In recent weeks, I faced several challenges in my personal life while working on events, like Fashion Week, that caused immense amounts of stress and inspired me to create this post. I wanted to provide insight into the reality of managing difficult situations while simultaneously navigating work commitments, specifically within the fast-paced and very demanding fashion industry.
This post is a little different from what I normally share or create because it’s pretty vulnerable. But my hope is that by sharing my experiences, I can offer valuable tips on coping with stress while maintaining a professional mindset.
There is a quote I recently heard by the incredible Patrice Washington that says, “You’re not the first. You’re not the last. You’re not alone.”
It resonated with me so much because when we’re going through tough things, it’s so easy to feel completely alone – especially if you’re like me and don’t really know how to communicate your feelings or ask for help.
Keep this quote in the back of your mind as we go through this post and in your life as needed. It has helped me tremendously in tough times and I just know it can help you too.
PART 1: TOUGH TIMES
I don’t talk about my personal life on here or any of my socials much – or ever really. So you should know that I am the daughter of 2 incredibly supportive and loving parents and the older sister of a successful racing instructor brother. They are my life line, my support system and everything in between.
In October we had a health scare with my mom that sent her to the hospital. I had just started working on a project with Bergdorf Goodman for their holiday activations and mentally, had to divide my time between being the best at my job while also taking care of my mom.
Then in January, an even bigger scare shook all of us to the core and sent my mom back to the hospital where she underwent surgery and a week-long hospital stay. This occurred right in the middle of Fashion Week preparation.
The day she didn’t feel well I remember calling her an Uber during a virtual presentation my team was having with one of the designers we were working with that season. No one was available to bring her to the doctor and this was the only way to get her there.
Shortly after the presentation, I remember receiving a call from her doctor saying she needed to be brought to the ER for emergency surgery.
I was working in NYC at the time.
I was more than an hour away.
I felt helpless and numb.
To make matters worse, I suspected and to this day believe that medical negligence caused this emergency. So, not only was I nervous, scared and worried about my mom. I was filled with anger at the medical team that had caused my mother so much unnecessary pain and at the healthcare system overall. The more research I did, the more people warned me that fighting them would be expensive, time consuming, but most of all, emotionally draining.
A day before her surgery, we also received the news that my uncle in Italy (my dad’s sister’s husband) had passed away. I had some wonderful memories with him anytime I visited the country and this broke me down even further.
While my team was incredibly supportive, there was still work that had to be done as Fashion Week was quickly approaching.
Keep in mind that I also still had my own business to run. I had decided that I would launch my newly updated course, Fashion Career Blueprint™, March 1st while the excitement of Fashion Week was still fresh. Never imagining for a second that all of this would be happening at the same time.
The days during those few weeks were LONG. I’d make my mom breakfast and lunch in the mornings before leaving for the train. Then, my hourly commute every morning and every night gave me time to write out podcast episodes, emails for my community, social media posts and blog posts. My day was spent going on site visits, working on things like insurance requests and sourcing decor for Fashion Week.
Once home, I’d go spend time with my mom and make sure she was comfortable before continuing to work on my business until late into the night, leaving me just a few hours to sleep before doing it all over again.
In trying to take care of everything and everyone else, I never stopped to take care of ME. It’s no wonder that as soon as Fashion Week ended, I got incredibly sick with a cold that took me out for almost a month.
I didn’t want my mental health or my cold to affect my launch, but it did.
I didn’t want it to affect my performance and my work during Fashion Week, but unfortunately, it also did.
PART 2: MISTAKES
When you’re working with larger venues during Fashion Week or anytime really, there are very specific requirements you must adhere to. These can include things like working with certain catering vendors, COI’s (certificates of insurance) with very high, very specific amounts or exact lists of people that are allowed in various areas of the venue itself.
I was in charge of 2 shows and a large pre-collection this past Fashion Week season. I’ll give you a quick behind-the-scenes overview of each one.
