Answering My Own Women in Business Questions: Part 3

The Things I Ask Everyone:

1) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

I already mentioned “you teach people how to treat you” in last week’s interview. So, I’ll share another incredibly influential piece of advice.

“Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time.”

Rory Vaden

For the first time in my life, someone had addressed the real issue with “time management.” As a new small business owner, soon-to-be wife, and someone who has varying personal interests, I had become tired of reading the same self-help, time management advice which essentially consists of: make lists, multi task, wake up earlier, and create a schedule. I was doing all those things and still felt like I could never find a free moment for myself, despite my efforts and discipline to make it work.

Am I the only woman who feels this way? Umm, no. These time management styles work for those of us without complex societal pressures to do everything, for everyone. And they absolutely do not address how to cope with the resulting guilt we feel when we can’t do everything, or simply don’t want to, and the pit of despair we tend to fall into once we beat ourselves up for “failing” at everything and letting everyone down, including ourselves.

Those books don’t even try to teach us how to deal with the constant exhaustion and (let’s face it) straight up fury we feel when we try to explain these concepts and are gaslit at every turn by those around us and society at large. “It’s 2021, sexism isn’t a thing anymore. Everyone is equal so you choose this for yourself. Other women have it way worse than you anyway. You’re overreacting. Stop being so emotional. Why is everything about being a woman? Why can’t you just be happy? Be grateful. If you don’t want to do all that stuff, just don’t do it. Or just stop complaining.” And the list goes on, and on, and on…our experiences invalidated, our frustration bottled back up at our own expense.

The problem is that lurking below the impossible weight of our never-ending to do lists is guilt and a sense of emotional obligation to do everything. Someone had finally named it. And once I wrapped my head around this concept and started detaching myself from that guilt, things slowly began improving. The solution to breaking this cycle is to recognize that the game is rigged, flip it two big middle fingers, and start working on your damn self.

However, I do want to mention that Vaden’s argument omits any type of gender theory (and all other identity politics for that matter) making his solutions overly simplistic at times. I plan to write an entire blog post on this topic, but until women can identify that we are conditioned by society to be what Emily and Amelia Nagoski in their book Burnout call “Human Givers” rather than human beings, we cannot even begin to unlearn this conditioning in order to change our behaviors.

The bottom line: Human Givers are taught (from the moment society genders us) to believe everyone else is entitled to our time and if we don’t give it, we’re bad people. Unpleasant, ungrateful, rude, selfish, lazy people. While human beings are taught (from the moment society genders them) to go out and conquer the world! No guilt necessary.

Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time. No one else will give it to you.

Vaden’s TED Talk: https://youtu.be/y2X7c9TUQJ8

2) What’s the biggest challenge and biggest reward of owning your own business?

The biggest challenge for me has been scaling my business to meet demand every time I outgrow my current model.

It’s easy to get comfortable and want things to stay the same once I find a rhythm, but that’s not how businesses grow. The universe has a way of forcing me to level up if I’m open to seeing opportunities and willing to put in the work to make them real. But every time I’ve had to do this I fall into what I call the “work hole” where I live and breathe my projects until they’re done, at the expense of everything else in my life. I’m working on that.

The biggest reward is participating in a community of women who believe that if we help each other, we will all succeed. That’s powerful.

3) What is one book that changed your life? Why?

Find A Way by Diana Nyad.

Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the assistance of a shark cage. She failed four other attempts, and succeeded on her fifth, when she was 64 years old. It took her 53 hours.

Basically she is one of the biggest badasses ever, and her ability to develop mental toughness and persistence in the face of so much adversity is amazing to read about. The logistics behind her story are fascinating, but her memoir changed my life because she’s an amazing writer (journalist by trade) and many of the principles she eloquently writes about apply to all aspects of life.

My favorite quote from Find A Way that has helped me through so many impossibly difficult times:

Take every minute, one at a time. Don’t be fooled by a perfect sea at any given moment. Accept and rise to whatever circumstance presents itself. Be in it full tilt, your best self. Summon your courage, your true grit. When the body fades, don’t let negative edges of despair creep in. Allowing negativity leads to a Pandora’s box syndrome. You can’t stop the doubts once you consent to let them seep into your tired, weakened brain. You must set your will. Set it now. Let nothing penetrate or cripple it.”

2021

Last January first I felt hopeful.

I was searching for a way to be myself again. I felt like I had almost found it.

