Recently, a student of mine (I'm a prof at ITT Tech) requested permission to complete a photojournalism project as part of her final. Initially, her enthusiasm was contagious, but when she discovered the average annual photojournalist salary, she became disheartened, finding it difficult to rekindle her passion once she started envisioning fiscal limitations. I dropped this anecdote during a conversation with a Carmel photojournalist who has, admittedly, gone well above what one might consider "average" in the field of photojournalism.
"I went freelance full-time almost ten years ago, when I knew it was time to trust my instincts and follow my passion, but I know how hard it is to just go with your instincts," says Zach Dobson. Dobson works on photojournalism projects like his Personal Legend blog — his "true calling" and birthplace of his most recent portrait undertaking, the Personal Legends Project — while he maintains major clients in the commercial sector.
It's a balancing act and trusting his instincts is part of the equation for success.
"It's not about the money. I think a lot of people get hung up on the idea of making enough money immediately. But for me, it's about doing what I love. I feel if you do that, the money will follow. I did whatever it took to reach my goals, and I still do so. I always will. I always tell people this, too, and that, if you don't enjoy what you're doing, or have a real passion for it, you're not going to excel. People can tell, too, if you're not happy to be where you are," says Dobson.
It's can be a tricky, obstacle-filled path to finding one's true calling.
"I think people want a clear path," Dobson says. "I've talked about this with my wife quite a bit, too. We both read a lot about the struggles of millennials who were told if you do A, B and C — like finish high school, join NHS and do extracurricular activities — then you'll get your dream job after college graduation. But that's not exactly how it works. I do fall into the millennial category, but I can't identify with that linear path drilled into our heads. I did know, intuitively, the nine-to-five, check-in and check-out ideal, was not for me. But it's a fine choice if it works for you. But I always tell students and anyone asking me advice on a life path: If there's something else you'd rather be doing — do it."
Dobson knows what he's talking about: He has many fantastic stories, nuggets of motivation and sound personal advice for those looking for their true calling. And he practices the advice he gives, including finding inspiration in a myriad of places. His recent personal piece, a profoundly moving series of photos and blog entitled the "Personal Legend Project", began as a little idea, then moved to a big idea and then became even bigger. He will continue the project throughout June and beyond.
"I wanted to shoot 30 people in 30 days, and I wanted as few obstacles as possible when putting it out there. So much just came together as I was considering it, that I jumped right into the project. It built its own momentum around me in conversations. So when I worked with the people I knew and got referrals from them, the project evolved, he says.
"I really feel good about this project, though, like I've accomplished something bigger than I imagined," he says. I enjoy helping other people to realize their visions, but this time, with the Personal Legend Project, it was satisfying to me to showcase others' true callings — through their own words and my images. These are all candid photos. It was very important to me that I didn't stage anyone. I've received so many great responses from my subjects and their friends and colleagues and my own colleagues that I'm really grateful I followed my gut. I want to show everyone, be it my own children, or someone else's, or someone looking to find their true calling, that it is possible to go out and be your own personal legend, by just fully being yourself."