001 | THE FULL SCOOP: My journey to becoming an entrepreneur

Intro:

Hey, hey, hey friends! Welcome to episode 001 of Souls Undressed. I am your host, Tori Rankovich + today we are diving into my journey to this point right now as a self-employed entrepreneur. I am a photographer, a boudoir photographer, I shoot weddings, couples, families, kiddos, pretty much anything involved with parenthood + now I am a podcaster, which that is the first time I've said that out loud so that's a little crazy, but I have held a lot of titles throughout the last decade, we'll say, + maybe 7-8 years (decade was a little overboard), but I've held a lot of titles, + I've had a lot of questions about what has led me here. I've made a few big pivots in my journey + I've kind of just learned to let my heart lead the way + it has led me here, so I'm really excited to share with you today about how I kind of navigated all of those pivots + how I really believe that one kind of led right into the other + that's really helped me believe that + see that I wasn't ever wasting any time, I never really wasted any money, wasn't ever wasting any experiences. It just all kind of helped me lead into the next thing, which I'm really grateful for.


Today, I am going to be sharing with you why I feel so pulled to share this with you, how I think it can help you kind of view your own journey, maybe in another light, how a friend would, rather than the way you're probably viewing your own journey, which is through a judgmental or a critical lens. I had a really early interest in business + I didn't really realize that as I started my business, it wasn't until I started reflecting within the last year or so that I really realized that everything that i've done in my down time, or in my free time, has kind of been a quiet indicator, what could have been a loud indicator if I was paying attention, but a quiet indicator to my deeper interests in the things that I was really going to feel more fulfilled by. I think that it can be really helpful to acknowledge the ways in my life + in my journey, I've made moves that maybe were scary or didn't seem like the "smartest" or "the best" idea at the time to everybody in my life, but had I not made the moves that I made + trusted my gut, it would have only hindered me in every facet of my life.


I think that we live right now in a very interesting time of having a very split belief system on what you do for your job or your career + how you kind of span that out over your life. I think that there's one generation who believes that once you start something + you commit to it, it is your job to finish it + it is your job to stick it out + then there's another generation who's like, "hey, I'm the one who has to live in this body, shouldn't I get to choose what I'm doing with it + how I'm spending my time + how it is making me feel?" So, it has been very interesting navigating my own journey and having that kind of third-person perspective of just kind of taking in how my dad suggested I do things, or the feedback that you hear from everyone else in passing that they think is helpful or harmless that ends up just piling up over time, right?


I am so excited to share this journey with you. Without any further rambling, I'm going to share a quote today with you. I actually had set an original quote + decided to save that for the episode that I'm going to make down the road that's going to be talking about part of my journey that I'm going to go over this episode, but so on a different quote, titled, Season of Becoming:


"Do not fast forward into something that you're not ready for or allow yourself to shrink back into what's comfortable. Growth lives in the uneasiness, the in between, the unfinished sentence. You are a season of becoming." -Danielle Doby


I'll have that shared on the Instagram page, but of course you can search her up. I have a few of her different poems saved on my vision board, I'm sure we will get to some eventually, but I'm sure you can search her up + find some more of her poetry. Without further ado, let's get to it.


The Full Scoop:

Hey friends! Gosh, that intro song, every time, just gets me. If you're big on that, let me know cause I'm very pumped about it.


Alright, so, today we are diving right into my journey through entrepreneurship, really. All the different jobs, or the jobs that I feel like are relevant to my story + how I've kind of navigated them + pivoted to things that I thought were completely, completely unrelated that ended up now that I am able to reflect back + kind of sit back, I am able to realize that they really all helped me get to where I'm at right now. I really would not be as successful as I am, at what I'm doing right now, or even have ended up where I'm at right now without being able to work through each of these phases.


When I sat down to reflect back on this journey, what I ended up at as my first starting point of learning to follow my passions or learning to let my passions kind of be in the driver's seat was when I took a job coaching club cheer in my hometown. At the time it was just a way for me to work before I started college. I had just graduated high school early, but I wasn't able to walk with my class until May so I was taking college classes at the junior college during the Spring + I had the opportunity to coach club cheer. I cheered for like 12 years so I missed it + I always thought coaching cheer would be my go-to thing, so, I did that first + I would say that's really what set my heart back on fire for being able to, kind of, take control of a group + really it was being able to dive back into choreography again. I realized how much I loved being able to use that creative part of my brain, I loved being able to move, but also, I got to work with these young girls + it was awesome because some of them had no idea what they were doing, they were just so little + other kids knew what they were doing + they were so excited about the sport + it was just really neat to have that sort of casual setting with club cheer, but then also, to get to work with a group of kids who were really passionate about something that I shared that passion with. So I did that for Spring + then I went off to college.