I keep a picture from one Christmas morning sitting on the bookshelf in my office. It’s of me wearing a pink robe that I had just unwrapped. My dad in the background, sturdy hands holding me in place, directed me to focus on the camera. I don’t remember the exact details of that day, who took the photo, or even which house we were in. I don’t exactly remember, as a kid, what was going on in my mind as I unwrapped a gift more suited for my 32-year old self’s taste. What I do remember is being happy. I was appreciating that exact moment for everything it was. Joy to be alive. For Christmas morning, for warmth and family and the idea that sooner or later that very day, I would be creating something – free inside my own mind. Uninhibited.

The photo is posed, but it’s not one bit fake. That’s what I love about it.

I read somewhere that as we get older and search for ourselves, we’re really just trying to remember who we were before the world changed us. When you ask yourself who you really are, the key is to ask who’s asking in the first place. Then go from there. The qualities that are “me” have always been there, I just buried them. The work is in peeling back the armor and eliminating the noise and distractions so I can hear and see what is revealed. Who was I before I created shells of protection? Layers of padding, coping mechanisms, work, survival, distractions and reactions. Which parts of me can I chop off and toss over the metaphorical cliffs because keeping them no longer serves me and the weight is too much? It’s making me tired.

The moments that begin to take up the majority of our lives start to feel like an out of body experience. A movie. It becomes harder to conjure up a genuine smile even though the happiness is real. Then the moment has passed. Our dopamine receptors in need of a reset, our brains taking constant hits, this keeps us at a comfortable level of numbness. Trapped in a box of everything. No room for ourselves.

I keep that particular photo as a reminder that she is in here somewhere. A daily nod to my ultimate goal: to dig her back out, no matter how painful, because it will be worth it. She feels like a different person entirely, and that’s why I think this next part is easy: I keep her around to remind me to act like someone she’d look up to, someone she’d be proud of. Who can I be today that will help her grow up as her most genuine self? If I met her now, what would she say to me? Why would she say it? Kids are brutally honest.

I wrote my first story before I could write. I had to dictate it to my mom who then wrote it down for me. I still have it. It’s mostly a nonsensical amalgamation of fairy tales – a retelling of stories I’d heard over and over. But the point is that I was creating something, specifically out of ideas and words. There is something inside my brain that begins to malfunction the minute I stop allowing myself to interpret my world this way. I say “malfunction” because I honestly have no other way to describe it. This Elizabeth Gilbert quote always comes to mind:

If I am not actively creating something, then chances are I am probably actively destroying something – myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.

I have never read anything that more accurately describes my personality. The challenge is in maintaining that kind of momentum, and realizing that not everything constitutes a type of creating that keeps me from destroying something. And even the things that do don’t keep me satisfied for long. That balance is what I’m searching for now that we’re in January again. If I could talk to Elizabeth Gilbert I’d ask her how she keeps that ball rolling. It’s a strange thing to realize about yourself – I must put something out into the world (even if it’s absolute crap and even if I feel like absolute crap) because if I don’t then my mind starts finding other ways to mix things up. And they’re not always pleasant. Actually most of the time they aren’t. These things that I put out do not need to be seen or read by others, but for some reason throwing them out into the universe separates them from me just enough to where my mind no longer owns them, so I can let many of them go. If I don’t feel like it, too bad. Not doing this is always worse.

On the surface level that seems simple enough to maintain. A “writer” with too many ideas is never good. Write the ideas down, expel them from my brain, and move on to the next idea. Keep myself from going insane. However (and this is a huge however that changes everything) what do I do when I know that at the core of myself and my ability to create is wild imagination, and that imagination is like a book at the very bottom of a hundred boxes of books that won’t work until it’s opened? And every day, digging it out, I have to start at the top of the pile again.

I wake up, I have my coffee and I go up to the attic. After going up and down the stairs a hundred times (this is exhausting work but unfortunately I think it’s something best done alone) my house is filled with boxes. Each one filled with so many books, in no particular order, but I’m looking for that one. I start going through them. I get distracted remembering that time I wanted to learn how to garden, or knit. I get lost looking at fairy tales or old copies of children’s books. I remember reading this one in college, that that one before I got married. I cry looking over inscriptions from Grandma Brown; her handwriting is perfection. Before I know it the sun is going down and I’m tired and this is a mess, so I pack them all back up to the attic and tell myself I’ll try to find it another time.

And so it goes. For years.

For most of my mid to late twenties I simply ignored the attic altogether. Pretending like it wasn’t there, I partook in various self deprecating behaviors to distract myself from realizing that the weight of all those boxes would eventually crack the boards of the weak attic floor and come pouring out onto my head one day, maybe crushing me to death. Who cares? Let them crush me.

