How I left my day job and got hired to shoot for Sports Illustrated

Filed in: Lifestyle

If you’ve ever left a “day job” to live your dream of being a professional creative, then you know what it’s like to have fear and a twinge of regret lingering in your heart for days on end.

You KNOW the fears!

The fear of being homeless, of falling flat on your face, being forced to go back to the job that kept you feeling uninspired and miserable.

If you know me, you may know I was once grinding it out as a public school teacher for ten years in a windowless, basement office. The day I left, I was worried that maybe (just maybe!) my grand plans weren’t going to work out. When I put in my notice, the thought definitely crossed my mind: “Could I really go without this regular paycheck? This is scary and uncomfortable. Like, seriously!”

So I signed up to be a substitute teacher.

What happened next? I ended up subbing a total of ONE DAY in the fall of 2013. Then I booked a job with Sports Illustrated Magazine and there was no looking back. Yeehaw!

The Sports Illustrated gig seemingly fell into my lap, but I’m intimately familiar with the years of hard work and turmoil that allowed me to get to this place. One of the greatest things that’s brought me such rapid growth in my business is taking the plunge and going for opportunities before I’m absolutely ready for them. So many of us hold back because we believe that we’ll fall short, or that we’re missing the fundamental tools to make us successful in achieving our dreams.

When the opportunity to shoot for Sports Illustrated presented itself (just weeks from when I was planning to leave my day job as a school teacher), I didn’t hesitate. Meeting in New York City? Done. I already had my plane tickets booked for a trip out to the East Coast in just a few weeks. The stars were aligned! Even though my heart was beating fast in my chest, I replied to that email within minutes.

I had never put together a professional portfolio before. I had no idea what to do. But still, I pulled together some of my most incredible, emotive work and printed it on gorgeous fine art matte paper. I walked into that New York City high rise meeting a few weeks later with the confidence of a seasoned professional. Because heck yeah, I knew exactly what I was doing (not).

I was hired to serve as lead photo assistant for an editorial in Park City, Utah of hopeful athletes for the upcoming Winter Olympics. The job description? Studio lighting, fake snow, tearing plexiglass. I was completely, entirely, wholeheartedly lost. I was a film photographer of natural light! How was I supposed to make this studio situation come to life? Still, I walked onto that set (after binging hours of YouTube tutorials on artificial light) as if I were the foremost expert in Utah on flashes, umbrellas, and bulbs.

At the end of the day, the work we made was so kickass that Sports Illustrated couldn’t decide which covers to run, so this particular issue had FOUR limited edition covers that were seen around the world. Seriously, what a dream!

A few months ago, I got a message from the school district to see if I could come in and substitute teach for two days that week. For eight hours of subbing hell, the district would pay ninety-four dollars.

What’s my rate for marketing and mentoring? I charge $950 an hour! And I charge $1000 an hour for my photography work.

After what felt like climbing up a mountain for the past six years, I finally stopped and took a moment to turn around and admire the view before me.


It took so much to get to this point and there’s an even greater road ahead, but that email reminded me just how far I’ve come and the gratitude exploded.

This whole “self love and confidence game” doesn’t always feel like a game, does it? Sometimes loving yourself, your superpowers, and the work you share with the world can feel like a battle. Self doubt, worry, and shame got injected into our teenage brains like a bad virus that we can’t shake. Holding ourselves back. Worrying if we are good enough. Struggling to break free of what the world told us we could be. Sometimes we have a metaphorical hammer to smash that self doubt to pieces and have a dance party. Other times, it can feel like we’re stuck inside an ice block with only a toothpick to chisel our way out.

Baring your soul is hard, but playing it safe is harder. This one’s for all the vulnerable and brave people out there. To all of you who throw out the excuses and live in your glory. To all of you who know without a doubt your own brilliance and decide not to hide it any longer. To all of you who are determined to risk more than ever before so that the dreams of your life can become reality. Your bravery, your courage, and your love, is the catalyst for living the life of your design. Now let’s get after it!

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