Why It’s Okay To Pursue Multiple Career Paths
Hi! I’m Haruka, founder of The Denizen Co. I wanted to pop in and introduce myself to our new readers, and also write about a topic that I have finally come to terms with after many years of self doubt. Today, I want to talk to you about why it’s okay to pursue multiple career paths and embrace your multiplicity as an individual.
From “Studio” to Studio Sets
I started web design in 2013 during my college years as – frankly – a way to escape a horrible waitressing job. But I immediately fell in love with it, and spent many coffee-fueled evenings taking night classes at a nearby tech school to learn basic design software. Back then, my “studio” consisted of me (usually in pajamas) and a laptop in a small apartment in Vancouver.
Throughout college, I took on freelance design work to support myself. During my senior year, I applied for an in-house graphic design position at a start-up women’s magazine and moved to New York. I anticipated working blissfully alone behind a computer in a lofty Manhattan office everyday; instead, I was out coordinating photoshoots and working on studio sets to create imagery for the magazine’s increasing digital content. Somewhere between hauling gallon canisters of coffee across Manhattan and dragging suitcases full of clothes to the next photo studio, I fell in love with photography.
Picking Up the Camera
I bought my first DSLR off eBay and started taking photos of my friends during the weekends. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert who was terrified of talking to strangers, taking portraits provided a pretext for having meaningful conversations and forming intimate connections with people. After a few years of taking portraits and posting them on my blog – which was gradually becoming a confusing jumble of glossy design content and gritty, dramatic portraits – I mustered up the courage to attend my first photography workshop. There, I met talented photographers and mentors who inspired me to start my first documentary portrait project, 1945. After a few years of working on this project while supporting myself through design work, I had the opportunity to pitch the project to a few dream editors. In 2016, the project was featured on my top choice publication.
When the article came out, I thought, “That’s it. I can finally make a living as a photographer.” Alas, that was not the case. To be fair, I was given wonderful opportunities to meet my photography heroes and shoot for my dream publications after the article was published. But even after a few years of working as a “professional” photographer, I was unable to pay the bills. In fact, most of my income was still coming from design work.
As my peers were getting consistent assignments and shooting A1 pages, I became increasingly ashamed of my dual career as a web designer and photographer. I was convinced that I was not dedicated enough because I didn’t have the courage to let go of financial security and throw 100% of myself into a single craft. I was convinced that all of my photography heroes had “done their time”; that all artists had to live in a state of deprivation to create meaningful work. I was convinced that wanting a comfortable life made me less of an artist, and being a web designer made me less of a photographer.
A Master of None
I spent the next few years keeping my design and photography careers painstakingly separate. I made sure to curate my conversations with designers and photographers in fear of being taken less seriously. I never mentioned the fact that I was pursuing multiple careers fearing that clients and editors would assume that I was less qualified for a job or a non-committal person. Despite all the uplifting people that I had the privilege of meeting during these years, I was mired in self doubt and constantly felt a vague sense of inferiority around my peers.
That gave way to change when I shot with a young woman named Mae for a portrait project that I was working on, who also happened to be an aspiring entrepreneur. “I have this idea,” she told me giddily as she posed, and proceeded to tell me about a savvy business idea that would supplement her income while she raised her newborn son on her own. Over the next few months after our photo shoot, we created a branding system and built a website together for her business. That particular photoshoot helped me discover that design and photography were different sides of the same coin – both were powerful tools to dignify others.
The Studio Is Born
Not long after that, I officially established The Denizen Co. and invested my savings into opening a studio in Long Island City to serve as a design and photography studio for emerging entrepreneurs. Today, I have the opportunity to meet both photographers and design clients on a regular basis to help coordinate and build out their next project. I have the opportunity to work with intrepid entrepreneurs like Mae who are eager to live out their dreams and provide a comfortable life for their family. After six years of carefully rewriting job titles and feeling inadequate in both fields, I finally learned that it’s okay to pursue multiple career paths and embrace my multiplicity as both a web designer and photographer.
In the US, we romanticize the notion of the starving artist, the idea of an individual with an all-encompassing love for a single pursuit. We define success as a single trajectory, measured by the amount of time we sacrifice for work. But we also live in a society where 94% of net employment growth is attributed to the freelance economy, and the lack of full-time job positions leaves less of us able to rely on a single income source to provide for our families. As terms like “multi-passionate entrepreneur” and “multi-potentialite” grow increasingly relevant in our generation, it may also be a good time to revisit our idea of “success,” which – let’s face it – was likely coined by a white-haired man in a board room in the 1950s.
For those of you who are torn between multiple career paths, for those of you who are feeling inadequate because your career path isn’t as conventional as you’d hoped – I want you to know that passion isn’t a zero sum game. While some find joy and fulfillment in throwing themselves into a single pursuit, others find joy and balance when they can live comfortably and provide for the ones they love. I may look blissed out in this photo, but in reality, I wasted many years of my life agonizing over an outdated notion of success. Don’t be me. Let’s redefine this “success” thing together.