Happy Anniversary Nashville: My Story of 5 Years in Music City

Exactly 5 years ago today, I walked across the stage to receive my Bachelor of Arts diploma from Hardin-Simmons University and packed up my entire life the next day to move 842 miles from Abilene, TX to Nashville, TN. It was the bravest and most frightening thing I’d ever done — until I recently quit my two retail and food service jobs to become a full-time freelance photographer.

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I know many people didn’t understand (and still don’t) why I wanted to uproot myself from the great life I had in Texas. Allow me to explain:

Growing up in Texas was amazing, I loved everything about it — except for the fact that before online stores became an option we had to drive an hour and a half to Lubbock for any “decent” shopping. I was born in Amarillo and my family moved to Canyon, a quick 15 minute drive away, when I was 10 and my brother and I both graduated from high school there. It’s exactly how you would imagine a small town in Texas to be. Everyone knows your name (and everything else about you) and you can’t go to Wal-Mart without seeing at least 3 people you know every single time. My girlfriends and I went to EVERY football game together and half of us lived next door to a pasture of horses or cows. It’s a wonderful place and it will always be special to me, just as going to college in Abilene will be as well. My best memories from college were with my roommates, my church, competing on the cross-country team, and working at the Starbucks in town. Yes, there was only ONE Starbucks in the entire town until a few years after I started working there. Then there were TWO! It was a really big deal, like front page of the newspaper worthy…

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I’m proud of where I come from, and it’s true that you can never take Texas out of the girl, no matter how far she moves away. To tell you the truth though — I had to get out of there. For me, it was necessary and maybe even vital to leave in order to find myself. My “theme song” my senior year of high school was Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson:

I’ll spread my wings
And I’ll learn how to fly
Though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye
I gotta take a risk
Take a chance
Make a change
And breakaway
Out of the darkness and into the sun
But I won’t forget the place I come from
I gotta take a risk
Take a chance
Make a change
And breakaway, breakaway, breakaway

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I always knew, even from a very young age that in my heart I’m a wanderer, a gypsy, an explorer. I treasure my family and my friendships and I will always have a home, but I will always want to travel and experience new places. Some people can stay in the same town their entire life and never leave, and they are perfectly happy because it was exactly what they wanted all along. In some ways, I envy those people because their roots are allowed to grow very deep. Sometimes though, I think people can be too afraid to leave what is comfortable and take a big risk that could change their lives forever. The idea of change can be terrifying, but maybe acting on those little tugs at your heart to try something new could be the very thing that opens doors for God to pour out His blessings on your life. Please don’t hear me wrong, God is more than willing and able to pour out His blessings in any situation that He chooses, but sometimes taking a risk makes you available for even more. Risking is a form of trusting a reckless abandon, and that’s exactly why I came to Nashville.

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The summer before I graduated college I had no idea what I was going to do after I finished my degree. Then one night I had a dream about moving into a new house that had many different rooms (choices). I was allowed to pick any room that I wanted! The one I almost picked to be my bedroom was huge and beautiful — exactly what you would expect anyone to pick given the choice. I learned later that the room represented my life in Abilene. It would have been a really great place to stay and it was what everyone (even myself) expected me to choose. My first instinct was to pick that room, followed by hesitation as I was led into the next room. It looked really small and difficult to fit everything and be comfortable in, but I was drawn to it. Something about it felt right and inviting, so I chose it. When it was time to move in, as I was organizing the room I found a door that I didn’t notice before. I opened it and on the other side was a balcony and steps that led to this vast wilderness and rolling hills that seemed to have no end. I realized that none of the other rooms had doors that accessed this endless playground, it was my own private backyard and God was inviting me to take an adventure with Him! I woke up crying with butterflies in my belly because I knew exactly what it meant, I had prayed those exact words to Him just a few months before. “God, take me on an adventure with you.” Ask and you will receive!

