Following That Gut Instinct

gut instinct

There’s nothing quite as depressing as the sound of silence in a cubicle.

The incessant buzzing of the air conditioner and the relentless squeaking of a run-down office chair fills the air, broken only by the telltale sound of an employee attempting to surreptitiously remove the Ceran wrap from his late lunch. Fingers scurry across keyboards, mouses click, and chipper voices answer phones with that identical artificially caring voice they’ve used for the last 10 years. I sit in the back, as close to the only window as possible, undaunted by the measly view it provides. The sight of the adjacent building, just two feet away, is the only connection I have to the outside world.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my nightmare.

I have decided that an office is the ultimate prison; one designed to keep its prisoners willingly confined, brainwashed by the sight of the strategically placed metaphorical carrot just inches beyond their grasp. I feel as if I have signed a contract without reading the fine print, ushered ahead to the next important benefit while passing over the sacrifices needed to reach said benefit. Even the fluorescent lights above flicker to remind me of the task at hand, like the most effective of prison guards; jarring and emotionless.

I stare at the computer screen before me and click my pen against my teeth, the scent of Windex and carpet hanging in the air. This is not my computer. This is not my desk. This is Patty’s desk, and hers is the bar to which all following cubicles will be measured. Her functional knick-knacks confuse me, and I feel even more out of place. A container of goo meant to make fingers sticky (for turning pages) and a bottle of Germ-ex sit directly next to the keyboard. I do not own a bottle of Germ-ex. I welcome the dirt and grime of the natural world. Oh how I long for the touch of grass…

Next to a colorful array of pens (the likely only allowed form of creativity or self-expression), is a palm tree post-it note container, symbolizing the relaxing beach she has probably desperately been saving her vacation days for.  She has months’ worth of vacation days saved up, yet her planner hangs on the cork-board to the right, rows of assignments filling it: typing, filing, interviewing, typing, staffing. Is this what my life will soon become? Am the next generation of Patty’s?

But the most disheartening trinket of all is the digital calendar on her computer that displays a different “inspirational phrase” daily.

Today’s? “Smile. I like your sense of humor.” Great, a computer is telling me it likes my sense of humor. I have already discovered that no one in this particular job likes my sense of humor, so it’s ironic that a computer would have that opinion. Rather, I think it’s mocking me. Mocking my lack of humor and instead exposing my dutiful, uninspiring appropriateness that has replaced it. Within two weeks my wit has given way to internal cynicism. I used to be funny.

My stare is broken by the flicker of the fluorescent prison guard. Back to work. Deep breaths…


That was me, just 4 years ago.

No, I’m serious – that’s an actual snippet from an old blog post dated August of 2011. While there is nothing wrong with working in an office, it wasn’t for me, and I was definitely not doing well.

Sitting in the office of my first counselor job straight after completing my Master’s, I was on the edge of a complete breakdown. I cried all the time. Once, while driving around on a random Tuesday, we passed an enormous house and my husband casually said, “Woah, I wish we lived there!” I replied with, “I wish it was Friday,” and burst into tears. Sometimes it didn’t even take a trigger; I’d just sit in the bedroom, stare at a pair of “professional work shoes” and cry.

I didn’t last long. Within 3 weeks I was fired for following a code of ethics that apparently my employer didn’t share with the rest of the mental health profession. I came home, told my husband the news and he and our friend Bill took me out for a game of golf (I drove the cart through a fence) and a night of never-ending beer and buffalo wings, which, as it turns out, is the perfect cure for that ‘just getting fired’ feeling.

The next day, I told my husband I was changing careers. I told him I needed to do something creative for a living or there was a chance I may just collapse in on myself like a dying star. He agreed.

I had no idea what I wanted to do though, so I made a list. I wrote down every single creative job I could think of…and I mean everything. I listed actor, musician, painter, cartoonist, interior designer, dancer, filmmaker, and about a bajillion other possible jobs. I narrowed it down based on location (I wasn’t moving), required education (I couldn’t afford to go back to school) and required physical development (it was a little late to start a career as a professional ballet dancer). I was left with a list of 3 options: writer, photographer and cake decorator. On a whim, I chose photographer.

