I took the Leap on Leap day | Comfort vs. Passion – My Life Story

Feb 29, 2016

You have probably been wondering what is going on with Josh lately!?

I heard he bought a WINERY? Is he still going to do photography? I also heard a rumor he works full time for Michelin!! How the heck does he do it all!!!

Well… now I’ll switch back into first person and tell you exactly what has been going on with me lately. I hate typing about myself in third person anyways.

Lets rewind to one year ago. Well… we can’t exactly because today is February 29th, 2016, and there wasn’t a February 29th, 2015. Ugh… this whole day has been a bit strange. In face this whole year has been a bit strange!

So back to February of 2015. There I was, working as a successful wedding photographer. But also living a secret life as a tire engineer for Michelin… What!

Yup, I’ve been a “Product Design & Industrialization Engineer” for Michelin for the past seven years! So basically a designer working on tires for new vehicle launches.

So why haven’t you heard me talk about this other career much? Honestly, I kept this part out of the limelight because I didn’t think people would take me seriously if I had a “day job” in addition to being a wedding photographer. Most people would then just say… “Oh, he just does photography on the side” and dismiss me as another person with a camera and a dream. Plus, photography is my passion, where as Michelin was just a nice job. It’s much more fun to talk about my passion.

I would show up to work at Michelin every morning around 8am, check my emails, catch up on any urgent issues, grab a bite to eat, and then try tire-lessly (haha) to balance two full time jobs as the photography emails and phone calls would come rolling in.

This actually worked pretty well most of the time. Weddings were on weekends, Michelin was on weekdays.

I was making good money, keeping my Michelin co-workers happy, and also moonlighting as a successful wedding photographer on the side.

But there was this itch I had that was getting stronger and stronger the longer I sat in my little gray cubical. That itch was to do what I was really passionate about FULL TIME. Sure, I enjoyed working at Michelin. The job was fairly low stress, my co-workers were great, and the pay was pretty good! I mean, this is what most people would kill for! Why give it up!?

Lets bounce back in time a little further to December 2004…

Sitting around the Christmas Tree that year my parents gave me a gift that would change my life forever. It was a little 3.1mp point and shoot Kodak camera. To be honest, it was a terrible little camera, but for some reason… I just couldn’t set it down.

In fact… I shot this photo with it just a month afterward. And it even got published in a book! Maybe I was on to something!


Limited by the settings of my little point and shoot, I eventually bought a real… professional camera. A Nikon D50 DSLR. With it’s super high (for the time) 6.1mp sensor, and individual lenses I could swap out, I was invincible!

I kept working on my passion. Going out late in the evening with my cousin Chris to capture some beautiful night photos, and traveling to local parks to create some scenic nature shots. Eventually someone noticed my work and actually wanted to pay me to shoot their portraits. Perfect! Now I can buy that new lens I want with that money! So I did the shoot and bought the lens.

Months later my big break happened…

My dad was talking with his co-worker one day and she mentioned how she was so stressed out because her wedding photographer had just canceled on her. He mentioned causally that his son had picked up photography and that she should talk to me.

A phone call later, she agreed to have me shoot her engagement photos as a test to see if I could really walk the talk. Well, they must have been good enough because I shot those and she booked me to shoot her wedding!

It was an incredibly nervous day for me. After all, the other photo shoots I had been on, I could always go back and re-shoot if I lost the images, or something went wrong. Not with a wedding.

It ended up going great!

I loved the pressure, and she ended up referring three of her bridesmaids over to me. I shot their weddings the following year, and now I had a portfolio. I setup a website, and was officially in business.

J. Jones Photography was officially born.

I shot weddings for the next couple years up in New York, trying to pay off some of the debt I was racking up in engineering school there at RIT.

I graduated, and got a job down in South Carolina working as a tire designer for Michelin. I was incredibly sad to leave all my friends behind, but in the end… after I took the leap and got settled… I was so happy! After all, I had a great engineering job, a startup wedding photography business, and even a girlfriend who moved down from New York just to be near me!

Those years flew by and I saw my career as an engineer increase slowly through the corporate ranks, which was very different from the explosive rate that my photography business was on. Why? You see, working for someone else means they take a cut of the extra effort you put in. I didn’t realize this at first, but I quickly learned that when I put in extra effort working for myself, I saw 100% of the benefits from that. When I worked my butt off at Michelin for some special project, I got either got a simple pat on the back or $20 gift card at best…

I soon figured it would only be a matter of time before I had to choose one or the other, but still I hung on to both, trying my best to keep everyone happy.

In 2013 came my next big break. At a statewide competition I had participated in for years, I was named “South Carolina Wedding Photographer of the Year.” Beating out every other photographer’s portfolio in a state-wide blind judging down in Columbia.

My bookings went through the roof! It was so hard to hang on that I actually had to turn down clients just because I needed some time off. I think I shot 42 weddings that year… all while working a full time job!

