Why I Quit My Job to Pursue Creative Work

When, in 2019, Roxy and I made the decision to move to Seattle, I knew there was a chance I would have to leave my full-time job in SLC that I really liked. Of course, when we made the decision we had no idea we would be moving and getting married in the midst of a global pandemic, but I digress. 

So, to prep for the eventuality of loosing my job, I spent a year working on putting together a PHD application for the University of Washington’s English Program. Getting a PHD in English was for many years my dream. For a long time when I thought about where I would be in 20 years, it was always teaching English as a professor somewhere. But I didn’t really have a good incentive to do that when I still had student loan debt and a good paying job at a company I really liked. 

When I decided to apply I knew it was a long shot. I had taken five years off from academia and I was very locked in to a single option. Most of the time you would apply to several PHD programs and hope to get in. Seattle only has one English PHD program, and we’d made the decision to settle here for the long term. 

Nevertheless, I worked my ass off for the application. 

In the meantime, Covid happened, we moved to Seattle, and my old job didn’t see my position being remote post-pandemic. So I started job hunting, eventually getting a good job offer at a company here in Seattle. So I took it, knowing the PHD was a bit of a long shot, and wanting to be sure I had a long-term job where I could continue to build a career.

To put a long story short, I was mostly miserable in the new job from day one. The co-workers were great, but full remote onboarding, the industry I was in, and the work itself were all grueling. I very quickly realized it just wasn’t a great fit for me.

Meanwhile, for the last year I’ve been dealing with severe chronic back and hip pain. Today I’m seeing my 2nd specialist, and 5th healthcare professional overall about this (6 if you count my wife). This has been debilitating and has severely affected my mental wellbeing. For some time I wasn’t able to exercise more than about a half mile walk without extreme pain. 

So to summarize my last year, I have:

  • Moved twice, once to a brand new state
  • Planned, then replanned a wedding
  • Got married
  • Bought a house
  • Lost a job I loved due to outdated remote policies
  • Gone through an extensive job search
  • Lost a grandparent

All during an election year in the midst of a global pandemic while dealing with severe and mysterious chronic pain.

Black and white photo of a woman curled up on a coach snuggling her dog
Roxy and Hux relaxing in our new home in Seattle

This all came to a head in February. I was working 12+ hours a day, I hated the work I was doing, I couldn’t leave the house, and even if I could I could barely walk. Six months of physical therapy and my pain was worse than ever. 

Even though I was really struggling at my job, in the back of my head I was holding out hope for the PHD program, knowing that would determine what the next few years would be like.

As you can probably guess, I received the rejection email in February. It wasn’t unexpected considering my time away from academics, although I thought in Covid times maybe my chances would be better. In fact, it was the opposite, double the number of applications led to a 1% acceptance rate. 

For several reasons this is basically the end of an academic life path for me. And, without the hope of future schooling. I couldn’t go on with my job. My wife, god bless her, saw how miserable I was and told me “just quit.” 

I want to be clear I realize I’m incredibly privileged with this, as my wife’s income can support the two of us just fine, at least for now, and gives me the space to try and figure out what’s next. 

So I took a few weeks off from everything, relaxed, began seeing a new PT (which is helping), saw a specialist (who referred me to a different specialist, more to come), and stewed on what comes next. 

I still don’t really know the full answer to that. But I know that I want a more creative career path, starting with my photography. I spent many years dabbling in photography before beginning to take it more seriously in 2018. Since then I’ve worked in pretty much every kind of photography: weddings, landscape, portrait, studio work, event, street, etc.

What I’ve come to realize is what gets me excited the most—what motivates me to shoot—is anything “documentary style”. While studio and portrait work can be fun, what I really love is documenting things as they happen, using photography as a way to tell stories, both the individual frame and the sequenced project.

Chaotic scene of a wedding day as the bride's family comes together for a family portrait
The Chaos of Wedding Days

So today I’m re-launching my photography business, which has been mostly dormant during Covid (apart from a few socially distanced shoots), full-time dedicated to documentary wedding photography. I know a lot of photographers balk at the idea of doing weddings, the pressure of capturing someone’s once in a lifetime day—but I love it. Everywhere you look is decisive moments. And as someone who’s discovery of the art form really came through street photography, it has been the mode I find myself best suited for. Embedded with my camera, trying to blend in, looking for that candid shot that portrays the emotion of the day.

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