What excites you, I mean TRULY excites you? What fires your rockets, gets your juices flowing? What makes you want to get up in the morning before the alarm clock? Does it infuse your daily life? Do you experience the sort of energy and vitality that being excited brings about on a regular basis? Or, does it come around once a year when you take your vacation time and drive down to the coast for a few days away from the daily grind? Is your daily life a grind? If so, why?!?
I asked myself these same questions a few years ago. I was keeping my head above water financially and working at a steady but creatively unfulfilling job when I was unexpectedly laid off. I'll spare you the details of wallowing in self pity and the job hunt. I did, however, spend a lot of time flipping through magazines and browsing the web. I happened upon Three Nails Photography and I was mesmerized. I poured over their work day after day. I dug out my DSLR and conscripted my daughters into service. I experimented and explored. We brought each other pages torn from magazines and made inspiration boards from online look books, websites, pinterest, tumblr, photos of paintings, online catalogs, basically anywhere and everywhere. The results, while not award winning, were satisfactory enough to be shared on facebook with glee. It was fun. It was exciting. And it was done simply for pure enjoyment.
It was a surprise when, soon after, a friend commented on my photos and asked if I would be willing to take some portraits of her family. I was noncommittal. I did this for fun and I was doing it with my girls who've been raised with an artist mommy. I wasn't at all sure that I would like or even be able to get two small boys and a husband to cooperate with my unorthodox way of finding and creating images. Then she said the magic words, "I'll pay you." Ta-da! A business was born.
Even though I'd spent more than a decade working as a graphic designer, it never really struck a chord inside of me. As a college student, I was professionally trained in photography. I picked up my first SLR in college and spent insane amounts of time in the lab developing film, pulling prints, burning, dodging, and experimenting with different exposures, croppings, etc. I burned through boxes and boxes of Kodak paper trying to get a print ready for critique. Of course, once I had a print tha,t in my mind, was acceptable, I had to dry mount it on perfectly cut matte board, take it to class, sit it on the display rack with everyone else's and sit through a round table critique by professor and classmates. Trust me, art professors and art students are brutally honest. You have to produce good work AND have tough skin to have any chance of making it through. My point is, I have studied composition, lighting,and technique; manual controls are second nature to me. I don't mean to imply that there aren't many many talented and brilliant photographers who have never had formal training, but it's almost cliche these days that everyone with a DSLR and a zoom lens calls herself a photographer. I only have that training because when I enrolled in college, much to my grandmother's chagrin, I refused to spend four years and thousands of dollars studying something I didn't love.
I just don't know why I spent so many years doing work that didn't make my heart sing. Taking the plunge wasn't some courageous leap of faith. It wasn't even by choice, if I hadn't been laid off, none of this would have played out the way it did. Now that I have found work that truly excites me and inspires me, the thought of rejoining the corporate world makes me cringe.
Have you found your life's work? What is it?