It was a proud moment. Not quite like getting married, or seeing my baby girls born, but a proud moment nonetheless. As Chief Photographer for KPHO Television in Phoenix, I was responsible for hiring photojournalists to videotape and edit daily stories for the morning, afternoon and evening newscasts. Over the course of three years, from 1997-2000, I had assembled one of the most talented staffs in the country.
On a warm summer night in June of 2000, I stood on stage at the Hyatt Gainey Ranch Resort in Scottsdale with five of these photojournalists to accept an Emmy award for our collaborative work on a piece we called ‘Showdown’ - (click to watch.) It was a video narrative about one of the oldest rivalries in college football – the Arizona State Sun Devils vs. the University of Arizona Wildcats.
In all, 13 of the 21 photojournalists on the staff contributed to the story. Each of them added a unique shot, sound bite or angle to the 3-minute masterpiece. The night it aired on TV several of us gathered at a local microbrewery to celebrate our accomplishment. I was certain my team would remain together for years, piling up these awards and basking in Emmy gold glory.
But here’s a funny thing about the television news business that only a few people know – it’s not very glamorous.
As a matter of fact, it’s downright demanding. Even the most successful and tenured veterans of the industry often work evenings, weekends and holidays. The pay isn’t great either. Which is why, after less than two years, the ultra gifted group of photojournalists I hired started leaving for greener pastures. I quickly learned the downside of hiring bright, creative, ambitious people – they are constantly seeking new challenges and better compensation.
Putting Down the Camera Forever (Sort of)
Before long I realized that, like the many talented photojournalists on my staff who had left for more rewarding work, I too wanted something more. A confluence of events led me to put down the camera forever (sort of, more on that in a few paragraphs).
In case you didn’t know, it’s hot in Phoenix. I can remember one particular summer scorcher in 2001. I stood outside a long stretch of yellow crime scene tape in the middle of a residential street with my camera and not an inch of shade for three-square miles. An armed gunman had barricaded himself inside his house (no doubt an air conditioned house) just around the corner (why is it the bad guys always get to stay where its cool?) After nearly four hours of waiting, with the soles of my shoes slowly sinking into the soft hot asphalt, I couldn’t help thinking – damn it’s hot and damn this job really sucks.
Yes, it was bad. Not as bad as digging ditches for a living, or cleaning toilets, but still, a crummy way to earn a living
Then there was the Rodeo-Chediski fire near Springerville, Arizona. This 500,000 acre brush fire burned the entire month of June, 2002. I was dispatched, along with several other KPHO reporters and photographers, to cover the blaze. It was a big story – national news organizations like CNN were there too. After two straight weeks of 14-hour days, sleeping in a tiny hotel room with three other cameramen and eating fast food for every meal, I decided enough was enough.
Needless to say, when I got back I started applying for jobs outside of the television news industry. Unfortunately, no one was interested in hiring a 30-year old cameraman that had no marketable skills in the corporate business world. Apparently, none of the hiring managers I applied to were impressed I could drag 100 lbs. of equipment over ten city blocks in less than a half hour.
Right around this time, through the help of a Realtor friend from high school, my wife and I bought our first rental property. I knew nothing about real estate investing so I decided to get educated. One of the first books I read was ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki. After finishing it I decided that real estate investing was the best way to achieve time and financial freedom.
In September 2002, just three months after the Rodeo-Chediski fire, I quit my job and started a real estate investment business. Things started out slow like most businesses do. But eventually, through good fortune and a lot of hard work, I started to figure things out. By 2006, I owned over 65 properties and had a net worth of $8 million.
Of course, the real estate market crash wiped me out two years later. Still, it was a fun ride. Through the process I learned failure is a right of passage for most successful business owners. Few escape going broke at least once in their lives.
The last four years I’ve been busy rebuilding my business. It hasn’t always been easy. At one point my wife and I were burning the furniture to stay warm (yes, it does get cold in Phoenix occasionally). Ironically, I even picked up the camera again. My past experience as a photojournalist has helped me with creating videos of my fix and flip deals that can be viewed by real estate investors on YouTube all over the world. I had no idea when I quit my job in 2002 that these skills would be so valuable.
I’m grateful that for the past 10 years I’ve been able to do things on my terms and schedule. I get to escort my daughters to the bus stop in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon whenever I want. I take them to karate and swim practice and I’ve never missed any of their birthdays. My wife and I can go on vacation without submitting a formal request to management.
And when it gets really hot outside I don’t have to stand in the middle of the street with the soles of my shoes sinking into the hot pavement.