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The last 5 years have indeed been an adventure. Both good things and bad things have happened. I’ve been blessed and I’ve been disappointed, I’ve succeeded and failed, and I’ve felt every frustration that’s knocked at my door as a young-unmarried Christian-white-female living alone in a big city. Let me tell you, it is not easy even in 2014 to be a woman in the media industry. Every time I’m out working at a sports event or concert and I see another woman with a camera (especially younger girls) I get really excited and proud of them for braving the storm. Before I became a photographer, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in audio engineering. Moving to Nashville made me realize that I’m just not cut out for the competition here. It’s not that I can’t do it, I can do it well and I’ve continued to run sound for fun and in a safe environment (my church) — but I didn’t want to become an overly aggressive, pushy woman and I started to notice is what it takes sometimes to get most of the men in the music industry to even notice that you know what you’re doing because you’re a girl. (Note: there are some awesome women engineers that are successful and not overly aggressive or pushy, that’s just kind of become a stereotype.) Most women in the music industry are songwriters, artists/musicians, publishers, or administrative assistants. Not all, but most. On the contrary, I’ve met some very encouraging audio guys (including my very talented boyfriend!) during my journey who have supported me very well and I’ve worked with the youth group at my church running sound for several years now. I just recently stepped down from that position to begin the process of freeing up my schedule completely for photography. All of this to say that sometimes your dreams change and begin to look different that they started out and that’s OK! I don’t look at it as failing, I look at it as a change of heart. I want it to always be something that I enjoy, and for me, I think that making it my career would have taken all of the fun out of it. I don’t doubt that I’ll always love audio and it will stay a part of my life somehow, but I sure won’t be working the FOH at an arena anytime in the near future!

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What all of this really comes down to is that I’ve learned that I was always a jack of all trades and master of none. I’ve never really been able to stick to anything and devote all of my time to it because I enjoy doing so many different things. I’ve been an athlete, a musician, a poet, an audio engineer, a barista, a graphic designer, a photographer — I even took nursing classes in high school! Eventually my head started to say to my heart, “Good gosh woman, just pick something!!” I knew that it was God nudging me to choose something to focus on because it’s His heart for us to be effective voices and positive influences in our world, not by striving, but by just being who we were made to be and doing things with excellence for Him. I’ve never actually felt what it’s like to REALLY be good at something because I never took the time to stick with anything long-term (I’ve taken piano, guitar, AND drums lessons). Creative people just have so many ideas and things we want to try, but our bodies can’t keep up with our hearts and minds and we start to feel like we aren’t accomplishing anything because we jump from idea to idea without finishing half of what we’ve started. Sometimes it’s just an illusion but sometimes it’s true! I was a great student until high school and college when I became just kind of average because there was so much going on and so many things to do. It’s at that age that hundreds of options become available to you and there’s so much pressure for kids to choose something and stick to it so that you can become great at it. Looking back, it seemed like there was hardly any time to explore the options and find what I really loved and was good at before I had to choose a college and pick a major and then BAM! the real world was staring me in the face. Hence the reason that I’m nearly 28 years old and only a year ago I decided what I wanted to be “when I grow up.”

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It was just last year that I finally made the choice to pursue photography as a profession. I think I can trace it back to my mission trip to Jamaica that I went on as a youth leader in the summer of 2013. I took my camera with me and it got ruined in the rain while were out on a hike. The downpour soaked through my backpack, through my camera bag and even the inside of the camera had water in it. My lens survived somehow, but my beloved Canon Rebel handed down to me from my parents was completely destroyed — and I was devastated. It wasn’t so much the loss of the camera that I was so upset about, but it was the pictures that I knew I couldn’t take for the rest of the trip — the potential moments that I knew I couldn’t capture and take home with me. Photography had been a hobby of mine since college, but this was the moment I realized how important it really was to me. You’d have thought my dog died or something with how mopey I was the rest of that day. It wasn’t THAT big of a deal because if you know me, our dog is like the third child of the family. So, I’m saying that somewhat lightly to give you an idea of how ridiculously upset I was. I realize now that the way I reacted wasn’t a very adult way to respond, but I’ve grown up a little since then. I understand now that God was teaching me a new way of trusting Him and helping me learn how to be present in the moment without the comfort of my camera. I don’t think I would have been able to connect as much with the students and the Jamaican people (who are AMAZING) if I had been so focused on taking pictures the whole time. He was preparing me for this new lifestyle that I would eventually choose, and the way to survive it is to remain teachable and flexible and dependent on Him, not my camera. I had to learn when it’s appropriate to take pictures of anything an everything, and when it’s time to just put it down and FEEL life, not just observe it. Sometimes, you need to just sit there and stare in awe at the Grand Canyon to feel its majesty without a lens between you and God’s creation. Then there are other times you need that lens to be able to create a photograph to the share the story and feeling with those who can’t be there to experience it. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s one of my favorite things every single day. There is a happy ending, or rather, a happy beginning. The students in my youth group donated money to help me buy a new camera and I was completely undone by their kindness. When I bought that camera and I clicked the shutter for the first time on my Canon 60D, the result was a perfectly exposed heart ready for the next f-stop in my journey. (Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist that analogy, hehe.) My next step was becoming a member of PPA (Professional Photographers of America) and attending their Imaging USA conference last January which was a huge milestone in my career. It was the first time that I felt like I was really doing it, like I’m actually a professional photographer. “This is real??” That’s what I’ve been thinking for the last year. Every time a new opportunity comes up I get so excited because I know that it’s something I’ve worked really hard for, but that I’m also blessed with because there are a thousand others trying to do the same thing. It’s mostly about showing up and working hard because a lot of people don’t do that. I’m actually on time and sometimes even early for things now, which is something that NEVER used to happen with me. Yes, I used to be that kind of person. I apologize if I’ve ever flaked out on you, it was probably because I didn’t have my stuff together and didn’t really know what I was doing with my life, which makes every decision a crisis for creative-type people, causing us to become overwhelmed very easily and then just choose to curl up in our bed with a blanket and hide because we can’t make a decision without thinking about it for at least 2 days. Then there are times we make a spur of the moment decision and quit our jobs or fly to Europe tomorrow, or something drastic like that. What can I say? I’m sorry, we’re just weird. Anyway…

