How I Forced Myself to Follow My Dreams

Rejecting the system and freeing myself

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

2021 was a big year for me in many ways. One of the biggest things is I finally, fully committed to chasing my dreams of either being a photographer, or a writer.

I am a huge procrastinator, and it took me forever to figure out anything that interested me. I always loved photography and writing, but never saw them as a real career option. I blame public school for making me think this way.

Public school pushes college down everyone’s throat, as if it’s the only option out there. College can be fantastic for many people, depending on what field someone is looking to go into. However; for lots of people (myself included) college is just not the way to go.

As soon as you enter your first year of high school, you’re expected to know exactly what you want to do for a living, and that’s just not reasonable.

When I went into high school I had absolutely zero idea what I was even kind of interested in. I liked history, I liked writing, and I liked taking pictures. None of those were directly linked to any career path they had set up, which was basically just STEM options.

I had no idea how to make any passion of mine into a living, and when I brought up being a writer or photographer I was just scoffed at.

After I got fed up with the way public school worked, I became homeschooled to finish out high school, and get my diploma. I had much more free time during this period of life because I worked on school at my own pace, as fast or slow as I wanted. There was more time for adventuring, being in nature, living life, and honing my photography and writing skills.

“Road in the Woods” by The Author

I was taking lots of photos at this time, however I still never saw it as a potential career. When I didn’t see it as a career, I was taking some of my best photos. Anytime I tried to force it into a career, I would take markedly worse pictures.

Same thing would always happen with any writing I did as well.

Eventually I got fed up with the ever-changing quality of my photos and writing, and just began to do nothing. I spent a couple years of my life just doing absolutely nothing. Wake up, watch tv, go to sleep, repeat. I had no life whatsoever.

2019 was a big year for me getting off my ass. I finally started to hang out with people a little more, and actually do things. I got pretty heavily back into writing poetry and songs. I also started getting back into nature and enjoyed that much much more. I still had streaks where I would seclude myself, but overall I really improved. I enjoyed getting out and going to see small little live music shows, and riding the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Then 2020 hit and I started to sink back right where I came from. I went back to seclusion, along with most of the world that year. I still wrote from time to time, but nothing crazy.

2021 was a massive bounce-back year though, and the year I learned to follow my dreams.

It began with me being depressed for the first bit of the year, eventually I realized that when I got outside, I would have a good day, and when I didn’t, I usually had a bad day. I then made a vow to myself that I’d get out every single day from that point forward and do at least something. I kept that vow for a massive streak, spanning many months. It helped drastically.

I was with friends at least once or twice a week, was back to writing a lot, but still not quite yet back into photography. Eventually I was to the best point mentally I had ever really been at. I decided maybe I was ready for a job.

I had always been very anti-establishment and swore up and down that I would hate any retail job, or restaurant job. I hated the idea of working for a big corporation, doing work for small pay while the bigwigs got to hit the bank every day. During this new mindset though, I felt optimistic. I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, and the place I had in mind was slow moving and seemed relaxed enough.

I applied for the job and was immediately accepted on. I was very excited for my first day of work as a stocker at a grocery store.

The problems began immediately.

I wouldn’t have my first payday for nearly three weeks. I was promised two days off every single week when I was offered the job, but as soon as I was hired and they went over the schedule, I was working for two weeks straight with no off days.

Once it came down to actually working — well, I can barely even remember anything that happened. My brain went into autopilot. It was pure tv static. I soon began to realize I could not care less which way the labels faced. I could not care less what the best strategy was to loading up the milk shelves the fastest way. I simply didn’t care about anything I was doing.

Quite frankly as someone who was a customer just a day before, I thought it was all a crock of crap. Nobody is going to buy a different brand of dog food just because the label on the Purina is facing the wrong way.

Still, it didn't really bother me until the end of the day. The work was starting to wind down and everyone was in the break room getting ready to go home. I got my phone out, texted a couple friends and started trying to think back on how the day went. I began to realize it was the only time in my entire life that I had felt absolutely nothing. I felt like I had accomplished nothing for myself. The day wasn’t that bad by logic, nor was it great. I just felt nothing. I was scared by that. I had spent a full day feeling nothing, experiencing nothing, and accomplishing nothing.

I went out to my car and cried like a baby. I was full of shame. I had no idea what emotion to land on to feel, but I felt awful overall. I went to McDonald’s and ordered a ton of food. I wanted to drown my feelings by eating. As soon as I got to where I was going to eat the food in my car, I took a few bites and felt like I was going to be sick. I cried my eyes out again. I had no idea why I was taking this so hard. I met up with a friend and gave him all the food I ordered and vented to him for a while. He didn't really listen or help but I can’t really blame him.

I didn’t feel like I could come home to face my parents, but I did. I began to talk stuff out and came to the conclusion I had to quit. My parents were very obviously not convinced that it was the best way to resolve the situation, but they ultimately said it was my choice to make and I called in and said that mentally I just was not able to do the job and was very very sorry.

