Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Is the term "Professional Artist" an oxymoron?

As most of you know, I have been an artist as long as I can remember. I’ve been drawing, painting, and highly engaged in art since kindergarten. I have always danced to my own tune, had a different idea on how things should happen, hear things differently from others, and have seen things differently from others. I always dressed differently, and had no filter on my mouth. When I was young, if teachers didn't understand my way of learning, they labeled me as a problem child, or dunce, giving me terrible grades and presenting me as a clown or daydreamer to the rest of the class. But teachers who did get who I was and the special way I learned often would be able to find ways for me to excel. I wouldn't just excel but I would get the best grades in the class.

Now I do not think every artist has a start to life this way, but I do think it takes a certain kind of person to be able to create something that inspires others to see things differently. Most artists I believe at some point deal with resistance or flack for taking a different path that what is socially accepted. This could be choosing to make a creative talent into a career, where one might get shit from their families that they should perhaps choose a more stable occupation. It could also be because they don't do things the way others do them in standards of appropriateness within their society or culture. Personally, people think the way I dress now is “cool” (so I've been told), but when I was younger I always dressed “strange”. I wore my dad’s 70’s clothes in high school, while everyone else wore Gap, Polo, and Banana Republic. In Junior year I cut my hair short and bleached it, and was immediately labeled a lesbian (like that was a bad thing). I liked to go to spoken word performances, art gallery openings, and kick ass concerts while a lot of my peers liked to go on spring break, get shit faced, have sex, and play sports. Don't get me wrong, I love playing sports (Varsity Volleyball 3 years in a row!), but I hated watching them, and just overall did not enjoy doing what people my age seemed too. I also had a mouth on me. Being an adolescent with ADHD often had me saying what I think before really thinking about what I was saying or to whom. It often got me into trouble with teachers, my parents, and even my peers. I went to a Catholic high school and often got into debates with my religion teacher about doctrine and blind agreements we made with religious law that made no sense to me, or I called out my peers for being jerks and making up their own socials rules that made no sense. The funny thing is I wasn't the most “abnormal” person in school either. There have been many strange and eccentric types throughout the years that I didn't even understand...people I both admired and who made me uncomfortable.

Why do I point out all of this? Because sometimes as artists we don't fit into the rules society created. Instead we often wonder where do we fit in when it comes to integrating with our families, our community, our job market? Furthermore, how do we know if we are being true to ourselves, what is appropriate, what is proper etiquette, what is “professionalism”? If an artist does in fact get to be as eccentric and out there beyond the boundaries of social norm, but still need to function in a way of business that keeps them working well with the does that work?

I say this because not only because of my past, but because I live in NYC and quite a lot of artists and eccentric personalities live and work here. In fashion week I am surrounded by all sorts of amazing, talented, yet unique people. Here it is quite common to have the eccentric be successful. But I've also noticed people - even in my own artistic tribe - who I consider to be borderline unprofessional. I see it backstage, on set, on social media, on blogs, posts on Facebook, Periscope...everywhere. As much as I am 100% with the notion “don't follow the man”, and “do you”, there is a line where doing you becomes being inconsiderate and plainly just being an asshole.

So what's the difference and how can you still maintain being you, as eccentric and different as your God given right to be, but still be amazingly successful and great to work with? It's one simple word: Integrity.

So what does that mean? Integrity is having a situation be workable for all. Quite plainly, Integrity is being whole and complete. It’s having your actions match what you say you will do, what others you work with expect you to do, what you stand for, and overall doing the right thing to do. Now where most get all twisted is the part where you do what others “expect” you to do, when their expectations don't match who you are. Well here is the addendum to that: if you are being in integrity to yourself, you have the freedom to agree or not agree to someone's prior known expectations. If their agenda does not match yours, your personality, or your brand, you can choose NOT to work with them. For example, if working for a company as freelancer or consultant requires you to come to meetings, work related events or appear on film or tv in a suit or uniform, or their branded t-shirt, and that is not your style, nor is it your brand or personality...that is fine. But you can choose to not work with them or make a negotiation prior that works for you. When I had just graduated college, I taught art in public school in Westchester. I wasn't given a dress code, but I knew if I worked there I had to dress business casual, and edit my language so it was bureaucratically appropriate for the environment of adolescents. Not my style for sure, however I definitely pushed the boundary to the limit where finally I decided to quit. I realized this particular appointment didn't fit who I was and rather than make them accept the way I wanted to be, I moved to another career where I knew I could be more myself.

As an artist who works with others, be it clients/companies/brands/whatever, people want to work with you for who you are and what you can give them. But in order to make the relationship workable, one needs a to specify what is expected of them and agree or not agree to comply. Some of the basics usually are unspoken but in the normal world expected just the same: show up on time, do the best job you possibly can do, communicate any possible problems or issues before skipping over them, check in with any changes that might need to occur, finish on time, layout all expected rates or finances prior to commencement of job, don't take advantage of someone's time or talent. Just be respectful and don't assume someone will be ok if you do not do what you say or what they expect you to do. Don't assume others have to put up with your eccentric nature because that's just who you are. If you agreed to give them something then you are expected to give your best version of it in the time you agreed to give it. If you cannot or don't want to because it feels wrong to you, then renegotiate to terms that feel good or don't do it!

Most who hire me know my gifts and talents in not only delivering exceptional artistry in a timely fashion but also the ability to articulate information that is not only easy to understand, but relatable, and down to earth. Most know I curse here and there, but not in a way that is derogatory or defamatory. That being said, I also know that when on a professional video or around children to refrain from any language that could widely be considered offensive. Both myself and the client are in an understanding of each other's brand and are in agreement to allow certain things to be in consideration of each other. Because of this agreement (which sometimes is unspoken), people enjoy working with me. I am able to hear what a brand wants and needs but still let my artistic voice come through without compromising integrity for them or for myself.

