KIRSTIE'S STORY: HOW I TOOK MY "SIDE HUSTLE" TO FULL-TIME
It was a dream job. Truly, it was everything I had worked for. By age 22, I had found a career that suited all of my strengths, in an industry I had a passion for, working for a firm where I felt I had unlimited potential, under the best management team I could ever hope for. Phenomenal benefits, excellent compensation, and a positive work environment surrounded by some of the smartest and kindest people I had ever met.
In college I majored in finance, and interned with private wealth management, private equity, and hedge fund entities. I had a roadmap that plotted exactly where I wanted to be. A professor of mine helped place me as an Investor Relations Associate for a highly esteemed asset management firm in Dallas. A growing firm with strong ethics, an attractive product suite, a diversified client base, and a fully stocked kitchen.
My senior year of college I purchased a fancy camera.
A Christmas present- to: me, from: me. You know, a “treat yo-self” purchase. I had no intention of becoming a photographer, I simply knew I liked nice pictures and wanted them for myself. While I was home in Oregon for Christmas break, I practiced with my new camera by taking pictures of the horses in my parent’s front pasture. I realized horses were the only thing I wanted to take pictures of because they were the only thing that mattered to me. I started calling my friends and asked them if I could take pictures of them with their horses and I was hooked. I had a passion for trying to capture the bond between a girl and the horse that meant the world to her.
In my final semester I sat through a strategic marketing class as my small photography hobby began to draw more interest. Throughout the class I applied what I was learning from case studies and textbooks to my growing little hobby to plot a business plan. I recognized that there was a hole in the equine photography market that I had a growing desire to fill.
For three years the responsibilities at my “corporate” job grew at the same pace of my photography “side hustle”. For three years I spent 50-60 hours in an office, edited sessions at home in the evenings, and scheduled photo shoots on weekends. Soon I was traveling several weekends each month - driving across the state of Texas and flying coast to coast to serve photography clients. I thought I had a well-oiled machine. I thought I had contained a beast by maintaining a strict schedule. I truly loved both vocations. I felt that they balanced each other out: one exercising the right side of my brain and the other exercising the left. I never considered photography as a fulltime business. Mostly, because of my pride.
When I introduced myself to strangers I was proud to say I was in Investor Relations. I would never identify myself as a photographer: that seemed like a less prestigious title. I honestly wouldn’t bring it up unless the other person discovered my website or social media accounts. The one career I had I worked very hard for and the other sprouted organically on the side seemingly by chance. Plus, these days everyone with an iPhone considers themselves a photographer.
Eventually, I hit the wall that I swore would never come.
It wasn’t burnout and it wasn’t a fault in my meticulous scheduling. After struggling with an autoimmune disease for seven years, my doctors suggested much scarier stronger medical solutions to get my symptoms into remission. I took a vacation for a long weekend and realized - in the absence of stress - I felt amazing. I then had two choices: stay under a chronic stress level that I thrived in at the expense of my health, or leave the environment completely in an attempt to treat myself without severe medical intervention.
It is hard to admit you can’t do something. Allow me to rephrase. It was hard for me to admit I couldn’t do something that I wanted to do, loved to do, and was really good at doing. My entire life I thrived under pressure. Between competitive horse showing, elite internships, and rigorous class schedules, the tighter the deadline and the more there was at stake, the better I performed. It was an enormous shot to my ego to willingly step away from a career where I was appreciated and praised for performing at a high level.
By the grace and providence of God, I was able to take my photography business full time. And what a blessing this profession is. Not only do I get to work with two of my greatest passions every day (girls and horses), I do it in a virtually stress-free environment. I naturally have a very entrepreneurial spirit, so pouring myself into the “business” side of photography with accounting software and excel spreadsheets satiates my analytical disposition. Connecting with my clients throughout our sessions satisfies my extroverted personality. And in many ways, the work feels far more meaningful. Portrait sessions can be a transformative experience for young women as they build self-esteem and self-confidence and it is special to play a small part in that process.
I know many women who are afraid to take the leap from having their passion become their full time career. Entrepreneurship usually means giving up benefits, bonuses, salary, and stability. It can be stepping off the ledge into the unknown. I’m not sure how long I would have stayed in finance if I never had that talk with my doctor. I never thought I would hit that wall, but looking back, I am so happy I did. Now I’m proud to work my real dream job - the dream just changed.
Check out Kirstie's photography at her website or follow her on Instgram at @kirstieeemarie.