I left behind burnout to pursue running a dream business. And no, my story doesn't start with "I came out of the womb with a camera".
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I love reading stories about how people came to do what they do. Usually, that story isn't linear and there were so many individual things that happened in their life to lead them to where they are. Soul searching, struggle, and passion all lead to where we are. If you had asked me ten years ago whether I'd be an award-winning, international elopement photographer, I would have been very confused, since that wasn't even anywhere near the life-plan I had...not even in the universe of that plan.
My short story is that I grew up in both in the Austrian Alps and the US. I hike every chance I can. My parents eloped. My brother and his wife eloped. I eloped. I'm an introvert. And I want to make everyone out there know that they belong and that there is no "right" way to get married. And that your wedding day should be fun and true to you!
The longer story is:
I was burnt TF out. I was in my mid 30's in a career I had been working towards my entire professional life. A career I loved and dreamed of...but my priorities had changed. I was the Executive Director of a multi-million dollar arts organization working 70 hours a week...and up to 110 hours a week in the busy months. I was constantly on the road and missing my partner, our pets, and exploring the mountains. I had a reputation for taking organizations that were running in the red and turning them into profitable, strategically aligned businesses. The ego part of me felt great. A great reputation, sure...but doing that over and over and over again was exhausting.
It wasn't that I had never held a camera before. I was trained on film and actually had a short stint as a sports photographer when I got out of college alongside my arts management career (gotta pay those bills, baby!). And then I photographed my first elopement in 2015. But I didn't have a proper photography business. I just did it for fun and to make a few extra bucks here and there if the gig seemed good.
So, here we are. Picture it: it's 2019. On the verge of a pandemic (though we don't know it yet). I'm tired. I'm anxious. I'm in my first year of working with a therapist (because mental health matters!) And I'm not getting out into nature- the place I feel safe and most myself. Instead, I'm in a stale office surrounded by mostly blank walls, except for the one with all the post it notes and to-do lists.
I'd just gotten back from my own two and a half week elopement in Austria. (One day I'll write about why we chose to elope, though you can probably guess from the "short story" above. And, yes, while only one day was the actual elopement on top of our hausberg - our home mountain - we had a full two weeks to celebrate with both the European and US-Based family members who had traveled to be with us!).
Having two weeks away from my desk reminded me that what I really valued in life was time with my loved ones and exploring the natural world around me. Both of which I needed more time for.
That was the moment that I realized I needed a change. I started envisioning what my ideal life would look like. I asked myself "one year from now, what do I want my day to look like? How about my week?" And the answers were "I want to be able to get into the mountains when the weather is good on any day of the week." "I want to be able to be there for friends and family if they need me". And, "I want to help other people have an elopement experience that is absolutely true to them."
As for my ideal week in general, I knew I didn't want to let go of the fun I have running a business and working with finances. I knew that I wanted to continue consulting. Because helping businesses owners strategically align and grow their businesses get's me really excited! I just didn't want to do it 5 days a week for 8 hours a day. And I was really excited about maybe starting another business that was more on the passion side of things.
So I guess, long story short, that's what led me to becoming an elopement photographer! Because of my business background, I do think I had a leg up in creating a financially profitable photography business in that I wasn't scared to invest time and money in the early days. Things that helped me were to immediately niche down (because if I'm going to career transition, I'm going to do what I love), optimize my website for SEO, and value my time and expertise to price my services appropriately. I also knew that due to the high quality of service I was going to provide to couples, that I was only going to take on a limited number of elopements a year.
And here we are in year three! I spend my days doing a variety of things. I photograph multi-day adventure elopements in the mountains. I work with entrepreneurs to grow their own businesses. And I spend time out in the mountains just for fun. I even found time to become a licensed hiking guide and while I have no plans to start a separate business, it does add to the quality of service I provide couples.
I learned that I am happiest when I'm fulfilling all of my passions. A friend asked me recently, "what do you like better? Consulting or photographing elopements?" My answer is "both!" I honestly cannot imagine doing anything different, because my life would feel empty without one or the other. And I'm so happy that I did the scary thing to turn away from the life I had before. It's possible I'll go back one day, but for now, this feels just right.
Much love from the mountains!
And here's just a peek into what this past year adventuring in the mountains with couples has looked like!