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Why I quite my career as a stylist

One of the most uncomfortable choices I’ve ever made was to quit my job as a stylist and go back to school. The year was 2017 Tim and I had adopted our rescue dog Wilma in February, gotten engaged in March, bought our home in May, I quit my job in September, we got married in October, and started renovations on our apt. in November. It was a big year and at the start of 2018 I enrolled in classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. I was 35 years old and by far the oldest student in 80% of my classes, by a lot.

So, why did I quit my job? Why did I leave a career I had worked so hard to create and was in all accounts a thriving one? That’s an extremely complex question to answer, but I’m going to give it a try.

The one thing I can say with certainty that I loved about my job as a stylist, or really any job I’ve ever had, was purely observing, and connecting with the people I worked with and served. I believe that because I had a life coach, I became much more present over time to this small but important detail. At my core I have an anthropologic and sociologic being. I can geek out on why people do what they do, on tribalistic behaviors, and the cycles we as humans create and live out in our daily lives. Now being a hair stylist working in the salon and doing freelance hair & make-up on the side, all could arguably be prime environments for me to experience and observe these things. The beauty industry is as primal and tribalistic as they come, and arguably should be studied. But, for me something was missing from the equation, I became aware that this career was ultimately just a starting point and I was ready to discover what else was possible for me.

So I thought about college and what doors might open for me if I completed my education. Not having ever taken more than a handful of classes between the years of 2001 – 2012, I didn’t even know if going back to school was the right choice for me. What I did know was that I was ready to move forward, and the next steps that were open to me in my career as a stylist didn’t align with who I had become anymore. I also knew that going back to school had always been a dream for me that always felt so far out of reach.

So, I took a chance, a big one, and retired my shears and I never looked back. Yes, I was scared, I didn’t know if I would fail, I didn’t know what I was even working towards. What I did know was that no matter what happened I was doing this for me, that I would have fun with it, and I would give myself the time and space to explore. None of it was easy, but what I learned and discovered about myself in the process was far more powerful than any degree I will ever receive.

What I learned

First, I am good at math! HA! You can suck it Mrs. Schwartz – my 5th grade math teacher from my Catholic school who told me “Don’t worry, girls aren’t good at math. You’re probably never going to get it”. Her words became my truth a truth so powerful that I stopped trying in future math courses, I never even took my SAT’s because why bother if my math scores are just going to bring me down. That lead to me not apply for college after high school and to me lagging for over ten years to get my A.A. degree. All because of this false belief, I was scared to take the prerequisite math and science courses. This just serves as a reminder that our words have so much power and we can change the course of a person’s life in an instant.

Second, it’s never too late to make a change or start something new. Ageism still exists and unfortunately it drives the decisions of many people. I was lucky to have grown up with a family that taught me that it’s never too late to go back to school, start a business, find love, or just reinvent yourself. In fact, 90% of my immediate family went back to college in their 30’s as if it was the norm. The decision for me to go back to school never came down to being too old to start over, but this is something I hear more often than not throughout my other extended family and other relationships. For me what brought even greater power to my relationship as a 30+ year old student, was the rich and rounded life experience and view point I got to share with my classmates.

My relationship to my lived experience before going back to school was far less empowering, I believed that because I didn’t have a degree that my life was less important than others. Wow was I wrong. I began to see that all that I had done thus far, every move I had made, every adventure I had been on, every chance I had taken was impactful and what makes me who I am today. I had not followed the “normal route” and for so long I was ashamed of that, but I learned that it was really the greatest gift I could have given myself.

What’s more is that the few classes I had with students in their 30’s/ 40’s and over, the debates and lectures were far more complex and interesting. This isn’t to say that the younger students weren’t complex and interesting, no that’s not what I’m saying here. Especially at BMCC where the student body is one of the most diverse in the country, adding profoundly to that complexity. What I am saying is that it was such a gift to have a varying age difference, offering rich and complex conversations among different generations and bringing deeper levels of growth and understanding to the learning process.

On graduation day I was filled with joy and anticipation because although I was immensely proud of myself, I was also very aware that this was not the end. Over the course of a year and a half I realized how much I deeply enjoy learning, growing, and expanding my knowledge. My curiosity was no longer hindered by old beliefs; beliefs I had quite literally proven wrong. I graduated with honors and was in the small group that sat on stage during the ceremony. I would also like to note that I was 7 months pregnant. Our Valedictorian was a small Slovakian woman in her early 70’s who had immigrated to this country with her husband almost 50 years ago. Her story was a powerful one and after a lifetime of back breaking work she was ready and able to follow her dreams of completing her PhD in Psychology. She like me was just starting that journey. Although she had some years to go, the one thing that stood out for me in her speech was this: “the years to come may seem like a lot to some of you, but each year that passes that I don’t follow my heart, takes me farther away from my purpose. What I know is that even if I don’t make it to the end of my goal, it’s the journey and the experience I make, the chances I take, and the lessons I learn along the way that really matter.”

Living my purpose

Those words have stuck with me over the past couple of years. What I heard in them directly relates to why I left my career as a hair stylist. In the end I wasn’t truly following my heart, and the work I was doing was taking me father away from my purpose. So, although the decision to leave a comfortable and thriving career was uncomfortable and scary – what I created from it has brought me back to my purpose and I wouldn’t change a thing.

So, I will leave you with this: What are you doing in your life that is taking you farther away from your life’s purpose?

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