I didn’t even own a camera.

Rachel 10

Cue the unrelenting skepticism. People thought I had snapped. They thought I was going through a phase. I had been accepted into medical school and was set to attend in the spring – giving up an opportunity like that was nothing short of insane, they said. My husband was the only person who had my back at all times, while others just pretended none of this was happening. Friends asked when I’d be leaving for med school. Family mentioned when they heard of a new counselor position opening up. I was mocked constantly and openly. According to general consensus, I had just made the worst career decision of all time.

But wait…why am I telling you all of this?

Because today, I paid off my student loans.

Today, I paid off $40,000 in student loans that I acquired pursuing degree programs everyone told me would lead to a financially stable and satisfying career, all with money I made from a career everyone told me was the equivalent of financial suicide.

I spent $40k to guarantee myself a “real job” then paid it off with money made from a “hobby”.

Suck it, haters.

To be completely honest, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time fantasizing about how I would celebrate when this day came. Perhaps I’d buy a plane ticket to a faraway beach and sit under an umbrella while someone brought me a never-ending supply of margaritas, or better yet maybe I’d take a trip down to the Billings animal shelter and spend the day adopting every single pet in the mothafuckin’ place. Who knows, maybe I’d run through the streets of Billings shouting, “NO STUDENT LOANS, BITCHES!” all while throwing dollar bills in the air behind me…and then later going back to retrieve them of course because let’s be honest, I still need those and I’m not in a music video.

But now that this day is finally here, all I want to do is write about it. All I want is to let you know that if you’re in a similar situation I was in 4 years ago, where you feel completely trapped, depressed and utterly terrified at the idea of starting over, there is a way out.


We have these struggles in every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s a career move or a bad relationship, there are always changes we avoid making even when our gut is telling us, indisputably, that something is wrong. We’re terrified of all that time and effort (or in my case, 6 years and $40,000) being for nothing. It’s not easy, but there comes a point where you either make the decision to keep pouring in resources to a dead cause, or cut your losses and head in a new direction. Remember, time and effort already spent is not an indicator of time and effort to be sacrificed in the future.

Regardless of all the embarrassment and fear that comes with putting yourself out there, sooner or later all of it passes and all you’re left with are the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. Each day is an opportunity to take a small step in a new direction. If you’re unhappy, change something. Good things don’t come to those that wait; good things come to those that know what they want and work their asses off to get it.

Four years ago I was at the bottom of a massively large financial hole, stuck in a career path I had chosen to pursue, and scared stiff of the embarrassment I would face knowing I’d have to explain my decision to do a complete career 180. And just last week, I was finishing up a shoot at Flathead Lake, and someone mentioned having to go to work the next day and I thought to myself, “I am at work. This is my job. I’m getting paid to be here, right now, sitting in the sunshine on the shoreline of one of the most beautiful places in Montana. This is what I do for a living.”

“This is my life now.”


For any of you out there on your path to photography, I made something just for you. Something I really, really wish had been there when I first started. 

And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE for more posts like this, and follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well! 🙂



  1. Reply


    August 5, 2015

    Boy did this one ring so true! In June of this year, my company gave 150+ of us exactly 8 days notice they were closing the site and we would all then be officially unemployed. (2 weeks later they filed bankruptcy!)

    Since then I have been struggling to NOT simply start over doing what I’ve always done. I worked far too long inside the sterility of a corporate building and the requisite cubicle. I need to do exactly what you did – make a very detailed list of everything that appeals to me and then narrow it down – and go for it.

    Thank you for sharing a personal experience that shows it can be done.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      Wow, that’s so crazy! It’s so difficult not to do what we’ve always done – that familiarity is a security blanket. Best of luck to you though – I hope you find a way to come out on top :).

  2. Reply


    August 5, 2015

    Stop, just stop! Are you sitting behind me or something. I needed this. Im laying in bed at the moment unable to sleep because im worried that im not good enough. Worried that by pursuing something creative (completely different from what I went to uni for) Im being silly…. yet its always been there deep down…. following your gut cant be wrong, right?