Other scenarios from minor to extreme could be being asked to cover your tattoos, wear less jewelry that you like to, talk highly about a product that you do not think is good quality, wear clothing or accessories that is not you, work with a brand that has methods that go against what you stand for (testing on animals, exploitative child labor, cheating customers), work with a brand that mistreats  workers, work with a brand that talks badly about other brands publicly, asks you to do things that go beyond the scope of what you know or are willing to do for the agreed compensation…Pretty much in all these scenarios an artist could be considered as “selling out”. However if what you are being asked to do works with your beliefs and standards in a way you feel good about, and you can agree without any damage to who you are at heart, then go for it. Only you will know.

I have straight up seen talent (actors, musicians, elite personalities) show up to gigs hours late, be boisterous and inappropriate or rude and dismissive, and say and do whatever they want because “it's them”, and the companies they work with will agree to it simply because they are a big name or talented. But let's be people want to work with them? And do we not hear it trickle down through the industry how awful an experience it is to work with them?

So BE YOU. Live your life as your stand. Let your ARTIST VOICE be heard. By all means, do not sell out. But if you need to exist in harmony with family or work, consider the communication and agreements it will take to do that. Be in integrity with others AND with yourself…and just remember…Never be sorry for who you are, but remember in the end that what will bring bliss to your life and others may take some work. But if you are an artist, you can create it anyway you want...right?


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Vulnerability is the Foundation of Strength

I'll start this by saying that what I will divulge within this article does make me nervous to share as it is the most sensitive and intimate information a person can share. It makes me question being open about my privacy and the appropriateness of sharing something that people just don't talk about. But after thinking about it, I felt that if the information could help someone now or later down the line, none of the above matters. If I could support someone the way people have supported me through one of the most difficult, challenging, and devastating events in my life to date, then for me there isn't a choice but to share this story.

But before I begin I want to key in on what this really is about. It is about being vulnerable with the intention to gain strength for and through the hardest of times a human being can experience. Some of you may be saying, well that almost sounds like a can you be vulnerable and strong at the same time? Doesn't vulnerably mean to be exposed, and therefore be unprotected and weak? Perhaps if we are talking about going to war, and putting yourself in a position to get hit, or removing a piece of armor leaving your underbelly exposed to the sword. But this is also with the thinking that there is an enemy ready to attack you. We, in our day to day lives, are not at war. I know there are some of you that think we are and also think we need to survive the tribulations of life, but that is just a mindset we choose. If you change your mindset about vulnerability, and look at it as a gateway that connect all human beings, weakness doesn't come into it. If you could acknowledge that we all go through intense life events that bring us to extreme emotional highs and excruciating lows, you cannot deny that this connection of the human condition bonds us together. We often think we are the only ones to go through these things, and become embarrassed, ashamed, and feel the need to push through it before anyone finds out. But there is something I have realized in coaching teams of leaders, and having gone through my own very delicate and difficult experiences...the key to getting through them and gaining a foundational strength from it is sharing with others, realizing you are not alone, being inspired by others who are going through it or have gone through it, that everything does heal, that there is a tomorrow, and that each day (though challenging) will get better. You also find in a moment where you just can't face the world, someone who cares about you can and has your back. But if you insist that you have to grow a hard shell and must figure it out on your own, not only will the healing process be 10 times longer, but you learn how to cope slower, and the act of not trusting others hardens you, and affects how others experience you.

Everyday, millions of people experience a challenging life event or series of events that challenge the strength of the human spirit. A loved ones dies, sickness or disability unexpectedly inhibits your basic functionality, debt or financial strain paralyzes you with fear, you give your heart to someone and they mistreat it or don't return the love, someone unjustly wrongs you and causes undue strife, you are incessantly striving towards a goal that for a reason that eludes you it has not been reached, or just something that you cannot control turns your life and everything you know upside down. These things happen, we cope, we move on. But what turns these things from tragedy to a blessing and builds your foundational strength, rather than hardens you, is your connection with others in the vulnerability of these things.

For me, I've had my share of hard things… Very scary unjust legal issues, my parents recently have been struggling with separation...but nothing could compare to or prepare me for what I dealt with in the past few weeks, and nothing exhibited to me more the amazing support I have in my life that's helped me to get through it.

If you know me, you know I love to take care of people and empower them to their greatest potential ...some of my students have called me “Mother Hen”. As much as I fall into to being a maternal figure for others, the one thing I have always wanted since I was young has been to raise children of my own. The gift to give life and create another being on this planet that would have unlimited potential to be someone that contributes to our crazy existence is a very tangible dream. Well, it was tangible...until I began my journey of trying to conceive with my beloved partner Charlie. We tried the regular way of course, and then when that didn't work tried a more focused approach (taking temperature, clocking my cycle, ovulation tests, acupuncture, change of diet). After a couple years I began to get very angry and frustrated. Meanwhile all my friends were getting pregnant and having babies around me. At first I was so excited for them and then I started to become annoyed and slightly jealous. It infuriated me that something seemingly came so easy to some women, and I for the life of me couldn't figure out what was wrong. I was super healthy, and even after Charlie and I took all these tests, sonograms, biopsies...nothing came back indicating a problem. My OBGYN just said I was fine so just keep having sex, it will happen. Not helpful.

So I threw my hands in the air and for a year and stopped “trying”. Trying the no stress, don't think about it so much approach. Needless to say this didn't work either, but at least it gave me time to create peace around the whole thing and just surrender to let go of my expectations around it. Year 4 I started looking at my cycle again, and thinking about taking a more proactive approach. I finally resorted to going to a fertility clinic. When I got an appointment, Charlie and I went in and they looked at my old tests, took some new tests, and confirmed yet again that we were both fine physically. The doctor concluded that I was a highly probable candidate for endometriosis. This is a genetic disorder where excess tissue grows within and around the uterus causing inflammation and obstruction to the uterine wall. It causes in some cases extreme pain during a menstrual cycle, pain during sex, and in rare cases chronic lower abdominal pain. It's undetected by any tests and really can only be confirmed and treated with a procedure called a Laparoscopy. This is where the surgeon inserts a lighted viewing instrument called a laparoscope through a small incision. The doctor then finds and scrapes the excess tissue out. This essentially gives you a fresh slate for approximately 18 months before it forms again.

