It will soon be one year since I quit my job as a photojournalist at the Rochester Post-Bulletin. This milestone stirs up a number of feelings in me, from disbelief that it’s been that long, to a sense of shame and frustration for not having found a new job.
But when I think back to what my life was like a year ago, I have no regrets. I spent three hours of my day in the car for the commute alone. Once I got to work I spent much of my time driving from assignment to assignment. I was on a road to self-destruction. The amount of time I spent in the car was affecting me both physically and mentally. Toward the end of my time at the job, when I knew I would be quitting soon and I just had to get through another day, I would stop off at a gas station each night before heading home and buy a big-gulp soda and some other sweet or a bag of chips. The junk food fix would help me make another 80 mile trip up U.S. 52 — it would help me deal with the boredom and exhaustion that had become my life.
Since quitting, I have been back to Rochester a total of one time, which blows my mind considering I use to make that drive nearly every day, and I did this for more than three years. I’m still not quite sure how I did it for so long without losing my mind. When I quit, I figured it would be fairly simple to find a new job, especially since I wasn’t set on finding a job in journalism. I was open to just about any job, as long as I made enough money to cover daycare costs. As it turns out, this daycare factor would be the biggest obstacle in my quest for employment.
I have a B.S. degree in biology from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. My background is primarily photography and journalism, as I haven’t been a “practicing” biologist in some 15-years. I’m an intelligent and capable woman with a lot of useful skills that would be beneficial in any number of jobs — how hard can it be to get hired? Well, I’ve applied for more than 50 positions since January. The positions have ranged from barista to school secretary, but most have centered around communications and public relations, with a few photography specific jobs thrown in there. Most of the time I receive no response to my applications whatsoever. I try not to take it personally, as I’m sure most of the positions get a ton of applicants and I’ll be the first to admit that I do not have a lot of direct experience for some of these positions. But I’d be lying if I said a little piece of my dignity and self-worth doesn’t shrivel up and die every time I get a rejection for a position I feel well qualified for. In this age of email, I don’t understand why so many HR departments won’t send an applicant a rejection. I’d venture to guess that I get no response for 75% of the positions I apply to. Crickets. I’ve learned to feel thankful when I do get a rejection, so I guess that’s one positive.
In light of the absolute failure of my job search, I’ve come to terms with a few things about myself. I am a photographer. It’s what I do well and I need to deal with it. I love the interaction with the people I photograph and I love the creative process behind it. I even love photo editing. Unfortunately, aside from positions clicking buttons at those crappy mall photo studios that pay $8.00 an hour, there are very few steady, full-time photography jobs out there. I like having a job, from the steady pay check to the sense of duty and routine. I really miss it. But it’s time to focus on reality. If I want to be a photographer, I need to run my own business. Sadly, it’s taken nearly a year of unemployment and a fruitless job search to come to this realization.
Upon quitting my job, I went from spending very little time with my son, to being with him 24-7. I’ve learned that somewhere in between would be my ideal. I’ll be the first to admit that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t the right fit for me. There are parts of it that I love. I have a hard time remembering the last time I woke-up to an alarm clock. These days I wake-up to a cherub faced toddler exclaiming, “it’s morning time.” While Oskar is up much earlier that I’d prefer, it’s really not a bad way to start the day. However, I miss adults. I miss adults a lot.
I’m thankful for the time that I’ve been able to spend with Oskar. Watching him grow and learn so much this past year has been pretty amazing and I realize how lucky I am to have this time with him. I’m also just as grateful for having a husband who appreciates the fact that I often need a break from Oskar and some time to myself. Back when I was working I looked forward to Friday the same way everyone who has a job looks forward to Friday. These days, I look forward to Friday because it means I’ll be able to take off for a few hours by myself on Saturday while Adam watches Oskar. It’s amazing how much more you appreciate alone time when you spend your week attached to a toddler.
One fear I had when I quit my job was that I’d become some listless, lazy woman who spends all day in her pajamas and watches lousy daytime television. I’m happy to say this didn’t happen. In fact, since quitting, I’ve managed to lose 25 pounds. Back when I was commuting, I never had time to exercise during the week, and when the weekend rolled around, I was exhausted and still needed to catch-up on household duties — grocery shopping, house cleaning, etc. — not to mention spending some quality time with my family. My gym membership had lapsed long ago as it made no sense to spend the money and never use it. However, once I became a stay-at-home mom, the YWCA became my savior. Our family membership includes two-hours of childcare. I’m able to drop Oskar off at the KidZone while I exercised and spent some much needed time by myself. Meanwhile, Oskar gets to socialize with other kids and adults. It’s a definite win-win for our family and well worth the money. I’m proud to say this past August I even managed to complete a sprint triathlon in a fairly decent time. If you had told me a year ago that I would be participating in a triathlon I would have laughed in your face.
I’m still applying for jobs, but I’m being a lot more selective of the positions I take the time to bother with. Primarily, I’m focusing my energy on developing SisuPhoto — the wedding/freelance photography business. It’s named after the Finnish word for fortitude or guts, which is what I’m going to need to make it work. I’ve really enjoyed the weddings and events I’ve photographed in the past year as SisuPhoto. It is satisfying to be your own boss and I think I can make this work. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a great head for business or money, but hopefully I can learn and make something of SisuPhoto. I feel grateful to have a skill that allows me to try to be my own boss. It’s worth a shot — no pun intended.