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      That’s the same way I felt! I actually had a friend that was majoring in Music and minoring in Photography, and I remember feeling so jealous and couldn’t figure out why. It’s because my gut was screaming at me “THAT’S WHAT YOU SHOULD BE MAJORING IN!!!!”

  3. Reply


    August 5, 2015

    I LOVE this quote:

    “I narrowed it down based on location (I wasn’t moving), required education (I couldn’t afford to go back to school) and required physical development (it was a little late to start a career as a professional ballet dancer). I was left with a list of 3 options: writer, photographer and cake decorator. On a whim, I chose photographer.”

    That’s so freaking insane and so awesome. I’m reflecting myself on the day I chose to do something different and I am inspired by the awesome artists around me who are making it work 🙂

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      That’s awesome Kylie. It really was a strange decision for me. I showed my husband the list, showed him I had chosen photography, and he just said, “Ok, now what?” and I was like, “I have no idea.” It all worked out though! 😀

  4. Reply

    Phil Lambert

    August 5, 2015

    I too am a photographer, mainly sports, I have contracts with a few media outlets and have been branching out. Photography has been my second career for some time now and I have been told that if I would drop the other gig and just concentrate on living thru the lens that I would be successful. Fact of the matter is, I am already at the point where I get called for jobs rather than struggling, like in the past, to beg for work. I think I would have soooo much more time to concentrate on my craft and do what I truly love.

    It’s that scary moment of stepping into the unknown I think, but a risk never taken is nothing gained I suspect.

    Thanks for always keeping your posts solid and down to earth.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      That’s a great thing to be at that point. I was working as a blogger/social media marketer for companies while I was learning photography, and I remember the day I sent in my last article to my last client…it was so scary. To know I was now completely supporting myself on photography alone was terrifying! But it was also very freeing to know I didn’t have to split my attention between one thing and another. Everything took a step up after that day.

      Best of luck to you and I hope you keep climbing that photo ladder!!

  5. Reply

    Nickie Abshire

    August 5, 2015

    Wow, Jenna. My story is so similar to yours except I’m at the beginning of the journey, staring at my $40k in student loans and wondering if I can make this crazy photography thing work. I’m always inspired by your blog posts, but this one especially gives me hope that success is possible.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      I’m glad to hear it Nickie! I remember very vividly looking at student loan bills and thinking, “Is it crazy for me to buy a camera right now?” But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. We spent a lot of years living on potatoes and pasta, but it finally paid off in the end. Nothing like calling the student loan center and when they ask, “Would you like to make a payment?” Answering them with, “I’d like to PAY IT ALL OFF!” You’ll get there – just take one step at a time and you’ll get there!

  6. Reply


    August 5, 2015

    I wish I could do the same thing you have done.

    Do you have any thoughts for a 38 y.o. single guy with a mortgage living in the Netherlands where everyone thinks that photographs are for free, because most hobby photographers do it for free. There is no way I can quit my job and live in my house half a year from now without being backrupt, it’s not like I have a spouse that has an income to finance the mortgage and something to eat. Last year I had only about a handfull of paying shoots since 80% of the inquiries I get tell me that I am too expensive (and I just charge a 100 bucks for a family portret shoot, which take me at least 2 hours in total and after taxes leaves met with just 40 bucks earned).

    If you have any thoughts, I would really like to hear them.

    P.S. I really love the photographs you make.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      You’re actually in the same boat as many of the photographers here in Billings, MT. And I get it – my husband is a baseball coach, so if I don’t make an income, our mortgage is definitely not getting paid.

      There will always be hobbyists shooting for free, especially as the price of awesome cameras steadily drops. Any 16 year old can get a decent camera at a yard sale, spend a couple hours on YouTube and take decent enough pictures to get by.

