Why Not becoming the 2017 Saskatchewanderer was the best thing that happened to me this year.
Almost a year ago to the day I clicked the submit button for my 2017 Saskatchewanderer application. The job consisted of a year long contract with the Government of Saskatchewan (specifically the ministries of Parks, Sport and Culture, Agriculture, and Economy along with Tourism Saskatchewan) travelling the province and sharing through social media why SK is a great place to live, work, and play. What followed was an anxiety filled month and a half as I watched and re-watched other application videos, sifted through years of previous wanderer adventures, nodded appreciatively when friends and family told me I was a shoe-in, and waited and waited for my phone to ring.
Finally, in mid December, I got a call from Tourism Saskatchewan to come into their office for an interview with the 4 partners who employ the position. I prepped for the interview, put on my best dress, and had what I thought was a great chat with my future bosses.
The following 2 days were a bit of a blur. I listened through the grapevine from my references and another applicant for any indication of how things were leaning. I knew Andrew was competition from the moment I saw his video, but until I got to know him more over the course of this year, I didn't realize how good he really was. Word on the street was that it was a toss-up and in my naivety I was genuinely convinced that the coin would fall in my favour.
It didn't, however, and I was forced to say a choked-up "thank you for the opportunity" before quickly getting off the phone and bursting into tears. I didn't understand why they couldn't see that I would be great at the job and I was frustrated with how much I had riding on it. Not only had I convinced myself emotionally that I would be wandering the province on the government's dime for 2017, I had gambled my business on it as well.
As a wedding photographer, couples often start contacting me for their big day a year in advance. They want to make sure that their desired venue, DJ, caterer, florist, and photographer are all available and hurry to book them before someone else does. While I was waiting to find out about the position, more and more emails arrived in my inbox requesting summer 2017 dates. I had to send back a rehearsed response about how I would love to capture their wedding but would need to wait just *a few more* weeks to let them know if I'm available. It was getting old and I knew those couples were looking elsewhere, desperate to make sure they had a quality photographer confirmed.
So there I was. Late December with not much of a job (I was still working part time at camp for a few more months) and no weddings booked. I thought there was no way I was going to come out of 2017 on top, and no way I would ever take the risk and put myself in the same position again. But if I wasn't going to be wandering, I figured I better get booking. I started promoting my services and set myself a modest to some but seemingly impossible for me goal of photographing 10 weddings in 2017. Just a couple months into the year and there I was with 8 weddings booked and some clients even asking about 2018. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that some couples don't want a year-long engagement.
After some space from the initial let down, I decided to drop in at Tourism and see if becoming the 2018 Wanderer was out of the question. I left that meeting a little unsure of what I wanted come 2018, but confident that if I set my mind to it, I could still make this dream a reality. I decided to dig a little deeper and sought out Ashlyn George, the 2015 Wanderer to learn more about her experience (aka I stalked her at a trade show and begged her to have coffee with me). Then I sent Andrew a message and told him our meeting face-to-face was long over due and we got together one afternoon. I even bumped into Neil, the 2016 Wanderer, at an event and was able to pick his brain about the program.
A lot of conversation and internal debate later, I decided that yes, this position was still something I wanted to pursue. Only this time I wasn't going to let success within my business and my personal happiness be dependant on the outcome. Though it is hard to turn away clients and contracts for the new year (especially when they include friends wanting to fly me to Spain!), I'm choosing to trust that just like this year, there will still be lots of wonderful people looking for photographers come January.
So with enough weddings booked to live off of and a plan for 2018 in the works, where did that leave me for the rest of 2017? Living the flipping dream, that's where.
Another goal of mine for 2017 was to prove to Sask Tourism that I could do the job. I wanted to wander the crap out of this province, making videos and blog posts as I went. And I wanted to show that it doesn't take a government credit card to experience the best SK has to offer. I started with a snowmobile trip to Nistowiak falls in the winter, and then a long weekend spent canoeing come spring. And then another one. And another. In the end I visited Treaty 10 Land (my favourite place on earth) 8 times, paddled on over 16 different lakes and rivers, stood in awe of Nistowiak Falls on 3 separate occasions, slept on 6 different islands, guided 17 people, navigated 3 sets of rapids, and spent 21 nights in a tent. I made over 10 videos and blogs about travel in Saskatchewan and guess who was quick to like and share the majority of them on social media? Tourism Saskatchewan.
I also worked hard to reach out and scoop up any photo opportunity I could get my hands on. Think fashion shows, music festivals, national sports games, arena concerts, and blogging for Tourism Saskatoon. I was able to focus on building my portfolio and grow as a photographer in ways that might not have been attainable as the wanderer.
On top of this I wanted to spend just one summer doing what I wanted to do. All 6 of the summers in my adult life were spent working at camp (which I loved, don't get me wrong) and I wanted to take a summer for myself. So I went canoeing (see above), to concerts, I visited my sister in Winnipeg, I flew to Vegas with two of my best friends for my birthday, spent time camping and hiking in BC, went out for far too many (yet somehow not enough) happy hour fish tacos, hung out with my niece and nephew, and I started dating a really wonderful man. It was busy, especially in the weeks following weddings when I spent more time in front of a computer editing than outside enjoying the sun, but it was honestly the best summer I've ever had.
As the weddings wound down, however, thoughts about 2018 wound up. I met again with my now friends Andrew and Ashlyn, gleaning insight about what is needed to succeed in the job and what will help me stand out to their current and former employers. I brainstormed video ideas, compiled footage from throughout the year, wrote scripts, and worked to figure out exactly what it is I'm passionate about and how I was going to show it off to the province.
Though I took a roundabout way to come to the realization, the answer was right there in my Instagram bio - people and places. That's what I'm passionate about. I want to get to know people and dig into the connections they have with the places around them. You know that feeling you get when you think back to your childhood visits to grandma and grandpa's farm? What about the smell of a cool autumn day with the leaves crunching at your feet? Or the flashback that comes with hearing bells like the ones on the door of your town's general store? Everyone in this province feels some sort of connection to places throughout Saskatchewan, and I want to explore and share those stories.
I'm going into this application process far more prepared than I ever was a year ago and am excited to share with the panel why I believe I'm an even better candidate than I was last December.
Except you know what? I truly believe that whatever happens in the next month is the best thing that could happen. It would be amazing to see this dream that I've had for the past 7 years come to fruition, allowing me to do something I genuinely love while accelerating my career. And I'll surely cry a little if it doesn't work out. But just like this year, if I don't get the job I'll look ahead at other opportunities and pursue the ones that make my heart happy. No matter the outcome, I'll continue living the dream.
Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10