So it was a relief to finally have an explanation of sorts, and I was anxious to have the procedure so I could move forward in the process. But of course with my travel schedule and needing to have at least 2 weeks recovery time, and three months to test out some methods post surgery, I had to wait until the holidays to do so. In this time I was dealing with a lot of stress around my parents separation, being on top of the BoA LP program, conducting workshops and jobs. I honestly didn't know which way was up. I was over exhausted. Had started a solid regiment of yoga, running, juicing...but yet I was still so tired. I began to worry as it was affecting my work. I was getting a little more emotional than usual, which tends to happen when I’m overtired and/or PMSing. I chalked it all up to the emotions of dealing with my family’s personal struggles and trying to be everywhere at once.

I walked into my eagerly anticipated 2nd fertility clinic appointment ready to get started on my procedure prep. They gave me the low down on the scheduling, healing time, dietary restrictions, pre-op meds, post-op meds, etc. Quite honestly for a “simple procedure” it sounded overwhelming. While in the office the doctor asked me how I was feeling. I told her about my exhaustion and emotional state. But as the words were leaving my mouth it thought to myself… Wouldn't it be funny if I were pregnant? So I asked her if I could take a pregnancy test. I told her I doubted it would come back positive but I just wanted to rule it out. So they took my blood and said they'd call me next day to give me the results. This was the day before New Years Eve, and the same night as our BoA Holiday party. I was a little bit impatient and anxious to find out the results, because I wanted to know if I should drink or not. So as I exited the subway near my house I walked right into the pharmacy and bought an e.p.t. test.

At home I nonchalantly started getting ready, peed on the stick and threw it in the bathroom sink, clear in my mind it would be negative because in 5 years that's just what it has been. After getting dressed I went back into the bathroom and glanced in the sink. I had to squint my eyes because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing...Pregnant. I picked it up and brought it close to my face. No fucking way. In a trance I brought it into the living room where Charlie was watching tv on the couch. I handed him the stick. When his eyes focused on it his brows furrowed and he looked at me confused. “What?!” I laughed and shrugged, mind still blown. “How accurate are these things?” He asked. “I have no idea!”. I then called my best friend Kelly who has three boys to ask how accurate these home pregnancy test were, and she assured me pretty damn accurate. But just to be sure she suggested I should go pee on another stick. So I did. Again, pregnant. I couldn't wrap my head around it. Neither could Charlie. But I just knew I was so happy...and I was experiencing a miracle. Next day the fertility clinic called to confirm, and the following Tuesday I found myself back in their office, feet in stirrups, looking at a screen that showed a dot no bigger than my fingernail pulsating with life. When the doctor turned on the sound and I heard the very steady strong heartbeat I began to cry. This is really happening. I'm going to have a baby, Something I had only fantasized about and often wondered if it would ever happen for me, was happening.

When this starts to sink in, all my thinking and perspective started to change. Every decision you make from eating, drinking, sleeping, to jobs you take, considering where you live, how you spend all begins to change. I wanted to tell the world, especially those who knew how much we struggled. But I had to keep relatively quiet because I was only 6 weeks. So only close people were informed and we started having conversations about how to prepare.

The following week I had a work trip to Costa Rica which I was really nervous about. One thing I noticed - aside from being really tired and as emotional as a baby - was that things I normally felt uninhibited about and fearless about, I now felt super cautious and kind of terrified to do. So a trip to a remote Caribbean location, where there could be a plethora of things that could go wrong, scared the shit out of me. But my doctor assured me I was good to go. The baby seemed healthy, I was long as I took my meds, I had the green light. So I went. For the most part it was a pretty low key trip, very relaxing. I did a few days of makeup, but relaxed by the pool, went to bed early. I did eat a piece of tuna, and have some sips of wine, but essentially these are all within the realm of acceptable things to do while pregnant. I had gone on this trip to Montezuma with the crew where we had to ride on quads about 45 minutes on super rough bumpy terrain, and I almost had a cow because it felt like being on a Mechanical bull. I white knuckled the whole ride and broke into tears because I kept thinking that couldn't be good for the baby. But I was assured by many that this also was fine. Regardless, I was still pretty anxious to get home and go to the doctors and see that
heartbeat on screen again.

The Tuesday after I came home, Charlie and I got up early to go to the clinic for my check up. I was so excited for him to actually see the heartbeat of our little “sea monkey”. We got there and waited quite a while to be seen. When we finally went in, I practically ripped off my clothes and jumped in the stirrups. Charlie sat to my left observing all the equipment in the room. To my surprise, the head of the clinic came in to do my check up. I was happy because he had such a great reputation and I knew he'd be able to put all my worries at ease. He initiated the sonogram and adjusted to equipment to find my baby. When he found the little one I noticed the mass had gotten bigger...I was so excited to see it had grown, but also a little concerned because he was still adjusting the ultrasound wand even though he had already found it. Then my breath shortened as I realized it wasn't moving like it had last time. Quickly I dismissed the thought, but a deep dread started to creep around my chest. Then the doctor asked, ”Have you had any spotting or bleeding Danielle?” My heart began to pound. My mouth became so dry I had to swallow before I answered him. “No!” I choked out. I could hear that my own voice sounded paralyzed with fear. He then asked “Was there a heartbeat last time?” “Yes” I said. He looked intently at the sonogram. I was barely breathing. Charlie’s hand grabbed my arm tight. The doctor then said “I'm sorry my dear, but I can't find a heartbeat.”