      You need to find what sets you apart and market that like crazy. It doesn’t even have to be your photos – it can be your personality, or your specific niche. Plus, if you price yourself at $100 for a family shoot, you’re only going to get people that are interested in bartering. People don’t barter when a shoot is priced at $2000. They know there is a reason it is worth that much, even if they can’t see it. If they can’t afford it, they move on, but they definitely don’t barter. My advice would be to really take a look at your portfolio and see what you want to shoot, cull it down to only the best photos, raise your prices (include packages, with options like albums and canvases), and make sure your online presence (website, social media accounts, email marketing list) is dead on. Then get creative with your marketing.

      Something I used to do when shooting family photos, for example, is contact any local real estate agents that were selling the highest priced properties in the area. I would give them a little card that said, “Congrats on your new home! As a welcome to the neighborhood, I’ve arranged for a free family photo session with Jenna Martin Photography. It’s all taken care of, so enjoy your photoshoot and get some new family photos on the walls to decorate your new home!” The real estate agent would hand this card out to buyers after they purchased a home through them. It made them look good and it sent clients my way. Buyers would come to me, they got the session for free (and usually something like 2 prints or 1 canvas print), and then the rest of the photos they’d have to pay for if they wanted them. My prices were pretty high, but I knew they could pay them because they had just bought a home for $500K. It gave me instant client contacts to people that were well-equipped to pay. Plus, they soon because friends with others in their neighborhood (all in a similar price range), and they’d refer to me also.

      You can do this. Find what makes you unique and sell the crap out of it!

  7. Reply

    Rebecca Colunga

    August 5, 2015

    I can’t decide if my favorite part was “Suck it, haters!” or “…spend the day adopting every single pet in the motherfuckin’ place!” I laughed so hard…I can totally relate to this more than I can ever put into words! Pure motherfuckin’ inspiration!!!! LOVE…Thanks for the real reminder!!! I’m so glad I clicked on this today!!! Thanks for sharing!!!! Maybe someday soon I’ll quit selling my soul to the devil and make my real job my real passion!!! 😉

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      Haha thank you Rebecca!! Ha the dream will always be to adopt out the animal shelter – and hey I’ve got a first step in that direction! Glad you clicked today, your comment made my day!! 😀

  8. Reply

    August 5, 2015

    Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Your work and your journey are so inspiring! All the best to you for your continued success.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      Thank you Cheryl!

  9. Reply

    Leyla Dwelle

    August 5, 2015

    Jenna!! As always, your blog posts hit home with me. Thank you so much for sharing. I found myself making that same jump and since Im still so new in the photography world, I am still getting the looks, the questions, the “why didnt you go work for what you went to college for?” routine. Thank you again, this just fuels me. I can’t wait to run through the streets of Bismarck and yell NO MORE STUDENT LOANS, BITCHES, because that IS something I would do!! I just came through Billings on our way to the Oregon coast, I should have tried to look you up for a coffee. Maybe I will make the 6.5 hour drive someday and we can meet up!! Anyhow, thanks for being you dude.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      Ha you should’ve looked me up!! And 6.5 hours really isn’t that far for people like us that live in these huge states – that’s barely a day drive ;).

      I’m glad you liked my article. I remember those questions so much. I’m not sure why people have such a hard time understanding that what we went to college for is not necessarily what we want to do for the rest of our lives. Sometimes people change their minds! Or sometimes, like with me, what we went to school for turns out to be NOTHING like what we thought it would be in our heads. I wasn’t helping people with counseling like I thought I’d be, I was just filling out insurance paperwork. It was awful!

      Thanks for hanging out as always! 😀

  10. Reply


    August 5, 2015

    only four years , nice . you went a long way.

    • Reply

      August 5, 2015

      Thanks Filip! 😀

  11. Reply

    The Snap Shot Siren

    August 5, 2015

    You are amazing. Photography, philosophy on life, courage to start a new career from scratch and based of creative passion. Your work is gorgeous and I admire your courage to venture out the way you did.

  12. Reply


    August 6, 2015

    Love this 🙂 perfect words!!

