How My Crappy College Job Helped Me Conquer My Career

Kelley Raye

Kelley Raye

It was just another day at the salon in Plano, Texas. Phones ringing. Dryers whirring. Pretentious, big-haired ladies asking me why their stylist was late.

“I knoowww, I’m sorry. He’s just about done…would you like more wine?”

I was 23 and lamenting to Isabell, the 20+year public relations vet who popped in every now and then to give her client, my employer, salon updates on the PR side of things.

I liked Isabell. She was kooky, but she offered me a view of the kind of people I imagined I’d work with once I completed my journalism degree. She played phone games with D Magazine account reps trying to sell us ads, she was rarely in the salon for business more than 10 minutes at a time (yet had plenty of time to spare for her beauty needs), and she was notorious for telling tall tales. As I was getting to know her, a seasoned stylist warned me to never believe anything she said unless it was about business.

She sat behind me reading mail while I whined about how looong my last semesters were taking to complete and how the salon felt draining. At that point, I all but completely hated working there. For starters, it was located far north of Dallas in the epitome of Suburbia. It was the worst location for a DailyCandy Dallas intern who was over strip malls and Mom vans and who was dying to live in an edgier, creative neighborhood “below 635,” the interstate highway that circles Dallas proper. (You see, your coolness goes up or down depending on whether you live above or below I-635 and I was definitely cool.)

Next thing, the management was a nightmare. I didn’t have a clear idea what work culture was supposed to be like then, but I knew what I was experiencing was not it. The salon was run by a husband and wife team, the head stylist and head colorist. I’m about 99% sure they hated each other’s guts.

I’d been working in the toxicity for two years. I’d seen apprentices come and go. Every single week, a front desk girl/stylist/colorist/apprentice/makeup artist was upset and/or literally crying because of something someone said or did. Six times out of ten, you could bet your money the head colorist was involved in some way.

I made pretty good money there for a 23-year-old (which I blew on dining out, weekly mani-pedi appointments and Ciroc shots at the M Bar), and even with a full belly, cute nails, a swanky suburban apartment (read: 80’s digs with renovations), and a Forever 21-filled closet, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to leave. Had someone pointed me in the direction of  a community like the Forté Foundation, full of smart, motivated women ready to conquer their careers, at that stage in my life, I’d have been much obliged. But on that day at the salon with Isabell, I heard the advice that would prove itself useful in helping me take the next (and the next, and the next) leap.

“Honey, I’ve been in business a long time. Before this, I raised horses…I’ve worked in construction…you’re going to go further than this job. Have you ever been to the horse races?”

I was perplexed. “What? Horse racing?! No.”

“To keep them from being distracted while running the race, you put blinders on them,” Isabell told me, cupping her hands on either side of her face. “Honey, you have to put your blinders on and keep running the race.”  

One thing to note about me is that I’m an extremely impatient person. I’ve been this way since childhood. So you can imagine how hearing “put your blinders on and stay focused” sounded to me at first – exactly like what I didn’t want to hear. The queen of immediacy (in everything – workout results, payments from clients – you name it!), had to come to terms with the fact that wants and needs are rarely the same thing.

I eventually stopped complaining about the things I couldn’t fix at work and launched my plan to get out. I pranced around the salon in that Forever 21 garb and performed through clenched teeth.

“Oh, I have to stay an hour later than I’m supposed to to check out your client who totally could’ve paid earlier? Great!”

“You hate your hairstyle and you’d prefer to complain to me instead of your stylist who JUST walked away? Awesome!”

It’s interesting how much easier it is to put up with what you don’t like when you have an end goal mind. I asked my DailyCandy editor and my trustworthy coworkers about upscale salons in “real Dallas” that could be a good fit for me and one stood out. With a little help from my friends (a.k.a referrals), I landed a new front desk job at the stand-out salon, moved to a studio apartment in a cooler neighborhood and started my first blog, Zuri Chic.

Almost 10 years later, I’m still wearing my blinders. I stopped freelancing full time to take position at a “real company” because in the long run, the payoff would be greater for me and my business. And trust me, after having built a brand focused on “ladypreneurship,” getting a real job made me feel like I was betraying my audience. I was almost embarrassed by it.  

But who gets embarrassed by on-time rent payments and not having to depend on sponsors to afford the swag you’re dishing out at your events? If need be, I can be my own sponsor!  

I’m excited to continue this journey of learning. What I’ve discovered thus far is that every experience in my life has correlated to another. Doors close, others open and in the midst of all the confusion, the light comes through and all the “nonsense” starts making of a whole lot of sense.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received? Have you helped another lady get over the career hump? We’d love to hear. Tweet at @gowrkgrls and @fortefoundation your best career advice using the #ConquerYourCareer hashtag.

If you’re currently a college aged lady looking to gain some good advice, mosey over to the Forté Foundation for some golden nuggets on how to conquer your career.