Then sometime around thirty or so, I came to the conclusion that rather than wait to be crushed in my sleep I should probably just go up there and see what I could do about it. Maybe start sifting through some things, donating, burning, rereading, keeping. Organizing. Curiosity, more than anything, drove this excavation. And so it began, the daily up and down with peeks and glimpses into what I’m looking for, with the exhaustion always winning before I get to where I need to go. In the meantime, ideas stay inside and I keep destroying things outside.

So, January 2020 I decided to do what ten year old Liz would do and get rid of the distractions and go read on a rock. I mean, seriously, I spent much of my childhood packing books out to dried up creek beds so I could sit in silence and read them unbothered. Simpler times. And I did that, literally and figuratively, for one month, and for the first time in years I created the time and energy to clear out most of the shit in the attic, and I was so close to freeing my imagination I could literally see it behind closed eyes at night. The way those sparkles and swirls move under your eyelids.

And then just like that the world changed and instead of unpacking those last few boxes, I became exhausted again when I saw that the attic filled right back up. Right to the top. With the noise and the work and the expectations. Stress and survival and the beating thump in my throat and chest that never goes away. Like someone had played a trick on me and put the boxes all back while I was sleeping. My work undone. The second time always seems harder than the first time.

So that’s where I am going into this new year, 2021. Aware that the boards are bowing overhead. Feeling in my bones that the girl from the photo would matter of factly say something like “Just go up there and dig it out, because once you have it, all the rest will disappear without any effort at all.” And I’ll be left with what I needed all along: a quiet place to find my ideas sitting neatly on my desk. All the clutter and weight missing. Fragments of my own imagination anyway, hiding itself because the timing wasn’t right.

This year I unboxed a robe for Christmas. From my sister, not requested. It’ the first one I’ve been gifted since that photo.

Answering my own Women In Business Interview Questions: Introduction

Before we get into the question I’ve chosen for today, let’s have a chat.

It’s no mystery that for any business the holiday season is busy. During a typical year, October through December are my biggest months for shopping, and my service schedule is packed, so I find myself with little energy for much else. I had to accept the fact that interviews and resource guides may need to be put on pause until January, and that’s okay. In previous years I felt better about the chaos because I’d factored it in and planned plenty of time to myself. I was getting to a point where I could afford time off so I tried my best to take it. My goal was two weeks off last year (✔️), three weeks this year (not happening), and then a month starting in 2021 and moving forward until I change my mind again (it’s happening).

I’m talking about a sabbatical from the chaos to get my mind right, work on myself and my personal life, and see my business through fresh eyes so I can adjust. Recalibrate. Matthew McConaughey would call it a “walk about.” I won’t be getting high and floating down the Amazon River, however, a month without obligations but with set intentions can change your life. Even if you’re staying home. I learned that last year on my digital minimalism journey.

Then 2020 happened and all my “security,” plans, schedule changes and policies I’d been fine-tuning since becoming self employed evaporated. And here we are. I’m still taking two weeks off around Christmas and New Years, less out of a sense of accomplishment and more out of a sense of sheer exhaustion and necessity.

Since July I’ve been working on my online store project. Anyone who knows me is familiar with my insistence that I do things completely, and to the best of my personal ability, the first time. You know, it’s my Dad’s voice in my head: “Don’t half ass it. Do your best and that’s all you can do.” I hear that ringing in my ears every time I’m doubting myself, but it’s the truth. Our best is all we’ve got. My best is in creating things when the old ways just aren’t working out anymore.

I feel like I’m starting a second business. The time, coordination, rebranding, systems changes, and the money spent. It’s more than I bargained for, but it’s almost here. In less than two weeks my biggest work project since opening my business in the first place will be out there for the world to see. And all the familiar doubts usher me in with open arms.

Will it fail? Will I fail? Will no one like it? Was it a stupid idea in the first place? Should I have saved my money until a more predictable and steady time (non-pandemic)? Do I actually know what I’m doing? Will this give me more freedom or less?

I wanted to share these feelings with you because, to be completely honest, I’ve noticed many of you have commented on how well I’ve been navigating this challenge as a business owner. Quickly adapting, not frozen in fear or inactive. Pivoting and succeeding. And while I appreciate all the kind words and support, behind all the action is still a lot of fear. Fear of failure and fear of ending up back where I started.

But any smart business owner will tell you that it’s impossible to end up back where you started. Half of the fun of creating is learning what didn’t work. Even if you didn’t bargain for it, you’re left with the knowledge. Never back where you started. Always carrying more information than you had yesterday. Whether you wanted it or not.

