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.
Live interview from Rainey Street in Austin last week.
Emily Ford has been my client for about 5 years, and a client of PR at Partners for 10. Hear her perspective on what we do (hair), what she does (marketing) and how she approaches personal branding and presence.
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.
Instead of making your 2016 resolution a simple goal, what if you made it a purpose?
A purpose is more than a goal. When people are purpose-centered,
For any area of life you are not currently in love with, imagine how you'd like to feel. Remember how you felt at the healthiest moment in your life and how much energy you had waking up in the morning. If you're working on improving your communication skills behind the chair, envision yourself striding confidently up to your guest, giving a handshake as firm as your smile is warm, and experiencing that prickly sensation you only get when your presence fills a room. Imagine your reaction to yourself if you tackled some area you want to improve, and imagine others' reactions to you when they see you holding your head higher. Aim for discovering how you want to feel instead of heaping "shoulds" on your shoulders. The point of self-improvement, after all, is to lift you up!
When it does come time to break down a large and energizing purpose into intermediary goals, don't rely on sheer discipline. Some of my friends are under the mistaken assumption that I "have my shit together." In reality, I just know how little discipline I possess and am careful to tie every chore to something I actually like. I am terrible at maintenance and repetitive tasks but love decorating and reorganizing stuff. So instead of telling myself to clean my apartment because it's filthy, I buy flowers every cleaning day. The experience becomes about beautifying my home and picking out a new bouquet, and the whole thing feels less obligatory. I basically clean to impress my new flowers. Instead of just straightening the closet, I rearrange the closet and bag up clothes for Goodwill and then reward myself with a new item. If I need to cook some meals for the week, I always pick out a new podcast to listen to and if it's nice weather, I open the balcony doors for some fresh-air therapy.
Mind games are the secret.
My purpose behind the chair is to help my guest project the exact message with her look that she wants to project. This purpose necessarily leads me to address rebooking, how she will recreate her look at home, and what tweaks we can make to improve her look each and every visit - so I consistently hit my performance indicators without directly thinking about them. Having a clear purpose has kept me from feeling burdened by a bunch of random number goals on top of doing good hair and connecting with people (in fact, it's become how I connect with people and why I pursue continuing education to improve my skills). The stylists who craft a personal framework that feels sincere - one that can be embedded fully into their artistic activities - will find that their approach can grow with them as they get busier and their lives and responsibilities change.
Care for an easy first step? Decide exactly how you want to feel at the beginning and end of your work day.
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. ;)
"Who we are is how we lead....You cannot take people professionally where you are not willing to go personally."
- Brene Brown on the Being Boss Podcast
I'm going to take Brene's advice. My Christmas list this year will be a list of those whose opinions matter. Assemble your team - show up - rise strong. Happy Thanksgiving!
Who inspires you?
My friend and client Emily Ford inspires me. She did something insane recently - she ran the Patagonia 60k Marathon and got the best women's time! She SEEMS like a normal person, a person I totally relate to and hang out with often - but I can't even begin to imagine running that far or that fast!
When interviewed about how she prepared, this was Emily's response:
"I did 4 months of training and ran about 6 days a week. Two of these days would be long runs (about 15 miles), and the rest were shorter (like 6 or 8 miles). I also did cross-fit, and practiced running both flat and hilly routes. I consumed a lot of energy gel and dry pineapple. I tried not to eat too much (and drank almost no alcohol!). The week before I ran, I slept a lot. On D-Day I had chocolate cereal and a little bit of fruit for breakfast. About an hour before the start, I had a protein bar. Then I was ready!"
I honestly had no idea what it took before reading that segment, as much as we talk. It shifted my thinking to find out that she doesn't have some magical edge I don't have. She trained HARD! I don't want to run 60k but sometimes I want to run 4 miles and when I feel sluggish on the second hill, I think of Emily. If she can accomplish so much, I know what I want to accomplish is more than possible, and I commit to the action and run until I get more comfortable. Emily's accomplishment reminds me that it isn't easy for anyone and reassures that at some point even the best runners felt just like me, and it felt like they were plodding along and not getting anywhere much. Then, over time and by sheer commitment, it got easier and the world opened up. I've asked Emily how she does it and she says it's more mental and less physical than most people realize. I think it's the same with any project. If you surround yourself with people doing inspiring things, you'll learn how hard everyone works for what they have and feel more willing to do that work yourself. You'll have higher standards and find yourself achieving more.
I had a great day last week, $1680 services and 1.1 recreate. I told my assistant that it was a record for me and she said she worked for Mary when they did $2500 in a day. I interviewed my assistant about the experience and yep, there was no eating that day. There is always such comfort knowing I wasn't the first down this path, that others in the industry (and in my store!) have done more. It reminds me to stop complaining about what's uncomfortable, commit to doing the work and figure out what I can change about my approach to do better, faster. It still feels like slogging through mud sometimes, even for those at the top. The good news is that once you hit your stride internally, and get over the hurdles in your mind, the rest of you can go way further than you probably know. Collect people who remind you of this daily!
We always say we want things to be different - in our relationships, work, health, whatever - but then we spend our lives locked in comfortable routines that ensure things stay the same.
This quote comes from a short and sweet column about how breaking daily routines can make you more creative. I have a lot of conversations with stylists (many of them much more experienced than myself) who plateau below their desired income because the routines they set up initially to give them a sense of control have held them back in the long run. Routines streamline, but they do so by diminishing the need to look sharp at every step in a process.
In relationships, routines give us a false sense of comfort. People are somewhat uncomfortable until they know what they can expect. Once they fully know what to expect, though, boredom and disillusionment follow quickly. Routines keep things on an even keel...until your client gets bored after 8 years and tries her friend's new stylist.
A little voice deep down is always ready to whisper that we want something better, that we want to believe more is possible. As stylists, our job is to keep reminding clients about that voice and be the one to answer it and validate it - with yet another exciting improvement!
Anything you tend to do automatically deserves a second glance.
Literally and figuratively in my case - I'm spending the first quarter of 2015 getting carpal tunnel surgery in both wrists while also going out on a limb to move my chair, lead a new team and take on a new position. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
I know I'm on the right track when something in me says, "this is overwhelming, I can't quite see how I'll get there." I always feel this way right before I surprise myself.
Are you going out on any limbs this year? If you want to be a master of anything, you are. Mastery starts with taking risks, and experiencing the necessary vulnerability for creativity and ownership. The confidence you gain from going beyond your comfort zone, letting yourself be seen and owning the outcomes helps you get to a place of resilience - it builds the strength to learn from your mistakes as well as external challenges. The people who spend their lives mastering something are willing to go through this process again and again, and it's a process they get better at tackling. It hurts so much the first time you really push yourself. But that rush towards the next level can become something you crave.
Wishing you an exciting, kickass year of going beyond your own expectations. Start by taking on the thing you don't quite think you can do. Because if the path before you is clear and straight, you picked one boring path! It's the muddy, thorny, twisty ones that make us grow.