Inspiration for the work that my clients commission on a daily basis doesn't just come from hair magazines and fashion blogs. It comes from a hike in the woods; live music; city architecture; or a gallery of installations like "Wonder," on exhibit at the Renwick.
Every artist has to decide what sort of beauty he or she wants to create. For my part, there has to be an element of surprise. Profound beauty creeps up on us; it doesn't yell in our face (the latter, all high contrast and harsh lines, is the "hairdresser-y hair" we pros love to hate). Beauty feels organic, like it grew out of the environment in which we found it (whether or not it took four hours and four liters of developer to bring it to life). Beauty has a lot to do with flourishing amidst the uncertainty and inconsistency of life.
I take a couple of high-intensity technique classes every year, and that keeps me reasonably disciplined. More curiosity is sparked, however, in questioning my overall approach to design and exploring art and business ideas beyond my own industry. When a woman tells me the pixie I gave her is the best cut she's ever had, she probably isn't impressed with the way I hold my shears, the exact angle at which I point cut, or how neat my sectioning looks. These are things hairdressers care about to keep themselves organized, and also to impress other hairdressers. Becoming remarkable to the people you serve has to do with how you hear someone's desires and how you work with - not against - the canvas of their natural hair. The twining stick huts in Patrick's Dougherty's Shindig are a perfect analogy to how I work with whorls and wave patterns in executing a haircut:
Each structure is unique, an improvised response to its surroundings, as reliant on the materials at hand as the artist’s wishes: the branches tell him which way they want to bend. This give and take lends vitality to Dougherty’s work, so that walls and spires are a record of gestures and wills.
"A record of gestures and wills." Beauty has this job to do. The best hairstylists use beauty to send messages. Since our canvas is a human being, our work is about discerning and projecting her through her ideal image. That image is a beacon to the world that tells others how to address her and take her in. The most important thing I have to know about everyone who sits in my chair is this: what is your most important message, and what is your life about? Because I want it to show.
The more you put your real self out there, the more it hurts if people don't agree or appreciate your ideas and efforts. Clients see red where I see brown; break room chatter slams an attempt to help my team; people say they had expected something different from their experience with a stylist or assistant at my store; silence greets my attempt to reach out.
Rejection always stings. Some people deal with it by closing themselves off, but then they lose the valuable piece in every review, the piece that gives hints on how to become better. I want to use critiques as input, but not let them derail me. Yet I'm hypersensitive, define myself by my work and treat every little thing I put out into the world as a creative little piece of my soul - whether managing, hair, or ideas. My preferred reaction to rejection used to be buttoning my emotional trench coat up to the sky and running away, never to be heard from again. Not an approach that is easily available when you are responsible for over 300 clients and 30 employees!
So how does someone like me thrive in a hair salon? I have developed a slippery outer surface.
If you get inside that surface, things are really sticky and everything you say matters to me intensely. Only a few people who really count get all the way inside. They comprise my personal network of supporters who may judge me the hardest, but do so out of love and a desire to help me grow. When someone proves their worth as a mentor and earns my core trust, they get let inside.
What keeps me from crumpling into a ball of despair, and often, is that when someone else flings a complaint at me, I let it slip right off my slick exterior and dissolve into 2 buckets beneath me labeled "FACTS" and "FEELINGS". That is, my first step is to just silence my own feelings and encourage the other party to let it out. Once it's fully out, I isolate the facts from what the other person feels, and analyze both separately. I force myself to try to imagine why they may feel the way they do even if I disagree about the facts. I do all of this before allowing myself to feel my reaction, but when I feel it, I let myself feel it 100% - hopefully only in my own head. Finally, I decide how to express my emotional reaction. This depends heavily on whether I think the person complaining actually wants to make things better, or wants to pull me down. It also depends on whether I think they are honest. (Yes, we do get people who just want every haircut to be free, and someone recently tried to return a 3-year-old hair product!)
It's by having these standards that I've been able to build up a network of supporters who pick me back up on the days where my process just isn't enough to stave off doubt or disappointment. What I want most for myself and everyone I come into contact with is just this: that we will keep putting our true selves out there, even though it's harder than how most people live, and even though it means we will step on lots of toes. I'm not trying to be cool and I'm not trying to be right. I'm trying to keep trying.