I went into a massive slump of pure shame and depression after that. I didn't want to leave my room, I felt like a useless quitter. This was the first time I had broken my streak of going outside. I was lost for a solid few days.

One day my parents left the house and I had some alone time to think. I realized I had broken my streak of getting out and decided I wanted to take a ride. I hadn’t been driving more than probably ten minutes and it began to rain. A mist moved in and it was coming a steady rain. I rolled down my window and held my arm out. I took a deep breath of that cool, fresh air.

I finally felt free again. I sang, I cried, I yelled with joy, all as I was driving down a little backroad getting soaked with rain. As I was headed home on this backroad, I reached a certain point and saw how gorgeous it was with the fog and rain mingling. I stopped and took a photo with my phone, wishing I had my camera.

The exact photo I mentioned, taken by me

Over the next few days I began to heal back up and realize what I had to do.

My life was not going to be a good one if I had to work a job like the one I had just quit. Immediately I began getting my old camera gear back together. I bought a backpack for it, and began setting out each day looking for stuff to photograph to realign my skills.

I talked to a friend who I always go to when I need some advice about business, photography, blogging, anything really. She’s a genius when it comes to that stuff and she gave me a piece of advice I will never ever forget until the day I die:

Creating something is always better than nothing, and not, for the artist, is committing emotional suicide

That was the moment I knew I needed to really push at making a creative job for myself.

I was pushing super hard at photography, going out every day, honing my skills. Eventually I decided I really wanted to focus on birds of prey, and started zeroing in locations I could photograph them. I saw so many beautiful birds in those months.

One of my favorites I took during that time

I put tons of miles on my car just riding the same backroads trying to catch an osprey or hawk on a branch. I experienced so many awesome things while doing this. I saw river otters, went train-chasing to get train photos, saw ospreys diving in the water after fish, and herons catching food in the water at the break of dawn. It was gorgeous.

Unfortunately I began to fall into the trap of comparing my work to others. I started to look at the pros and see how much better their expensive, five plus digit rigs were at capturing hawks in flight, knowing I’d never be able to afford something like that.

I started to lose the drive again. I burnt myself out by comparing my beginner self, to pros who have been taking photos longer than I’ve been alive. I didn’t let it keep me down for long though.

I began to save money from here and there. I had a plan.

I waited until Black Friday rolled around and I made my move. I bought a MacBook Air on sale. My old laptop couldn’t run photoshop, or a web browser. Now I have the power to do both very efficiently.

I wrote down a list of things I was going to do as soon as I got my MacBook, and I got on them very fast.

Step 1: Make a COMC account to begin taking sports cards seriously

Step 2: Download and learn photoshop so I can get fully into photography

Step 3: Start a Medium blog

I am now working for myself, making no money (yet) and I am very happy doing so. Every day I go to bed feeling fulfilled, and like I made something of my day.

I have three avenues I can now explore to see which one, if not all three combined, can eventually blossom into me making a living. Maybe my dreams are a bit big, but I’m not stopping until I’m there. Quitting that stocking job kicked my ass into gear. I needed to get on making my dreams a reality, or I needed to suck it up and do a job I hate and would’ve been miserable in.

So here I am, on Medium, 1/4 of the way to being a monetized account in just a few weeks on the platform. My end goal is to make a living doing this, use this as a source to become a freelance writer, or eventually maybe end up a photographer.

The point I’m trying to make in all this rambling; is that you should never be afraid to dive in and pursue that thing you love to do. I saw that my alternative was working a drone job, and it finally gave me the fear, and the gumption to just dive in and start.

You don’t need one defined starting point, you just need to dive in headfirst and just get that start somewhere. If you’re looking for some heavenly sign on when to start trying HERE IT IS! Get out there and show the world your mind! Show everyone exactly why you’re going to be the next big musician, poet, photographer, writer, boxer, football player, ANYTHING! Just take that first step, and the rest will fall naturally.

You get one single life on earth. Live it on your own accord. Not the bosses’.

Thank you for reading and I’ll close here with just a few small things.

One is that if you are working a “drone” job like I stated, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with it, especially if it’s what you’re doing to support a family. If there is something more you want to do in life though, make sure you never abandon that passion, and keep at it.

Next is I want to link the Instagram of my very very talented and smart friend I mentioned, who gave me that little quote I used earlier. Her name is Katelyn Jenkins and she’s an insanely talented artist and graphic designer. I met her because I actually bought a zoom lens for my Nikon camera from her, and she was super nice and has given me plenty of great advice.

Finally I want to say, you’re totally free to think my job and quitting it in one day makes me an entitled gen-z or whatever. I promise it’s not like that but frankly if you can’t see the current problem with working retail and restaurant jobs right now, then you won’t understand why I couldn't work that job.

Thanks again for reading this. It was much longer than I originally anticipated it being, and is a bit different than my usual music related posts, but always nice to switch it up a bit.




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Critical Country

Critical Country

I’m Ethan, and this is my (mostly) country music blog: Critical Country | Top Writer in Country Music and Music | Contact me at