In college, I went to class, just did my thing, I ended up eventually taking a job as a Link Peer Instructor, so I taught a class of Freshmen alongside another staff member from the campus, not necessarily a teacher, + we kind of lead the students through getting to know the campus + getting to know Illinois State + all the different kinds of "needs" that they needed to pay attention to. So, I went from coaching to taking on this kind of "teaching position," junior teaching position I guess you could say, so it was really clear to me, just looking at that, oh, I loved leading, I loved working with people, I knew that that was my thing. I knew that I liked being able to serve people.


Then, a little bit later in college, I don't know the year, for sure, I decided to start up an Etsy shop, which a lot of people don't know. I don't even think I remember what the name of the shop was. I don't think that "cool names" were a thing yet for your shop. I just wanted to sell stuff. So, I ended up customizing picture frames. I was in a service sorority so there was a need to give these gifts, you know, we were making paddles + stuff + so I decided to customize a picture frame from Walmart. So, I went and I had gotten just like a really cheap frame, like one of the cheapest wooden frames that you could get at Walmart + I went and got some acrylic paint + some paint brushes + some ribbon + I'm pretty sure I ended up getting like scrapbooking letters + gems + stuff like that, too, + I then I went and bought a hot glue gun. My mom had made me some costumes, like a lot of costumes when I was growing up, so I had seen her work with a hot glue gun, so I wasn't totally intimidated by it, even though I didn't really totally know what I was doing.


Long story short, I started an Etsy shop, I sold picture frames for, I don't know, probably not even a full year, but I got to sell them to some of my sorority sisters. I would make some that said like, "Big & Lil," for like those gifts + that was really neat, but I think after that ended I was kind of like, "Why did I do that? That was cool, but it lasted like a hot second, what was the point in that?" I always just kind of felt like oh, that was just such a waste of time, right? I think that's normal. I think it is normal to write ourselves off as, "oh that was time wasted," or "oh, that was dumb, it had nothing to do with what I was going to do in the future," because from there, I was still studying to become a special education teacher, so, in my mind it was like, "okay, cool, I sold these frames, whatever," but after it fell off it was like, now I have this Etsy shop, now I get all these emails from Etsy. I'm one of those people who feels like once I started something I'm supposed to end it, ironically enough, I just mentioned that in the intro. So, it was one of those things like, "oh, uh, I failed..." I just told myself that I had failed.


So, I went on, I finished school, I got my degree in Special Education. I knew I wanted, originally, to teach high school. I wanted to teach high school special education + then I ended up graduating a semester early from college because I had started a semester early. Once I graduated, I couldn't start working right away because it was December, not a lot of jobs were opening up right away. I ended up getting one in April, but I had a few months + at my college graduation party, or with my college graduation money, I got myself a new camera. I knew that that was my goal. I really wanted to get into photography. I actually was passionate about that before starting college. Little side note: I wanted to go to art school out in San Francisco + my dad kind of gave me a quick reality check- it was wayyyyy out of our price range + we have just always been small town people. My dad is from Coal City, my grandparents ended up in Coal City + created a business, my papa was a principal around here, so, I think that when my dad's little girl wanted to go all the way to California, he was like, "Uh, skirt, why don't you check on that?"


So, anyway, I got my camera for graduation, but it was Winter, so you get something new and you want to use it, right? So, I was like, "Well, shoot, what am I supposed to do now? It's frickin' cold outside." I remember my friend Katie + I, we went out + we're taking pictures, but like we had to stop taking them because it was like so cold we were both shivering so much, like the camera was shaking + I felt so bad like trying to make her pose when it was like freezing because I mean it was literally December or January + if you're from Illinois, you understand how those Winters go.


So, I started deciding to get into shooting boudoir photography in my bedroom because it was too cold to go outside, I had a bunch of friends that were interested in it, + we were like, "Well, shit, let's just try it, right?" You have to try something before you're any good at it + I remember it being like, very taboo, obviously. Like you tell people, "Oh, look at these fun pictures we took last weekend," + they're like, "Oh my god, why are you shooting porn?" Which obviously, I know, + hopefully you know, boudoir photography is not porn, not even semi-close. They're not even in the same realm, but it was very interesting to watch people decide to interpret it. It was teaching me a lot about the culture around boudoir photography + the people in my life + their opinions + their perspectives, but it also let me know how like insanely interested in it I was + how much I loved telling this untold story that you would think is just for the person who has the story to tell, but if you know any women in your life, you know that they probably have a hard time owning their "goddess-ness". You know that women have a hard time embracing their beauty + their sensuality + their gifts. So, as I saw what it was doing to these women, as I started taking their pictures even though they were just my friends + I saw the way that the perception of it from society was so different than the way that I knew it was + what I knew it was doing for women, it really just dug my roots in there + let me know that I was going to be there for a while.