I couldn't find a word… I only thought one thing in that moment…I did something wrong. I killed my baby. I just stared at the screen searching for something. To his credit the doctor kept looking, but then just looked at me and said “I'm very sorry”. I felt Charlie's arms come around my shoulders and hold me tight. I wanted to say something but my brain just yelled I did it, I did something wrong. My baby is gone because of me. I finally said “but what happened?” I could hear my voice shaking. He said “I do not know yet, my dear. We will have to do some tests. But you should know this is probably not your fault.” As if I didn't hear him I pleaded “But they said I could go to Costa Rica. I went on this bumpy quad ride and I probably…” He put his hand on my knee and said “You were perfectly fine to go to Costa Rica. I'm telling you I see this everyday. You are of the age where this happens to 40% of women. After 40 years old, it's 50%. Sometimes the body knows when something is wrong, and naturally takes care of it. It could be an off chromosome or something else that happened during conception. But sometimes the body just knows, and there's nothing you did or could have done.” I heard his words, and I wanted to believe him. But the guilt shook me. I had some wine, I ate a piece of tuna, I should have gotten off that quad and stayed home that day. The doctor said we'd need to remove the fetus through a procedure which someone would come in and talk to me about. The nurse took my blood and left the room. I began to get dressed and looked at my clothes as though it was foreign fabric. Just minutes ago I ripped them off me with such joy and excitement. Now it was numb, dead weight in my hands. Charlie's hands never left my shoulders as I numbly put my pants on. “Baby, I'm so sorry. We will try again.” I turned to look at him. I so wanted him to see that heartbeat. “I’m sorry honey, it's my fault. I really wanted you to see our baby”. I barely got the words out as I broke into uncontrollable sobs. I collapsed into his shoulder heaving breaths of tears. He gripped his arms around me and leaned his head on mine saying “Don't say that. Please don't think that. You can't go there. It's not your fault. It just happened. We will get through this. But please don't blame yourself.” I just kept thinking they weren't there. They can't know I didn't do something to fuck it up.

Charlie had to run to move the car as we parked in a street cleaning spot. A lovely sweet doctor named Jessica took me into the office to explain what I needed to do next. The first thing she said was “Don't worry we will have this procedure tomorrow and it'll be all over with.” I had to focus my thoughts as I couldn't even remember what day it was. When I finally realized it was Tuesday I panicked. “But I cannot do it tomorrow. I have a job” I said through sobs. “It's all right. We can give you a note to give your boss.” I of course snorted a chuckle. “Unfortunately I am the boss and if I don't show up to the job it doesn't get done and I don't get paid.” I told her.
“Oh I see. Well unfortunately the hospital does not do this procedure every day so if not tomorrow usually we would not be able to schedule it till next Tuesday...” Oh my God, please no.  “However I am going to check in to see if we can fit you in early Friday morning”. Yes, please, please, please. The thought of having to go through an entire week with my baby still inside me was the worst possible thing I could think of.

So Jessica set me up with all of the paperwork and instructions. I walked though the waiting room and it seemed that all the people sitting there glanced up and looked at my face, red and swollen with tears. I felt their mix of compassion and empathy. I just put my head down. I felt almost embarrassed. Yes, I'm one of the ones whose baby didn't make it. I headed down to the car where Charlie was waiting for me.

As I got in the car, Charlie asked me what we needed to do now. I explained to him the details about the D&C (Dilation and Curettage) procedure they were trying to fit in for me Friday, and that I needed someone to be with me because I'd be going under anesthesia. Charlie looked at me concerned. “Don't you have the LP Graduation Friday?” With all that was going on I totally forgot BoA LP3s Graduation Show was Friday evening. I was planning on being there the whole day to support them through the production of their designs as well as present to their guests as their mentor and creator of the program. I just threw my face in my hands and began to sob again. “What am I supposed to do?!” I felt so helpless. “Well babe, do you have to go?” “Yes! I'm the coordinator of the program. How can I not be there?” “Well let's not think about it now. It's only Tuesday. Let's just go home and relax.” But how could I not think about it? My baby was gone, and the day I needed to complete this horrible experience is the same day I had to be someplace important where I'm not only needed but expected.

When we got home I was so exhausted. I considered all the people I now had to tell…and I just wanted to crawl into a hole. So Charlie tucked me in on the couch, and I sobbed in and out of sleep for the rest of the day. Every time I woke up, I considered for a second it was just a dream, but came to the awful realization that I was no longer a mommy. I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to face the world. I didn't want to work the next day, and I didn't want to think about how to figure out Friday. I just wanted it all to go away.

Later in the day Charlie's best friend from childhood, called him and asked to speak to me. She started out by telling me how sorry she was we were going through this. She had just had a beautiful baby girl and was very excited when she found out we were pregnant. But she continued to tell me she had gone through it too...twice. She reiterated to me to not blame myself, to know that this does happen to women often, but they just don't talk about it. She said that I will have a baby, it's just a matter of time. It was sad to hear but very comforting to know I wasn't a freak.

The next day I sent an email to the close friends who knew I was pregnant letting them know what happened. I couldn't bare the thought of an awkward moment when I had to break the news to people in person. I got an email back from a friend saying she went through it right before she had her healthy baby boy. I was shocked. I had no idea she went through this. She was a trainer and a health coach, and super fit. But yet again, people just don't talk about it. She had also told me that a few months after you lose the baby your body is still full of hormones which makes you super fertile. So getting pregnant again sooner than later is a high possibility...which is what happened to her. Then our dear friend Amy texted me to say her sister went through right before she had her beautiful niece. Again, I was shocked and had no idea.

As horrific as it is to hear that your friends have gone through this devastating experience, the more I talked to people and heard the stories the more I felt comforted and confident that I would not only get through this but it is more common than I thought...Women just do not talk about it.  Sharing and hearing these things seemed to start a healing process I didn't think possible. I ended up hearing over a dozen stories from not only friends but colleagues as well. All had a devastating miscarriage story that ended in eventually having healthy beautiful children. Had I not had the bravery to share my experience with other women, which apparently seemed to be something that was considered taboo, I would have never heard these stories. If I had never heard these stories, I do not know how I would have had the stamina to move forward.

