The Unexpected Power of Putting Your Best Foot Forward

A hair stylist once told me “You’re not a high-maintenance woman, are you?”. Others have been more polite, with statements such as “You’d be best with something that’s easy to style and maintain.” and others less so: “No. I’m not going to do that type of colour on you because you won’t maintain it.”

OUCH! Suffice it to say that most people would not peg me as someone who invests a lot in her looks, unless I absolutely have to. Truth is, if I don’t have a corporate gig to go to or a theatre production to prep for, you’ll find me in cargo pants, a t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie as opposed to more professional-looking options. Yup, that’s how I roll 90+% of the time, especially now that I work my magic at home.

Now that I have this confessional out of the way, I need to tell you about a recent life-enhancing experience. It's not life-changing, but let's just say it's life-enhancing with a capital "E".

This past September, I was asked to share a personal story in front of over 250 people at an event called momondays, which would be videotaped and subsequently released on YouTube [I'll post the link once it’s up. For now, here’s a copy of the talk, which I released in early October].

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In preparation for the event, the momondays (Winnipeg edition) organizer & MC asked me for not only a bio but also a head shot, both of which I dutifully sent along (pictured right). The response I received was less than complimentary, yet understandable:

“Do you have anything, um, better?”

Yup, this was a very necessary wakeup call because what I sent along was definitely not worthy of the quality of talk I was preparing to deliver.

Worse yet, I didn’t do anything about it other than send along selfies that weren’t much better. I felt terrible but not enough to overcome the inertia needed to do anything about it.

The Unbelievable Ask...

That same day, I went to my hair stylist for a colour touch up and, as I handed her my credit card, I asked whether she thought I’d be able to get my hair and makeup done for the event AND get a photo shoot arranged for that same day.

The challenge? The event was in six days! 

Ironic really, coming from a person who preaches about the need to try new things & expand our comfort zone and who’s gone skydiving, zip lining, gliding, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and shark diving, but who's too chicken to let others "make her over” for a day.

I assure you I wasn’t making the request to try to be some sort of diva. On the contrary, I had just worked up the nerve needed to get some professional photos done after dilly dallying for YEARS! I don’t think I would've ever gone through with it if I hadn’t just blurted out the request at that moment. It left us both a little bit stunned and I immediately assured her she could tell me "to go fly a kite". 

And I would certainly have deserved that response.

...And They Said "Yes!"

Amazingly enough, the stars aligned. Thanks to my hairstylist deciding to come in on a day off (thank you Janelle!), her makeup artist & cousin Leanne’s recent cancellation and my preferred photographer Michelle being available (which Janelle highly recommended), I had my hair, makeup and photo shoot all set up for the morning and afternoon before that evening’s speaking event.

Crazy schedule I know, but I didn’t want to have time to think it over and, when you ask people to come together like that, YOU CAN’T CANCEL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WITHOUT BEING CONSIDERED THE WORST HUMAN BEING EVER!

Like it or not, was all in.

A Great Experience

Well, everyone was absolutely wonderful and it was a great experience all round. I now know first hand how people on those daytime makeover shows feel when they come out for their before and after reveals. It’s definitely a rush (no audience needed).

I felt like a million bucks all day and, despite gale-force 56 km/h+ winds—just my luck—Janelle and Leanne's hard work stayed nice all day and well into the evening. My “doo” was even nice the next morning. Amazing!

More Unexpected, Yet Delightful, Consequences

The outcome that day was just the start of it. I got far more out of the experience than I bargained for:

  1. I had finally learned how to “do my hair” properly AND that it can stay nice for up to four days if I just invest a short 15 minutes. I’ve been keeping it up ever since. (Yes, you read right…at 41, I still hadn’t made effective use of a round brush and hair drier.)
  2. I had finally learned how to do my makeup in a way that highlights my best features, which increased my confidence when public speaking and attending events.
  3. I felt better than I had in years and still do, which was the greatest shock of all!
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Once I got my first head shot proof, I put it to use right away. Within a few days, it was on Facebook, Twitter, and on my About page and it’s even on promotional materials for two upcoming events.

And, now that I’ve received the rest of my photos, I’m hard at work preparing a new Media package and other info I’ve been too sheepish to release because it didn’t feel ready; or maybe I didn’t feel ready…not to mention the issues around my struggle with anonymity

Free to Pursue Feels Free-er to Pursue

In short, you could say Free to Pursue feels, well, Free-er to Pursue. And that means there's more in store in the weeks to come.

This “makeover” has been one of the most liberating and rewarding experiences of my career and I never would have guessed it would have such an impact. The idea of it always felt superficial—even artificial—to me, but what I’m realizing is that, ironically, it’s helping me be more authentic because I don’t feel I need to hold anything back. I somehow feel I can put all of myself out there, which in turn makes me better at what I do. And that's what matters to me the most.

I don’t know if I’ve been able to properly explain or convey what this experience has done for me. Sometimes, for something like this, I think we just need to experience it to know how transformative it is. 

And I know I'm not the only one who's noticed something.

Most recently, I’ve been told I smile more, that my eyes “sparkle with passion” about the topic I’m speaking about and that I’m “really connecting with my audience”. To me, that’s just means I'm showing more of what was there all along.

The best $750 I've ever spent.

This experience has been a powerful reminder that how we feel and behave has more to do with what’s between our ears than what we know to be true. Perception is a powerful tool that can not only change how others see us but, more importantly, how we see ourselves. What we put forward has a lot more to do about "feeling it" than "knowing it".

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best $750 I’ve ever spent and I highly recommend the experience. 

I'll do my very best to stay mindful of this lesson going forward so that I can avoid being this chicken about trying something new that might just make me a better version of myself, inside and out.