I started doing boudoir photography out of my bedroom while I lived at home at my dad's still, right after college. So, in 2016, I had graduated December of 2015, I started shooting right away in 2016, I did boudoir a lot through the Winter, wasn't really comfortable taking it on professionally yet. I was still just comfortable practicing with my girlfriends + then in the Summer, I started taking paid photography sessions. My very first photoshoots were for like $50.00 or $75.00 an hour + that's how I spent my Summer of 2016 before I started teaching + then I started teaching right away.


I actually took a month or two long job at the end of the Summer for the 2015-2016 school year, I taught preschool. So, I kind of dabbled in photography a little + I started on my teaching journey. So, it was like I did photography on my down time + then, I started up. It wasn't until 2017 that I decided to split my photography business from doing the boudoir type of photography under the name of Tori Elizabeth Photography, I split those two, + I kind of rebranded that boudoir community + I created t.e. boudoir + I kept Tori Elizabeth Photography.


So, in 2017, so I had been teaching for a year and a few months at that point + living in a small town, it was just becoming very clear how much of an issue it would be to be representing these half naked women on my public pages while representing the school system. I worked for a pretty strict school system as far as social media goes + representing yourself. That was something I knew I needed to switch + kind of split up + I ended up making their own Instagram pages. I made t.e. boudoir private so I continued to dive even deeper into that passion because I knew that the only way that I could continue the empowerment of those women outside of the walls of my home where I was creating those photos with them, was to create an equally as safe space online. I think that even just saying that sounds like an oxymoron, right? Like how do we create a safe space online? So, I made a private instagram page + decided that I was going to be super, super strict with it + super diligent in who I was accepting. For the first year + half or two, I kept ladies only in the bio just because there were so many boys requesting to follow from town + I say "boys" because it was just, it was not respectable grown men, deciding to try to follow this page that said, "ladies only," in the bio, let's just say that.


So, I kind of started cultivating this space I just started sharing my heart with these women that started funneling into this community + I shared photos of women who felt comfortable with their photos being shared with other women. It just started this frickin' beautiful movement of just women empowering other women + then it would end up being like before the end of their boudoir shoot even, a girl would be like, "Oh my gosh, I was so uncomfortable, but like I saw so-and-so's photos + I just thought, you know, if they can do it, I can do it," + it just became this domino effect of people just being so excited to empower themselves + to know that when other women saw their photos up there on the feed, it was empowering to them, it was HOLY COW, I can imagine myself there because my boudoir photography is just very real + raw, I don't over-edit, I don't airbrush. I have a very, very hard time agreeing to airbrush anything, but that's for another topic.


So, you can see how passionate I am about boudoir photography + really photography in general, but I continued doing photography + teaching for 2 years, well, 3 years. So, I kind of had photography on the side. I was really only charging like $75.00 an hour for that, I taught my first year, then I started getting more serious in that. I started shooting for a year, I raised my prices, I started learning more about my camera. I started learning more about photography in general.


Then, in 2019, I made the decision to quit teaching. After teaching in the same building for 2 years + just having a lot of up-and-down battles, I made the very tough decision to go off on my own. I know I had a lot of requests for an episode about that, I will dive into leaving the public school system in its own episode. It's quite the lengthy story, there's a lot of different facets that went into that decision being made + it was a really, really huge pivot in my life + a really huge mourning process for me for a variety of reasons. So, that will be in its own episode, but yes, in 2019, I decided to leave teaching + completely dive headfirst into doing photography full-time. I am lucky to have a husband, who was then at the time my boyfriend, who works in the Union + he is very money smart, even more money smart than I am, + so, we have a really good balance + it created the privilege for me to be able to walk away from a job that had become very toxic for me + walk into something that had been so rewarding for me.