To kick things off, the first show I was in charge of was more of a fashion presentation. The client was showing their Fall/Winter collection within their showroom space, so things weren’t as intense in the setup or breakdown process.
The most challenging thing about this particular presentation were the hours. We got in the day before the show and were there until almost midnight, only to have to be back again at 4am the very next day and stay there until 4pm – a FULL 12 hour day. It was exhausting, but everything came out flawlessly, which was the most important thing and the client was happy.
The very next day at 8am sharp, I had to be onsite for what is known as a pre-collection that was taking place in Brooklyn.
During pre-collection, a designer and their team rents a specific space – this could be within their showroom, within their offices or a studio that is offsite. They rent this for 1-2 weeks and this is where all the Fashion Week magic happens.
Essentially, they bring all of their product and there, they decide what’s going to be featured in the show, what models will be walking the show so there are extensive and long days of casting – there’s hundreds of models that come onsite for casting calls to see which ones are going to be walking the show.
From there, they decide who’s going to be wearing what, they fit the clothing to the specific models, they take all of the pictures, they decide on music – on hair, on makeup. Everything gets decided and put together for the show at pre-collection. It’s a very exciting thing to watch it all unfold, but it’s exhausting. They’re very long days at a studio.
In this case, I was there almost an entire week before the show was set to present. What this meant was that I couldn’t go to my office and work on one final show I had after this. It gave me limited time to work on it, but it also gave me the opportunity to be present for this designer and anything he and his team could need in order to get pre-collection up and running.
This is just a simple version of what goes on during pre-collection because there are many different players, teams and people involved. But for the purposes of this post, I wanted to keep it short and sweet.
The final day of pre-collection is always the most hectic and this show was no exception. We actually stayed in the studio for a full 24 hours and then went straight to the show venue to continue working and making sure everything went flawlessly – which it did.
…making this a grand total of about maybe 45 or 46 hours of being awake. I know, I know – but it’s Fashion Week.
The final show that I was in charge of for this season was one that the rest of the team seemed to think would be easier. Not because of the components, but because it was going to be showing at a venue that specialized in Fashion Week shows.
This is where all of the information I mentioned before comes into play. When it comes to larger venues that are very specific to Fashion Week, they have these large requirements that need to absolutely be followed. This particular venue had very, very specific things that they required every single one of their clients, vendors and anyone that was showing or coming into their space had to do, fill out, put together and provide information all before the show and especially on the day of.
On the day of the show, of course as I’m trying to get to the venue, I’m trying to call an Uber – THREE of them cancel on me, making me about 10 minutes late. When I arrived at the venue there was already a line of people waiting to get checked in. Guess who was holding the check-in list?
These were not show guests just yet. They were all of the people that were working in the backstage area, including: hair stylists, makeup artists, nail artists, models – all of them were trying to get in.
To make matters even worse, I hadn’t even taken off my coat yet when someone from the venue came up to me and specifically said that we hadn’t provided a Certificate of Insurance for a specific group of sponsors. If they didn’t have the COI in their hands, these sponsors would not be allowed to enter the venue.
This vendor required a very high insurance amount for anyone that was coming in. And so what this meant was that a COI was just not possible to be created or put together in just a matter of minutes – it would take 2-3 days.
You can imagine the panic that was setting in and I had just gotten there – the show, the day, hadn’t even started yet.
To be fair, the venue did not mention that they needed a COI for this particular sponsor at any point throughout our conversation or the weeks we had been working together. Regardless, we still had to scramble to get this done as our client was arriving, as the models were coming in, as the hair stylists, nail artists and makeup artists set up their work stations – all of this was happening at exactly the same time.
To add the cherry on top of this already chaotic and crazy day, as I was scrambling to look for these insurance policies and requirements, it was brought to my attention that the catering hadn’t arrived yet. When you’re working with the backstage area of a fashion show, catering is VERY important and is usually planned in advance because there are so many people that need to be included. You have to take into account all of the stylists (hair, makeup, nails), all the models, casting, design, anyone that’s there for dressing, anyone that’s there from the design team itself. Usually this is about 120-150+ that need to be included within this catering order.