But the best part about my story is how people I have spent a lifetime creating relationships with through work, mentorship and friendship, showed up for me in my most vulnerable moment in ways I never imagined. Both Shalonda and Caitlin, who are not just my staff but dedicated friends and dedicated coaches to our leadership participants, were both right there to help me figure out the graduation issue. They first started by insisting I take care of myself and don't even think about trying to show up on that Friday (which was clearly something I was considering). The biggest concern was even if I felt physically fine, my emotional state may not be the best to be around people. They suggested I find a “replacement” for the day. So who did I trust to empower the group to staying on task and be grounded in their efforts to create an amazing show? My first thought went to my dear friend James Vincent. I knew that he would push them and do the job that I would do the way I would do it. So I picked up the phone knowing full well how busy he is praying that he could cover me. When I finally got him on the phone I told him the whole story in a matter of seconds. I knew if I lingered on any detail I would just burst into tears. Without even a moment's hesitation James said that he would handle it and that I should not think about it anymore. He did have to leave shortly after six so I would need to find someone to present for them but as far as being there to project manage their work, it was a done deal. I felt so relieved. So now I had to figure out who would present for them… The only people I could think of aside from myself who would be able to talk about the BoA LP program and know what the participants had been through, would be other graduate participants. So I called Angela Lynn Ware and Shalonda. Of course, yet again without hesitation, they agreed to represent me and the BoA Community. Caitlin then called every team member of BoA LP3 and explained to them what was going on and informed them I probably would not be able to be there in person. They all understood and each sent me personal condolences. I had never felt so taken care of by people who were not my blood family. None of these people were obligated to step up and stand for me, but here they were.

The graduation show went off without a hitch. I went to my procedure and came home without a worry in the world. I slept through most of the afternoon and woke up feeling rejuvenated in spirit. Aside from some very minor cramping and exhaustion I felt really good, and asked Charlie to drive me to the graduation. I didn't really see the point to staying home to think more about what had happened. Rather I wanted to put my thoughts toward being with the group and sharing their accomplishments. It meant everything to me to see their faces light up when I walked in the door. And rather than being in control of everything, I sat back and watched everything be handled before my eyes.

It's been a few weeks and I am still healing and adjusting. I am also still collecting many stories from other women who have gone through this and come out the other end OK. I tell you my story not because I want pity or for you to look at me any different than you had before. I tell you this story because everyone in life has this story in one way shape or form. There are things in life that happen expectedly or unexpectedly which we cannot control that can seemingly break you. Though there is nothing wrong with being private about these things, I have found that there are choice few people that have been put in your life to help you get through what seems impossible. But if we don't share and get vulnerable and be real, we cannot find these people. Plus, you just don't know who you will help by sharing in these most human moments. I am optimistic and looking forward to being a mother. I know it with happen. But if I were one of those people who just didn't talk about it, who knows where I would be, or how long it would take for me to stop blaming myself let alone heal. So I encourage you to find strength in your vulnerability. Share your experience with others you trust. You just never know who’s story can heal you, and further who your story may help in exchange.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What you give away, will come back to you tenfold

And in the end, the love you take is equal to.. The love.. You make. 
                                                    - The Beatles, "The End"

There is a growing struggle for us who are of the generation born prior to the millennium babies...Some of us endure in silence, some of us endure in anger and frustration, and some of us attempt to endure in the giving of our knowledge and awareness...

This age of quick fix, insta-satisfaction, I want what I want and I want it now...There are those who do not understand or engage in the concept that what you receive, is equal to or greater than that which you give. Business has always had its moments of " What can you do for me"... But the foundation of proven success has always had a context of "how can I serve you?" Now more than ever have I experienced the heartbreaking fact that we are in a take what you can now because you never know what will be available later mentality. It's destructive, shallow, temporary, and a disconnected way to exist let alone do business.

Honestly you want to ask yourself why you are so exhausted, why are you so drained and why at the end of the day we feel like we've put out all we've got, yet we feel empty? What we do not realize is we are either holding ourselves back from what we can give or have been on the other end being withheld from what we can receive. Some call it hustling in jest but truth be told if your idea of networking and marketing is all about telling the world what you do, and that's it...There is a reason why no one is biting your line. It has nothing to do with the competition, it has little to do with how educated you are, and little to do with how "business savvy" you are. It has to do with your way of being and generosity about what you want to give to the world. This directly correlates back to "why" you do what you do.

Think about it this way: Say you are in conversation at a party. You meet a "celebrity makeup artist". You start a conversation and in that conversation you talk about the struggles you are having with your business. The celebrity artist's response to most of your story is accolades on what they've done with so 'n so celebrity, and by the way they are teaching a workshop/seminar/webinar that you should sign up for because they will cover all the answers as to what to do in that situation. You were not opposed to getting more education about it, but in that moment you were looking to share info and not drop $500 to learn from someone that you have no idea what their teaching style is or if what they teach will be worth that kind of money. An alternative scenario is this: you engage in conversation with this person, and they listen and ask you questions to find out more. They tell you they understand your scenario because they've been there. They give you a little nugget of information that gives you some perspective and then offer you to attend a webinar or seminar that might help them in that scenario. You feel kinda connected to that person now so you are inspired. When you ask how much it costs, they say free. You feel elated and relieved someone with so much experience is offering this and you say yes immediately. Now out of the two scenarios, which of the two would you be more willing to buy more education from?

Another scenario... Let's put you on the other end. You meet a woman at a party. She is an up and coming actress. She shares with you she has the worst luck with makeup artists. They all either don't know what they are doing, or they don't get who she is and what she wants to look like. Version one of you sees this as an opportunity for a job and whips out your card. You tell her how long you've been doing makeup, what type of makeup you specialize in, and who you've done makeup for. She takes your card, and thanks you. Version two: you sympathize with her saying you hate when people don't listen to you or get who you are. You ask her what is the kind of makeup does she like, or what's the image or brand she is going for. You listen to her and make an effort to understand what her story is. After she is done you try to internalize what she is going for, show her some images on your phone of ideas you have. You share with her WHY you got into makeup in the first place, because people like her should be expressed as the best version of themselves inside and out, and you love being a part of that. You start to create a connection. Then you offer her to meet up for a trial, as you want to show her some ideas you have. You tell her you will give her a discounted price because you understand that finding a good makeup artists is not easy, and if she likes you then great, perhaps you can work together further. If not, then as least she doesn't pay through the nose to find out, but you are almost positive she will be happy. Now again, which scenario is more likely to a) get a phone call and create a new client , and b) have that person feel more confident in doing business with you?

