The risks I’ve taken in my life that have propelled me into the present day awesomeness I now live have never been based in financial or personal gain. They were based on necessity and an instinct to see or create the opportunity to fulfill it.
When people say “follow your heart” my insides roll their eyes. It’s vague and meaningless unless properly applied. Why is it so difficult to apply? It requires risk. We cannot make change in a vacuum of fear. We cannot create on our own. We need the support and the strength of others to grow.
Fear drives people. They don’t want to put themselves in a position of exposure whether it be financial, emotional or spiritual. People don’t like to be exposed. I can tell you from my experience, however, that the greatest gain I’ve ever received in my life is when I was completely exposed and lay myself vulnerable, willing and open to receive help.
I want to look at the first life risk I took and dissect what made it successful and what I had to overcome to fulfill the requirements and complete the change. My hope is that you’ll relate to the process and be able to apply it to some of the awesome changes going on in your life.
Becoming a Model: A year before I was on the cover of Vogue, I’d never heard of a model. For whatever reasons my family raised me without much exposure to magazines, tv and the internet. When an opportunity crossed my path to pursue this adventure, I didn’t hesitate. It fit the requirements of my current needs. I didn’t have money for college. I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue and academics weren’t holding my interest. I needed to leave my parents home and become my own individual in the world. I took all my money out of my bank account and purchased the modeling classes. Why would I do this when I had a feeling I wasn’t going to get applicable training. I had a feeling I was a cog in a business wheel to make money for someone else. Here’s why, I’d heard that one of the teachers was also an agent. Guess who I befriended the first day of class and stayed after to gain more insight? She’s still my go-to girl in Minneapolis and she now runs Agency Models and Talent there. Her name is Kari Larson. I visit her whenever I have time and lend a helping hand whenever she requests.
At the completion of the classes I took the risk of joining a gym and losing 10 pounds. I took the risk of joining the agency and doing whatever work they were able to procure for me. I took the risk of showing up for those jobs even though I had zero idea what a model was supposed to do. I took the risk of listening to the producers of the first show I did for a local QVC channel. I looked at the camera when they said to. I caressed the clothing although it felt ridiculous. I applied more and more makeup to look older, at their request. I showed up on time and I befriended one of the hosts and quizzed her whenever she wasn’t working about how she did her job, what steps she took to get there, and what she wanted to do next in life. At the end of 3 months modeling in Minneapolis, I took my savings and bought a one-way ticket to New York. Why? I had entered a contest for a few New York agencies. People were excited and buzzing about the opportunity to model in New York. There was greater opportunity to succeed in New York modeling I was told. So I went for it. I never looked back. I applied all the resources at my disposal because it was necessary for me to make a move. I didn’t fear the outcome. I didn’t cushion my decision with a plan B. I committed and moved forward. Spiritually speaking, I gave the universe a very clear message. I’m doing this and either you do this with me or you don’t. The universe responded by creating a vast safety net to catch me that hadn’t existed previously. 4 months after finding out about this job called Model, I left home to discover the fashion world.
1. They believed in me. They never questioned my ability to pursue any path in life. They’ve always said, if you believe you can create it, you will.
2. They didn’t try to manage my choices. There was no hand holding from my parents. They didn’t get online to find the perfect apartment. They didn’t sit me down to warn me about New York and the risks I was about to take on in the modeling world. They didn’t tell me which agent to sign with or which gym to join. They trusted my intelligence and allowed me to make the necessary mistakes along the way to grow.
3. They answered my questions. When I asked for advice, they gave it. If they didn’t have experience, they turned me onto someone who might. They never offered their perspective on my decisions unless I asked for it. They trusted me to come to them if I needed an answer. My mother simply said over and over I’m here if you need me and if you don’t it’s ok.
4. They didn’t present their own fears. Every generation has accumulated fears that come from their own experience of the world. My parents knew that I was not living in the world they grew up in. They kept their fears to themselves because they knew that those fears were probably no longer based in reality. Again, they trusted my ability to assess the situation and proceed with confidence. They trusted that I was wise enough to seek out the correct advisors and they were insightful enough to know that it probably wasn’t going to be them. At least not in the modeling world.
5. They didn’t try to control or manage my decisions.
Discouragement: A lot of people were terrified for me. Here’s a few of their reasons.
1. Your chances are 1 in 10,000 to ever get signed to an agent
2. You don’t have long hair and you’re too fat
3. The fashion world will turn you into a drug addict.
4. You will get raped by a photographer or an agent.
5. Everyone will take advantage of you financially and you will be ruined.
6. There’s no money in modeling. Only the top girls make any money. And becoming a top model is 1 in 10 million.
7. New York is dangerous and an incredibly difficult and expensive city to live in.
8. You will get mugged and beaten if you live in New York.
9. There’s nothing for a model to do after she finishes modeling. This decision will lead nowhere.
10. The only people who succeed in that world are the ones who are willing to sleep with the right people. You’ll end up with AIDS.