Quick note: Anytime you’re in charge of a show – as a producer, as a production manager, as a director – you create what’s known as your “show binder”. Inside this binder are all the documents and all the details – all of the information you would need on the spot should anything happen.
So for this show, I had a list and breakdown of all the production assistants who were on my team that day – their email addresses and phone numbers. This is important in case someone doesn’t show up and you need to call them or if you need them for anything in the days leading up to the show.
You also want to make sure you have all of the invoices printed out for anything that you’re ordered, any rentals that you have, anything of the sort that you would potentially need to contact someone or have the breakdown of your order with the order number in case of any issues. You also need copies of insurance for everyone that’s onsite – whatever the venue required each of the vendors to have and what they required of you.
Finally, you also want to make sure you have a walkie sign-out sheet because what ends up happening is, if anyone mistakenly takes a walkie with them or doesn’t return it or it gets lost, you, as a production company, get invoiced for anything that’s missing. So you always want to make sure that you’re signing out walkies with this checkout list and you know exactly where they are at all times.
As soon as I heard that catering had not arrived yet, the first thing i did was go into my show binder, pull up the order and call them – not realizing that at the very top of the invoice it said the order had not been paid for.
Now, I’m gonna be very honest here: I believe what happened next was a combination of a few different things that created the perfect storm.
- The fact that I couldn’t work at my office because I had to be somewhere else for pre-collection didn’t help matters when it came down to concentrating, breaking down and being present within the office and the rest of my team
- The fact that everyone considered the show to be “easier” because it was showing at a turnkey space, gave other shows more priority and more time that everyone took to lay everything out detail by detail
- My mindset. My mindset at the time (and I didn’t realize this while I was living through it then) was divided in so many different directions. I had all of these things going on in my personal life. I have NEVER been the type that let personal issues get in the way of work. And in this case, I tried – I tried harder than anyone to make sure my work was perfect. I am a perfectionist at heart. Everything I do, I like to make sure I do a good job – especially when it comes to my work as a freelancer, as a production manager or when it comes to working for anyone else.
All of these things combined created the perfect storm and unfortunately, there were things that were missed – by my team, by me, by anyone that had access to these invoices.
It turned out that we never paid for and confirmed the catering order. Now, the catering company also never called to confirm, even though we had been in communication with them for weeks about creating the perfect menu…
So what ended up happening was: we had 36 very hungry models, about 100 people that were waiting on the food that is usually available in the backstage catering area and TWO poor production assistants that had to run to the nearest speciality shop and basically empty them out of any sandwiches, soups, salads, coffee and any pastries that they had. They did this for about 6 trips – back and forth, back and forth. Each time replenishing the food because it would go faster than it was placed down on the table.
To say that this show caused me stress is an understatement.
After I dropped everything off and made sure everything at the venue was left exactly the way we found it, after I got home … I broke down.
This was the first show in the history of my profession where there had been very clear, specific mistakes that had been made. Mistakes that I could’ve stopped, that I could’ve realized sooner, and ultimately, mistakes that fell on me more so than my team.
At the time, I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t dependable. And I felt like I had taken all the work I had done that season and just thrown it out the window.
I know that this may sound dramatic. I also know my team probably didn’t feel this way.
But it was hard to be kind to myself.
To look at things the way I can look at them now and say, “You had a lot going on…But you still did your job”. And actually – that last show, it went perfectly – it went smoothly! The designer was happy, the team was happy. The designer didn’t actually even know everything that was going on behind-the-scenes because we were able to resolve absolutely everything without them knowing.
And so, it was much easier for me at the time to take the blame, to feel terrible about it, to put myself down over and over again and to just release all of my pent up frustrations and emotions by crying.
PART 3: LESSONS
I wanted to paint a full picture for you to see exactly what was going on in my life, in my mind, in my headspace, in my job – in EVERYTHING put together because that is what real life is.
