Be Yourself – it’s that simple

Being myself in my favourite look – a well-worn jean jacket and scarf.

One of the best pieces of advice I have received repeatedly is “be yourself”. Sounds basic, right? Maybe, except in the fashion industry where so many people are determined to be someone else. A lot of my fashion friends lived on the fringe growing up. They tended to be art and theatre lovers that attracted the eye-rolls and mocking of the jocks and the “cool” kids. The fashion kids used the trappings of style – from wild hair to over-the-top shoes – to express themselves in the way that they wanted to be seen. When they escaped from high school or their narrow life, they adopted a “you-can’t-sit-with-me” vibe – and often lost their sense of humour in the process. Their tribe meant everything – even if that was adopting a mask and different persona.

Fashion types often hide a huge amount of insecurity behind a flashy facade. And that almost always get in the way of career success. I worked with a senior editor once who was engaging, charming and vibrant but mortified of being viewed as “uncool”. When asked to participate in a role-play brainstorming session, she flat out refused, calling it “ridiculous and embarrassing”. I don’t know who was more shocked – me by her refusal, or her when she was pushed out of her dream job.

When I started at Flare as Editor-in-Chief in 2004, George Pimentel, Canada’s leading red carpet shooter, and as honest a guy as you’ll ever meet, pulled me aside. He could see that I didn’t know what to do when his camera pointed at me. “Where do I put my hands? Does my stomach stick out? Do I smile? Or is that not cool?” “Be yourself! That’s all you gotta do,” George whispered, and then roared, “tits out, head high!” It’s the same excellent advice – “be yourself” (not the tits business) – I received when I arrived at Holt Renfrew into a culture that was so foreign from Rogers Media.

One shameful moment I’ll always carry with me was when I was working in a backstabbing environment of badly behaved people. “If you can’t beat them, you may as well join them” I thought in sheer frustration. So I belittled a junior colleague in a group meeting. While my criticism had a place (but only in a private conversation with her), delivering it in front of her co-workers was the equivalent of a spiteful slap in her face. I’ll forever regret treating her that way. I wasn’t being my authentic self. My frustration led me to behave like everyone else.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and one of those was not always being true to myself when I was trying to impress someone else. Frankly, I don’t care about wearing the latest fashion trends first. I’m much more intrigued about the behind-the-scenes business of this crazy industry. I’m not concerned with being a size 6, or being photographed at exclusive parties in trendy clubs. When a work project really excites me, I become giddy to the point of goofy. When I’m being my most authentic self is when I’m most confident, and when I’m the strongest motivator, leader and creator. If not, to be honest, I kind of fall apart.

So that’s one more reason why I making this big life change right now – quitting a job, moving my home base, and setting up a business in both Vancouver and Toronto. I’m getting back to being myself. It’s that simple.