The issue people have with both these scenarios on the "giving" side is they are often worried about being taken advantage of or wasting time. What if the seminar sucks? What if the actress never hires you? Well I get it, but the truth is you are more likely to gain trust from your potential client and/or give trust to your potential educator because you get both of you love what they do and neither are just doing it because they want money. When people take the time to connect with you, that is a form of giving, and finding out the best way to possibly serve you. It doesn't mean you dumb down your rates or your self worth. It means you produce such quality services you are willing to give some of it away to show you are confident they will agree with you. They not only will then believe in your business and buy more from you at the value its worth, but become a loyal reoccurring client. In reality, if someone feels like they are doing business with a human being and not a money hungry ego drone, they feel more comfortable spending money with you. Its considered and investment. People want to give their business to a company, brand, or proprietor who comes from the context of a giving heart. As my friend Simon Sinek says:

 and further more...

So ask yourself, what of my gifts can I give? What are some unique ways I can connect with people in regards to WHY I do what I do? Here at BoA, we believe in telling your story in an inspiring, colorful, unique way.  We believe in supporting our community in telling their stories so others are inspired by their gifts. That why we write this blog. That's why we do some free seminars, and we are always an open door to create space for empowering and inspirational opportunities that assist you in growing YOUR purpose. So think about it... how can you gift someone a piece of yourself?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

80% of this simple thing is the first key to success...

I have been teaching Body Painting at the Make Up For Ever Academy this week, and as per who I am, my teaching is never just involves talking about technique. The students and I got into a discussion about ways to be successful as an artist whether you are a makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion designer, painter, writer, musician, or any creative trade…

I began to talk about the concept of not being afraid to fail…To keep doing the work knowing you will fail a few times, in fact if failure doesn't match in percentage to success, you probably could work a lot harder. A student raised her hand and asked “While developing yourself in this industry, we hear so often ‘be a harsh critique of yourself, and only show the very best work you can do. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Because of that I feel I always need to second guess my work, and it paralyzes me. How do you get through that and know what's good and what's not?”

I brought up my favorite quote by Andy Warhol on the screen:

Then I proceeded to tell her and the class what I know to be true as an artist… The key to success is obsession, not perfection. And 80% of success is just showing up (Woody Allen said that.) Most give up or stop their own process because they tried once and failed, and they allowed the pain and embarrassment of rejection, or the fear of not being good enough, to stop them. But if you are OBSESSED, and you keep showing up, keep writing everyday, keeping painting everyday, keep playing everyday, out of 50 tries you not only could get 20 successes, but 40 awesome lessons in what does NOT work (what you might call a FAIL). This is how you become an expert. I asked the class… DID YOU BECOME AN ARTIST TO GAIN OTHER PEOPLE’S APPROVAL? UM...NO. (Well maybe you did, some of us have some issues to work out). Hopefully we became artists because we were so powerfully pulled from our gut that this was something we wanted to do, this was the medium in which we could express our gifts, and seeing the difference it made in people gave us just a good a high if not better than any drug we could get our hands on. But just like any relationship, when you first start on the road to making your obsession into a profession… you realize the sparkles and lose a little bit of its luster when you realize it IS work to maintain. And just like a committed relationship it is not the world’s responsibility to make it better for you, its up to you to TRANSFORM yourself to make it work.

In meditation (which so many find so difficult), a successful practice does not start with being in perfect zen, 15 minutes of pure quiet focus, and inner peace...a master will tell you it starts with showing up to the pillow everyday.  We are in an age of such immediate satisfaction, that if we do not see the result here and now, we give up, move on, find the next cheaper and faster thing that serves temporary fast results that will not stand the test of time.

People… you cannot become a master at ANYTHING with quick and fast. Everything has its season it must progress through to create a true foundation: a birth/new beginning, a childhood/an exploring phase, a vocational practice/the process on doing it religiously and making it you, and a master/elder level, taking your knowledge and giving it back. You cannot skip from birth to master…you cannot become an expert without ever making a mistake...without making a shit ton of mistakes. We live in an age of thousands mediocre artists, but a choice few masters, and there is a reason. Because the masters looked beyond having perfect work, and just wanted to do it everyday, not giving a sideways glance at the mistakes they made. All the while the mediocre artists sit and complain there isn't enough work, or they are not making enough money. They end up quitting and do a job they don’t love because they do not have the obsession to make their passion a living. 

Do you know how many people I have met who swore up and down they would be in my next workshop, or leadership program and never show up? Know how many people I’ve mentored who say they want to be a leader in this industry, and be a success, but cannot take an ounce of constructive feedback without getting offended or defensive? (they say they want to change, but don’t have the cojones to show up). Promises to build their portfolio, promises to assist people, promises to learn Photoshop, learn a new language, learn to play the piano… but they never show up?! Even when you don’t feel like it, even when the passion falters, even when you doubt yourself (especially when you doubt yourself)...just show up to the pillow, and be there to receive and do the work. The day you miss class, might be the day that vital information was available that could change your life.

So just show up. Follow your commitment, not your feelings. Showing up no matter what builds strength, character, accountability, confidence, and mastery. Mastery also comes from making lots of mistakes, so take risks knowing you will make them, and they will serve you in becoming the expert in the thing you love.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Artist Summit Continued: Breaking the Sound Barrier

Last we spoke I left off telling my account and experience of the Artist Summit in PTown back in the beginning of October. I specifically stressed the details of what I took away from my friend Charlie Wan's topic "Finding Your Everest".

I'd like to take a moment to delve deeper into the account of my "experience"... And how it applies to many of us in what we are currently experiencing: a seemingly full earthquake within the foundation of what we know and what we can count on when it comes to our careers.

As I had mentioned last time, Charlie's talk took us through several iterations of his career.

Charlie 1.0 was an Art Director of Digital Moving Imagery, Charlie 2.0 had a career in Fashion Photography, and Charlie 3.0 came about after a spiritual part of his journey brought him to his true calling, music. Unfortunately, as his presentation was limited to only 90 minutes, he did not get as in depth as he would have liked. However, for a few of us, we would not only get to hear the full story...we got to experience it.