I actually have two friends to thank ,who are teachers in the education system, who really helped me recognize my value as a photographer + allowed that to hold weight against the pain that I was experiencing from continuing to do what I was doing + trying to force something that wasn't fitting. That's exactly why I wanted to read the quote that I read at the beginning of the episode about not fast forwarding into something that we're not ready for, but also not allowing ourselves to shrink. I think that I was not ready to just dive into being a photographer full-time or a creative entrepreneur full-time right out of college. That was just so unrealistic. It would have been far too premature for me to try to do something like that. I had a passion for children + guiding + educating, but I really needed to explore + understand better, but when the time had come that that job had become toxic for my well-being when I was coming home everyday in tears or so angry that I would just completely rant + just spin my wheels in the same place for hours after work just festering + so upset that I didn't know how to fix the problem. It was taking so much from my life, so much value, so much time, so much energy, so much time + energy from my relationship + my friends + my family, it was just, I needed to understand that for me to stay in this "thing" that I had "made a commitment to," like I mentioned in the intro, I would have been shrinking myself so much just for the sake of saying I stayed committed, but staying committed to what? Something that was not for me? Something that wasn't right for me. Something that was only hindering my creative abilities, my abilities to connect with human beings. I mean do not get me wrong, everyday I miss the connection that I had with my students through being a teacher + I weekly stress about what my kids are up to because yes, they're still my kids, even though I don't get to keep up with them everyday, but that setting + that environment, for me, that administrative setting + that environment for me, was absolutely toxic. I was shrinking myself so much in there to stay, "comfortable." I knew I wasn't comfortable, but I think a lot of us know that were not comfortable + were staying miserably content in a position that's no longer serving us because we feel like we have to stick something out that we've started.


I did not write this in my notes so I am really excited that I just remembered to share this, but I just said this to a friend the other day, I think the reason that we do this + I think the reason that so much of our generation has this belief system instilled into them that once you start something you have to finish it, "Well, you took this job, you decided 8.5 years ago that this job was the perfect fit for you, so, you should not leave it, otherwise you are a Gen-Z-er or you are a Millennial, + you don't finish anything you start..." but I think that that is such bogus, nonsense because think of the brainpower that you could put into something that serves you. Think about if you thought about your mission or your purpose in what you really wanted to serve how much you could do for those people, or that mission, or that whatever it is that lights your soul on fire because with your passion you are so much more powerful than with your misery. I mean, I know that being miserable + like griping about things is something, I guess, but you're so much more powerful when you're passionate about something.


So, I think it's just very, I like being able to tie that quote back in of do not shrink yourself, like, your growth, like Danielle Doby says, your growth lives in your uneasiness, it lives in the in between because you are making the choice to take a leap of faith into yourself, straight into yourself. Your intuition is so much smarter than your conditioned brain, I promise you. Our brains have just been like beaten down + shunned + controlled + told what to do, we don't know, like our brains don't know what we actually think for ourselves until we've taken up time on training it how to do that by sitting in our silence + in our stillness.


So, in 2019, just this past May, I turned in my letter of resignation + I made the announcement to my people, told my photography people that I was going full=time + my life, I feel like I have lived like 6 years since I quit, it's just amazing the amount I feel like I've been able to accomplish in my own mental health work + my own business growth + the changes in the ways that I have learned to read myself +the ways that I have learned to understand my business + my clientele. I have had so much more time to give myself to educate myself on ways to be better, I've given myself the time to learn how to better serve my clientele instead of trying to serve everyone. It has been incredible.


I also learned to pull in my desire to educate into photography. I had my first two photography workshops in 2019, they lit my soul on fire, they were some of my favorite moments of the year, me running around barefoot yelling like a banshee, just so excited about my attendees + the progress they were making + how excited they were, how absolutely stunning the sets that I set up were with my models + just my soul was on fire. I think that that is a really cool way to kind of wrap up the end of that progression through my different journeys and pivots is just to see that every single thing I've done has lead me into being better at what I am doing right now. I mean, even if you look at where the workshops left off + I planned this gorgeous retreat that was supposed to be in April, thanks COVID, we did not get to have that, I'm still brainstorming and scheming up ways to make that better than ever when it is safe or finding a safe way to do it, but the main thing that has always stayed the same is the people and being able to use my creativity to serve people + connect with people.


Being able to coach club cheer, being able to connect with those girls + to guide them + to be able to use my creative energy to choreograph. Making an Etsy shop + repurposing $1 frames from Walmart. I had to learn how to up-sell, I had to learn my value of my time + my materials, right? I had to learn my audience. Starting boudoir out of my bedroom for nothing. I just was making use of my time, right? Like, I did't even know I was starting a business when I was doing it + now look at t.e. boudoir, if you check us out on Instagram we've got over 1,400 followers on a private page, that's absolutely insane to me, these women blow my mind everyday the way they show up for themselves in there.


Then, when you look, when I left teaching, like every single person, not every single person, it was very split, like there was a whole population of people that were like, "Hell yeah, what took you so long?" and then there was this entire other population of people that were like, "What the hell are you doing, like you're leaving? You're quitting your job? What are you going to do about health insurance?"


