Featuring Sarah Kohrt: Entrepreneurial Creative & National Guard First Lieutenant

Sarah Kohrt is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met in high school and even then, I knew she was destined for greatness. She’s always been one of those people who has gone against the grain and forged her own path as a leader, rather than a follower. She’s someone who against all odds, proves she can do anything with hard work and ambition. She takes negative things like doubt, tragedy and heartbreak and lets it fuel her to create, teach, and help others.

Sarah Kohrt, Photographer & National Guard First Lieutenant

Sarah developed a love of photography and capturing memories in college while at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While studying photography, she was consistently told that her photos and projects were too commercial. But being the type of person who follows her heart and stays authentic to who she is, she never shied away from that style. Today with her photo and film business, Photo & Film by SarahElizabeth, she embodies that same style for love story, lifestyle, and promotional photography for music artists.

Not only is she an entrepreneur and creative with her own business, but Sarah also joined the Army National Guard in 2015 and is now a First Lieutenant. And it doesn’t stop there. With her deep love of fitness and helping others achieve a healthier lifestyle, Sarah also teaches classes at Pure Barre in Nashville, TN. (Side note, like any Army girl would, she kicks your booty into shape – I would know – I couldn’t really move after taking one of her classes.) She truly embodies the term ‘jack of all trades.’

If you couldn’t tell already, Sarah’s ambition with her numerous jobs and busy lifestyle is downright admirable and inspiring. Check out our interview below to find out more about her story!

Sarah Kohrt kneels in her army gear

Sarah, you have quite the story and I can’t wait to share it with everyone! Let’s start with you explaining how you got to be where you are today with being a entrepreneur, Pure Barre instructor, and part of the National Guard. 

So after studying photography at the University of Illinois, I took a little bit of a break away from photography because admittedly, I fell into the pressure of the whole ‘make money, make it now, be an adult’ kind of thing. I was miserable working a corporate job. I still did a little bit of photography with a wedding or family photoshoot here or there, but nothing too serious. I had numerous friends tell me that I should do photography full time and my constant thought was no, since I felt I would be in this constant struggle to support myself. I got so frustrated with people telling me the same things over and over, but would never change anything.

It wasn’t until I was fired and dumped in the same day that things started to change. I decided to join the Army and spent a year down at Fort Benning in Georgia. I feel that that time period is when I felt things really fall into place. I became much more consistent with my life and my habits that it helped me become more organized with my thoughts and my goals. I began taking Pure Barre classes, started my position as a Platoon Leader and photographed a few weddings and engagements. I realized that doing my own thing, coaching and leading others was really what I was passionate about.

When I moved back to Wisconsin, I hit the ground running. I changed my mindset from the ‘make money, make it now, be an adult’ to let me do what makes me happy and what I am passionate about,’ so I pushed myself to help others and figured out that the success would come from that. Today, although I face the day to day entrepreneurial uncertainties and busy schedules, I can say that I am excited with where I am headed in my career and personal life because I am the one leading it.

I think it’s so inspiring that you took some not so great situations and let it fuel you to find your passions in life. Where you’re at today with your photography and film business, what excites you about it? What do you find the most challenging?

I love that I get to wake up every morning and decide what my next move is. Again, it’s scary, but exciting nonetheless. Aside from that, I LOVE that I get to surround myself with people that are just like me. As crazy as it is, we truly do flock towards those with minds and personalities similar to our own.

The most challenging has been sticking to my own deadlines. When you have so much freedom in your job, you need to create that sort of corporate structure for yourself so that you don’t get behind in your work and can stay on track with your clients.

Knowing how busy you are with all of your jobs, how do you balance life and work responsibilities?

This is a tough one. Right now, I am sort of submerged in this ‘Lucky Charms’ mentality. When I was a kid, I loved to eat Lucky Charms. I’d eat all of the oats first, fishing around the marshmallows, to make sure that I got them all. I did this so that once I was done getting all of the oats, I got to indulge in only the marshmallows that were left. So right now in life, I am eating the oats. I am hustling everyday, taking away time from relaxing and social activities to make sure that I am getting to where I want to be. This way, once I am more stable and settled, I can eat the marshmallows! While all that is true I did get the thought of making it a metaphor on life from Bobby Bones (gotta give credit where credit is due).

I seriously love that analogy. I’m sure a lot of people out there can relate. Looking back over the years, what would you say has been your best career decision and what maybe hasn’t been the best?

My best career decision has been to just dive deep and fully submerge myself into my photography and film business. I worked for so long for a company that I thought valued me and my position, when in actuality, it was the main source of toxicity in my self-confidence. It wasn’t until I joined the military and was able to take a step back that I realized this and I haven’t looked back since.

