Why I’ve Never Been Happier
I followed my dreams & you should too.
I decided to write a post about a topic that I get quite a few emails / Instagram messages / tweets regarding each day. I wanted to be able to share this with people who are in similar situations to the one that I was once in: chasing your dreams + freelancing when you’re young.
Around this time a year ago — last September, I was living in Ohio where I’d attended high school & was a couple weeks in to my first semester at Kent State University. I was working at Free People & Banana Republic & all-in-all, I was pretty miserable.
I wanted to be living out West pursuing my photography career. I knew that working retail jobs & pursuing a degree with zero motivation wasn’t going to get me to where I needed to be.
Side note: I’m a huge connoisseur of finding cheap plane tickets, & I stumbled across a $30 round trip ticket from Cleveland to Seattle. (yes, you read that correctly: $30). It was about 9 or 10 days in advance of the flight so i just booked it; it was for a 5-day trip &I felt like i needed to head to the mountains & just get a feel for being back out West. (Backstory: I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio for the first 10 years of my life, then age 10–14 lived in a suburb of Portland, Oregon; then ages 14–19 I was back in that suburb in Ohio for high school & a semester of college.)
So that following week, I flew out to Seattle. I sent some emails to a few photographers that I wanted to meet & a few responded but were away on trips & such, but one who did reply & was down to hang out was Andrew Kearns. He spent a whole day showing me around Washington & teaching me about Lightroom & editing & shooting. He shared his insight with me about freelancing & how he was making it work for himself & it was so inspiring to me! He honestly played a huge role in me feeling that I could freelance full time. — He is still to this day, a very good friend of mine & he is so helpful & pleasant & I appreciate him so much!
After that week spent running around Washington, I got back to Cleveland & my mom picked me up from the airport.
At this point, I’d brought up wanting to find a way to move back out West four or five times within a couple months so I’m pretty sure she knew what I was about to say.
A few moments of silence passed before I said “Mom, I have to move to Oregon. Like, now.” & she said something along the lines of “I know you do.”
So that was that. I worked my retail jobs & finished out that semester of school, packed up my dorm the first week of December, moved all of my belongings back to my house, packed up what I could in two suitcases & flew out to Portland on January 6th, 2016.
Honestly, it’s about as simple as it sounds. I wasn’t scared, my parents didn’t oppose me; (they told me i could do whatever I wanted as long as I was paying for it.) I had a few-thousand dollars & absolutely no backup plan — because I knew that my plan A would work.
I had my job at Free People transferred out to Portland & I worked there one or two times a week for about three months, & then had one busy stint of working for two straight weeks there, so I probably netted at about $400 from that job & in a total of three months, & then I left the job. But other than that, I’ve been full-time freelance since I got here.
That probably sounds dumb, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to handle a creatively draining cashier job or any sort of job that wouldn’t allow me to do what i needed to do each day. So I lived off of my savings for quite some time & lived frugally for a while.
A key point in this whole situation: when I moved out here in January, I had roughly 5,000 followers on Instagram. Ten months later, i have 70,000 & grow at about 11,000 per month. Then on my second Instagram account, I have 25,000 followers. This has definitely played a vital role in my ability to get my freelance business off the ground. Nearly all of my clients find me through Instagram. I shoot engagements, weddings, senior pictures, brand commissions, photosets & then do sponsored posts & videos with all kinds of companies.
Without those numbers, it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy to launch myself into making a substantial living. But in the last eleven months out west, I’ve literally gained 95,000 followers between both accounts. This is due to collaboration with other artists & models & just flat out posting good, consistent work. Also, all of the traveling that I do helps with creating new & interesting content & allows for new connections + collaborations.
Since April, I’ve spent around 120 days traveling between Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Alaska, Utah, Arizona, Chicago, Nashville & Cleveland. I spend most of my time in Oregon & California.
I’ve always valued travel above most things, & have always just vowed to just make it work. If i want to go on a trip, I just do it. & it’s paid off. Traveling allows for so much new content creation & collaboration & new connections to be made & so many new ways to learn + grow as an individual, so I’d definitely recommend prioritizing travel.
Another side note: I recognize that one day Instagram will die out & I won’t have that outlet anymore. On a long term basis, I’d rather be shooting weddings & engagements anyway, where I can be advertising on any platform & growing by word of mouth. But at this point, having clients like Urban Outfitters, American Eagle Outfitters, Fossil, Panera Bread, Lens Crafters, etc. under my belt will propel me on a long-term basis & I’m super grateful for the opportunity to work with these companies while Instagram is a popular social media outlet.
& I guess, here I am. Eleven months later & a couple weeks past my 20th birthday.
I truly am overwhelmingly happy with my life right now. I make enough money to live comfortably, I get to wake up each morning & do what I love without limits & I get to surround myself with creative, like-minded people. I could not be more grateful for each day & each little thing that has panned out perfectly in the last year. The Lord has given me so much & I truly truly have never been so happy or felt so free in what I’m able to do. He is the only reason I’m able to accomplish anything that I do & all gifts come from Him & for that I am so thankful!