And not just professionally. My dad wrote me the following in an email this week, when I was talking about taking on a new (exciting) risk in my personal life. I expected critique, but instead got the reassurance I most needed:
"We only get one life. I would rather go for what seems right and makes sense than overly protect myself and miss out. Knowing you can and will bounce back (and knowing you have lots of support) makes leaning forward a better bet in my opinion than missing out."
Leaning forward and sharing your creativity will earn you criticism. I promise. How you deal with that criticism will make or break you. It will give you greater traction or it will make you trip.
Developing emotional armor in all the right places ~ that's my favorite thing about getting older.
A stylist at my store posted this video on our staff page. Definitely watch the whole thing, it's outrageous:
This guy's tricks have an elegant simplicity, yet they create dramatic results. While watching this much expertise and creativity flow through someone's hands, all I could think about was how many things he must have tried first! This sort of magic doesn't just happen. It takes a really fearless artist willing to make some mistakes and experience a lot of frustration at not quite having nailed it.
I've been thinking a lot about the creative process, and how to rekindle my own after an exhausting 2015. Luckily, Emily Ford gave me a copy of Big Magic for Christmas (thanks, friend!) I never could get through Eat, Pray, Love but this book is right up my alley. It's about "living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear." When it comes to doing the best work you have in you, curiosity is what ultimately pushes you beyond the way you currently cut, color and relate to others behind the chair, to attempt new (and therefore risky) methods.
I had a long list of New Years resolutions for 2016, and it made me feel like shit. So I threw it out.
At the brilliant recommendation of my man friend, Eric, I did something else. I made a list of all the actions that make me feel better about being me - right now. Things like doing yoga, running, having a drink with one of my stylists, prepping my lunches for the week, and actually putting my clean laundry away before I wear it. Basic little things. The idea is to relieve the pressure I put on myself to Do Big Things and do more of what I know full well makes me feel amazing. No matter what else is going on, no matter how others respond to me, I have control of doing these small things and making myself feel better. Eric suggested I cross 3 things off each day, so that over the course of the week I've taken pretty damn good care of myself - while still allowing for those nights when the dirty dishes don't make it off the counter.
If this sounds too simplistic, think about all the times you focused on your loftiest goals and didn't quite achieve them. How did that affect your confidence and productivity? Now think about how you feel after doing one of the little things on your list. After a run, when my endorphins are flowing, I have my best ideas, focus on the happiest parts of my life instead of the most annoying, and reach out to others in a more positive way. For a little while, I live more confidently and stop focusing on all the ways I'm not yet precisely who I want to be.
It's only in this energetic state that curiosity can flourish and the sparks that lead to Big Magic can fly. As Gilbert puts it,
You can battle your demons instead of battling your gifts - in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow. You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting - its partner.
The holiday rush always crystalizes my core beliefs about stylist success.
- The people who seem to do the impossible all got there the hard way.
- If you're waiting for directions, next steps, a path, or something to believe in from others, you'll wait forever. Just decide. Decide where you're going, start moving, and tell everyone around you. The path is something you'll only understand in hindsight.
- If you want to change your results you have to change your habits, and that is going to be uncomfortable. Discomfort means you're changing - congrats!
- Take everyone's feedback seriously, but listen hardest to those who make you feel more energetic.
- Nobody ever consistently met their R's (Rebooking, Recreate and Reinvent) without a little PRE-PLANNING. You want to change your book? Get to work 10 minutes early, look at your real time monitor and travelers, choose your 5 favorite products and make a game plan. I have never seen this fail.
- The second you feel dread about anything, stop and ask for help. You *never* need to feel dread. Hit pause, make a clear game plan and reach out to those who have the results and skills you want to acquire. Doing the work isn't easy but you can and should have fun the whole way, even if you fall asleep in your clothes every single night. ;)
As the PRECISE target customer for this brand's aesthetic (not to mention that their tagline is "the culture of hairdressing") I'm excited to have the line headed my way to try.
Would you feel pretty slick having this dry shampoo live in your bathroom?
Vidal Sassoon: The Movie (2010)
Directed by Craig Teper. With Irina Khokhlova, Kai-Li Ma, Mary Quant, Ronnie Sassoon. Vidal Sassoon is more than just a hairdresser-he's a rock star, an artist, a craftsman who "changed the world with a pair of scissors." With the geometric, Bauhaus-inspired hairdos he pioneered...