Since leaving my job at Microsoft 2 1/2 years ago, I have talked to many women who have said “I’d love to do that too.” When I first left, I documented my new found freedom with the hashtag #mommaquitherdayjob. (You can read the full story in my original blog post.) This was just a way of showing what I was doing on a daily basis now that I wasn’t working. To my surprise, there were many people who followed along and looked forward to my daily post. Unfortunately, it only lasted 197 days before I ran out of things to say. But over the course of time, it has become very clear that there are a lot of people, women in particular, who want to reinvent themselves in what I will call “Act 2.” Whether they are just over the job that they’ve had forever, like me, or by necessity they need to come up with an income stream in their 40’s or 50’s, there are story after story of women who successfully started something new later in life and the purpose of this series is to celebrate their achievements and perhaps inspire you to do the same. I read an article today by Don Giannatti discussing check boxes that kill our creativity. The first one being “The ‘I Am Too Old’ checkbox.” He goes on to say “No, you’re not. You have checked that box because so many others in society have checked it and we are all expected to follow suit. Starting a business is not age related, nor is being creative, ethical, or smart with money. In fact, a bit of age gives you advantages over being youthful.”
I’ve decided to do a personal photo project highlighting women who have successfully changed careers or started something new later in life. This has been spinning around in my mind for some time. In fact, back in January, I took a class over on the called Beyond Motherhood which looks beyond our children as sources of photographic inspiration and helped me work through everything that needed to be done to kick off this project. Since, by default, I was the inspiration for this series, I thought I would start with me and tell you a little bit about my story; where I’ve been, and where I hope to go in the next few years. I hope to profile many other women from a wide variety of backgrounds in the coming months through their words and my pictures.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: I am a wife and a mother. Twenty-five years ago, and when I was 21-years-old, I met my husband Tim. We have two girls. My oldest, Haylee, is going into her senior year in high school, and my youngest, Cameron, is going into her freshman year in high school. I love to run, bike and swim and am often training for one type of race or another – currently…a marathon. I also love playing tennis – I love the sport and I love the people I play it with. My husband and I are looking forward to traveling once the girls head off to school. Documenting life and taking photos has always been a passion of mine. Now, it is so much more than a job; it’s one of my favorite pursuits and it is a big part of who I am.
Q: What did you do in your first act?
A: I worked at Microsoft for 17 years and various retail buying positions for 5 years prior to that. I started at Microsoft in 1997, when you could probably have considered me a computer geek. I was the person in the office who was really good with Microsoft Word and Excel when it was first making its appearance in the office, so naturally I wanted to work there. It was the running joke that I was the apparel merchandising major working among computer scientists and mechanical engineers. I spent my entire career working on the retail side of the house, so it wasn’t as much of a stretch as it may seem. Over the years I sold everything from mice and keyboards at Best Buy, to Windows and Office at the office superstores, to Xbox at Walmart which is finally what did me in. Microsoft was a big part of me for many years of my life and I made lifelong friends there.
Q: What led you to what you are doing today? Did your current passion develop slowly over time or have you always known you wanted to do this?
A: My kids grew up! I realized that I was spending less time with them than I liked. In the last year that I worked for Microsoft, I was gone almost every week from June-September. We were in the midst of a major launch, I was stressed to the max, never saw my husband or friends, and I knew that something had to give! My good friend saw her family in the Philippines more than I saw my parents in OHIO! Up to that point, I always felt that I had the perfect mix of home/work life. In those last two years, I started to seriously contemplate leaving. I asked God to give me signs. He did! All signs read “it’s time to go.” I wanted to leave on a good note so I worked my tail off, had the best year of my career in terms of performance and signed off on launch day. In the meantime, I was trying to think of way I could supplement our, soon to be, one income household. I always enjoyed photography and scrapbooking, which is what led to me buying my first DSLR in 2004, and enrolling in classes at Gwinnett Tech. I spent years reading and practicing on my own. I upgraded my camera and in 2010 and enrolled in an online photography course. During this time, I took tons of pictures of friend’s kids at swim meets or football games or parties. You name it. I was the mom with the camera. Just before I left Microsoft, I talked to a friend who produces live events, and asked her if she would ever hire me to do events photography. She said yes and before I even left Microsoft, I took a week’s vacation and photographed a 15,000-attendee global convention. I studied and studied to prepare for that show. I knew I had one shot to make an impression and I wasn’t going to blow it. That global convention was the first show of many that I photographed for her company so far. This type of photography, in particular, really appeals to that technical side of my brain that drew me to Microsoft in the first place, as well as the creative side of my brain that loves beautiful images. I don’t feel like I’ve completely withdrawn from what I used to do. I love that!
Q: What are your goals? Are there specific goals you want to achieve or do you do this purely for the satisfaction it brings?
A: If I were to give a big, hairy, audacious goal (using corporate jargon from Act 1,) I would say that I want my photography business to be good enough that I can get my children through college while continuing to live on one full-time income. In addition to that, I want to continue to grow as a photographer, I want to expand my world and meet new people through photography, and I want to document our family life beautifully. I hope to pursue other personal projects that I feel passionate about whether that leads to professional opportunities or not. Photography is definitely my creative outlet and my way of keeping my toes in the technical waters.
Q: What have you learned through the process of reinventing yourself?
A: With a lot of planning and hard-earned skills, I was able to completely reinvent what I do. I learned that I wasn’t too old, and that a passion can be a profession with a lot of hard work. I learned that just because others had been doing this longer than I had and getting paid for it, didn’t mean I didn’t know what I was doing. I love learning from others, but in the course of observing, and studying others I realized that I do need to give myself some credit. I do know what I am doing even though I have only been getting paid for it for a couple of years. I should not undersell myself in that department which I had (have) a habit of doing. Sometimes it is hard to be confident when you are “new” to something again. Learn to pitch yourself humbly, yet confidently.
Q: What advice do you have for other women who are considering a change?
A: Don’t just jump. Be patient and plan. But once you have your plan, stick with it. You’ll be glad you did. One thing that my husband and I did years ago was attend the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University together. During that time, we got completely out of debt with the exception of our mortgage, made changes to our insurance, increased our retirement savings and basically got our financial house in order. This was 5-6 years before I ever considered leaving my job but this step made all the difference in the world when we were finally ready to pull the trigger.
Q: How have you dealt with obstacles or setbacks?
A: Up until now, it has been about purchasing the right equipment, gaining experience and establishing my name. I am fortunate because I’ve been able to do this slowly, over time. I didn’t leave Microsoft and immediately have a need to replace that income with my photography. I needed professional equipment and I’ve slowly added that to my arsenal. I needed experience and I will forever be grateful to the friend at Executive Visions who gave me a chance. I needed a portfolio and slowly but surely I have been given bigger and better opportunities to expand that. Now it is up to me to work my new connections, build out my social network, and get out there and do the time! I am working my way back up from ground zero but it is totally possible and worth it.
Q: Would you do it all again?
Without a doubt! Microsoft was good to me in so many ways. I was able to learn so much about technology and establish a firm foundation all while being able to work from home and raise my children. Now, with photography, I’m doing something I absolutely love and the possibilities are endless!