On a regular basis at work, I read stories about mass layoffs at newspapers around the country and how the industry is flailing. Then, after a few rounds of layoffs in my own news room and feeling the pinch of other corporate cost-cutting measures, I couldn't help but wonder what if.
At this point in my life, I honestly can't afford to go back to school -- financially and time-wise. I can barely balance all I'm doing now. There's no way another degree is possible.
So I started brainstorming what other options I have. I love my job. I love newspapers. I don't want to sit behind any desk at any building just to earn a paycheck.
Part of the reason I chose journalism is for the challenge. The other part is for the creativity and love of the written word. When I moved from reporting into editing and page design, it was like I found my calling. The work of making the stories fit in an attractive and informative and mistake-free manner all by a nightly deadline makes my pulse flow.
I wondered how I could continue doing that while supplementing my income and still be responsible for Allison during the day. Something that would give me creative freedom and provide a little bit of a backup plan in case the unthinkable happens.
It seemed like a tall order. And I drew a massive blank.
Then, while I was trying to jot down my thoughts and encountered a particularly gripping bout of writer's block, my computer sat idle long enough that my screensaver popped on. As I sat there admiring all of the pictures I've taken over the past few years, it hit me.
I could take photos.
Even voicing my idea to Jerry was difficult. I'm not professionally trained. I'm friends with and work with professionals. I wondered and worried about what they would think.
On the other hand, I just have a feel for it. My background in design helps me understand composition, balance and color. I find joy in it. I take pride in the photos I've taken of Allison. I believe in myself. And I know I can capture moments that other families will cherish for generations.
Jerry knew it too and responded more positively than I ever could've dreamed.
Then I mentioned my idea to my mom -- the woman who has always been my biggest supporter but doesn't let that stop her from giving me a huge dose of reality when I need it.
Instead of trying to talk me out of it, which I had expected, she encouraged me.
But because my ideas were too big too fast, I swore them both to secrecy.
Since then, I sprung into action. Every spare minute of every day has been spent brainstorming. My mom put me in contact with a portrait photographer from my hometown, and he has been my business startup angel.
Scott helped me figure out which equipment to purchase and gave me some invaluable advice that I can't possibly express my gratitude for.
Fortunately, I had a small account that I've been saving for a rainy day. I opened it with my mom as co-signer when I was probably 12. I haven't added to it in more than a decade, but I refused to take any out either. I promised myself that I would only use it in an emergency or as an investment.
And what's better than investing in myself?
After cleaning out my workspace, painting and buying minimal office furniture, I felt ready to take it to the next level.
I asked my mom to withdraw a couple thousand dollars, and I purchased two 800-watt lights with flash bulbs; a remote trigger; stands with umbrellas; two gigantic black and white backdrops and a bar to hold them; a laptop, which will soon have all the software a photographer dreams of; and, best of all, an amazing new Nikon D-90 camera.
Then the weirdest thing happened. My overwhelming excitement turned to nerves. Here I am trying to find something that will help my family by boosting my income, and I just spent my emergency savings. I wondered what the hell I was doing.
But when my equipment arrived, my courage came back threefold. I wasn't just excited, I was ready.
I still have an overwhelming amount of tasks to accomplish before I can call my work a business, but I'm getting closer. Right now I'm practicing on family and friends to build a portfolio and eventually set up a website. I'm going to concentrate on children and see where it takes me. I've already been asked to do an engagement session and some belly shots, so who knows, I may end up dabbling in a variety of portraits.
For now, I'm only allowing myself to think three steps ahead. Any more than that and I don't sleep. I have a hard enough time when I'm thinking of the immediate goals as it is.
But it feels good.
I have no immediate expectations other than having fun, giving away a ton of free sessions and eventually setting rates.
In the back of my mind, I have two bits of advice that keep me motivated.
One from a wonderful friend: "Rachel Ray is self-taught, and look at her."
And another from someone who does this for a living: "Starting a business is like raising a baby. You have to put a lot in before it can give back to you."
So when I have a temporary panic attack, I think, "Rachel Ray, baby!"
I can do this.