why i've never been happier

hi friends! i decided to write a post about a topic that i get quite a few emails / instagram messages / tweets regarding each day. i wanted to be able to share this with people who are in similar situations to the one that i was once in: chasing your dreams + freelancing when you're young.

around this time a year ago -- last September, i was living in Ohio where i'd attended high school & was a couple weeks in to my first semester at Kent State University. i was working at Free People & Banana Republic & all-in-all, i was pretty miserable.

i wanted to be living out West pursuing my photography career. i knew that working retail jobs & pursuing a degree with zero motivation wasn't going to get me to where i needed to be. 


so i'm a huge connoisseur of finding cheap plane tickets, & i stumbled across a $30 round trip ticket from Cleveland to Seattle. (yes, you read that correctly: $30). it was about 9 or 10 days in advance of the flight so i just booked it; it was for a 5-day trip & i felt like i needed to head to the mountains & just get a feel for being back out West. (backstory: i grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio for the first 10 years of my life, then age 10-14 lived in a suburb of Portland, Oregon; then ages 14-19 i was back in that suburb in Ohio for high school & a semester of college.)


so that following week, i flew out to Seattle. i sent some emails to a few photographers that i wanted to meet & a few responded but were away on trips & such, but one who did reply & was down to hang out was Andrew Kearns. he spent a whole day showing me around Washington & teaching me about Lightroom & editing & shooting. he shared his insight with me about freelancing & how he was making it work for himself & it was so inspiring to me! he honestly played a huge role in me feeling that i could freelance full time. -- he is still to this day, a very good friend of mine & he is so helpful & pleasant & i appreciate him so much! 

after that week spent running around Washington, i got back to Cleveland & my mom picked me up from the airport.

at this point, i'd brought up wanting to find a way to move back out West within the next year four or five times within a couple months so i'm pretty sure she knew what i was about to say.

a few moments of silence passed before i said "mom, i have to move to Oregon. like, now." & she said something along the lines of "i know you do."

so that was that. i worked my retail jobs & finished out that semester of school, packed up my dorm the first week of December, moved all of my belongings back to my house, packed up what i could in two suitcases & flew out to Portland on January 6th.

honestly, it's about as simple as it sounds. i wasn't scared, my parents didn't oppose me; (they told me i could do whatever i wanted as long as i was paying for it.) i had a few-thousand dollars & absolutely no backup plan -- because i knew that my plan A would work.

i had my job at Free People transferred out to Portland & i worked there one or two times a week for about three months, & then had one busy stint of working for two straight weeks there, so i probably netted at about $400 from that job & in a total of three months, & then i left the job. but other than that, i've been full-time freelance since i got here. 

that probably sounds dumb, but i knew that i wouldn't be able to handle a creatively draining cashier job or any sort of job that wouldn't allow me to do what i needed to do each day. so i lived off of my savings for quite some time & lived frugally for a while.

a key point in this whole situation: when i moved out here in January, i had roughly 5,000 followers on Instagram. ten months later, i have 65,000 & grow at about 11,000 per month. then on my second instagram account, i have 20,000 followers. this has definitely played a vital role in my ability to get my freelance business off the ground. nearly all of my clients find me through instagram. i shoot engagements, weddings, senior pictures, brand commissions, photosets & then do sponsored posts & videos with all kinds of companies.

in all honesty, without those numbers, i wouldn't have been able to launch myself into making a substantial living. but in the last ten months out west, i've literally gained 80,000 followers between both accounts. this is due to collaboration with other artists & models & just flat out posting good, consistent content. also, all of the traveling that i do helps with creating new & interesting content & allows for new connections + collaborations.

since April, i've spent around 120 days traveling between Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Alaska, Utah, Arizona, Illinois, Tennessee & Ohio. i spend most of my time in Oregon & California.

i've always valued travel above most things, & have always just vowed to just make it work. if i want to go on a trip, i just do it. & it's paid off. traveling allows for so much new content creation & collaboration & new connections to be made & so many new ways to learn + grow as an individual, so i'd definitely recommend prioritizing travel.

sidenote: i recognize that one day instagram will die out & i won't have that outlet anymore. on a long term basis, i'd rather be shooting weddings & engagements anyway, where i can be advertising on any platform & growing by word of mouth. but at this point, having clients like Urban Outfitters, American Eagle Outfitters, Fossil, Panera Bread, Lens Crafters, etc. under my belt will propel me on a long-term basis & i'm super grateful for the opportunity to work with these companies while Instagram is a popular social media outlet. 

& i guess, here i am. ten months later & two days away from my 20th birthday.

i truly am overwhelmingly happy with the way my life is going. i make enough money to live comfortably, i get to wake up each morning & do what i love without limits & i get to surround myself with creative, like-minded people. i could not be more grateful for each day & each little thing that has panned out perfectly in the last year. the Lord has given me so much & i truly truly have never been so happy or felt so free in what i'm able to do. He is the only reason i'm able to accomplish anything that i do & all gifts come from Him & for that i am so thankful!