It was a wild year, but I eventually got my work/life balance back in check. Which gave me a little bit of free time to pursue another little hobby I picked up a few years prior: Winemaking.

Growing up around the finger lakes in Upstate, NY, one of our favorite pastimes was to go wine tasting. We would go around to all the wineries, grab some lunch, and just have a great time! There weren’t a whole lot of things I missed about New York, but this was one of the few activities that I just couldn’t do being in South Carolina.

Did I mention I get bored easily?

Shortly after moving to South Carolina, my girlfriend and I were stuck inside one day with nothing interesting to do and we started to think of some creative activities. We thought about making beer as we knew plenty of our other friends did this. Even though we do enjoy a tastefully brewed beer, we didn’t want to be like everyone else.

Then we thought “how about wine?” The moment we had this thought, we knew it was meant to be.

So, naturally we turned to YouTube for tutorials on the winemaking process to see how complicated it was. After doing our research we decided that we were ready to take the plunge! We were delighted to find that there was a local winery and winemaking supply store near our home. We pulled up to “City Scape Winery” and were greeted by the owners Wayne and Anita Tamme who were sweet, charming, and knowledgeable.

Hours later, we walked out with the proper wine making supplies and enough juice to make 30 bottles of Merlot. Little did we know that this action would change our lives forever.


My very first batch of wine – A 6 gallon batch of Merlot, Vintage 2009

Just like with photography, this little hobby grew and grew. We even ended up making all the wine for our wedding in 2012! I’ll never forget, we went through a little over 100 bottles, and we only had 100 guests!

Alright lets fast forward back to last year, February 2015. There I was, still working at Michelin from 9-5, being a wedding photographer on the weekends, and making wine as a fairly advanced hobby in between. It was a good life but…

I was starting to get comfortable.

And we all know that comfort eventually leads to complacency, and complacency will start to drag you down, slowly, without you even knowing it.

You have probably heard the story about a frog being put into a pot of water on the stove. If you raise the temperature up too quickly, it will jump out. But if you go slowly, the frog will get used to the comfort and become complacent until it eventually is too late. – I was beginning to feel like the frog…

So I started to look around a new opportunities within Michelin and started to really do some soul searching on what I really wanted to do with life… I could leave Michelin and pursue photography full time, but what would I do during the weekdays? How would I pay for insurance and benefits?

OR I could stay at Michelin, but many of the interesting jobs required traveling frequently, which would prevent me from doing wedding photography. That wasn’t an option.

At that time I met with a co-worker of mine at Michelin (Thank you Preston!), who asked me to write three words on the whiteboard that described the ideal job for me.

I wrote down:

  • – Creativity
  • – Variety
  • – Technical & Business elements

I then thought about my two current jobs, photography and engineering.

Photography was definitely creative. It also gave a large amount of variety, getting to shoot weddings all over the Southeast with different cultures and family dynamics, and it certainly was both technical and required business skills to be successful.

Engineering on the other hand wasn’t really hugely creative (most of the designs were standardized), it didn’t give a huge amount of variety (sit in a cubical, go to a meeting, type some emails, work on a spreadsheet… repeat), and while it was highly technical, it didn’t really require too much in the way of business skills.

Ugh. What should I do… I had no idea. But God did.

About a month later, at a local home winemakers club, the owners of City Scape Winery approached us and asked if we might be interested in taking on a new adventure.

Being in their 60’s they were growing tired of the physical work of the winery and were looking to retire and move to the beach. They asked us to come over and take a look at the books and see if it might be a good fit for us.

I would certainly love the winemaking aspect of it, but would their little home-built business make enough to cover its own expenses? More importantly… Would it make up for the money I would lose if I left my day job?

It was the hardest decision of my life. After going back and forth about the decision, I came back to those three words I had written down: Creativity, Variety, and a Technical/Business mix.

The winery was certainly a place I could be creative, it offered an incredible plethora of daily activities, wine-making is certainly technical, and operating a winery certainly required business skills, probably more than I had at the time.

Decision time.

I was already following my passion with photography (and that wasn’t going to go away!), but do I spend my life savings, follow my passion full time, and take on the winery? Or do I take the comfortable life and sit in my cubical with my benefits and 9-5 stable timeline.

It was going to be one of the biggest decisions of my life, and to be honest I went back and forth for months. I made pros/cons list, I did a SWAT analysis, I went through our hour by hour lives if we decided to buy the winery and if we didn’t, we prayed everyday, we talked to counselors, we hired a business broker. My wife and I even took an exploratory trip out to the Napa Valley to talk to other winery owners and see if they thought we were completely crazy (they did). I also talked to a few people at Michelin that thought I was crazy as well. Heck by this point, I thought I was going crazy. So I took a few weeks away from it all.

In that time, you know what kept going through my mind?

Living a unique and fully rewarding life requires stepping out of your comfort zone.

