Even the most successful beauty professionals sometimes wish they could go back in time and give advice to their younger selves. It's human nature, after all. So we thought it would be interesting to ask some of these beauty pros what they'd say.
As we conducted our informal survey, a few common themes emerged, which we're sharing below. If you're new to beauty school or thinking about enrolling, our hope is that you'll find inspiration and helpful advice in these words of wisdom.
Drink in everything beauty school has to offer.
When you first start beauty school, you'll likely be eager to learn but also to cross the finish line so you can begin your career. This is natural! Who doesn't want to get started right away on living their dream?
The beauty pros we talked to cautioned against rushing things. Instead, they recommend enjoying the journey and soaking up as much knowledge as you can from your instructors.
Susan Discorfano-Catania holds cosmetology licenses in several states and currently teaches in the CTE program for cosmetology at Vernon Township High School in Vernon, New Jersey. She says, "If you're going to school for anything or advancing your education with classes, you should be sucking the life out of your educators. That's what we are there for. We love to engage the students and make them want to come to class the next day eager to learn more.
" And don't worry about asking so-called "dumb" questions. As Discorfano-Catania says, "The silly question is the one you're not asking.
" Keep in mind that your instructors can only do so much for you, however. Yes, they can impart their knowledge, share experiences, and provide feedback on your work. But it's up to you to listen and remember everything you’ve learned."
Ida McLean is a licensed cosmetologist, cosmetology instructor, and implementation & training specialist with Milady. She says it's important to trust the education process, especially when it's not obvious why you're learning something.
"For example, you may never do another finger wave or pin curl after you get out of school, but maybe it's not about the finger wave or pin curl," she explains. "Maybe it's about building dexterity and strength in your fingers and hands. Maybe it's about learning how to successfully manipulate the hair. It's good to ask questions, but also just trust the process and take full advantage of the education you are receiving."
Accept that beauty school will sometimes be challenging—and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Getting through beauty school will take work. And sometimes the work will be hard. Or daunting. Or seem downright impossible (on the surface, anyway). You might feel frustrated or even question why you decided to enroll in beauty school. Again, these are all natural feelings. Don't despair if/when you experience them during school.
McLean says she can relate to these feelings quite a bit. Even though going to cosmetology school was one of the best decisions she's ever made, that doesn't mean it was always easy.
"It was a hard process," she says. "Going to school when you have bills to pay, child(ren) to raise, trying to make time to study, and just 'life happening,' it can be difficult. When you look at the amount of time it takes to graduate, it doesn't seem very long in the beginning, but as you move through school, sometimes it feels like you are never going to get to the finish line. It's very normal to feel this way."
It’s also easy to get caught up in the romanticism of the beauty industry, especially if you’re fresh out of high school. Having realistic expectations is essential.
Stacy Thompson, a licensed barber/cosmetologist, instructor, and Milady implementation and training specialist, knows these feelings all too well.
"I would tell my younger self to be more present in my learning," Thompson says. "At 19, my mindset was not there. I loved the industry but [was] not mentally prepared to work for it. I really do not think someone interested in the industry realizes when you sign up for cosmetology school [that] you will learn electricity, chemistry, and anatomy, just to name a few. Some of the curricula can be very challenging. It is not just about styling or coloring hair—it is deeper than that."
When the going gets tough during school, McLean recommends taking a step back. "Remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place. What were you seeking? Write those things on sticky notes and put them everywhere: the bathroom mirror, the fridge, wherever you will see them daily to remind yourself of the end goal. You are going to make it to the finish line, and it will definitely be worth it."
Remember that patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to learning new skills.
When things are challenging—with beauty school, with life, with juggling all the demands in both—remember to be patient with yourself, with others, and with the overall process.
Myra Betances is a cosmetologist at Affinity Hair Salon and Spa, and she also works as an instructor at Tri-State Cosmetology Institute. (Both businesses are in El Paso, Texas.) She says, "The biggest advice I would give my younger self is to be patient. Everything eventually falls into place, and you will end up where you need to be."
