While many photographers and journalists learn their craft in a classroom or studio, Cassandra Monroe‘s professional training was a little different. Cassandra learned the skills necessary to tell stories through words and photographs while serving as a servicemember in the United States Army, and she’s transferred those skills into a career as a Food Stylist Assistant and freelance writer and photographer. While her career path may have been unconventional, it’s proven to be a dream come true. Here, Cassandra shared details with us about the importance of finding your niche within your profession, the life-changing lessons she learned while serving in the military, and, of course, the challenge of framing the perfect Instagram-worthy food snapshot.
Name: Cassandra Monroe, Food Stylist Assistant at Mittera
City: Des Moines, Iowa
Education: some college
What was your first job and how did you land it?
I can’t say my story is typical because I am not actually a college graduate. Until recently, this fact has made me feel a little insecure about my career because I felt like somewhat of a failure for not finishing college while everyone else has — until I realized that no one person is alike — our journeys are all different, and what works for some may not work for others.
Shortly after graduating high school, I enlisted in the United States Army (Iowa National Guard). Although I had been accepted to start a state university following high school, I chose to join the military because I wanted real world experience in a job field (which was journalism and photography), and I wanted a way to travel, broaden my horizons, and experience life outside of my comfort zone.
In the past, I have tried numerous times to continue my education and was continuously interrupted by leaving for and coming home from military deployments at awkward times. As I grew older (and as I started honing my craft and my photography subjects), I spent more time gaining real-world experience and experimenting with self-taught instruction in order to continue my education and training in a “non-traditional way.”
While I was enrolled in some college courses after my first deployment, I worked in the women’s shoe department at Nordstrom. Besides becoming obsessed with my shoe game, working at Nordstrom taught me the importance of writing a handwritten note — it’s a small gesture that lets your family, friends, and clients feel appreciated, and it’s something that’s always stuck with me.
After I came home from my second deployment, I enrolled myself in some college courses after moving to New York City — shortly before I was supposed to start my fall semester, my father passed away unexpectedly, so I ended up taking a “sabbatical” to take care of his estate affairs and flip his home. The whole experience was definitely sudden and not expected, but I rolled with it because I had to. It was a good year and a half before I was able to go back to “normal life” and put myself first again. During that time, I began freelancing.