I did a Business Management degree at Leeds University, and I loved it. I was a real geek, right at the front for every lecture. I wanted to do my masters after graduating, but I couldn’t get a loan. Shortly before we got our degree results, I was working behind the bar in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot in York, and got talking to a couple of guys who ran a property development company. I told them it was something I was interested in, and they ended up offering me a job. They more or less gave me free rein, and I chose to work in land buying, which I loved.
Then – this is the short version – after four years the 2009 bank crash hit and the company ended up going into administration. It coincided with my desire to travel, so I went to Australia for a year and when I came back I got a job in London back in property development but although I was incredibly lucky to get any job in that industry during that period, I hated it. The company culture wasn’t good, a few people took a dislike to me, and I felt bullied, which made me want to prove myself even more. So I pushed through it for two years but it was an uphill battle; I ended up completely miserable.
So I started therapy, and what hit me was that a large part of my identity is work; I get very closely attached to what I do, it is who I am as a person. For me to get up and do it, it has to be something I’m passionate about. My therapist asked me to go away and think about all the things I enjoyed doing, rather than just thinking about what I was qualified to do. One was photography, so I started researching it to get rid of my assumptions – like not having a photography degree meant I wouldn’t be able to work as a photographer.
In hindsight, it seems a little crazy that I made such a big decision when I felt so bad – I had a well paid job and I needed to pay the bills but ultimately I was unhappy, so I quit to become a portrait photographer. I’d never even taken a portrait! But I remember thinking that things couldn’t get any worse, and nothing is really a risk when you’re at rock bottom. If you’re OK, the opportunity cost is a job that is OK, but if you’re not OK, and it seems like nothing can get worse, then really you have nothing to lose. It’s funny how some of the best things come from the worst situations.
With anything creative, you can’t be attached to the monetary outcome: you have to do it because you love what you do. Probably 50% of my time even now isn’t paid; I do this because I want to, because I care about it. That was the big shift in my thinking – I’d chased money and status after university but when I chased it I realised it wasn’t important. As long as I have the money to cover my expenses, I’d rather work less and do what I want to do than earn lots of money and hate every day.