Finding my niche

Saturday February 9, 2013

What is that saying? "Jack of all trades, master of none?" That is me. After graduating from high school I did not go to college. I didn’t live at home for the last semester of my senior year and the idea of college just didn’t appeal to me. Either did the idea of shelling out way more money a year than I could comprehend. So, instead, I worked. Part time gig after part time gig trying to pay rent and have enough left over for Ramen noodles.

After high school I:

-- waited tables at three different restaurants (a 3-star American style place, a Korean/sushi joint and a collectively owned local vegetarian restaurant).

-- worked as a video store clerk tasked with returning the porn videos to the "Adults Only" room.

-- worked in a tiny food co-op both on the register and in the produce department.

-- entered data and fielded catalog orders for a local company (this was in the pre-Internet days).

-- became an assistant early childhood educator -- a fancy title for a daycare provider of 2- and 3-year-olds.

-- worked my way up to a larger food co-op where I became a "head cashier" or assistant-assistant manager.

-- ruled with an iron fist as an (actual) assistant manager in two separate retail clothing stores.

-- steamed, tagged and schmoozed at a new/used consignment shop.

I was OK at all of these things but none of them changed my life. None of these jobs made me say, "Holy cow THIS is what I should do with my life!" Instead they paid the bills. Meanwhile I quietly wrote and took photos of things that made me happy. Or sad. Or anything. I put my thoughts on paper and recorded my life with film. I never gave either hobby a second thought. They were therapy. Work was not.

I was envious of people who knew exactly what their path should be. Like they were born with a map and they just had to follow it. Meanwhile, I was born with a Choose Your Own Adventure book and each option was a little crazier than the last. When I met my husband he was just graduating high school. He knew what he wanted to do. A year later we enrolled him in school to study photography. Four years later he was hired as the photo editor of a certain unnamed newspaper. I was so proud and a little envious. I was still working a post high school string of jobs.

I never once thought I was good enough at anything to build a career off from it. With the gentle encouragement of my partner in crime (the husband) I started to explore photography further. It was hard. I lived with and was learning from one of the most naturally talented people I knew. He would critique my work and tell me it was good. I wouldn’t fully believe him. I never gave up but I never thought anything would come of it. I just loved taking photos and it was something my husband and I could do together. We started a family and discovered that I loved being a mom. We decided that I would stay home with our daughter. This was the first time I actually felt like I was doing something that I was exceptional at and that I loved. I started a blog during my pregnancy and rediscovered my love of writing. I felt like I was on the right path.

After a few years at the newspaper, we decided to quietly and unofficially open a side business. We would photograph weddings, portraits and events. And, by "we" I meant HE would photograph these things and I would do the behind the scenes business stuff. At weddings I would take on the role of second shooter but would never really anticipate my photos would turn out that well.

Much to my surprise, my photos did turn out well. Very well. People, now, have started to refer to me as a photographer, thanking ME for MY beautiful photos. My husband just recently told me that he believes that I am naturally better at photographing children than he is. I am happiest behind the camera making kids laugh while making their parents extremely happy.

I kept writing and blogging through all of this. I had no expectations that my words would ever see the light of day. I was happy to write for my two readers (my mom and my husband) but mostly I was happy to write for myself and our daughter. What I didn’t know was other people liked what I was writing. Those other people included the editor of the unnamed paper that my husband photographs for. The rest of that story is clear. You are reading the results. My words have not only seen the light of day but also the light of being held in your hands.

Some people are born knowing what they wanted to do with their life. Me? Not exactly. I have stumbled and fumbled my way to get where I am now. I would not change a single detail out of fear that the outcome would not be the same. I live without regrets and I live with the knowledge that I explored many avenues until I found the one that fit.

I am a mother, wife, writer and photographer and I can not wait to share more of my adventures with you.

Michelle Stephens is a wife, mom to a toddler, photographer, writer, the most outgoing shy person you will ever meet and a super hero in her head. She blogs at Email her at


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