Jung’s Winding Path
I worked with Jung Fitzpatrick almost 15 years ago at Idealist.org. Jung, 43, lives in San Francisco, CA. and has transitioned from running programs in the non-profit sector to being a professional photographer. She received a BA in Human Biology and an MPA.
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I split my time between pursuing my own photo shoot clients, assisting other photographers, and developing photo assisting workshops. The majority of my time is spent not shooting: responding to photo shoots and assisting inquiries, bookkeeping, marketing, other administrative tasks, and pre- and post-production.
What did you want to be when you were eight?
I’m not sure that I had a clear idea of what I wanted to “be” professionally at that age, but I enjoyed reading, making things, and getting glimpses of other lives and worlds in National Geographic magazines.
What did you learn about work that you learned from your family?
I learned that work was not necessarily a 9-5 job and that there were options to build a livelihood that created a life that worked for you rather than have a life that had to fit around work. My parents were and still are small business owners, which gave them a lot of schedule flexibility while raising my brother and I. Additionally, being their own bosses gave them the freedom to pursue multiple personal interests and income-earning opportunities at the same time. I also learned that it took hard work, strategic risk, and a certain amount of boldness to succeed.
What professional experiences/employers had the greatest impact on you?
Before I became a photographer, I worked in the nonprofit and public sectors. I started that path 20 years ago as an Americorps VISTA at FIRST 5 Mendocino (F5M) in rural northern California. My memories of serving as a volunteer for one year at F5M seemed almost magical, like everything that happened was serendipitous or meant to be. It was that extraordinary confluence of working with amazing people on an issue and initiative that felt urgent and one that I was passionate about, and being in a role that used my strengths in ways that I enjoyed.
During my term of service, I helped mobilize and launch the Children’s Healthcare Initiative to ensure affordable access to healthcare for all children in Mendocino County. This was years before Obama became president and signed the Affordable Care Act into law. F5M was part of a larger statewide campaign to insure all young children, so I was part of a movement that felt exciting and innovative, at the forefront of what we hoped other states would come to follow. At F5M I had the opportunity to work with and learn from smart and engaged individuals from across the community who were all invested in our shared vision. The most important of whom was my direct supervisor and the executive director of F5M, Anne Molgaard. Anne was the best manager I’ve ever had, and I tell her she ruined me for everyone else. She was that rare combination of being a skilled people manager, an inspiring visionary, and pragmatic and strategic community leader. Also, hella smart and funny. Anne gave me autonomy as I gained her trust and proved my merits, and also kept me on my toes and provided opportunities to grow and challenge myself.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
My first job in high school outside of helping my parents with their businesses, was an attempt at selling Cutco knives!
Why did you pivot?
I was deeply unhappy. As a young adult, I fell in love with taking pictures and after college, I had the dream of being a photographer. I was too scared to go for it at that time because I had significant student loan debt. Despite my parents being small business owners themselves, they encouraged me to follow more “tried and true” careers as either a lawyer or doctor. If not one of those two options, then something stable and with good income-earning potential. Being a photographer did not seem to fit the bill.
Instead of following my dream of photography, I channeled my desire to make the world a better place by working for various causes and nonprofits. In every organization I worked at in my first career, I was the unofficial photographer for events, promotions, and communications. And every time I was in transition between jobs, moving locations, or even pursuing a graduate degree in nonprofit management, I would have increasingly greater existential crises about continuing along that path or taking the leap into photography. By my mid-thirties, I had achieved a certain stage of my nonprofit career that felt expected and logical, but I realized that I was neither where I wanted to be with my life nor fulfilled in the way I wanted. I was good at what I did, made a decent salary, and liked my colleagues , but I could not imagine myself moving forward on that path and gaining any sort of satisfaction. I felt like there was a part of me that was dying, and I knew if I wanted to live, I had to make a big change.
What skills were portable from what you had been doing previously and what was brand new to you?
Being in business for oneself means that I wear all the hats until I can pay to delegate or outsource certain tasks. Skills that I gained from working with my parents and in various nonprofit and public sector roles, and served me well as a photographer are: bookkeeping, written and verbal communication, marketing, creative problem solving, analytical thinking, planning and organizing, time management, being a good team player, and relationship building.
What was brand new: the more technical aspects of photography, and navigating and negotiating the more subjective experience of being my own boss and a working photographer.
Technically, I learned how to: manually operate cameras - before I had always used the auto feature on my digital cameras; light a scene with available and added lighting; work with standard gear in a safe and effective manner; and use industry specific programs such as Photoshop and Capture 1 Pro. Of course, there’s much more I’ve had to pick up along the way but those are the big items that come to mind.
Professionally, I had to learn how to value my work and set boundaries as someone in business for myself. What is the best way to structure my day to day? Prioritize my time and energy? When do I take time for myself? How do I charge for my time, experience, skills, knowledge, and creativity? What type and amount of work is reasonable and acceptable to do for a client for a certain budget or timeframe? I also had to learn about intellectual property, and how to protect myself with insurance and contracts. Honestly, being in business for myself means I am constantly learning how to do things better or differently.
What was the hardest part about making a career pivot?
Overcoming the fear and self-doubt about my prospects as a photographer. And moving past what I thought I “should” be doing and achieving vs what I really wanted.
