25 February 2021

Blowing My Way to the Top by Jen Atkin

I asked for this book for Christmas because I'm familiar with Jen Atkin as the personal hairstylist to many celebrities I enjoy (Chrissy Tiegan, the Kardashians, etc.) and I thought it would be a memoir filled with juicy gossip. What I got was the complete opposite of that but I was not disappointed. This book falls more into the career/self-help/inspirational genre but Atkin is funny and relatable as she delivers you advice you know but have been ignoring your whole life.

To call Atkin simply a hairstylist is to do her a disservice, and also this book, which I feel won't be read by the people who should be reading it because people (like myself) have put her in a box. She is a self-made celebrity hairstylist and was called "The Most Influential Hairstylist in the World" by The New York Times in 2015. She's also a successful business owner, running both Mane Addicts and a hair product company called Ouai. She's also now an author. 

Jen Atkin

The shame, I feel, is that there are so many women in business who would love this book and the messages in it who this just won't reach. At Indigo it's under "lifestyle, writers on fashion" which couldn't be further from the truth. The tongue-in-cheek title isn't doing it many favours either, especially if you don't know she's a hairstylist, but I personally like it. I actually e-mailed women at my work and also at my former work where I used to work with MBA students to tell them that this is a fantastic business book, especially for women. It offers such a unique perspective from a diverse industry.

Despite having an amazing buy-a-book program at my office, I haven't ever read career-type books. I just find reading to be such an escape that I don't want to spend my time in the "Sales Bible" or whatever. Blowing My Way to the Top would have been a great book to make work buy me and I'm kind of annoyed I didn't know better.

Reading this book was enlightening. I feel like I learned so much to help me be a more focused, accomplished, and just all around better person. I get why people read books like this now and I do want to start reading more of them, even if it's just once a year. 

The book covers a lot of her "grind" to get where she is today- endless hours backstage at fashion shows she flew herself to, offering to help people for free, making photo books of her work because social media didn't exist back then, etc. While she clearly did the grind, she also spends a lot of this book harping on "burnout culture" and wishing others a more "balanced" journey to the top of their careers.

Eventually she got an offer to do hair on set for a reality TV program but her agent at the time warned her against it, saying if she went the reality TV route she would never get back to "real celebrities", etc. Atkin trusted her gut as well as the kindheartedness of the women she would be working for, the Kardashians. 

Kim Kardashian, Kris Jenner & Jen Atkin

But I didn't care whether or not they were considered A-list. The Kardashians were kind and smart and funny, and I enjoyed their company (plus they had amazing hair!), so I ignored my agent's advice... No one could have imagined what this family would become. And alongside their enormous success, they believed in lifting up the people around them. Kim was one of the first celebrities to recognize and tag her glam squad on Instagram. She wasn't just insanely gorgeous and fun and smart, with an amazing head of hair... she was all of that and also generous with her praise, and I credit the generosity of Kim, Kris, Khlo√©, Kourtney, Kylie, and Kendall for my career." 

While I didn't get any gossip in this book (in fact, Atkin credits her career success to the fact that she is NOT a gossip), I did learn a lot about the generosity of success. I've heard the mantra before that a rising tide lifts all ships but it's still something I've always struggled with. In the past I haven't always liked to share. I am not one to give out referrals at work, I don't pass along software tips that have made my life easier, I learn for myself and keep to myself, and I recognize now that this is holding me back. 

When we share our trade skills, we all become better artists. When we share our life stories, we all become better people."

I will say that surprisingly, being on maternity leave I have got better at this. The power of my network has been immensely helpful in troubleshooting "issues" with my son. I've had some incredibly helpful conversations about my baby with people I haven't spoke to since high school because we're all in the same mom boat now. Any idea under the sun, any document I've found, any trick I've learned that's helped me is yours for the taking. Babies are hard. I need to apply this theory to other areas of my life as well. After all, I'm not competing for anything.

The other biggest takeaway for me is my addiction to my phone, which is not new news but I guess a new perspective. Atkin attended a phone-free retreat at one point to de-stress and writes with enthusiasm about how amazing it felt not to be tied to her device. She shares this funny bit about being addicted to Instagram:

Following 2000 people is completely overwhelming- you could spend your entire day trying to get through it all. I used to hide under a blanket and look at Instagram for hours during the movies. Now I know better. Aside from being a total waste of time, that kind of behaviour kept me from actually experiencing my own life. I mean I was at the movies. I'd literally paid money to sit in front of a screen, and yet I couldn't pull myself away from the feed."

She says that following more than 400 accounts starts to clutter your mind and I was shocked to learn I followed 1400 people. FOURTEEN HUNDRED. Mind you, I have never done a clean out since the origin of my account (something I learned most of my friends do), but I didn't even KNOW you could be notified that you were "all caught up". It just had never happened to me. I'm proudly down to 650 and aim to be under 400 by the summer. And you know what? I do feel better already. I don't miss a single person.

Jen Atkin with her husband, cinematographer & photographer Mike Rosenthal (& their dog)

Atkin has also inspired my to set hours where my phone is on "do not disturb" so I don't receive notifications from 9pm-9am. That also feels amazing. She said something about how we stopped living our own lives to watch everyone else's and it sounds like something my husband would say. "Who cares?" he says to anything I show him on there. Atkin notes that "influencers" will do anything for the perfect photos we see online, including dragging fruit platters and bohemian pillows over a rocky beach at 4am for perfect lighting.

Amidst all this "self-help" there are a lot of funny anecdotes about being a professional hairstylist. She also talks a lot about her decision to not have kids (yet) and the process of freezing embryos with her husband to give them the option and flexibility later on. Basically she's just really cool.

I enjoyed reading this way more than I thought I would when I started it and realized it was predominately a business book. I think any female with ambition would enjoy it and certainly those trying to make it in a particular career or field. It definitely felt like a breath of fresh air for me and I hope I can continue to implement some of the things I learned in this book instead of immediately letting it blow out my ears like most of the "self-help" I consume. I'm going to wrap this up with a passage I liked, being that I turn thirty in July (barf):

Balance in your thirties is different. The partying till dawn is no longer really a concern, because you can't drink or stay out the same way anymore... you feel it too hard the next day. The definition of fun changes- it looks more like a dinner party than going out to the club. You might be married with kids, or deep in career mode, or those things might be just around the corner, so you're trying to balance responsibility and social life. That sometimes means weeding out the friends from your twenties who aren't a great influence on you anymore, or who aren't maturing at the same rate. Hopefully by your thirties you don't have time or energy to obsess about being thick or thin or looking a certain way, because you've got more pressing concerns about your body- is it healthy, can it run a marathon, can it carry a baby if that's what you want, that sort of thing."

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