Last Friday I had the unique opportunity to speak with Ellie Berry. Who is she? She's 21, owns a three-year-old wedding photography biz, and just this year has launched a new organization highlighting young creative entrepreneurs called Unfolding Passions. Ellie and I "met" through Twitter. (Yes, I just gave in and started an account and can I say I am a little obsessed?) What interested me so much about her is her desire to lift others up. You know how self-promoting social media can be, right? Ellie honestly wants to build a community and support others.
Our conversation centered around how young people can confidently pursue their passions even in the face of traditional expectations. As someone who completed high school with no plans to go to college but instead jump head first into her own business, she had the following tips for students who are toying with the idea of pursuing their own creative endeavors as a career:
1. Pay attention to your passions and own them!
There's this notion out there that you won't know what your passions are until you are older. Ellie said that she believes the truth is that young people probably know what you're interested in but may not be paying attention to them. You may see these things as hobbies and not necessarily career prospects. Her advice? Define these passions and explore how others have integrated them into their own professional lives. These things might be different from what your peers are doing, but trust that's what makes your path your own.
2. Try it out early.
Ellie first started her photography business at age 15, shooting family portraits. This allowed her to test out the field without totally committing to it. She was able to build up a portfolio and learn at the same time without the stakes being so high. Her tip: find a way to pursue what you're interested in before you have to decide whether to focus all your attention on it. In the same way you intern in a field before applying for a job, apprentice, volunteer, or do it on your own. Just get your feet wet.
3. Try not to get distracted by the big picture.
As much as we want to nail down what our futures look like, the truth is that they're going to change. Sometimes this can feel totally overwhelming. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you compare yourself to others who have been in the field longer than you. Ellie suggests focusing on one thing at a time and not fearing change. She started wedding photography in the DC market and found it wasn't really her thing. She could have defined this as a failure. But instead she decided to move to Oklahoma and is now working with couples and events that are much more aligned with her style. Learning and growing is part of the process, but it's also what makes you feel so BOSS when you succeed.
4. Define what success looks like to you.
Success is such a loaded word. Often equated with money, success can mean so much more. You need to take stock of what your priorities are. Is it money? Is it a flexible schedule? Is it the ability to travel the world while making a living? Once you decide what success looks like to you, you can track whether you're meeting your goals. Ellie urges young creatives not to take anyone else's definition of success as their own. This requires a whole lot of soul-searching but will keep you engaged and fulfilled for the long run.
5. Don't go at it alone.
The one common thread that Ellie found when interviewing other young creative entrepreneurs for her book, Unfolding Passions, was the desire for a community. Working for yourself can be isolating! Although you have the freedom to set your own schedule and goals, you're often working behind a computer without co-workers to keep your day moving. She suggests getting connected with others in virtual communities as well as in person. It's so important to have daily reminders that you aren't alone in your struggles and that people believe in your mission. They're out there. Youjust have to put in the work to find and nurture these relationships.
I had so much fun jamming out with Ellie and talking shop. It's so nice to hear from another small business owner who cares a lot about young people pursuing their dreams. What's next for Ellie? She's running a kickstarter campaign to fund her new book. Please join me in supporting her book and the creative entrepreneurs whose stories she has highlighted so beautifully.