I decided to answer these questions now because I feel like I’m in an unique place in my entrepreneurial journey. Experienced but not very experienced. I’ve thought about doing this in the past but didn’t feel like it was appropriate. Like writing a memoir at 25. I needed more time in the fire. 2020 has doled out the fire and the lessons, in droves. But I know I’m not even in the middle yet. In another five years I’ll answer them again, just to see.

I also thought it would be beneficial for new clients to get to know me better. With my online business becoming real, it’s a nice reminder for anyone who’s interested that it really is just me, a person, on the other side trying to do my best.

Being an entrepreneur and small business owner is scary in the first place, without the challenges 2020 has presented. But for some reason some of us are able to channel that fear into a challenge. It’s like a friendly but difficult and unending scrimmage with the universe.

That’s all you’ve got?

_____

Question 1: Tell us about your business, and your qualifications in the beauty industry.

I warn you in advance. I’m going to talk a lot, because it’s my blog. So why not?

I own Two Beauties Skin + Makeup in old town Eureka. I opened my two-person skincare and makeup studio in November of 2016 where I work with my sister. We’re both licensed estheticians and makeup artists. We offer facials, peels, waxing, makeup lessons, and event artistry. We also carry several skincare, makeup, and body care lines, and are launching our online store on December 1, 2020.

Somehow I always knew I wanted to write, and also be an artist in the beauty industry. I’m not sure how I knew that, and my roles have evolved over the years, but I’ve always chased that balance. A career that allows me to be creative while still being practical. Growing up in a family where we had enough, but money was always a constant source of worry, I knew I didn’t want that for myself. I knew that I needed to create things to feel sane, but rarely do art degrees pay the bills. So I met myself somewhere in the middle.

I started my career in the beauty industry in 2007 as a beauty sales person at an Estée Lauder counter in the mall. I, to this day, do not think there’s a better way to become a great makeup artist than to have a job which requires you to put makeup on anyone who asks you to, in the mall, for almost free. I worked on all skin types, tones, conditions, ages, and concerns. It’s an excellent way to get your feet wet without needing a professional license or any beauty qualifications whatsoever. I had some sales experience, and that was all that was necessary. My love for makeup was just a plus. I learned enough in that short year to propel me to my first job in a real makeup studio.

I applied to work at the local spa I went to for waxing. My amazing esthetician (who now owns her own shop and is still amazing) suggested I apply because their makeup artist was moving. I got the job and ended up working there for almost six years. I did everything there, including observing the benefits and pitfalls of running a small, local business. I worked as a receptionist, as a makeup artist (which now that I’m licensed I know is illegal to do without a license in a spa or salon…), as a manager, as a retail buyer, and finally after graduating from both Humboldt State with my degree in journalism and beauty school with my esthetics license, as a legitimate beauty professional.

After that, I worked in a spa one of my best friends co-owns for three years. With the amazing support, encouragement, and wisdom of the group of experienced women who work there, I was able to save enough money and gain enough confidence to open my own studio.

During this whole time, to make ends meet and pay for school, I worked at Victoria’s Secret. I started out as an 18 year old sales associate in 2006 and eventually ended up managing the beauty department. I credit the ten years working for that company in their heyday (plus my media degree) for almost all of my sales, management, and marketing knowledge. Working for a gigantic corporate brand and running their beauty department while simultaneously running a small business working with professional-level brands taught me both sides of the beauty world, large and small. Between the spa and Victoria’s Secret I was also able to make the closest friendships that I still have to this day, only nowadays we show support to each other by hiring each other, lifting each other up, and keeping our network strong. Working with (almost) all female staff my entire life has taught me that collaboration, rather than competition, is vital to business success.

My most notable experience during my “VS” days is where the above photo comes from. My beauty department in small-town Eureka sold more perfume (as a percentage of overall sales) than any other store in California. The company flew 19-year-old terrified, baby Liz to Texas (first time I’d ever flown, and by myself) where I got my makeup done by the models’ pro artist and got to have my pictures taken with Candice and Erin. What a day to be alive. Clearly, based on my facial expression, I wasn’t terrified whatsoever (just zoom in). That was the first time I saw how big the beauty industry really is, and it helped me to grow my own dreams.

As problematic as corporate beauty may be, Victoria’s Secret taught me how to merchandise and sell a rotating inventory of hundreds (if not thousands) of products, and I loved it most of the time. I finally quit in spring of 2016, so I could open my own shop.

And here we are. I love what I do. I love the fact that I get to work with my sister and spend my days with women I admire, clients and friends alike. But I am excited (and a bit terrified) to see where things go from here.