Going Full Time: Year 3

In November of 2018, I left my full time job to pursue photography full time. I wrote monthly for the first 2 years what I had learned from the previous month. Now I write yearly on this “going full time” thread. This is year 3. 

It seemed a little like a novelty at first. Spring break was extended, our fridge was packed from a single trip to the grocery store that was to cover us for at least two weeks, and all my photography jobs had been canceled. That last bit might have been more terrifying if had I still been shooting weddings, but there was nothing on my calendar that couldn’t be rescheduled for three weeks later. It started out as a calm, unexpected break while everything blew over.

When April came around, I started to feel the tension. We were firmly planted indoors, so photography was off the table, and no one seemed to be in the mindset of buying art prints off my new Etsy shop, so it seemed I was destined to wander around aimlessly until I was able to start booking photography again. I was just over a year into my full time journey so I didn’t have the luxury of taking months off at a time. What was there to pivot to?

A couple weeks into April, Etsy sent an email to all of their shops saying, “If you have the ability to make masks, we need you to.” I turned to Raffi and asked, “Do you know how to sew?” To my surprise, he said yes. We borrowed a sewing machine and bought  a spool of thread and one yard of fabric from a local shop. I photographed our masks, listed them on Etsy, and watched them sell out within an hour. We decided maybe we should go with three yards of fabric.

Over the next four months, we upgraded to 5 yards, then a full bolt, then five bolts. Day after day, our masks sold out until we started listing masks that weren’t yet ready but would be soon and we watched those sell out as well. My days were spent sitting on the sofa, ironing straps, and re-watching every Marvel movie, then every Harry Potter movie, then every episode of Doctor Who. At night, Raffi and I would cut fabric for the next day and we’d start in the next morning.

More than  a few times during those months, I looked around and decided it was very close to what I wanted. Not necessarily the part with the straps at the ironing board, or the being locked indoors, or of course, the global pandemic, but orders were coming in and I didn’t have to post to Instagram. Orders were coming in and I didn’t have to attend networking events while trying to look cool in a panama hat. I didn’t have to post a single photo of myself to social media. I could watch movies, take mid-day naps, pause to run around the block with my son, re-arrange my pantry on a whim, and occasionally turn up the volume on my phone to see our sales number for the day climb steadily to a higher number than the day before.

When I first left my day job in 2018, my goal was to be a Jose Villa; a celebrity wedding photographer shooting million dollar events on film. My goal was to be boarding a flight to my 5th wedding of the year in Italy while being hailed by Vogue magazine as the greatest wedding photographer of all time. I used to love imagining this picture. The truth though? That’s not me. On so many levels, that’s not me. From finding and managing a big team, to figuring out how to work in other countries, to traveling to those other countries and being away from home, to investing in climbing to a level that would allow me to even have a portfolio that would book those types of weddings, the list goes on and on.

Me? I’m at home. I’m picking citrus off the tree in my backyard to make lemonade. I’m reading by the fireplace. I’m on TikTok learning about gardening, on Skillshare learning how to draw, planning dinner, driving two towns over to visit a friend, laying on my mom’s bed talking about books and writing until I fall asleep.  That’s me.

So why didn’t I plan a business that would accommodate that picture of life where I’m happiest? Shouldn’t we be doing that instead? Working backwards? Shouldn’t I have thought long and hard about what I wanted my day to day to look like and then built a business where that could happen? Do we all just struggle, knee deep in worry about what is and isn’t impressive to others while we make ourselves miserable trying to have a life that we don’t even want?

Going Full Time Denise Karis Photography

In this small business world, we hear a lot that success is something that is defined on a personal level, but we never hear more details about what that means and what that looks like.

In August, I stood at my stove trying out a new risotto recipe. Taylor Swift played on Spotify and every ten or so minutes, the reassuring chime of an online sale rang through the kitchen and I thought, “This is what it looks like.”

As expected, masks sales didn’t last, but that picture of success was solidified in my mind. Every decision of 2021 was made with that picture as the goal. Our shop expanded to include stickers, key tags, art prints, and enamel pins, all inspired by local landmarks. We joined new pop up events and made our way into a dozen stores around the valley. We know what’s next, and what’s after-next. When we worked backwards, starting with the end, the steps to get there laid themselves out. While Click Bloom has officially taken over as our main business, photography is still going strong and serving us well.

I wish I had this vision back in 2018, maybe I’d be farther along with it by now, but the story is a good one and that matters quite a lot to me. After all, who wants to read a story about a girl who tried and immediately got everything she ever wanted?

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris

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