Before I discovered how truly passionate I was about colour and design I had a few different jobs. I missed out on college because my parents couldn't afford to send me and even though I loved decorating (even then), I was so naive it never occurred to me that I could [get a student loan] go to school to become a designer.
My first jobs were in retail clothing sales. I’ll always remember arriving to work one day wearing white stirrup pants (it was the 80’s) and white pumps with holes in them to resemble polka dots and a white plastic bow. I think someone mentioned that stirrup pants go with boots–I didn’t know that.
Every year when September approached I would get anxious that I wasn’t enrolled in a program that would give me a career. I still have collages that I pasted together with notes that said “I make $26,000 a year” and at the age of 19 that [to me] was a lot of money!
When I was 21, I was dating a guy that was friends with the general manager of a 4 star hotel in the city. He arranged for an interview. I arrived and the secretary took me into his huge office (I was so scared) where the GM asked what I wanted to do in hotels? My reply was ‘Marketing’ and of course I had no idea what that meant. He went on to tell me about all the other hotels I could apply at and I was certain that meant I would not be offered a job. However a month later the HR department called me for an interview and I found myself working at the front desk.
Was I ever excited!! I felt that my ‘career’ had finally begun and until then, that was one of the happiest moments in my entire life! I was there for 4 years and moved up to Sales Coordinator and then Sales & Conference Service Manager.
Here’s the problem I had with hotel sales. In general, clients will book a hotel because they like the look and feel of it, so I never felt like it had anything to do with my ability to sell. I felt like a fraud, that at any moment someone would figure out that I didn’t know what I was doing.
So when I left that job and moved to Victoria to get married I was so insecure in my abilities (as a sales manager) that I took a job as a secretary at The Empress Hotel. Everyone had computers but one month into the job I received a hand-written letter that I was supposed to type for one of them. That was when I snapped and resigned.
Some people have an “I can do anything” kind of personality. I recently met a designer who started out sewing Halloween costumes for her kids. Then all the kids in the neighborhood wanted one too, so she did that until someone asked her to sew a wedding dress. She went from wedding dresses to prom dresses and then drapery.
The drapery client said “I need carpet and furniture too” so she went to decorating school because she was clear she needed some training. Then she showed me a kitchen she designed and I said ‘But you haven’t taken kitchen design?’ And she said “No but I just pretend and surround myself with really good people”.
I would love to be like that!! I have suffered so much anxiety because of my inability to BS and pretend. My personality is like this: “I need to learn it first, I need to understand it inside and out and analyze it every which way to Sunday” before I will say “I can do that”.
When I started my business and wrote “Expert Colour Consultation” in my yellow pages ad, I had no idea at the time how far that would take me. I took a phone call from a potential client back then and she mentioned beige and how it has so many different undertones. I had NO IDEA what she was talking about! So I found the best course on colour (before mine of course and immediately flew down to San Francisco to take it!
In the past 10 years I have conducted almost 1,500 colour consultations. 1,000 of those during my 4 years with Benjamin Moore where I averaged 5 per week. It’s why I truly believe that if you are a designer and you do not have this kind of training or experience, you should hire a colour expert just like you would hire any other professional when you are coordinating a job.
I have taken many other ‘colour courses’ since that first one but I didn’t learn ‘undertones’ as distinctly as I have from anywhere other than on-the-job experience. When I was in retail, not only was I doing 5 calls per week but in the store we choose colours for customers all day long. You quickly get to the level where someone walks in with a pillow or a piece of tile and you pull out the right colour the first time, almost every time.
My other area of expertise is furnishing, decorating and styling a home. I have spent countless hours over the years pouring over magazines and shopping with clients to distinguish how to create a look and feel in a space with the right furniture and accessories! But I will not pretend that I can draft up your kitchen
Penelope Trunk wrote a great article called “Being an Expert takes Time not Talent”. When you read it and click on the article from the Harvard Business Review, you’ll read the following, which is the best part:
“The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts.
It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort.
You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all, if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.”
So whether you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning or have just stumbled onto it (this is in response to the emails I get asking for tips on how your blog can look a little like mine) know that the look and feel of my blog comes from 10 years of being in the business (technically 20 if you count the years I decorated for my friends and family) as well as living for most of those years with a constant level of anxiety and insecurity wondering if I would ever figure it out or stressing that I’d been fired (yet again). . .
Renting instead of owning (for me that was the trade-off for being creative or die) and learning that each of our lives is a series of trade-offs. When my sisters called me and wistfully asked how much fun I was having at a pre-olympics cocktail party down town 2 weeks ago, I said “Ah but I don’t have a little darling like you do (below), keeping me from being here!”.
Bottom line, I was still the one (in my retail days) who would drive anywhere at any time to conduct yet another consultation so that I would one day be able to call myself a True Expert.
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