Turning Down The Dream Job I Had Always Wanted

Maybe what we think we want in some cases isn't actually what we need, what's best, or more importantly, what will fill us up and give us life.

Turning Down The Dream Job I Had Always Wanted
© Nicklaus Walter

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Continuing the story from my time in China, this is an honest and humbling account about being aware of one's true soul calling in life. I had already left the perfect office job with no shortage of comforts for a life of uncertainty, and had now begun the search for a new adventure in earnest. While still in China, I poured over LinkedIn job postings worldwide for months looking for my next vocation. At that moment in time, I had nothing left to lose and was intent on finding and securing my dream job, to be a salaried full time commercial portrait photographer.

It took an awful lot of time, but late one night I found what struck me as the dream job I had always fantasized about since first picking up a camera. It was a job posting for a permanent in-house photographer position with a bustling advertising agency. The agency itself was small, but they were clearly punching above their weight. They had a dream studio for photo and video production with massive ceilings and a ridiculous amount of gear. Their client list which included several world renowned companies was impressive to say the least. I couldn't have asked for more. This was it! I didn't think twice, and submitted my application within minutes of reading the job description.

Within an hour, I had an unexpected message in my inbox from the founder of the agency asking if I could do an interview that same evening. I was about to go to bed (for context, the agency is in Canada and I was in China at this point with a 16 hour time difference), but I would be more than willing to trade some sleep for a once in a lifetime opportunity like this. I enthusiastically agreed, and we set up a Zoom call in short order. He didn't mess around. Once we were on the call, it was immediately clear to me that he's a high performer in every aspect of his life and takes his job as agency owner incredibly seriously. I was intimidated while at the same time in admiration of what he'd built. He let me know that he had received over 100 applications within the same day that the posting had gone live, but he was impressed with my portrait work. He told me that I had something special that is difficult to teach others, my way with people had a unique energy, and it comes across in the photographs.

© Nicklaus Walter | Camera: Canon 6D | Lens: Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZE

At the same time, he also explained that I have a lot to learn in terms of product photography, but that he'd be willing to teach me in exchange for the value that I'd be bringing to the table. He then proceeded to ask me what my number is in terms of income. He was willing to hire me and wanted a guarantee of at least a two year commitment in the contract. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted a secure position as a professional photographer, working with huge companies on their ad campaigns and basically living the photographer's dream. One of the hardest aspects of professional photography is that it's most often freelance based work, but this job solved that issue outright.

Great, so where do I sign? Well there were some significant downsides that needed to be weighed:

  • The position resided in the second most expensive city in North America to live in. A city's cost of living can have a massive impact on everyday quality of life, and the last thing I wanted was for my family to be barely keeping our heads above water every month. I became a bit wary once I learned of that statistic.
  • The agency founder described the city in which they were located as an ugly Chicago (ha!), going on to explain that the city is not a beautiful or inspiring place. This is something that for better or for worse I am incredibly sensitive to. I currently live on Vancouver Island, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I'm very grateful to be here.
  • The potential for burnout was high. He would tell me about his own schedule and it was objectively relentless. I've become a big believer of consistent deep focus work in short spurts, in building unwavering daily habits, but I can't run at 110% 12 hours a day indefinitely. He was clearly cut from a different cloth and I respect him for it.
  • My name wouldn't necessarily be associated with the work, rather it would be the agency. I never imagined that something like this would bother me, but ownership has become very important to me in recent years. I need my work to be known as mine, whether it is a widespread success or not.
© Nicklaus Walter | Camera: Fujifilm X100V

It all sounded amazing on paper, but when weighing the reality of the day to day work along with what life would look like there, I knew it wasn't right in the end. This is when it finally registered that the dream job I thought I had always wanted wasn't actually the true desire of my soul, and it was a difficult realization to come to terms with. Maybe what we think we want in some cases isn't actually what we need, what's best, or more importantly, what will fill us up and give us life. My family and I have a rebuilt a good life here back on Vancouver Island. Our kids are in schools that they love, we're surrounded by stunning nature, and there's space to create, contemplate, and reflect in peace and quiet. Trust that gut feeling, it's almost always right.

If you're reading this and I sound foolish, I respect that opinion and I don't entirely disagree. Looking back, it appears that I gave up the best job I could've ever asked for. I'm still trying to make sense of it all. But now I'm building something new with Decaf Journal, and for the first time ever, this work feels completely fulfilling in my soul. I still check out that agency's work from time to time too. They ended up hiring an incredible photographer who consistently creates top tier ad campaigns. If I'm honest, I sometimes still wonder what that adventure would be like, but I'm content knowing that adventure wasn't for me.