My job, listening to these fears, was to diffuse what I could. I didn’t have the knowledge to inform them that they were incorrect. From all I knew, they were right and I was about to get raped, beaten, shot-up, and made to perform sexual favors to stay alive. As well, it was clear to me that my current advisors were giving me advice on a business they knew nothing about, a city they knew nothing about and financial projections they knew nothing about. Ok. They probably knew about financial hardships, but I was certain that I would be taken care of and I could produce an income. I wasn’t sure how, but I believed I would figure it out. I could not take their fear on but I did promise them know that if I ran into any of these problems, I would take immediate action to remove myself.
So, I looked at my life. I looked at my opportunities. I looked at the fears presented and I looked at my parents. If they believed so strongly in me, then I too will follow my instincts, my heart. And so, I booked that one-way ticket and 6 months later I was on the cover of Vogue and my face was about to be plastered all over New York City.
When I came home to visit. The people who presented me with fear said “We always knew you could do this. Don’t forget about the little people.” And my parents who had presented me with nothing but emotional and spiritual support said “We were so terrified for you but you did it and you should be proud of yourself.”
I haven’t forgotten the people who had me listen to their fears. They were equally important in this process. What they told me just didn’t ring true and so I knew that moving forward I wasn’t going to face the problems they created in their minds. It also informed me that if I found myself in these situations, to trust that they were very real problems and get help.
Fulfilling requirements: Just because I moved to New York and took the first steps to get there doesn’t mean that my job was done. Nope. I didn’t get to sit back and enjoy the wealth and fame that came my way. I had to continue taking greater risks and pushing my comfort zone. I had to show up every day with no fear and put myself out there, confidently, to the world. I walked in without a map but I knew that my internal voice would lead me to the next right person, the next right job, the next right action. It was up to me to show up and continue the process of change. I had a choice to trust the process or not. I choose to trust it. I’m glad I did. I ended up with trustworthy agents, loyal clients, friendships that have lasted nearly a decade as well as business friends for life. I got back what I gave. Respect. Trust. Confidence. Openness. Authenticity. Loyalty. Hard work. In fashion, those traits are nearly unheard of. How do you create them in your life? Give them away.
1. Write down you goals short and long term.
2. Create a visual representation of your life so you can literally see where you are going.
3. Choose wisely who will walk with you. And who you will turn to for support and advice.
4. Don’t argue with you higher power, just jump in the pool already. You’ll adjust.
A few of the changes I had to make: I had to make most of these changes the first few months of living in New York. Over the years, I’ve since gathered more knowledge and learned new areas of brand building. My point, it never stops.
I had to be a certain size.
I had to do things to be that size.
I had to learn how to travel alone.
I had to acquire a passport.
I had to get myself to castings and jobs.
I had to feed myself properly.
I had to find appropriate clothing.
I had to develop a healthy community.
I had to navigate new relationships.
I had to set up a bank account, pay taxes, hire money managers and lawyers.
I had to be a mirror for the creators around me reflecting their work. Making it shine.
I had to inspire confidence in those doing the hiring.
I had to learn how to transfer and navigate the transfer of money from country to country.
I had to make decisions about my health.
I had to keep my mouth shut unless my opinion was asked.
I had to find ways to express my gratitude for those who had helped me.
I had to navigate business dinners, business parties and business negotiations while maintaining a friendship with the people I worked with.
I had to be willing to change my look to suit the job.
I had to be willing to change my level of intensity depending on the climate of the room I walked into.
I had to assert leadership when it was required of me.
I had to give compassion to those around me still struggling to make it.
I had to help my agents help me succeed by being open and willing to learn and follow their lead.
I had to not eat for days at a time and find nutritionists that could help me manage.
I had to get up earlier to work-out before I went to work.
I had to find ways to manage my down time to maximize rest without becoming isolated.
I had to take risks on set pushing myself to move better.
I had to take walking lessons.
I had to find professionals to help me process the intense experience I was having so it didn’t cripple me.
I had to navigate boyfriends and learned how to balance and build friendships when I was never home.
I had to change my wardrobe and update my style.
I had to learn to make each major fashion city my home.
I had to maintain relationships with agents, drivers, photographers, casting directors, etc. all over the world.
I had to learn new world views, new cultures and new lifestyles.
I had to learn about the history of designers, photographers, the fashion business. I researched and learned who these people were and why what they did is important.
I had to educate myself on politics, history, literature and pop culture so that I could remain in the conversation.
I had to learn the art of negotiations.
I had to learn the art of hiring and firing.
and then… I had to graciously and gratefully step down after my time was up on the stage.
These are not the things a normal 18 year old does. So, it’s no wonder that anyone looking at that opportunity would be terrified. It’s a lot of responsibility to take on. I struggled and stumbled. I made mistakes. But I survived. I took the risk and have since taken every risk I can that comes my way. To learn, to grow, to develop something of substance to give back.
I also honored my promises to those who said I could and to those who said I couldn’t make it. I made it and then I got out before it ate me alive.