Dig Up Your Buried Ambitions…and Turn Them Into an Income
The stench of large-scale death. The New York Times. The catalyst that changed my path in life.
Those are the three memories I always recall when my mind drifts to San Salvador, October 1986.
I mentioned in a recent column that I enrolled at Louisiana State University (LSU) with the notion of becoming a photojournalist. That was the mid-80s. Overt and covert wars were raging through Central America and the Middle East and I idolized the photographers on the ground snapping Pulitzer-winning pictures and photo essays. So, when the earthquake hit El Salvador’s capital in October 1986, I parachuted in with a camera bag, $125 in cash, and, literally, nothing else, not even a hotel room (I slept on a couch in the lobby of the Camino Real Intercontinental).
The stench of large-scale death…no words exist. The New York Times quoted me, a 20-year-old American in an LSU baseball cap in San Salvador to chronicle the destruction for his college newspaper. The catalyst…occurred back at school, where a journalism professor saw my photos and the small story I wrote and told me to drop photography and go for writing. And I did.
But across the intervening decades, photography never left my DNA…
I think you know where this story’s going, because you can probably relate. You had this dream when you were younger, but life steered you down a different path. Yet, that dream never really died. It just hibernated somewhere in your brain. And then one day you’re 30 years older and you realize the dream has reawakened…and it’s hungry.
Doesn’t matter what the dream is. Photography. Owning a bakery. Returning to school to become an architect. One of my colleagues recently sent me an email from a woman who’s a travel writer and who had posted on her Facebook page an old picture of herself as editor of her high school newspaper with the comment: “It’s so funny how after many years of a nursing career, I’m returning to something I really loved. You never know what tomorrow brings, right?”
All those dreams all of us collectively have shelved over the last few decades—dreams we thought we’d never earn money pursuing; dreams we abandoned because they seemed too unrealistic or time-consuming—well, retirement today is our chance to awaken them again.
The best part: We are alive at a point when the rise of technology has made pursuing those dreams—even earning income off those dreams—easier than at any other time in history.
You already know from past columns that I grew up with retired grandparents. So, I know exactly what retirement looked like in the 1970s and early 1980s for middle-class America. My grandfather fished a few times a month and puttered around his large vegetable garden. He and my grandmother played bridge with friends every other Friday night. That was, to a large degree, their retirement.
Me? I cannot imagine that retirement lifestyle. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, just that with the technology we have today, the entire world opens up to us, literally. We can rekindle those hibernating dreams and legitimately believe we might find a bit of success, even if it’s small.
Though I still flit around the world as a professional writer—a life I love and will continue pursuing as long as possible—I’m actively turning my sights yet again to photography. I’ve noted in the recent past that I am going through the Great Escape Publishing photography course because I want to see if I can create a secondary stream of income with my camera skills. Maybe I will…or maybe that ultimately goes nowhere for me, financially.
But that’s sort of beside the point.
Because the fact that matters is simply that my dream is actually a viable option these days, rather than fuel for silent regret that gnaws at me later in life. When my grandparents retired, I cannot imagine much chance existed for someone in his 50s or 60s to suddenly decide, “Hey—I want to make money taking pictures.”
I mean, where would you go? The local newspaper? Solicit some regional magazines and hope for freelance work here and there? Maybe send pictures to a small, stock photo agency on the slim chance they sign you as a client late in life?
Today…there’s a smorgasbord of opportunity.
Freelance websites connect you to photo buyers all over the world who need content for everything from marketing copy to travel stories. Online agencies need a supply of pictures to feed demand. You could even specialize in a particular style of photography and launch your own photography blog, from where you sell your photos globally…or you could market your pictures through an Instagram account, collecting tens of thousands, maybe even millions of followers, who could click through to your personal storefront to buy photographs from you.
Seriously, you’re limited now only by personal ambition. You’re certainly not limited by age. Online no one cares (or even knows) if you’re a 20-year-old prodigy or a 70-year-old retiree pursuing a long-dormant fantasy.
So awaken those hibernating dreams. Or, if they’re already awake, start feeding them.
After all, nowadays you’ll find opportunity in excess—it’s up to you to grab it.
Written by Jeff D. Opdyke