The year was 2013. I was 19 years old, had just dropped out of college at Ohio State, and was running a house-painting franchise in Columbus with Student Painters. Things were going well. I was making good use out of my newfound freedom by working my ass off, making decent money, learning how to operate a business, and building a strong work ethic and just-do-it attitude.

One day while I was at home, I got a message on Facebook from a woman named Becky. She was nice, and sounded very enthusiastic. She told me that she was a recruiter for a modeling company and when she saw my photos on Facebook she thought I might be a good fit. She said they pay $1000 for modeling sessions in case I was interested.

Now, this type of opportunity had never crossed into my field of view, much less onto my list of life ambitions. I consider myself a decent-looking guy, but I’m not one to care much about grooming myself or posing in front of a camera. But it sounded like a simple opportunity to make $1000, and the money very much appealed to me. Plus, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t slightly flattered by the compliment.

Letting my fresh, positive and optimistic outlook take the lead, I thought, sure, what the hell, I’ll see what this is all about. So Becky set up a meeting between her photographer and me, and told me to meet him at an address downtown where he would show me how the process would work and take a few initial headshots.

I pulled up to the house and my first thought was that I was in the wrong place. It was a quiet old neighborhood, which is common in downtown Columbus. The street was lined with big Victorian-looking brick houses with huge entryways and vines crawling up the colorful and elaborate trim.

I walked up the steps and knocked on the front door. Nobody answered. I saw a pathway leading to the backyard, so I meandered back there to see if anyone was there. I found the photographer in the backyard who greeted me excitedly and thanked me for coming. After getting the polite banter out of the way, we sat down and he began his explanation. Turns out the modeling photos would be used for a calendar called Campus Men.

A couple minutes into his pitch, he whipped out an example of the calendar. The moment that calendar slapped down on the table, my eyes widened and I sat there, petrified and still, with the feeling that I was in the wrong movie. Campus Men was a calendar with photos of college students posing with… Well, I’ll just let you see for yourself:

Yep. I’m definitely in the wrong movie. I sat there in silence, letting him finish his pitch while I quietly planned my escape.

Going into it, I thought the process would be straightforward. I thought I just had to let them take photos of me in a studio, they’d pay me $1000 for my time, and we’d part ways. But that wasn’t it at all. Not only were they asking me to pose compromisingly, but they didn’t actually pay you $1000. They gave you 100 copies of the calendar which you had could sell for $10 each.

At one point while he was explaining how past students had sold their calendars, he mentioned that they usually start by selling copies to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who can then distribute them to their networks.

All I could think of was those poor, unsuspecting grandmothers who would one day get that call from their once sweet and innocent grandson.

I was so thrown off-guard. Being 19, and having just left the bubble of school for the first time, I hadn’t yet developed the sense of my own confidence and boundaries, so I was having trouble figuring out how to get out of this. He was a natural salesman, we were in his territory, and he had expert control of the conversation and the situation.

When his spiel was over and it was time to take the headshots, he took a concentrated look at me and said, “Hmm. Let’s clean up your eyebrows a bit before this. There are some loose hairs up there, take these tweezers and go in the bathroom, I’ll be here when you’re done.”

There it was. The last straw. That was something I couldn’t do. I had never plucked my eyebrows in my life, and I wasn’t about to start for this guy who was almost succeeding in coercing me to be one of his semi-nude models.

“Look, man. I’m pretty uncomfortable with this whole thing. I don’t want to do this. I was expecting something totally different, and nobody told me it was this kind of photo shoot. I’m not doing this. I’m going to leave now.”

For me, it was a good lesson in setting firm boundaries. Recounting this memory, I wish I had made that decision to walk out the moment I knew I was in the wrong place. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds, so I have some empathy for my 19-year-old self. Sometimes you can get swept up with the moment and do things you don’t think are right to avoid the pain of creating an uncomfortable situation. It’s much easier to go along with what’s happening without causing friction. Luckily he stepped over the line and asked me to pluck my eyebrows.

Sometimes I think of this moment when I’m in a situation that would be easy to ride out even though it doesn’t feel right. And I think confidence in setting boundaries can be built over time with practice.

After putting my foot down, I promptly walked out, eyebrows fully intact, knowing I was leaving a budding modeling career behind me. I never looked back.

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