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I Failed

I failed.

If I were to ask you how you’ve failed the hardest, the ones that hurt the most, what comes to mind?

I have two biggies.

Today, I want to tell you about one of them. I want to set the record straight about a lie I’ve been perpetuating about my past for years. I’ve probably told this lie to 99% of people who have asked me about my background in photography. Today, I’m making the correction.

I went to school for photography. I started my program in photojournalism. I was driven, excited. It meant a lot to me to be following my dream. To be out of Oklahoma. I was one of the only people I knew who was executing on my deepest, irrational passion. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to make massive positive change with my photography (think Dorothea Lange in the Farm Security Administration).

Fast forward three years into my program. I was taking a tough class. Looking back, I don’t know why it didn’t click for me. The professor would present an assignment and I would hear it different from everyone else. I would show up with work that didn’t deliver the assignment. I couldn’t answer the questions when I was called on in class. I just wasn’t getting it.

Reflecting back on my peers’ work, I can see what was being asked of me, but I couldn’t then. Regardless, I could tell I wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t producing what I was being asked to produce. It was the first class in my whole program where I truly wasn’t getting it. I hadn’t failed in any of my other classes.

My professor took me aside and told me I should reconsider my career and my program. He told me I should quit.

“Kaci, some people aren’t meant to be shooters…” and he let that sentence hang in the air.

We worked out some logistics. I promised I’d do some more work and he promised to give me a D, so I wouldn’t Fail and lose my scholarship.

I listened to him. This is one of my biggest failures. I listened to him and I changed my major. From Photojournalism to Visual Media (Design).

I did well in the design program there. A lot of what I’d learned in photo school translated easily into design—light, composition, color…

But when people asked me about my background, I explained the switch away. Newspapers were firing their staffs. Photographers were losing their jobs. The job market didn’t have a lot of prospects for me. But the design world did.

It sounded rational and it was a lie.

The truth is someone told me I wasn’t good enough and I believed them and I’ve never been able to photograph with passion since.

All is not totally lost. I’ve gone on to have a fairly successful career in the digital marketing world. Now I’m a writer, a publisher, and an entrepreneur. I know I’m not alone in this. Transitions happen. Failure happens.

In some ways, that failure was really important to how I’ve developed in the last 10 years in my career. I’ve done some cool stuff, worked for some great companies, worked with incredibly smart people. And that wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in photography. But it still hurts to think about it. It still burns like few things do.