It has been almost a year since I decided leave graduate school. I realized I never really talked about what was going through my head then. Most people probably thought the transition was smooth (I’ll give you a hint – it wasn’t). From the outside looking in, I can understand how everyone might assume it was an easy choice to make. But I went from having my life planned out exactly – earn my doctorate, open a private practice, etc, etc – to having no idea what the hell I was going to do, and it was absolutely terrifying.
Throughout my life, I always had a plan. Granted, the plan changed from time to time as I got older and more realistic, but there was still always a plan. Go to college. Go to grad school. Get married. Get my dream job. It was pretty straightforward with not a lot of risk. There were definitely bumps along the way, but everything had pretty much worked out the way I had always pictured.
When I got into grad school, it was a wonderful moment. My co-workersover at AVS (hi guys!) laughed at me as I jumped for joy when I read the email, and then ran around the room not knowing what to do next. It was all a happy blur. My wonderful husband was very supportive and I started school in a state of excitement.
While I was attending, the excitement started to fade a bit. School wasgreat, and informative, and I was able to devote more time to running my business since I was no longer working full-time. But there weredifficulties (mostly financial) as well. Towards the end of the first semester, I starting having my first doubts. During the second semester I realized that I couldn’t continue if I didn’t find another way to pay for school. I would have been in debt my whole life if I had continued. I applied for every single assistantship on campus, and didn’t even get an interview for a single one. Once I heard back from the last position I had applied to (another no), I went home and told Jon (my hubby) that it was time to leave the program
I was terrified. There were so many nights during that third and final semester that I almost couldn’t breathe because I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do next. I didn’t have a full-time job (a first in a long time), I didn’t have any job prospects besides my own, barely-off-the-ground photography business, and now I was facing $60,000 in student loans, for a Master’s degree I’d probably never be able to use since I dropped out of the doctoral program.
My world was off kilter. For so long I had this image of myself, and in that one decision, it changed entirely. All the plans I had worked long and hard for, meant nothing (or at least that’s what it felt like). During the first month after I left school, I did the minimum. I didn’t have the motivation to do more. Why be motivated and make plans when they don’t matter? I applied to over 300 jobs, and heard back from two – both of which said no.
During that time, I started focusing on my business, since that’s all I had to do during the day. Applying to more jobs became depressing and I’m pretty sure I watched every show on Netflix. However, when I started focusing on my work, magical things started to happen. I became very invested in the business, and the effort showed. I began throwing myself into photography and business education. Within a month of putting in that extra effort, I booked my first wedding, and then six more. I’ll always be grateful to that first wedding (Debbie & Tom), because they gave me the push I needed. They took a risk on me, and showed me that maybe it was time to take a risk myself.
Looking back at this past year, I never could’ve guessed that this is how it would work out. I opened up a storefront studio for my own company, and (finally!) found a full-time job with an amazing firm. Taking my business full-time was a huge risk. There are still some nights when I regret leaving school to do this, because it was safer then. There are still some nights when it is hard to breathe because the bills are piling up and referrals are nonexistent. But then I get an email from a potential client, or I pack my bags for a wedding, and I remember that I wouldn’t change a thing.
So if you are thinking about taking a risk or making a change, do it. It is scary, really scary, but it is also exciting and rewarding.
Plans change. People change. It is okay. You’ll adjust and be better for it.
Thanks for reading,