On Thursday morning I sprung up from my bed with no alarm at exactly 6:30am. This was insanely miraculous being that I went to bed at 2am. Totally in a "happy place" from crooning for hours at Purgatory Karaoke with the gang, there was definitely a divine influence in my energy and purpose. My mind immediately remembered there was going to be a sunrise meditation on the breakwater rocks with Charlie. Luckily that was practically right outside the back door of my room. So I scrambled from bed, threw on whatever was lying on the floor including warm hoodie scarf and hat and ran outside. I tiptoed out to where the group was, about a dozen people including Stephanie Flor, Joe Dellude, Mahasin Phillips, Marlu Soria, Aga , Ahbi Nishman and a few others from the summit. I took a spot right next to Charlie and sat in silence as this beautiful euphoric music filled the air from his tiny bluetooth speaker. As I got present to my view, the sun was still hidden behind the horizon but the sky was already lit up with this open dreamy light that went from a cool violet to saturated pinks and corals. The highlight of fiery neon orange yellow began to rim the edge of of the clouds right above the sea.  What amazed me was the music was in perfect sync as though a soundtrack had been perfectly composed to evoke the feelings of the changing light. As the colors transformed, so did the music. The music seeped into my body, having my energy match that of the rising sun. As the sun finally broke and kissed our faces the music intuitively climaxed a resounding echo of strength and vulnerability.  I couldn't believe how well matched it was with what my eyes saw...but more importantly grounded and fused me with the message of a new day, new possibility through my heart and soul...such a deep vibration tears welled up in my eyes.

It was shortly after this moment Charlie began to tell us about the real call to his 3.0, his purpose, and how the Hilary Step of his journey was a pinnacle point where it almost didn't happen.  

He had been composing for a while, and knew there was a draw to creating music but wasn't connected to why, or what purpose it served other than he liked doing it and he could make music that sounded "cool".  After a while he began to feel disappointment in what he was created.  He didn't think it was "special" or "that good", and maybe this was not what he was supposed to be doing, and he should perhaps just go back to what he was good at and find fulfillment in that. So he made a decision to quit.  But he decided he would compose one more piece. This he would do on a Sunday, and after that, he would put it away forever. But this last time he decide to compose from a different place. Not from a place of what he thought sounded cool, but a deeper place. He decided to compose from his heart, and let the music tell the story of his feelings and emotions in this process.

It only took him 4 hours to finish the piece. The process had taken so much out of him, he decided to put it on an MP3, email it to his lyricist/vocalist Danielle for her feedback, and went straight to bed.  He arose the next morning at around 6 and opened his email. Danielle had wrote him back and attached another MP3. She was so taken and inspired by this music she stayed up to write and sing lyrics to the piece, recorded it and immediately sent it back to him.  When he opened the file and listened to it, his heart filled up with overwhelming emotion. It pulled on his heart in a way that he began to cry.

As he told us this part he began to get emotional and choked up. He said that he had almost given up on his calling and his "passion", but if he hadn't pushed himself through this Hilary Step, to battle the conversation in his head, he would have not created that piece and discovered his calling to create music from the heart. 

At this point I began to cry. Not just because I felt compassion and empathy for his experience, but because he was telling my story. To think that the music I just "experienced" might have never existed had Charlie given in to the conversation in his mind, and ignored the conversation of his heart. The fact that almost happened made me begin to recognize all the challenges and obstacles I have encountered in the last year, all the times I questioned myself and my ability of how big I could grow, how many people I could touch with my art, my mentor ship and my vision. How every time I took committed action on growing bigger some crazy thing would happen that would shake my foundation and set me back to the previous "base camp" on my Mt. Everest. And I'm not talking about little things... I'm talking about HUGE things (My family going through the hardest times we've ever encountered, a 10 year legal battle that keeps resurfacing that continually have to spend my savings on, turning a two man company into a global entity). I remember there was a moment last year in December I sat in the middle of the streets of Chicago right after I had done a training, crying my eyes out to my mentor/friend/coach on the phone that maybe I shouldn't have a Leadership Program, because it was just too damn hard, and too much is going on in my life to handle it. He assured me that things will undoubtedly fall apart a few times while you are creating something big...and if its not, then your are doing something wrong, or not working hard enough

But this my friends has been my Hilary Step. To keep my eye on what I love, and stay OBSESSED with it. If I give up when it gets hard, who knows what would never be. I need to remember hard times are a sign to work harder, look at discovering ways not only to move past obstacles, but adapt to changes, and find ways to excel.  You just need to change your mind about it,  educate yourself, find support, and listen to your heart with a dash of sensibilities from your head.

So those of you who are feeling the real impact of a changing the "makeup App takeover"...the Glamsquads, the GlamApps, BeGlammed (seriously, can't they come up with more original fucking names? LOL)... you need to take a deep breath and know that the first plane that broke the sound barrier shook VIOLENTLY and seemingly almost fell apart before it popped through to smooth sailing breaking every record of speed known to man. There were many tries before, that freaked out the pilot so much he landed the plane out of fear for the turbulence and losing control.  But the one flight that made it, the pilot held his seat, tried something different, and pushed through, not giving up.  (true story check it out:

So hold your seat friends, these times are a changing, and we need to become more educated in business and create intimate relationships with our clientele through excellent customer care, followups, gift, blogs (um HELLO), newsletters, smart social media with solid marketing and branding presence, and continuing to stay on point and on game with tools, techniques, trends and what problems a client needs you to solve as an artist. Such that someone will rather pay more to have you, then do a quick fix on an app.

Breathe deep my friends, the Hilary step is real, and happening to all of us now. The question is are you committed to reaching the top no matter what or how long it takes? Will you be looking for other ways to circumvent the obstacles, or will you take the long trek backwards because it gets too hard? And if you do that's ok. Just know the journey to your heart and fulfillment is a vulnerable journey, but we are all on it trust the process.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Looking Back on the Artist Summit: Your Hillary Step : Part 1

So it's been a few weeks since I got home from Provincetown...I had an amazing week being inspired and being a part of a collective of people who want to motivate and inspire others.