What were the most important lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
Finally pursuing my dream was really about owning it and taking responsibility for it. If I was serious about becoming a photographer, then I had to be honest about the choices I needed to make in order to move forward. I had to acknowledge and take action in the areas I needed to learn and grow as a person, as a photographer, and as my own boss.
Sharing my dream of becoming a photographer felt incredibly scary and vulnerable but being vulnerable with others was also immensely powerful and liberating. It allowed me to be authentic with others and connect with people in a deeper way.
People ask me if I’m “happier” as a photographer and for me, it’s not about being happy. Happiness comes and goes. Like any other emotion, it is not a permanent state of being. For me it’s about feeling fulfilled. Being in business for oneself is a lot of work and there are days that are tough and tasks that I prefer not to do. That said, it is my work, my business, my dream, that I am investing in with every effort I make. It is challenging and rewarding, and I feel that I have accomplished a lot in the pursuit of becoming a photographer.
Nobody really knows what they’re doing, and everybody is figuring things out in their own way. This becomes very apparent when you’re in business for yourself and there is no set formula for getting established and “making it.” You have an idea or a dream, and you just have to get started and move in a direction that makes sense at the time. There’s a lot of guessing, worrying, and trial and error. The fun part is that you also get to make those decisions and experiment sand learn and grow. And ultimately, you get to define what success looks like for and means to you.
Gratitude is key. Nobody succeeds alone. I’ve had the help of so many people: my family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and strangers. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve had along the way. Gratitude also helps me to recognize what I do have when I start to compare myself to others in the field who seem to be doing better than me (more clients, higher budgets, more jobs, the latest and greatest equipment and gear, the list goes on and on!).
My integrity as a businessperson and community member is the single most valuable asset I have. Photography is an industry in which getting work as a crew member is heavily based on your network - whom you know and who may refer you. Making a good impression is important, but more than that it’s about being a professional, showing up on time, working hard, being a good team player, and being respectful. I have been on both sides of the coin - as someone hired as a crew member on set and as the photographer hiring crew for my own shoots. Everyone wants to work with people they know, like, and trust to have each other’s back.
Burnout is real, and unfortunately not something you realize you’re experiencing until you’re already in it deep. Being a solopreneur means having an endless to-do list and infinite decisions to make on things big and small, urgent and persistent, exciting and mundane. Scheduling consistent time to do something fun and not related to work is essential to rejuvenate and maintain a sense of self beyond the sometimes all-consuming business.
What would you say to others who are doubting their ability to make a change in their career/vocation?
I empathize with the myriad emotions that someone may experience in considering a change in their career or vocation but at the end of day, are you happy in your current position or role? Do you feel fulfilled? Are you still growing and learning in ways that feel rewarding to you? If not, then consider the risk of not changing. When I quit my last salaried role to pursue photography, I had reached a point where the risk of not taking the leap to follow my dream outweighed the risk of taking it. I didn’t want to end up on my deathbed regretting the life I could have had by giving my dream a chance. I did not want my fear or self-doubt to control my decisions any longer. The desire to be a photographer had only gotten stronger over time in spite of the fear and self-doubt, and ironically, because the fear and self-doubt had won for so long, they had also grown stronger. I also told myself that even if I didn’t remain a photographer, I would have succeeded just by taking the leap and having challenged myself to do the scary thing. I knew I was going to grow and learn from the experience.
Don’t let your doubt win. Life is too short to live with fear or the questions of “what if?” and we only get one shot at living this one life. If nothing else, your life will expand in ways that you could not have imagined by allowing yourself to pursue a different path. It has for me.
Where did you get the confidence and support to make such a change?
I was working with a dating coach who took a holistic approach. She helped me understand that to be open to and attract more fulfilling romantic relationships, I had to be more vulnerable and authentic with myself and others. I had to start making decisions in every aspect of my life - not just related to dating, but also how I spent my time and energy - that aligned with what I really wanted even if they were scary, instead of the decisions that felt safe and responsible. My family and close friends were very supportive as they had known for years of my yearning to pursue photography. I had also finally paid off my student loans and had been able to save up some money, which was a tremendous financial relief for me.
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your professional life?
Continuing to work for an employer who had unrealistic expectations about my performance given my professional experience. I had just started the role and was not given the chance to prove myself. I also didn’t feel like I was in a position financially to quit and look for another job, so I stuck it out.
What, if anything, are you hoping happens next in your professional life?
Well, having spoken so much about my current and second career as a photographer, I am actually expanding into another field of business. I have spent 2022 with one foot in photography and the other in the world of dog training. I feel lucky and grateful to have pursued a dream that felt so impossible for so long, and I hope to continue making beautiful images for myself and others. I also enjoy teaching and helping others succeed, which is why I’ve developed and run photo assisting workshops. I am passionate about empowering others who are getting started in the industry with the business acumen necessary to thrive as working creatives. In particular, I love supporting women/nonbinary, immigrants, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA individuals, and am partnering with local businesses to sponsor students in my workshops.
My passion for teaching and helping others carries into other areas of my life, which is why I’m learning how to coach people with training their dogs. I’m a big animal lover and have volunteered at the SF SPCA for years. I see learning to work with dogs and their guardians as an opportunity to diversify my revenue generation, especially in changing economic environments, by doing something else I love.
What social media links, if any, might you like to share in the piece?
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/jungfitzpatrick/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/jungfitzpatrick/