In the summer of 2013 I did what many people dream about, I left my corporate career of 20 years to launch my own business.
I’d trained to be a personal stylist in 2010 – not because of a ‘passion for fashion’ – but because I’d almost lost myself completely to a career I never really wanted. I’d allowed the crush of the daily commute, the aggression, the office politics and a formidable workload to eat away at my heart and slowly suffocate my soul and in doing so, I’d started to forget who I was and what it was that I did want.
So, when the opportunity to take a career break presented itself, I grabbed it. And I used that time to train as a personal stylist because at that point in my life, when I couldn’t articulate what I truly wanted and why, doing so made sense. I was drawn to personal styling because I’m fascinated by what the clothes we wear say about us culturally, collectively and as individuals. However, my primary goals were; find a creative outlet and learn a skill I could use in future to create a business.
When l did launch my business three years later, I went on to work with clients all over the world and to write and speak about clothing as a form of communication at London and international events. I believed (and still do) in the transformational power of clothes and that my work was making a positive difference to women’s lives.
Yet what should have felt like a dream come true, became a succession of predominately negative emotions regarding my business. Only I continually overrode them and told myself, “I’ll get there in the end”, choosing to believe everything I felt would be worth it once I got to wherever ‘there’ was. I was so used to experiencing negative emotions in regards to my career, that to consider feeling otherwise took me right out of my comfort zone.
I also didn’t trust myself enough to make my own decisions; I looked everywhere else and to everyone else for answers.
However, towards the end of 2016 I did finally wrap up the personal styling side of my business. The immediate relief once I made the decision was immense, but looking back, I do understand why I wasn’t brave enough to quit sooner.
And I want to share my story in the hope that it helps other women who want to leave their careers and start a business – or who feel stuck in the business they’ve created. I want to help you avoid making the same mistakes I made.
THE GOOD NEWS; YOU DON’T KNOW UNTIL YOU TRY
For a long time I thought being a ‘real’ personal stylist meant I needed to look a certain way, offer particular services, be up with all the latest fashions, speak and write about style, join industry associations and attend Fashion Weeks and other events. So, I tried it all…and I soon discovered I was in the wrong world.
Whilst I’d poured over fashion blogs and magazines and shopped like it was a sport as means of escapism during my corporate career, once I was a part of the industry, I discovered I wasn’t quite as interested in fashion as I initially thought.
Which should probably have been the end of it.
Only I chose to believe that doing things my way would make the difference I was longing for. So, I started asking women what they really needed help with in their wardrobes and created a service in response, one that also distanced me from so much of what I disliked about the fashion industry. But whilst there were moments of fulfilment – I loved my clients and demystifying the art of dressing stylishly, e.g. no ridiculous ‘fashion rules’ – the work continued to leave me feeling drained and unenthusiastic.
This much was clear though; I loved working with women. And I loved exploring their lives through their stories and hearing about their desires. It was this opening up and sharing and the opportunity to help a woman write a new story for herself that I found utterly compelling. But I also knew in my heart I wanted to go deeper into this work, that personal styling wasn’t enough for me.
And I would never have known any of this if I had not taken the leap into personal styling in the first place. Far too many people are frightened of making a wrong decision; you want to be sure you’re doing the right thing, but there is no way of knowing until you try. You only get two choices; stay in the situation that feels comfortable and safe because it’s familiar – but is also painful and may lead to a life of regret – or be willing to experience the discomfort and uncertainty that comes from the unknown.
However, if you make a decision and it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do what I did and override your feelings and stick with it. Move on and take a chance on something else that might.
CREATE A LIFE FIRST, A BUSINESS SECOND
In order to be successful as a personal stylist, you need to be very visible. Most people don’t actually understand how accessible the service is, although I didn’t try to educate them and I never tried to sell what I did; I simply talked about how most women told me they wanted to feel, and how I could help them achieve this feeling.
As I worked with individual clients, the best way to do this was by meeting people in person, either through networking events or speaking engagements. Not ideal for an introvert but mostly, it’s draining to speak with passion on a topic when you no longer feel a passion for it. Over time, I also found myself beginning to dread seeing clients, knowing I owed it to them to be truly engaged in my work. As a result, I constantly felt depleted and in desperate need of someone to see me and help me and yet I failed to reach out and ask to be seen or heard – which led to intense feelings of isolation and a period of depression.
I was so eager to escape my corporate career I’d failed to be brutally honest with myself about the life I truly wanted to be living. I knew what I wanted in a big vision kind of way, but I’d never stopped to ask myself how I wanted to feel on a daily basis. And whilst in the back of my mind I always knew personal styling was a transitional step in my career, I also knew the freedom to work from anywhere so I could travel frequently and live wherever I wanted was very important to me. If I’d asked myself, “How do I want to feel?” One of my answers would have been, “Free”, and then I could have asked myself if personal styling was going to give me the freedom I desired. Transitional step or not – I had effectively tied myself to another job.
