Thought Leadership

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Work, A Love/Hate Story

by | June 26, 2023

Even if you love what you do—especially if you love what you do—it is easy to get sucked into feeding work’s endless hunger. Work is infinite. Work is unforgiving. It is also exciting and joyful. And that’s what makes it so seductive.

Not many books on leadership have the word seduction in their titles. It’s a powerful word for me, crystalizing the dilemma that business leaders constantly face: how to embrace what we love about our work while keeping it from eclipsing the other parts of our lives. Whether you are a just-out-of-the-gate entrepreneur, a seasoned C-suite executive, or an employee of one of these leaders, you’ve learned that work is never satisfied. Work can take every moment, every thought, every ounce of energy you can give and still want more.

Success and seduction are not mutually exclusive, but rather two sides of the same coin. We all want to be successful, whatever our endeavor. That desire is what leads to seduction. The challenge is to give ourselves fully to our work, which is necessary for success, without getting drained by work’s immense neediness. That means knowing when to say, “enough for today,” turn out the lights, and go home, physically and mentally.

This book offers insightful conversations on how beauty industry leaders strike that balance. Or valiantly try.

How I Got Here

The story of how I discovered work’s voracious appetite starts early in my career. Those first years included an array of jobs—assistant to the editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines, assistant account executive at advertising agency BBDO, copywriter at advertising agency Mezzina/Brown plus gigs writing beauty copy for the Bliss and Avon catalogs, and other freelance work sprinkled in between. There was lots of uncertainty, some surprising layoffs, and a couple of painful and perplexing firings, along with remarkable learning plus my share of rookie mistakes and the accompanying AFGOs (see Chapter Six). Between every job or gig, I would find temp work answering phones or filing, picking up little nuggets of business behavior with each assignment. I enjoyed working and took pride in my work, even when typing someone else’s words.

My first full-time job in beauty was at L’Occitane en Provence, where I was hired as the France-based company’s first and only copywriter in the United States. At that time, the company still had an entrepreneurial feel, and there were needs and opportunities everywhere, which I embraced. They trained me in fragrance, skincare, and formula development, and sent me to meet the beekeepers, olive growers, and lavender farmers who supplied key ingredients. I volunteered for extra projects, boldly leaning in and finding that my opinions were valued. I was a sponge, absorbing everything, learning art direction and production, and gradually evolving into the creative director for the US. I worked hard and loved it. And I found my professional voice.

By my fourth year at L’Occitane, I began to get itchy. I adored the job, but it was no longer stretching me creatively. Plus, I felt ready for the next part of my life to begin. I was married and thinking about starting a family. I considered the length and intensity of each workday, my commute, and how drained I felt each night when I got home. I simply did not see parenting fitting into that schedule. I also realized that I had grown into a respected creative director and was confident I could apply this experience elsewhere in an environment that was more flexible and forgiving.

Near the end of my tenure at L’Occitane, I had been taking on side projects as a copywriter and creative director, so I was constantly working, day and night. As I was pondering my next step, I realized that my side hustle had grown to the point that it could become my main hustle and support me. I wasn’t sure how I would structure this new direction, whether I would continue as an independent freelancer or form a creative entity. Still, I knew I was ready to be the one making those decisions. I took a deep breath, gulped, and resigned.

Moving Right Along

After taking that plunge, it became clear to me pretty quickly that I wanted a structure within which to work. I had some steady freelance clients, and they became the foundation upon which I started my agency, now called Base Beauty Creative Agency (BBCA), celebrating our fifteenth birthday. It has been a slow but steady build. The hustle is still constant, but now I have a fabulous team to hustle alongside me. Even after fifteen years, there are ups and downs, moments when things are humming along, and moments when I’m biting my nails with worry. COVID-19 provided plenty of those oh-my-gosh-can-we-survive sleepless nights, as it did for everyone in the beauty industry and many other industries as well.

One of the boldest steps I took was positioning the agency as a specialist in the beauty and wellness space. People said I was crazy to do that. People told me that I had ideas and experience and a talented team that could provide creative direction for anything, from auto parts to computers to widgets, and that I should not limit the work available to us. But I didn’t listen. My passion and my experience—as well as the passion and experience of those working with me—are in beauty, and I believed then, as I do now, that there is value in being a specialist. We know the industry inside and out. That deep industry knowledge helps us differentiate the merely interesting clients from the game-changing ones. We call on our expertise to determine which clients are the best fit for us and how we can help them stand out from their competition. Although there have been some lean times when I could have used an auto parts client, my decision to focus on beauty has been borne out.

There’s another reason specializing has been the right road for Base Beauty. I believe in what the beauty and wellness industries provide, which is much more than the newest shade of lipstick. The products we create and market help people look their best, which helps them feel their best. They solve problems, sometimes agonizing ones, that are often front and center on the face for the whole world to see. They can also heal from within, contributing to feeling healthy, energetic, and confident, and liking what you see when you look in the mirror. Their impact on self-esteem is enormous. When anyone says the beauty industry is just fluff and vanity, I jump right in to defend it, especially our work at Base Beauty, where we take a fresher approach to beauty. We emphasize transparency. We celebrate the consumer’s diversity and uniqueness. We encourage our clients to avoid retouching. Top of mind in all we do is helping customers to feel empowered and included, not alienated, by beauty marketing. We see such efforts elsewhere in the industry. There is substance here.

Perhaps because of all the benefits the beauty and wellness industries offer, they attract amazingly open and principled folks who believe deeply in the value of the products and services they provide. I can’t know for sure, but it seems that there is a disproportionately high level of philanthropy and generosity within the beauty world, whether it’s donating products to homeless shelters, mentoring the next generation of leaders, or sharing survival tactics during the pandemic. I am honored to be part of this big-hearted community.

The Not-So-Secret Society Of Those Who Overwork

As Base Beauty grew and I met more and more industry peers, I observed how people work. I often saw people working grueling hours, sometimes to the point of burnout, even life-threatening burnout. I noticed that some people wore their endless work schedules and high-stress levels as a crazy badge of honor that showed how dedicated they were to their work. I have always understood the drive to work like that. It’s especially common among entrepreneurs who give birth to their baby businesses and nurture them with care, wearing every hat when they can’t afford to hire help. That level of devotion is fine for some—I am not judging anyone—but it was not what I wanted from my professional life.

Of course, there were times when I was guilty of the kind of overwork I saw in others. The more headway I made with Base Beauty, the more conflicted I became. It was exciting to see what I was building, so logic would dictate that if I worked harder, longer, and more intensely, I would grow the business faster and feel great about all that progress. There I was, caught between seduction and success. I knew one thing for sure: I did not want to work as obsessively as many of my industry colleagues, whether corporate executives or entrepreneurs. After all, having time for a life outside of work had been my main reason for starting the agency in the first place. But there were long stretches—years, in fact—when the stressful side of seduction had taken over.

What I didn’t know back then is that the temptation to work incessantly is an identifiable phenomenon and a common one. It’s a type of addiction, each step on the path to success beckoning us, compelling us, almost daring us to resist taking the next one and the next. All around me, I saw people being pulled in this way and how it could happen to me.