I have been thinking about writing the post for a while… but every time I sat down to collect my thoughts I was swarmed by a to-do list of items, or emails to check and I didn’t have a spare minute to think about how to even change the situation I had created for myself. It seemed easier to just keep juggling than try to look for an alternative.. 

So let me start at the beginning. My first semester in college my professor started teaching about career paths as an artist and when I heard about graphic design I was hooked, it was all the things I loved so much about being a photographer.. the post production, editing, creating layouts, sharing those memories in the “perfect design” with friends. As a collegiant field hockey player I started thinking about how I could possibly stay involved in sports after college and it seemed like the perfect fit! I must have applied to 30+ jobs, anything that had a sport team with a creative element I was willing to do.. Now this didn’t happen overnight, after my many application attempts and passionate cover letters, I worked for a few years as a designer with other organizations and finally my dream job came true. 

I landed a job as a graphic designer for The University of Virginia’s athletic department.. this wasn’t just as an assistant or behind the scenes fluff…I was the sole designer responsible for the football team, working for a University has a ton of benefits and perks already and then add being able to attend nationally ranked sporting events, and an inside look to “where the magic happens”, giving feedback on the latest Nike retail, redesign large scale facility projects, partner with creative agencies…  I am the the type of person who has to dive all in.. I don’t do things half way, so if I got a new project request I would research, and create multiple versions, drop other responsibilities as to not inconvenience anyone else schedule… and do all of the lovely people pleaser things.

This “dream” feeling only lasted so long.. right around the time I got the designer job at UVA I started photographing weddings, I had always seen my business as just a fun hobby, taking pictures of my friends dogs, or anniversaries, or senior portraits, I wasn’t making any money doing it, so I certainly didn’t consider it a business. 

When anyone asked if I wanted to be a full time photographer one day I would say “I love it so much, I don’t want it to feel like work”… HOW DUMB IS THAT! That is absolutely why you should do something for a living, because if you are that passionate about it, it will never just be a job. But as soon as I started investing in my business, in educational courses, assisting and second shooting, and consuming every free webinars I could find, things took off exponentially! I never thought I could handle photographing weddings, they seemed so stressful, and pressure filled, and I DID NOT have any interest in working for a bridezilla.. but as my confidence in my abilities grew so did my love of the madness. I found out I actually thrive making quick decisions and scheduling and keeping calm under pressure… I quickly realized that my business would allow me to photograph incredible moments, and connect with couples who truly become like friends and include design elements in my own style… all while making a profit… now thats what I call a dream! 


Back at work, I was drowning in my to-do list. Everyday was a constant battle to design creative, trendy, graphics in a matter of minutes, the world of football recruiting runs at warp speed, 365 days a year. For a high school recruit the number of likes they get on a twitter graphic equals their likelihood to commit to play football for that University. They are only interested in the new and flashy and different and this pressure to stay in front is not for everyone. For every project I checked off my list, I acquired 3 more. I had requests coming in from 10 different people with “urgent” projects and no authority to say no. Since I was the only designer the team, there really is no back up plan. I loved feeling valuable but was consumed by the pressure if I didn’t get it done, I am letting down the team.. losing a recruit commitment.. not doing my job, I know that is not quite that dramatic, and some of this pressure was self inflicted, but as a competitive perfectionist, this was truly my mentality.  


After working 10 plus hours in the office most days, I would come home to scrape together dinner and slide into my couch with my laptop to begin work on my business, 7:30 hits and Ive got a texts from coach with urgent graphic needs for a kid who wants to verbally commit or an event invitation or the latest stat from the nights win we have to get out on social first. I was constantly on call, I couldn’t go for a walk with my dog without bringing my phone, or a weekend away without my laptop. I found myself getting tense every time my phone buzzed, praying that it wasn’t work needing something. For anyone that follows these,  I’m an enneagram type 2… it’s the “helper” and I live up to every description. 

No-one at work even knew I had a photography business for the longest time. I would often get weekend work requests and had to divulge that I was photographing a wedding and wouldn’t be available for 10 hours…I would feel so guilty and apologize for being unavailable… let me also preface by saying that the job DOES NOT pay overtime.. but an expectation of any job in athletics, means you do what is needed to get the job done. When I would get back to work and someone asked about photographing weddings I would get embarrassed and just say “yea it was fun day”, or “they were a friend of mine”.. anything to make it sound like not a big deal. I always wanted to look 100% invested in the job I was doing.

I did the same thing in my photography businesses, I would never post about my designer life because I was afraid a client wouldn’t think I was as serious or good at my job if I wasn’t devoted to it full time… I was dead wrong about this btw.. .because every couple I told what I did for my “day job” thought it was incredible.. which leads me to my next point. 


“That sounds like a dream job” .. This is how every outsider reacted after asking what I do for a living. There reactions were always the same, asking endless questions about getting game tickets, and what the coaches are really like, and how incredible it would be in the action. I would just smile and say it was great, or its hectic but fun. It was so hard to push past peoples opinions and tell them it wasn’t the dream they envisioned. Anytime I did start to unveil the struggles and pressure I was feeling at work, I found myself defending every complaint.. making excuses for the demands by saying “its just the culture of sports and the way recruiting operates, its the same at every school” And although parts of this may be true, it’s not sustainable. It might be manageable for someone who only has one primary job, but for me, it was controlling my life. 


I had been looking for an alternate strategy for months.. in my head that meant going full time with my business and being my own boss, I desperately craved the ability to make my own schedule and get rid of that “on call” feeling. I started applying for jobs as a way to find part time work or have some leverage to leave my current job. The more research I did about health insurance, and cell phone plans, and taxes, the more anxious I felt. I knew that my bad personal life habits would only increase if I needed my photography business to survive. 

Trying to juggle 2 full times jobs was nearly impossible, I was neglecting my personal life, and relationships, and putting everything else on the back burner, there was no time to workout, or eat right, or go celebrate birthdays with friends, I missed Christmas and Thanksgiving traveling with the team and sacrificed traditions with my family. When I was spending time with the people I loved,  it meant I was editing photos or sending emails and nodding along at conversations but never really free to be in the moment.

A friend of mine sent me a job posting for this incredible company who would give me the freedom to stay in Charlottesville and grow my business, but also allow me to be creative as a designer with flexible hours… I honestly didn’t get nervous for the first interview. I just thought i’ll see what its like and go from there…. 10 minutes in I was hooked. The people were so genuine and laid back, and valued high quality design and photography. I was so transparent about my business and never felt like I had to hide a piece of myself. They loved the fact that I understood lighting and image quality and could use that to my advantage as a designer. That ease and freedom I felt from a 1 hour interview was the feeling I had missed for the past 3 years. Regardless of if I got offered the job or not, I knew exactly what I had to do. 


I have come to understand that your dreams don’t always mean the final destination… maybe they are meant to be more like goals, something you check off your list, before you move onto the next thing. There are SO MANY ways that my time at UVA helped me grow and gave me confidence and fulfilled a huge desire for my career. I have so much appreciation for the coaches and their commitment to create a better future for their players. I will most definitely be a UVA fan forever and love getting back to the spectator side of athletics. Yesterday was my last day at UVA, and today, for only 1 day, my business is my only job! Someday my business might be able to fulfill everything I need to support myself financially and fill my passions for photography and design but for now I’m stepping into a new role. I am starting next week at The Scout Guide… And can not wait to see what awaits me in my dream life! 

I left my dream job to pursue my dream life

Mar 29, 2019

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I'm Heather, a Wedding & Brand Photographer serving Central Virginia & Beyond! I love sharing beautiful love stories, inspiring wedding details, and practical tips for a stress free wedding!

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