I think that also brings me to the toughest part, which is realizing that I am the sole source of my own income and success. At times, it can be daunting, but also very invigorating. There have been moments where I’d sit alone on my floor with my dog, just staring into nothing, trying to think how I was going to pay any of my bills. Constant thoughts back and forth as to whether or not I should keep doing what I am doing, or move into my grandma’s spare bedroom to save some cash. Instead of pushing myself backwards, I decided to use that doubt and anxiety as motivation to get up and push that much harder towards my goals.

That’s what I love about you and your journey to how you have got to where you are today. Doubt turned motivation is a powerful thing. Speaking of motivation, what keeps you motivated?

Goal-setting keeps me motivated. I also get motivated when people tell me I can’t do something. If you would have asked me five years ago where I thought I would be today or where I would have wanted to be today, it would be drastically different than if you asked me today. My goals are constantly changing and developing as my skills and abilities get stronger. I’ve realized that I am much more capable of things that I previously thought were not realistic.

While I have a number of goals, my ultimate one with my business is to shoot album covers and direct music videos for music artists. I have always been inspired by music for every shoot I’ve done. Music and lyrics are a driving force in all of my creative ideas. You can pick up on this in the photos and films I produce, as well as my social media posts.

As cliche as it is, women need to realize they truly can do anything they set their mind to. And I think if your goal is to photograph for album covers, I have no doubt in my mind you’ll make it happen. With your success over the years, what would you credit it to?

I think there are a multitude of factors that have contributed to my success. First and foremost, I think it I can credit a lot of my success to a business internship I did in college with College Works Painting. I did that for years and learned how to actually run a business by living and breathing it every day. The foundation I learned during that time in my life really helped shape what I wanted my photo and film business to look like.

The people I surround myself with have also helped contribute to my success. I consider two of my best friends to be somewhat of my personal consultants. They are there not only to bounce ideas off of, but also to help me rationalize situations where I sometimes let my emotions take over. 

I have seen my family struggle, settle, and accept defeat. Because of that, I push myself away from every situation in that realm. Life is not meant to be settled. It is not meant to be mediocre. It’s meant for failure and for risk. This mentality is what gets me going each and every day. I don’t want to face the struggles that I grew up facing. I have a ‘never give up’ mentality and I believe in it so much that I have it tattooed on my rib cage. While I got it for a more personal reason, it does apply to everything that I do in my life and how I approach everything I take part in.

You’ve mentioned family struggles and tough times. Being one of your good friends, I know your biggest challenge to date was something that really changed your perspective in life. Would you mind shedding light into that?

Yes. For those that don’t know, during one of my first weeks as a freshman in college, I received a call that my stepfather had committed suicide. It was one of those situations that you hear about from afar, but never really think will happen to you. I think this tragedy came as an instant wake up call that things were going to change from that point forward.  

I became the soul source of reliance in my family for my mom and my siblings. To be honest it seems that since then, I have been more of a parent to them all than anything. I am the one that they reach out to for advice, guidance, and discipline. I knew at that point that I couldn’t just go to school and get a 9-5 job. I had to do something drastically different because I wasn’t only molding my life for myself at that point, but molding it to be a role model for my family. I couldn’t let hardships gets me down because I didn’t want them to think it was okay to let them either.

So, I buried myself in my studies at Illinois State University so that I could transfer to the University of Illinois (where my step-father graduated as a computer engineer) and began an internship running my own business as a sophomore. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it helped pave a path for me. It proved to me that if I want to do things that are outside of the norm, then I can. And I have.

You certainly have! And I know going through your step-father’s suicide was no easy feat. How has going through that tragedy shaped you and your business?

I just rebranded my business and one of the key components to this new brand is my ‘Capture for a Cause’ feature. I am pairing my photography and film services with different charities so that I am constantly giving back to organizations that support military vets, animal shelters, and suicide prevention since I have personal connections to all of those. I also just became a monthly donor to St Jude, which I am really excited about! I have also photographed a few benefit events for breast cancer awareness and Open Heart Magic. If you can find an organization that means something to you, I believe it helps build that passion for what you do, knowing that you can give your talents back for the greater good.

Couldn’t agree more. I think giving back is such a beautiful thing, and it’s even more beautiful when you can tie it into one of your passions or causes that you can identify with. Throughout the years, who would you say has most inspired you? 

My grandma undoubtedly has inspired me the most. She is a very strong and independent woman that knows what she wants and goes after it, despite what anyone says. I’ve learned a lot from her. Since college, we have become extremely close and she is undoubtedly my best friend.

If you had one piece of advice for fellow career women out there, what would it be?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t let them judge you for what you want to do. And if they do judge you, that’s fine. Just don’t let it affect what you want and what your goals are. You are not them and you have your own path.

Sarah Kohrt lays on her stomach on a boat dock

Thanks so much for being a part of the Shine On series, Sarah! Do you have any parting thoughts?

Some people shoot for the things they want, others don’t. Nothing is unrealistic if you think about it. Everybody was once someone, from somewhere, who wanted something. Dream big. Mic drop 🙂

Connect with Sarah at her channels below:

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