It’s important to spend time asking yourself not only what you want but also why you want it. Start a journaling practice and create a vision board to inspire your thinking – but most importantly of all – ask yourself, “How do I want to feel?” I believe creating an honest vision for your life is one of the most powerful actions you can take – but you have to be completely honest with yourself.
I was afraid to express what I truly wanted because at the time I felt ashamed for wanting more than I’d already achieved, and afraid I’d fail to attain it. I no longer feel this way.
YOU ARE ALLOWED TO CHANGE
Because I’d almost lost myself completely to a corporate career I never really wanted, I’d lost touch with who I was, what I did want and why, how I wanted to feel and what I truly cared about.
But as time went by, I began to get to know myself again.
Where I’d once poured over fashion blogs and magazines and secretly dreamed of becoming a glamorous lifestyle blogger, I became interested in far different topics.
My entrepreneurial journey had become a spiritual one as I took a sharp turn down the self-development path looking for answers. As a result of my self-exploration, I began to question the consequences of my own clothing choices and the ethical and environmental impact of fashion; which made it difficult to witness first-hand the excessive waste I encountered with every wardrobe I edited. I struggled to recommend big, global brands to clients knowing how destructive they are – to people and the planet.
My business was no longer in alignment with my personal values.
I experienced this in every area of my life. As I began to get to know myself again, I found I continually questioned what I wanted and what was truly important to me, and my life continues to evolve as a result of these questions.
Now I reserve my right to change. What I love doing today may completely transform over time, I might eventually decide I don’t want to continue coaching and mentoring and as a result, my work could move in an entirely new direction. Or maybe I’ll choose to take a year off to travel the world. Perhaps I’ll receive a fabulous job opportunity and return to being an employee with a regular salary. What I do know is that I want to be doing interesting work for as long as I can, so I’ve given myself permission to change course and shed old versions of myself as I continue to grow. And you can do the same.
You are allowed to change.
ONLY YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
Ultimately, I knew I didn’t want to continue working as a personal stylist.
Looking back, there were so many signs that this was, perhaps, not the right path for me; but I couldn’t – or wouldn’t – acknowledge them at the time.
Instead I looked for answers in self-help books, courses, events and workshops, devoured the words of so-called ‘experts’ and lost hours of my life searching on Google.
Finally I began working with a coach. I admitted my heart wasn’t really in the personal styling anymore. To my dismay, my idea to expand on the coaching and mentoring work I’d been doing was violently rejected, and I’ll never forget how defeated I felt as a result of that conversation. By the end of that week I felt like I was headed for a breakdown, I can clearly recall sitting on our kitchen floor on the Friday night, a glass of red wine in one hand and the bottle in the other, saying to David, “I can’t do this anymore”.
I stopped seeing personal styling clients anyway. And what happened was I inadvertently created the space I’d needed all along to actually acknowledge my feelings, to get my thoughts in order and more importantly, to listen to what my intuition was telling me. I began to feel the first glimmer of possibility that perhaps the only person who could make the right decision for me, was me. And whilst it took time, ultimately that’s how I found the courage to let this part of my business go.
This is your life. If there’s a voice inside you telling you what to do, then listen. You must get clear about how you want to feel and what makes you happy and then create that life instead of pretending you can’t have it.
Ultimately, you’re the only person who can decide what’s right for you.
KNOWING WHEN TO LET GO
How often have you hated even the idea of what you’re doing, but you still keep doing it? I’ve actually been proud of being someone who doesn’t give up easily; I’ve stayed in relationships that hurt my heart, stuck by friends who sucked the life out of me, pursued projects I’d long-ago lost any passion for, almost lost myself to a career that was slowly suffocating my soul and held on far too long to a part of my business that I never truly loved.
The reality was I always held on for as long as I could, because quitting felt like admitting I had failed.
Looking back, I know I turned this into a much harder decision than it ever needed to be. I also know that once you’ve invested time, money and energy into something – or experienced even a small degree of success – it can be difficult to quit.
But now I understand that success isn’t always about holding on – sometimes it’s about being brave enough to let go.
And as a result of this experience, I’ve finally broken a pattern of holding on for too long and looking everywhere and to everyone else for answers.
Personal styling didn’t work out as I expected and my journey to this point has been anything but linear. When I look behind me the dots dart haphazardly from one place to another – but they do join up. And I consider the last three years to be a success, not because of what I did achieve in my business, but because of the valuable lessons I learnt and the person I’ve become from this experience.
Grant yourself permission to let go and allow yourself to unfold to become the woman you’re meant to be, no matter how many times you need to start over.
The key to moving forward is to forgive yourself and let go of what happened in the past, take the valuable lessons with you and trust that no experience is ever wasted.
Starting over is different from starting out, because you’ve got so much more knowledge than you had before.
Image credits: Bhav Sonigra Photography.
© 2019 Esther Zimmer