It’s never perfect, it’s never all in sync and in harmony. There are always going to be things that pop up. Maybe not as drastic or dramatic as some of these weeks were in my life, but there are going to be situations that take up and want to take up all of your mental space while you still need to do things – while you’re still responsible for projects, for work, for teams – whatever it may be in your life and in your career, there are still things that are going to be happening in your personal life.
There has to be a way where you can separate the two and most importantly, where you can take care of yourself so that you don’t end up burnt out and breakdown the way that I did this past season.
The first and most important thing you can do is practice self care. I know that this is easier said than done, but it’s crucial to get this done, especially during times of stress. It can be anything in your job, in your career as a student, as a professional, as a freelancer, there are all sorts of things that cause us stress – it doesn’t matter what level of experience you have. So it’s important to make sure you take certain actions that are going to bring you a little more peace, whether it’s for your mind, for your body or for your overall health.
Make sure that you’re taking breaks as you need them. Make sure you’re practicing mindfulness and prioritizing sleep. I know that this one is hard to do when it’s events like Fashion Week, with starting times or ending times that could be crazy, but you have to try to sleep as much as you can. Try to get yourself good nutrition and some exercise. Basically, all of the things you need on a day-to-day basis that keep you healthy. Try to keep doing these even if you’re stressed, even if it seems like there’s no point in doing it or even if it seems like you don’t have time. Self care is not selfish.
Let me say that again. Self care is not selfish.
What it is is a complete necessity because it’s gonna help you maintain your mental and your physical health, which is gonna stop you from getting sick, from getting burnt out, and most importantly, from breaking down.
I learned this the hard way. I did none of the above and what ended up happening was that my whole entire body, mind, heart, and soul shut down. It shut down completely after Fashion Week. And so this is exactly what I wanna help you avoid with any of the projects or things you have going on in your career.
Now, I know that many of you that are reading this might be beginners and might feel like you don’t necessarily have a voice or have a right to have a voice just yet because you are just starting out.
But the bottom line is this: we are all professionals. We are all working for someone or doing projects, and we’re trying to grow as professionals within the industry. We’re trying to make our name for ourselves. We’re trying to get that first job, maybe, that first experience, but we’re still people. When it comes down to it, if you have a question, if you see that there’s something that you need in order to get something done, speak up. You can do this in a very professional way.
This message specifically, and most importantly, goes out to all of you freelancers that are reading. As a freelancer, you are your own business. You’re your own company. You’re your own entity and you, at the end of the day, are not a part of the company that has hired you, so you have to do the things you need to do or say the things that you need to say in order to get your work done. That’s going to help you get closer to, if not complete the goal, the task that you were assigned and hired to do.
In my case, I didn’t speak up about the time that I needed to be in my office instead of being at a studio for hours and hours at a time. I didn’t speak up about what I needed in terms of this last show, the attention that the show required.
As a professional, speaking to other professionals and to aspiring professionals, my biggest takeaway for you is this:
Learn to have a voice. Learn to recognize when you need something in order to get the job that you’re doing done and done well.
This doesn’t mean that every single job you’re given or every single project you get, you have to complain about or you have to ask for certain things, but it does mean that if there is something that your boss is not seeing, that the person that has hired you is not seeing, because a lot of times they’re not in the trenches with you – they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know what you need. And it could be a simple ask or a simple sentence saying,
“You know what? Doing it this way, or having this tool, having this time, having this space would allow for this project to be completed in a more cost and time efficient way.”
It’s all in how you word it, but at the end of the day, it’s about setting boundaries and finding a voice for yourself when you need to – when you need to advocate for yourself, for your time, for your business, for anything that falls into that category.
This is the lesson: setting boundaries and finding your voice.
FOCUS ON THE THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL
It’s hard to do things when you have so many things that are weighing you down in your personal life and in your mindset that are taking over that space and most importantly, that peace of mind.
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going wrong in your personal life, but it’s really necessary to focus on the things you can control and incorporate these into your daily tasks.
