Second Act: Super Star, Ayse Christo

Think that you’re “too old” for a career change and that you won’t be able to compete with your younger counterparts? Recent research has shown that our brains actually improve with age instead of decline, as long as we keep challenging ourselves. One of the best ways to do that is to pull the ol’ plug on a career or job you’re feeling stuck in and start anew… which is just what this fabulous and fearless woman, Ayse Christo did, proving that it really is never too late to reinvent yourself.

Ayse Christo
New gig: Loudoun County Sheriff’s Deputy
Former gig: Freelance photographer

What is your field of study?
I spent the majority of my life in Ankara, Turkey, where I attended Hacettepe University and received a degree in Bachelor of Arts in American Culture and Literature. After graduating from college, I worked as an education consultant, sending kids abroad for their masters. At the time, the field of education overseas was trendy in Turkey, so I went for it, but it was never that fulfilling.

What brought you to the states?
In 2004, before I became a mother, my husband and I moved to the United States for his job, I became a U.S. citizen in 2008, then our daughter was born in 2009.

How did you get into photography?
My husband traveled extensively overseas for work, so as a stay at home mom, I wanted to find a job that was part-time and allowed me some flexibility. I always took a lot of photos just for fun of my daughter, and many people told me that I had a knack for it, so in 2014, I had the idea to turn this part-time hobby into a business. I didn’t know anything about the mechanics of a camera or Photoshop, so I turned to Google for research and YouTube for tutorials, and just soaked up as much knowledge as I could. After booking a few “word of mouth” jobs, I was really itching to get my name out there and create a brand, but, as most creative fields are, it’s very competitive. Luckily, a friend connected me with Posh Seven Magazine, and I started to work freelance for them.

How did the “law enforcement buzz” take hold?
I was in photography on and off for about four years, and although I enjoyed it, I started to yearn for something with a more stable income. Then about two years ago, I was on a shoot for an issue of Posh Seven that featured successful sisters, and I met this fantastic Loudoun County Sheriff’s lieutenant, Colette Cunningham. Colette was so open and friendly and didn’t mind that I bombarded her with a million questions. That was the first time I spoke to a female officer, and I was totally blown away by what an amazingly strong and inspiring woman she was. To top it off, she was a mom just like me. When I got home that night and told my husband about the shoot and my meeting with Colette. I said, “I wish I could be as cool as her,” and my husband said, “Well, why don’t you try to do what she does?” I quickly shot down the idea and filed it away in the back of my mind.

What was your big push?
The idea of working in law enforcement kept nagging at me, so about seven months later, I decided to attend a law enforcement job fair in Herndon by myself. You know, just to check it out. I honestly thought maybe I could do something in administration. When I told the recruiters what I was looking for, they said they didn’t have any openings like that, but that I could apply to be an officer. I immediately rattled off a long list of excuses for why that could never work… “I’m too short, I’m too fat, and at 42, I’m too old.” To my surprise, the recruiter said that they actually like hiring “older” people, because they tend to have sound judgment and greater patience. After the job fair, I mulled it over for eight months before finally mustering up the nerve to apply.

What happened after you applied?
I was told that I would be given a physical assessment in TWO weeks, and I had never done a pushup! I started training at home like a madwoman, just taking baby steps – first, it was one push up and sit up a day and then two, then three, and then I started slowly jogging, building up my stamina little by little. In June of 2018, I attended NOVA Criminal Justice Academy in Ashburn for the training, where we were expected to complete a one and a half-mile run. During the challenge, I was competing with twentysomethings and found myself in the last place… but I was not about to quit! Another trainee noticed me struggling, so he ran beside me, cheering me on and making sure I made it to the finish line. Everyone was applauding, and it was at that precise moment that I knew I was part of something massive, more significant than myself. The day I graduated, June 17th, 2019, was one of the proudest and best days of my life. Now I say to myself all the time, “Why didn’t I do this before?” I honestly feel that had I not met Colette on that photo shoot, I would have never in a million years thought to do this. It was truly meant to be.

Lt. Colette Cunningham, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department “I’ve been doing this job for 18 years, and in all that time, I’ve never met anyone quite like Ayse. So many people talk about becoming a police officer, and never have the guts to do it, but she did. No matter how hard things got for her, she never gave up. What sets her apart from all the rest is her heart, and you just can’t teach that.”

Why did you want to tell your story?
I hope to inspire people to never give up on your dreams. Here I thought photography was the end of the road for me, and look where I am today. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’m in a new career that is highly fulfilling, because someone took a chance on this little Turkish girl, and because I took a chance on myself. Perhaps the best part is that I’m setting a great example for my daughter, about what you can achieve if you always believe in yourself and never give up!