(Side note) if you have ever quit your job you know that that is like everyones' favorite question to ask you, "What are you going to do about health insurance?" Uh.. I can't tell you what to do because I ended up eloping before I had to decide. Sorry, that was funny, but it's true! We eloped. I was without health insurance for like two months, about to get it, Andrew was like, "Hey, I could just make you my wife?" Little though note, we've been together for 8 years though, so I don't recommend just quitting your job + running off and eloping with anyone, ya know. Maybe vet them first, make sure they're good, good people.


My point is that every choice that I've made, every time I've followed my heart, every time I left something that didn't feel like it fit me any longer, it was never a waste, it didn't go unseen, it didn't go unused. My ability to connect with people + to understand all different sorts of kids + work with all different types of families + be able to make people of any kind from anywhere, of any shape, of any kind of person I am able to create a comfortable space with + hold space for them so that they can really truly feel and see themselves. I don't think I'd be able to do that if I wasn't a special education teacher for so long. It just taught me how to work with people, it taught me how to care, it taught me how to read people + feel with my heart.


So, even though some of these things didn't work out, or they were just a momentary little stop on my journey, they've all lead me to being that much better at what I'm doing now because now I'm podcasting, which is like a total 180 from pretty much anything that i've been doing, if you look at it from like a close up perspective, right? It's like, "Well you were never in theater, you've never done anything with your voice, the only thing you have in common with podcasts is that you like to talk a lot." I've done soul searching, right? I've allowed myself to listen to myself, + I've done the work + I feel like I've got these perspectives now, like, I'm able to be on this platform right now talking about different things that I'm going to be talking about in the coming episodes because I have experienced all these different areas of life + these different walks of life + been able to listen + take in different perspectives + really make my own mindset well-rounded and really learn culturally about people + about what we need + about what makes us tick.


So, I'm not one of those people that is walking around this earth close-minded with only my one set belief system, right? Now I am able to talk to you in your car, in your earbuds, or on your countertop while you get ready or do the dishes or whatever the heck you're doing right now. Kudos to you for listening while you do anything, whether it is laying in bed, waking up, laying in bed, getting snuggly, heading to work, doing the things, I just am proud of you because it's people like this that want to listen + want to reflect that are also trying to expand those perspectives.


So, I hope it makes sense how all of this is just coming so full circle for me + how I have grown through this life almost feeling like I am picking up pebbles + putting them in my backpack, like I get to come now to this little spot that's probably not even an ending spot again, it is just a momentary stop on my journey, but I get to bring my backpack out + pour out my pebbles on the ground + share them with everyone right now with my really cool microphone.


So, thank you for being here, I will continue to share my story like I said, I will dive into my journey through quitting my job because I know that is a very highly requested topic + I know it is a very fearful thing that seems scary, but honestly, it is the best decision I've made in my career journey thus far because there was nothing sucking the life out of me faster than the people I was dealing with. I will leave the rest for its own episode, but I thought it would be fun to end this episode instead of having a "How Can I Help," segment at the end, so you're not going to have that, I thought that it would be fun to talk about all my future plans that are just kind of like out on a whiteboard somewhere in the distant future. I know some people like to keep things secret + maybe I do still have some secrets, but there are some that I am really excited about that are coming up in the near future that I would love to share.


So, first things first, I have started renting some pieces out for weddings + events + I am going to have even more than I am adding to that actually, I've been working with one of my assistants + we are building that up + working on creating all sorts of different packages to where things can be rented individually or as a set, but I have acquired + gained the insight of what is necessary for so many different props + so many different events + things from weddings to showers to birthday parties. I thought that this would be something really cool to bring to our small-town area. I don't really know of places around us that have things that you can rent out, but we will have things, obviously like I said, I have a really big alter that was used when we eloped that I use in my workshop. It has been rented out by other brides, just things that I have had going on that no one knows about because I don't have any way to advertise them. So, I'm working on that.


Obviously I have some merchandise that is already up + available for t.e. photography and t.e. boudoir, but I am also creating some awesome merchandise for Souls Undressed. I am excited to continue exploring that. I have talked lots with my merchandise gal, Miranda Rickmon, about different ideas + some kind of passion projects that I have for the future, so merchandise is definitely on the docket for future.


I think I am passionate about that because I live in comfy clothes always. I refuse to wear anything that makes me any sort of uncomfortable, at all. So, I think the concept of being able to create clothes that represent a brand that I obviously believe in + ideals that I believe in on comfy clothes, would be like, "the bees knees," what better way to spend my time, right?