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Jan. 5, 2022

Where Do You Turn When You Have Lost Hope In Your Career?

I had become a normal American.

After years of freelancing while figuring out my career, I had chosen the steady path suggested by my classmates and my teachers at Ohio University. Get a ''staff' job. Meaning, instead of once again navigating the rocky waters of freelancing and self employment, the answer was to use the skills, knowledge and connections that I had obtained there and get a secure job within the journalism world. 

It came with a steady schedule, a steady paycheck and shield from the fear of not having work in the dangerous world of self employment. Even as school was wrapping up, I wasn't convinced. I had been in that world and it didn't scare me. I actually loved the freedom- I just wanted to find a way to get paid more for what I was already doing. I liked having control of my schedule. In fact, Elizabeth, the girl I met at school (who would become my wife) was also my classmate, and was offered a staff job in Detroit. I told her that if she took it, I would move with her and freelance like I had done in New York.

But after I won the William Randolph Hearst National Championship for top college photojournalist at the end of our senior year, I become focused on using that to land a staff job. I'm not sure what changed. But as school wound down, for one of the first times in my life, I chased security. When a great photo paper, the Evansville Courier and Press called, we pulled off a coup by getting them to hire Elizabeth and I for the two spots that were open. In the glory of pulling that off, I didn't see the problems down the road. 

I told you the Super Bowl story in the How Much Freedom Do You Have In Your Life post, so I will skip past that and land a few years later. I still regretted giving up my freedom. I didn't enjoy being an employee, even with the amazing assignments shooting pro sports, getting assigned to the President of The United States and all of the perks that came with the job. I still had little control of my time or my income. 

Elizabeth didn't mind being an employee, but she desperately wanted to be a mom. We thought she might be pregnant with our first child and we waited impatiently for the call back confirming the news. We were both in the office when I snuck over to my desk to check our voicemail to hear the nurse tell us that it had come back positive! I didn't want to tell Elizabeth, I wanted her to hear it herself. So I saved the message as new and waited. A few minutes later, I saw her on her phone. She called me, asking to meet me in the newspaper library. 

With a huge smile, she told me that she was pregnant! We kissed, hugged and celebrated together. I then smiled and said that I already knew. I checked the voicemail before she did. She smacked my chest sarcastically, pretending to be upset that I beat her to it. 

A few months later, I received another phone call stating that I had won the biggest award in my field- International Sports Photographer of the Year. I had no idea how I pulled that off. But being that I was only making fifteen dollars an hour, this was going to help me with my upcoming raise. Between that and having a baby on the way, I was hoping for a big bump. Elizabeth wanted to stay home to take care of the big bump growing in her belly. 

I walked into my editors office, hopeful but nervous. He rattled off all of my achievements. He mentioned how I went above and beyond with each assignment. And then he dropped the hammer that he could only give me a three percent raise. 

Stunned, I eventually walked out and stood under the doorframe of his office. 

"It's over," I declared. 

I looked around the office and saw all of the defeated faces. The hopes of the past faded, the career frustration brewing, the financial freedom given up in the name of a steady paycheck. 

I headed home, unsure what to do. We have a baby on the way. My wife would love to stay home. I don't make enough money to afford it, and I was just given a raise that wouldn't even cover the cost of living. 

I wound up going home to make a phone call. The advice given to me on that call would change my life. 

In tomorrow's blog and podcast, I will discuss that story and how it turned me from an employee to an entrepreneur.