“Can I take my break?” I asked, covered in frothed milk, ground coffee beans sticking to my forearm. I wasn’t a natural born barista, that’s for sure. The shift manager peered at me over the espresso machine, his eyes darting to my friends in the corner. “Make it quick, we’re busy” he said. There wasn’t anyone in the shop.
I untied and bunched up my apron, tossing in the corner next to the swinging brown door that led to the cafe’s seating area. Julie and Tracey were there, waiting with smiles.
“We’re taking Julie to Noosa!” said Tracey, beaming with the big honest smile I’d learn to associate with her name. Inside I was bursting with excitement tinged with regret. I would have loved to join them but I had nine hours left on my shift. Outside the sun was beaming off the ocean, I could see it from the patio outside the cafe, just out of reach. I smelled like rancid milk.
Two days prior I’d taken a step in my sort-of-business that I hadn’t before, investing in a workshop with Julie Paisley during her visit to Brisbane. At this stage in my business I was Sabra Creative, I photographed pets, weddings, shop fronts and real estate. I worked a few hours a week as a barista, and freelance as a graphic designer. I took a few days off every couple of months to shoot weddings at Hayman Island to help out Lisa, and really thought maybe, one day, I could do this photography thing for real.
I left the workshop a new person. I met with likeminded women, found new motivation and, most importantly, the realization that I could make photography work as a full-time business. It was absolutely life-changing for me. After moving to Australia, I held a whole heap of jobs to either keep my visa or keep up with rent. Bartending, strawberry picking, freelance writing for the Noosa Journal. I was ready to leave it behind – all of it, but what a risky move to start a photography business full time. I needed a push.
Actually, I needed more than a push. I needed a few condescending words from my shift manager while I was visiting with my new friends, aching to join them on their Noosa adventure.
“Time’s up,” Wide eyes and lifted brows. “I need you to mop the floors. Rotate the milk. Find something to do.” Only five minutes had passed, I still had 25 minutes before I was due to return. There still wasn’t one single customer in the shop – I’d managed the line and drinks by myself while the shift manager chatted to his girlfriend. Two of my coworkers were sitting on chairs in the back office texting friends. My blood boiled.
I said my goodbyes to Julie and Tracey, heart pumping double time, hands shaking, face hot. Looping the apron back over my head I walked in to the back office and sat at the computer desk. Pushing the keyboard to the side I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and wrote down my two weeks’ notice. No more.
From that day, I was a full-time photographer. My calendar and inbox were empty but I filled the spaces with motivation I’d gathered in the weeks prior. I was going to make it work, because if I didn’t, I’d find myself in that unhappy place doing something that didn’t bring me joy and some days even filled me with dread. Life is too short for that shit.
January 29, 2013: My first day as a full-time photogapher.
I thank Julie for hosting that workshop, and Adam for trusting me to spend money we didn’t have to attend it. I thank Lisa for letting me shoot for her at Hayman Island and gather a little portfolio of work. I thank the employers (some, not all) who abused my kind nature and took advantage of my eagerness and abilities. To be fair, I’d also like to thank the employers who encouraged me to pursue my photography, even if in a backward way such as when my cafe manager asked what I was doing pouring bad lattes when I should be pursuing my journalism career.
When I quit, I wrote a card to Julie and her husband Matt recently messaged a photo of it to me on Instagram. It reminded me of the big leap I took and now, in month leading up to our move back to Australia to start form scratch with our photography business once again, I’m reminded that anything is possible.