I was raised in the culture of “you can be whatever you want when you grow up” — which seems to be the bane of every millennial’s existence. Until recently, I don’t think I fully understood that statement. Some take it to extremes and think that even if your IQ is 50, as long as you try hard enough you can be president — if you want it badly enough. Some, like me, thought it was meant to say that everything in life is a choice and you have the freedom to be president since gender and race inequality are supposedly a thing of the past and we live in the “richest country in the world”; read: opportunities to be whatever you want. Here is a twist though — what if it means that you can literally wake up one day and be something you weren’t the day before? What if speaking it into the universe makes it so?
One of the things I have learned along my 5-year journey to truly become a professional artist is that “faking it til you make it” is a real thing, and it’s a lesson I couldn’t seem to keep down until this past month, when it basically bitch-slapped me back into reality. I experienced a few months of success in 2011 — my work was published in a calendar, I was quoted by the Wall Street Journal, had my first art show and sold my first print. The thing that got me to that point and through the workload of getting my work show-ready was the fact that I was calling myself a “Photographer” with a straight face for the first time ever. I had never ever before recognized or labeled myself with the title of “Photographer.” I had always referred to myself as someone who just “does” photography as a hobby, never anything with a real title. When the pace of my success came to a grinding halt, I also stopped referring to myself as such — maybe I wasn’t worthy of the title, maybe it’s because I got distracted and stopped creating. I honestly don’t know why and I didn’t realize I even did that until I really looked back on that time in my life.
I tell you this because after my car accident in September, being unable to work, people would ask me what I do and replying back with “self-employed” never ever cut it. What do I do? I finally got sick of humming and hawing and started telling people straight out — “I’m a photographer.” I felt like I was telling a white lie because sure I might be an amateur photographer, but I have yet to really achieve success and recognition. It didn’t hit me until I was driving up to Apple Hill to meet up with my friends that there just HAD to be a reason for this accident. Things like this don’t just happen to good people for no reason, and yes I am- unapologetically — one of those “everything happens for a reason” people. As I was hitting my favorite part of the drive up, where you can see over the entire Sacramento Valley, it dawned on me — what if this happened to push me into really BEING a photographer? I’ve been saying I’m one, and I love and practice photography. Why am I not a photographer in my own head? What the hell is the difference between saying I am one and being one at this point? What if this accident was a reminder that I need to quit wasting my precious creative juices on work and refocus them onto walking the walk. I quit my job 6 months ago for a reason — to be more creative, and here I was working like a dog to make money and fund someone else’s dream, screw that. It’s time to be a Photographer, “capital P.” What’s really stopping me from calling myself and being one? Success? If I can succeed with just a few months of work and half the effort like in 2011, why not go for broke and really live out my creative dreams?
By the time I got to Apple Hill it sunk in — I am a photographer. I AM a Photographer. That is what I do. I am a Photographer, and I run my own blog and YouTube channel — and that is what I shall do. I’m so done living other people’s dreams. I want to live mine now and there truly is no time like the present and I can’t afford to keep being reminded by the universe. I can’t afford another physically painful message from the powers that be telling me to stop wasting my time on fruitless efforts.
You can be whatever you want, when you grow up.
This is me growing up. I am grown up, and I am a Photographer. It’s finally time, and thank God, because 29 years is way too long for me to just finally “get it.”
Valerie Figueroa, Photographer
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