No matter how much time passes from that experience, the lessons I learned at the ARTIST Summit are more profound today than they were when I was there and I want to have the opportunity to share them with you.

First of all I'd like to acknowledge Michael DeVellis and James Vincent for continuing to elevate what the ARTIST Summit is and has been. I was at the Artist Summit in 2013 as an educator (not keynote), and although there were other events in the past called the "artist summit" provided to you by The Powder Group, in 2013 the event formed into was the first ARTIST Summit in its full capacity of what it was meant to be. THIS year however, the event got even deeper, and more rich with context, as each presenter though focusing on different topics, had this eery yet divine flow and connection within each other as to what we all intended to get out there. Here was influential industry leaders coming together to speak not on "how tos" or skill techniques, but on the personal experiences in our journeys that got us where we are and has informed who we were meant to be. This is followed by two days of hands-on education with some of these instructors. And all of this was in the magical location of Provincetown Massachusetts, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Let me give you a very brief history of Provincetown and why this place is so special. If you look at Provincetown on a map it is actually the tip of Cape Cod, curving up to a point and facing the wide open ocean towards Europe. In fact some people say it looks like a middle finger as this would be the first place settlers called home after escaping the tyranny of monarchs. (You know me, give me a good F.U. any day, and I'm all about it). Provincetown has such rich and diverse history, known especially for the people who came to find refuge where in other places they were not accepted. For example, many slaves settled in the area after the Civil War. It has since become the leading artist colony in the United States. Artists dating back to the 1800's have come here to paint the amazing light that P town offers. The artist communities that formed went on to generate artistic movements. If you have seen any of the sunrise or sunset pictures I have posted you’ll understand that this place has light like no other, evoking artistic inspiration from deep within. I think it was Aly Haug who turned to me and said the light is like a permanent “perpetua” filter from Instagram. Every time I roll into P-Town down Commercial Street, and look to my left and see the light dancing on the harbor water, my heart wells up with overwhelming gratitude and inspiration for all the art that I have not yet created but have the blessing of every moment to begin. I try never to miss the sunrise while I'm in P-town.

Now getting back to the ARTIST Summit. It's vitally important to understand that just being there in P-Town starts to open your heart to creative possibilities. There is an unspoken spirit that moves you while you receive the information that the ARTIST Summit provides.
So what I love about the context James and Michael set up with each presenter when it comes to delivering at the ARTIST Summit is that they are to give a talk on a subject that has little to do with the techniques they use as a creative professional. They asked us all to speak on the subject matter of vital importance in our industry that we have embodied with the lessons we've acquired throughout our personal journeys. This already takes the context of the three days several levels deeper as it touches something in the heart and soul of every person in the room. In fact, in my experience of talking to others there is usually one or two presenters that have the exact perfect message that one person needs to hear in that moment. It hits them like a ton of bricks and starts to open their heart in ways that they never imagined.

Even though I came to the ARTIST Summit to present the importance of leadership and influence in our industry, I am always a student. The talk or the "experience " that hit me the most was Charlie Wan's Finding your Everest. Charlie Wan is a long time friend that I met through Mari Shten (fellow TPG Pro Member, Evolutioneer, amazing and creative woman and artist).

I met him as the fashion photographer which he would describe to you as “Charlie 2.0”. Charlie went on to describe the accounts of his life in the different phases that he journeyed through to get to the point where he is now. This journey consisted of poignant shifts in his career, changing from what he was really good at and made lots of money with to where his passion and his heart are. He refers to these versions of himself as phases Charlie 1.0, Charlie 2.0, and Charlie 3.0. You compare these phases of his life to the journey one must take if they decide they want to reach the top of Mount Everest. If you look it up it's not as straightforward as you think; In order to acclimate your physical and mental being to survive the high altitudes of the “summit” or top, you must do many trips forward, and many trips back before you can move ahead. But the most perilous part of the journey is the very last trek to the top. It's called the “Hillary Step”, aptly named after Sir Edmund Hillary. He was the first person, along with Tenzing Norgay, to scale it on the way to the summit. This leg of the trip is the most difficult because it is the highest elevation and it takes about 15 breaths to accomplish each step, and the pressure at that elevation is indescribably intense. People have died climbing Hillary Step, and some need to return to base camp several times before they make it to the top. Charlie Wan described the journey to his 3.0 as his Hillary Step.

Charlie’s calling to the passion in his heart is that takes someone from their head to their heart. Interestingly enough, Charlie’s talk at the summit was so rich with info he ran out of time before he could fully tell us about this “3.0” part of his journey. But what's so perfect and even better...two days later, as the sun rose on the breakwater rocks, a group of us gathered and watched the sunrise while we listened to Charlie’s music in silence...which was a perfect soundtrack in every he was composing it in that moment as the colors of the sky changes. As the sun broke the horizon, the music changed, filling our souls with light and breath and possibility. My whole body was buzzing with emotion. As the sun surpassed the horizon, Charlie began to tell us the story of how he transitioned into Charlie 3.0, and how during his Hillary Step, he almost gave up. To think that something that can so profoundly move someone from their soul with no words, and it almost didn't happen...

The thing is, we all have a Hillary Step. Each one of us will experience the most harshest challenges on the path to our dream and our calling, things that will make us question if this is really what we are supposed to do. I myself have had one of the most challenging years of my life. But when I experience these things, I know it's because I am on the precipice of something great, and I just need to travel that Hillary step to get to the summit. I have been hearing how so many people are afraid of losing work due to these APPs that keep popping up, seemingly taking work away from them…that it’s making their career too hard, and they may need to give up and take another job. But this is not a sign to give up! This is a sign to shift, change how you do things, to expand... to push yourself, even though everything around you says you should quit….

Next time I’ll tell you the story Charlie told us on the rocks, and my experience presenting and how it shifted me, and how all of it ties into who you get to be, and things you can do to push yourself through your Hillary Step. How you can take committed action on your career and your dream so that no one can threaten to take your work away….. Until next time folks...