If that meant leaving my super secure, flexible, well paying job, then OK! Lets do it! I didn’t want to be like all the others I saw at Michelin that put in their 40 years, got recognized at a corporate blah blah meeting, and then had a retirement party with bland cake and fruit punch only to be walked out the door never to be seen again.

I want to leave a legacy.

I want to build something that has never been done before.

I want to take risks, and live a life that touches people for generations.

So the next day I scheduled a meeting with my boss and told him exactly what I had been up to. He was shocked. He had no idea. A WINERY!?! After sitting in cubical’s for dozens of years and drinking the corporate kool-aid he just had no idea how someone could leave such a job. But deep down, he was… happy for me. And maybe even mildly jealous. I could see it in his eyes. He sensed that I was passionate about what I was going to be doing and he wanted the same thing for himself.

So many people go through this life just following what life gives them, and they don’t take the time to just sit down and think about what they want to do… what they really… want… to… do… and then figure out how to make it happen.

Maybe you want to be a world class painter, or a director of a non-profit organization that hits home to your heart. Don’t think that it can’t happen. If you set your heart and mind to it, and back it up with good ol’ fashioned hard work anything is possible.

On November 2nd, 2015 we closed on City Scape Winery, making us the youngest winery owners in the Southeast!

20151102_135426Us and the previous owners – Just minutes after signing the papers! Cheers!!

Everything was great! Except we didn’t have our licensing yet. So we couldn’t actually operate the business we just bought. Awesome…

So it turns out that in the great state of South Carolina, you can’t actually get your winery licensing until after you own the property, and bought all the existing business assets. But seeing as this was the first winery that has ever sold in the state (the others had just shutdown or were passed to relatives), they were all just making it up at that point. No one really knew what the actual rules were.


So this began the most stressful month of my entire life. Not only did I not know if we were going to be able to operate the business I just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on, but my other careers ramped into high gear. Michelin got more busy than ever, with emergency meetings keeping me there late at night. I had several very intense weddings coming up that same month and I also had started branching into commercial photography having several corporate clients that needed their shoots done ASAP! It was several weeks of 16 hour days, 7 days a week, only to be rewarded with sleepless nights worrying if I had made the right decision.

The strongest steel goes through the hottest fire.

God had clearly pointed me toward all these decisions, and now I was in a giant mess with almost no time to think things through. I needed help, but I really just needed to get stronger. HE had big plans for me.

In that final day before our temporary licensing was to expire, our state representative (Thank you Eric!) made some strategic phone calls to the top officers down at the state offices in Columbia, and we came up with a plan to finally get us our license. I won’t get into all the details here, but the plan required some pretty incredible things to happen over a 24 hour period, and in the end we finally got our licensing after only being shut down by the state for 6 hours. We were home free.

We had the winery, we had the incredible photography business we could now really enjoy, but there was one last thing to do: Leave my day job.

So that brings us to today. February 29th, 2016… LEAP DAY

I am typing this very message sitting in my cubical at Michelin, surrounded by four gray fabric walls on my very last day, just minutes before they will likely walk me out the door. So I better sum this up fast before they impound my laptop…

So what’s the conclusion? What have I learned from all this?

It sounds incredibly cliché, but you really do have to follow your passion. Yea, I know it’s not easy. I know it doesn’t make sense. I know people might think you are crazy. But deep down, do you really want to look back at your life and think about all the things you should have done? Maybe you can’t just jump into following your passion full time right this second, but at the very least you need to take some steps towards it. Heck, it took me 10 years of planning to learn what my passion was, and how to make it realistic!

I took one step out of the corporate world years ago when I started my photography business. I soon learned that it was far more enjoyable to work for myself, and more importantly, I took home in profit every ounce of sweat I put into it.

So you may be wondering if I’ll still be doing photography?

Absolutely. 110%. Since I am now (well at least in an hour) going to be free of corporate america, photography will really be my livelihood. No more corporate employer to pay my benefits and send me a paycheck every week. But you know what? Photography is truly my passion and I am so excited to have more time to put into it!

And what about the winery?

It’s going to be a huge project as well for me this year. Even though we started with a great thing, we really have to make it ours. Putting our own spin on everything from the wine making, to the labeling, to the marketing and branding. There is a lot of work to do. And I’m truly excited about it. It’s give me and my wife so much joy, and we can’t wait to pour it back out to others.

I’m incredibly blessed for what the first 29 years of my life have brought me. I can only thank my God, my incredible family, my loving wife, my super supportive friends, and all the incredible mentors that have guided me along the way. There is absolutely no way I would be here without them.

In this life it’s far too often that people just seek to be comfortable, which in itself isn’t a bad thing for small amounts of time, but just like a frog in a boiling pot of water as the heat is slowly turned up, it can be hard to detect as complacently sets in.

I took the leap on leap day. When will you take yours?