a simple statement really made me think because she’s absolutely right. If anyone knows I very rarely do things I don’t want to do, it’s her. You make time for the things you enjoy doing. Moral of the story, shoot when you can but not every shoot needs to be a three hour production with a team. You can create amazing photos in a short amount of time with just you & a model. Tim Gunn that shit & make it work!
Use your full time job to fuel your creative fire. Really rough days at work remind me what I’m working towards with my photography career. Ideally, we could all be our own bosses, only interact with respectful clients & live our best lives. That’s rarely the case. Some days, whether you’re working for yourself or someone else, things just really suck. It’s easy to let it discourage you from doing the things you live. I know after a rough day, nothing sounds better than heading home for a nap but that usually doesn’t make the situation better. When I have shoot either on my lunch break or after work, it snaps me back into reality the quickest. Getting fresh air, spending time with another creative person & doing something I love to do resets my mind & attitude. Reminding yourself why you do what you do is so important.
It's so easy to feel like you need to have the quickest turnaround time or respond to clients in seconds but you're human! Be realistic with yourself and your clients when it comes to getting everything done. Before I was working a full time job, I had a lot less clients so it was so easy to edit a whole shoot and have it sent back within 48 hours. While I can still occasionally do that, so many variables come into play when it comes down to it. If I'm behind on editing other shoots, it's going to take me a little longer to get to my most recent work. If my full time job has me working overtime, I'm definitely not going to feel like editing after working for 10+ hours. I generally give myself a 2-4 week turnaround time because that allows me to have the extra time if needed but the majority of the time, I'll have the photos done much sooner and then I get to surprise my clients with a quicker delivery date instead of disappointing them when I have to tell them they're not ready yet. There will always be those eager clients who hope you have their edits ready as soon as you get home from a shoot but most people understand that you have a life outside of photography and things take time. Most of the time, I put more pressure on myself to get things done quickly more than a client ever has. Prioritize the most important things and remind yourself that everything else can wait.
Last but not least, one thing people don’t really discuss is the freedom having a full time job allows you while pursuing a creative career. While it constricts our time, it gives us the financial freedom to not rely on my art to pay my bills. I get to be extremely selective when it comes to the clients I choose to work with and the type of shoots I do. If I did not have a steady paycheck coming in every two weeks, I would feel obligated to accept any paid photography opportunity that came my way. Some seasons are slower than others & I can go a few weeks without shooting but at the end of the day, I don’t have the added pressure of having to shoot to survive. One day I’ll get to the point where I’ll freelance full time or have a full time photography job but until then, I’m content balancing my photography career and my full time job. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not a real artist if you aren’t doing it full time.