Speaking of quitting jobs, two months ago I quick working at Starbucks and started to forge full steam ahead with my freelance career. BEST DECISION EVER.

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So far, I’ve had many different types of photography gigs, ranging from school yearbook portraits, to assisting weddings, to sports photography, to Pinterest how-to articles, to Greek life composites, and a hodgepodge of many other styles, but I’m starting to focus in on sports and entertainment photography and photojournalism. I’ve literally become obsessed with photography. I read about it all the time, and I talk about it all the time — almost everything I do has something to do with it. I’m even studying and working toward a certificate degree with an online school. The support that I’ve been given has been UNBELIEVABLE. It’s nothing like what I felt when I was trying to do audio stuff. It’s almost like everyone else sees and has known all along that this was what I’m meant to do and I’ve felt nothing but encouragement from friends and even strangers. I’ve come REALLY far in just a year, but I know I still have so much to learn and a long way to go. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve learned everything. The industry is changing so fast and it’s a huge challenge to keep up with the current gear and trends. I greatly admire the people who have been photographers in the last 20-30 years, like my granddad. He’s taken some amazing photos and I hope I’ve inherited some of that talent! Some of my other heroes are Annie Leibovitz, Neal Preston, Jeremy Cowart, and Scott Kelby, just to name a few. Before digital you really had to know your stuff and be exceptionally good to have any kind of access to a good camera or a darkroom and it’s not as popular of a career as it is now, probably because it was so much harder before digital photography became mainstream. I imagine it took a great deal of patience and attention to detail, something that is going out style as quickly as photos can be uploaded to Instagram. The digital age has changed everything and made it really easy to be a photographer, which is both good and bad. There’s a lot more competition out there and it’s really hard to set yourself apart and get noticed because there is an endless amount of content out there and an increasingly large number of people who are losing respect for and knowledge of the art and science of photography. One of my goals is to become a well-rounded photographer and experienced in every field because the days of having a specialty are slowly dying in my opinion. This is where my previous lifestyle as a “jack of all trades” might come in handy someday because everyone in the media world wants to hire someone who can turn five jobs into one. God help us all…10421619_10101928066741080_2712475589076619422_n   29706_401422175269_669806_n

So, thank you for reading if you even got this far — you are celebrating with me the anniversary of being on this amazing adventure in Nashville for the last 5 years and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve been part of some really incredible things and met some amazing people living in this crazy city. I wouldn’t be able to do the same things anywhere else and experience life the way that I have while I’ve been here. Jason Aldean is right, it is a “Crazytown full of neon dreams, everybody plays and everybody sings.” Some call it a 5 year town, a city of broken dreams and heartbreak when you don’t “make it” — but they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a forever town and a city where dreams DO come true, but it looks different for every person. For every barista, bartender, and server I’ve ever worked with here who has dreams (even the non-musicians) — I believe in you, and Nashville believes in you. She invited you here for a reason, for a purpose. Don’t give up, don’t let her down, and don’t let yourself down because she is alive and well because YOU are here! Sometimes it take 5 months, sometimes 5 years, some people move back to their hometown, and some people stay here forever, or maybe they’ve never left. But, the beautiful thing about Nashville is that she is a unique city, set apart, where people come to dream and create and influence. She’s a diamond in the rough and I couldn’t be prouder to live here in Music City.

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