Ms. Nilka, who also teaches at Tri-State Cosmetology Institute and works at Lupita’s Hair and Nails in Socorro, Texas, echoes this sentiment. "Have patience to learn," she says. "Everything is a learning process."
Learn how to become a brilliant communicator.
The beauty profession is an intimate one where you're working up close and personal with clients. Your skills matter, of course. But some might argue that how you communicate with people—especially your clientele—matters just as much, if not more.
Thompson says, "Someone told me once that the beauty industry is 80% personality and 20% skill. The moral of that story is you better love to work with people and be great at communication, as this is much of the job."
Betances adds, "Mastering a technique comes with lots of practice, but learning how to attract your clients and keep them comes with great customer service. I believe that’s the key to a successful career; your clients are what makes you."
Make sure you learn business skills, not just beauty skills.
Whether you're working for yourself or someone else, you'll be involved in marketing, upselling, keeping current clients happy, and looking for new clients. If you become an influencer on social media, you'll need to understand the contracts that brands want you to sign. If you develop your own line of products, you'll need to know manufacturing, distribution, and pricing strategies. If you want to pursue doing hair or makeup on TV shows or movie sets, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of Hollywood.
In other words, the business of beauty matters just as much as the skills you possess. And your beauty “career” is just that—a career, not a hobby. So while you're in school, soak up all the knowledge that's available to you, including business-related courses.
Traci Kirkland has been working as a manicurist for over 25 years, and she says this is the biggest piece of advice she'd give to herself if she could go back in time. "
I was motivated to become a nail tech by my passion to create nail art and help people look and feel their best," she explains. "I wish I would have learned more about the financial and marketing side of things early on. For the most part, we are business owners, and we represent our own brand. It is essential to understand how to balance your desire to buy every fun, trendy new product and still make a profit."
Embrace fumbles and failures.
No matter how hard you study or how much you want this, youwill make missteps along the way. You're human. And it happens to everyone—even the most successful among us.
As Thompson notes, "Do not be afraid to fail at something. It is still growing and learning from that mistake. Many icons in our industry have been humbled by failure and still went on to be amazing. Stay the course."
Define what success looks like to you.
Speaking of being a successful beauty professional . . . not everyone defines success the same way—and that's a good thing.
Success for one person might be opening a chain of spas. Success for another person might be launching their own line of beauty products. Still, success for another person might be working three days a week from 10 to 3 so they can be home to greet the kids off the bus.
In other words, only you can define what your success looks like. Not your instructors. Not your peers. Not your family or friends.
Discorfano-Catania says, "One piece of advice I'd give to my younger self is this: Set the bar high for yourself. You are in control of your own destiny. No one else is."
Maria Windell, who works at Tri-Sate Cosmetology Institute and The Woodhouse Day Spa in Texas, agrees.
"Don’t let others define the meaning of success for you," she says. "Concentrate on your purpose and passion. If you were raised with a certain belief system in your family, friends, and culture, and those beliefs don’t work for you, you can always change your belief system into new ideas and knowledge that support your dreams, your passion, and your life. Don’t be afraid of change, and educate yourself."
Surround yourself with smart people—and never stop learning.
All of the beauty professionals we chatted with stressed that learning doesn't end once you graduate from beauty school.
While you're in school, take advantage of everything—be a little sponge! But once you're out, make sure you keep on learning through continuing education and professional courses, webinars, and even tutorials on social media.
Discorfano-Catania says, "If you are the smartest person in a room/class, go into another class. Find someone who knows more than you and learn from them. Make sure you find a mentor to keep you on track with your goals."
Betances adds one final worthwhile nugget: "Keep an open mind to learning something new every day."
That sounds like great advice now . . . and for the future.
Here's to your success in beauty school!
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