  13. Reply


    August 8, 2015

    You rock Jenna. You are such an inspiration. I am not in an office, but I AM a square peg in a round hole. I have stepped into the creative world as a photographer and I hope it takes me to places far removed from the place I am in. Thanks for your blog. It made my day. I would really love to her more about your journey, and I really hope to see you teach that creative live class.

    • Reply

      August 15, 2015

      Thanks Janice! I hope to teach it too someday :). It’s so tough being in your position. I hope your new photography world takes you far away from the place you’re in too – best of luck to you! And thank you for taking the time to comment, it’s made my day!

  14. Reply


    August 22, 2015

    I just want to say THANK YOU for writing this. I’m finishing a PhD and in these years I’ve realized I don’t fit in academia at all. It’s not what I thought it would be, and all the excitement and motivation I had at the beginning is completely gone as I feel my work is meaningless. I just can’t picture myself doing this in 10 years, but at the same time giving up scares me so much. It took me a lot of effort getting here, but as you say “Remember, time and effort already spent is not an indicator of time and effort to be sacrificed in the future”. You can’t even imagine how much your story has helped me, thank you so, so much!!

    • Reply

      August 23, 2015

      Oh thank you Teresa! I know it’s difficult to switch to a different path, especially after putting in all that effort! A PhD is an amazing accomplishment, but it can also feel suffocating. You need to follow your gut and decide what’s right for you right now, at this exact time in your life. Best of luck to you!! 😀

  15. Reply

    Nucky Dana

    August 25, 2015

    Still thinking you’re truly and inspiration. I’ve studied psychology and I realized I don’t wanna work at it, being wandering around (both working and living) on different places and I am still not sure about what my career path will be. I’d love it to be if not all of it, part of it related with photography (and most of my time I am thinking I am starting now (27 feeling so old for career changes LOL), I’ve no idea of what I am doing and I am lacking the talent a lot)

    It is good to know stories like yours. Hardworking people who just followed their guts and succeed. Life doesn’t have to be planned and settled on your 20s, and there’s always time to change.

    Thanks Jenna, hope you keep rocking it, one piece of art at a time.

    • Reply

      October 11, 2015

      You’re so awesome Nucky :). Thank you so much for stopping by!!

  16. Reply


    August 26, 2015

    Phew! Haven’t you realised you’re too young to be that wise? I am really happy you came to that point of no return that made you take the best decision of your life. It’s taken almost 50 years to me to reach that point and I try not to think about it much or I feel stupid and wasted. Bravo, Jenna! You are such an inspiration. ¡Bien por ti!

    • Reply

      October 11, 2015

      Thank you Esther! I think we all have things we put off for the majority of our lives. We just have to choose what we’re willing to compromise and what we absolutely can’t live without :).

  17. Reply


    October 24, 2015

    That’s awesome Kylie. It really was a strange decision for me. I showed my husband the list, showed him I had chosen photography, and he just said, “Ok, now what?” and I was like, “I have no idea.” It all worked out though! ?
    Behind every good woman, is a good man. This one sounds like he is worth hanging on to, because he is there for you.

    • Reply

      October 27, 2015

      Thank you! He is definitely worth hanging onto :). And it sounds like you’ve got a winner too! Love that you just took the risk as well 🙂

  18. Reply


    November 12, 2015

    When looking for an underwater backdrop what should I look for? Is there a certain fabric or fabric size I should get?

    • Reply

      December 3, 2015

      Hi Gabrielle! Really anything could work! I get my muslin backdrops off ebay, and then sew them together. I get them for about $50, nothing crazy. But you can make a backdrop out of anything! Just test before hand to see if it stays together. I made one out of book pages and it completely disintegrated under the water :/.

  19. Reply

    Lauren Cox

    May 26, 2016

    Thank you! I definitely needed to read this right now. 🙂

  20. Reply


    July 15, 2016

    This one touched me deep, I also have a degree in mental health/social services, which I’ve never been able to fully enjoy (although I love working with people). It felt like you 2011 blog post was talking about me.

    If it wasn’t due to my current financial situation (after 9 months unemployed), I would drop everything and start this from 0. I want to do photography so bad. One day…


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.