The number one question I get asked in this business is whether I went to school for photography. I always laugh a bit because when I started college, I had just a teeny tiny passion for photography that I had no idea would turn into a business… so I never really considered majoring in it! As a freshman, my priorities were about finding what it was I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. Because I had no idea what that was, I studied book after book and read dozens of articles (and took a few silly online quizzes too if I’m being honest) about how to choose your major. In the end, I decided on business (which George Mason called “Management”) because it seemed like one of the most versatile degrees I could get. I didn’t want to lock myself into anything, but I also wanted to study something that would be beneficial to me and my future. By the end of freshman year, I had no idea I would be a wedding photographer, but I was excited to get my business degree and learn all about the corporate world.
Now, I should include that I would have gotten my college degree whether I had a business or not. It was never even a question for me whether or not to finish school because I grew up believing that college was just something every “wise” person did. That sounds a little harsh, but that’s what I was taught and grew up believing to be true. If you wanted to make good decisions for your future, you went to college. Of course, I questioned this. I heard about people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who dropped out of college and went on to become billionaires. While I was in school, I questioned every single day whether it had any value at all! It was only in hindsight that I really began to fully realize just how valuable my degree is for me and my business, even if I’m not “using” it at a full time job in the way many people think it has to be used to have value and be “worth it.”
For one, being backed by formal education has truly helped me build instant credibility with my clients. When you are young and just getting started in your business venture, being able to say you went to business school can be a way of showing that you really are taking your business (and your clients’ investments!) seriously. Not only was I exposed to the legal, operational, and financial basics to running a business, but I was also challenged to think differently in every class, every day. I would learn three hours’ worth of Arabic in the morning and be solving calculus problems in the afternoon. My brain was pushed to its known limits often, and I was asked to answer tough questions on the spot that taught me how to think on my toes. For example, I once had to create a two minute elevator speech with just 10 minutes of prep time… and deliver it in front of two hundred people! College is definitely a confidence builder… haha!!
In all seriousness… I fully believe that going to college results in being able to analyze more deeply, solve problems more critically, and articulate and present yourself more clearly and professionally. Of course, there are other (cheaper) ways to keep your brain stretching and skill set expanding. But most of the time, people aren’t going to do this on their own every day for four years… and college forces you to do just that! It also gave me the opportunity to network with hundreds of people, establish relationships, and take classes that challenged myself to write my entire business plan out over the span of three months while analyzing legal liability cases involving small business owners. I will never forget the day I changed my business from sole proprietorship to LLC because I had just read about the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of difference in liability that little change can make! Thank goodness for my law class!!
I am realizing more and more as the months go on just how much value my college degree holds… even though most people think I technically don’t “need” or even use one for the job I have right now as a photographer/small business owner. I could honestly go on all day about how happy and proud I am that I finished school even though my degree wasn’t technically necessary to start a photography business. It wasn’t needed… but oh my has it been beneficial. Someone wise once told me that education is never a mistake, and I’m sure that isn’t always the case for everyone… but I think it’s true for most. If you’re smart about where you go and how much money you spend (with hopefully no loans required if you can go to community college or commute to an in-state university!), choosing to go to college can be a life changing decision and one you will never regret.
I can honestly say with 100% certainty that if I hadn’t gone to college, I wouldn’t be a full-time wedding photographer. I would have never met the people I did and learned the things I had. It just wouldn’t have happened. And if I had indeed gone to college but dropped out a couple years in when my business started taking off, I wouldn’t be where I am today because I wouldn’t have learned the things I did or been challenged in the way I was. My very last final paper was a 25 page spread about how to make my wedding photography business differentiated and successful… and I wouldn’t have known how to do that on that kind of level if I hadn’t been in an entrepreneurship course my last semester.
I had been saving this post for months and months because I didn’t want to offend anyone or have it taken the wrong way… but I’m writing from a place of wanting to tell that girl whose business is taking off… whose calendar is filling up… the girl who is questioning whether she is hindering her business by staying in school… I want to tell her that the absolute best thing she can do for her business just might be to finish the race she started and to finish STRONG. I’ll tell you what… I was never so productive with my business tasks as I was when I was in school and had to get things DONE! My time at George Mason was truly so good for me (and my business!) and I wish I could give a hug right now to that girl who is currently in the shoes I was wearing this time last year, thinking that this degree will be worthless and all this time and energy given to it will be a waste. It won’t be. Not by a long shot. You will feel so accomplished and so proud of yourself for challenging your mind in this way! And you’ll have something tangible to show for it… and it won’t be “just a piece of paper” ;) I promise!!
So if you are that girl (or that guy!) in those shoes… just know that college is a valuable and spectacular experience in more ways than one. I only talked about the academic side in this post, and there are so many more ways that it’s beneficial! Just ask any recent graduate reminiscing on their days back at university :) I am so glad I have my degree and I know that someday – if I choose to pursue a different career path – I will have already taken my first step towards that new season. And what an exciting season that will be :) Hang in there, college kids… one day you’ll look back on this moment and wish you could go back and be learning all the things you are now. You’re amazing. And you CAN do it!! xoxo