For example, during the time where my mom was in the hospital and I felt like I needed to be by her side at all times, but I had to go into the office, I would make lists for myself. Lists of things that I would need to do with her, lists of things that I would need to do at work. I’d ask myself things like,
“What are the things that are outta my hands to do, and what are the things that I could do? What are the times that I could do them? “
Giving myself this list – for example, saying to myself, “Ok, I know my mom takes her medicine at this specific time and someone should be in there giving it to her”.
So I would make a note to call her at that time, check up on how she was doing and ask if she had received the medicine, because if not, then we can get the nurse over to her. In this case, I wasn’t caught up in the fact that my mom was in the hospital and I couldn’t do anything about it. Instead, I would make sure that her medication was coming in at the right time. And if not, I would call a nurse.
These are all things I would’ve done anyway if I was there. The difference is now, it felt like I was a part of her day. It felt like I was helping her, and I was still at work doing my job. This was just one small thing that helped my mental health. And it was something that I could control versus the overall situation and problem that was out of my hands.
Do this with personal things and with work things. Sometimes it’s a little harder. Maybe the situation’s different, but there’s always a way to focus on things that you can’t control and turning them around to make them something that you can control even just a little bit, so that you feel like everything is not out of your hands, which is when you start to feel hopeless.
LEARN HOW TO ASK FOR HELP
Find yourself a support system and learn how to ask for help. The biggest thing that I learned from this, that humbled me the most, and that makes me cry, that might make me cry even now, is realizing how many people I had around me that were willing to help me, that were willing to stop whatever they were doing and to say, “yeah, I’ll take your mom here, or I’ll go with her to the doctor’s appointment.”
You don’t have to do it alone.
Unfortunately, the person that I am, I do think that I have to do everything on my own. I never stop to consider who I can ask for help because I don’t like asking for help. I don’t like being a burden. I’m sure you know this feeling well yourself. But this entire experience taught me was that I have to change that mentality because … we’re not alone.
Reach out to friends, reach out to family, mental health professionals, anyone around you that can support you.
Talking about your struggles can help you gain perspective and overall it’s gonna help you feel a little bit more grounded and during the time when things are crazy, when your work is crazy, when your personal life is crazy, what you need to look for are ways to help keep yourself grounded, keep yourself sane, and in this case, feel supported by people around you.
Trust me, it’s going to help you. It’s gonna help you through this process and it’s gonna help you so that your body doesn’t break down, your mind doesn’t break down and you’re able to move forward and be not only a support for the people in your personal life that might be going through something, but also a strong professional – a stronger professional than if you fell apart completely and then you couldn’t be there for anybody.
IN THE END…
Being an efficient professional is not about not having any personal issues or being focused on work all the time. Just the same as resilience is not about never falling down. It’s about is getting back up every single time that we do. When you face adversity, when you face personal issues and things that get into your mental headspace, while you should be doing other projects and while you’re working.
Remember that every single setback is a chance to bounce back even stronger. It’s an opportunity to learn lessons that are going to make you a stronger professional, that are going to make you someone that for the next time around, you’ll realize the things that you can do to help yourself, the things that you can do to make things around you a little bit easier to handle, and the things you can do to keep yourself healthy and sane.It’s going to help you be more determined than ever before.
I want you to remember something:
Our struggles, whether they’re personal or professional, do not define us.
It’s our response to them that does.
When you’re facing difficult times, it’s really important to remember that you, my sweet friend, have the power to choose how you react and how you move forward.
If you’ve been through something, whether it’s been recent, whether it’s happened in your professional career and there’s been a moment where you’ve learned a lesson, where you’ve had a tough time and you were able to pull through it, leave it in the comments below. I would love to hear every single one of your stories. Let me know what you’ve been through, how you overcame it, and the lessons that you learned.
…And if you’re currently going through something filling you with stress, my heart is with you. If I can be a source of support, of knowledge, of information, please feel free to reach out to me.
I am always here to support you on your fashion career journey.
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