This time of year is traditionally a period of reflection, gratitude and renewed spirit for the future. I've always believed our goal in life should be peace and happiness, especially in our careers, and I firmly believe that the path we follow to success—not financial, but personal—is our talent. Finding this calling in life isn't always easy, but when you do, the result is personal and artistic success. For me, this satisfaction comes from being able to create my art as a colorist. It's a gift that makes me feel I can do anything, and I'm grateful that I realized this at an early age.
I grew up in poverty. When you came from a poor background, work was all about survival, not about something you loved or were meant to do. That's why, when I was accepted at New York University to study acting, I attended. But in my gut, it didn't feel right. I wanted to be a great artist (what kind, I didn't know), and anything worth greatness usually comes with great risk, which in my case was being penniless. But if there's one good thing to be said about growing up poor, it's that you don't get spoiled by money. Being poor made me realize that money isn't as important as your mission or your happiness. So when my best friend Vivian literally walked me into beauty school to see what it was like, I knew instantly it was the right thing. That gut feeling was my connection to a higher power.
I had the same feeling a few years later, when I was working with Clive Summers. I was standing in front of the dispensary wondering what in the world I was doing there. But I looked at what Clive was doing, what my friend Don Matthews was doing, and from that moment I knew I wanted to be the best colorist in the world. Being around your mentors makes you understand what your mission is, because you see theirs. It's the same gut feeling.
This isn't to say that you won't have second thoughts about the road you take; everyone does. But when this happens, step back and ask yourself why you've made that choice, and hopefully your answer isn't because of the money. I don't think that's a good answer. If you believe it's for the fun of it, then it's probably right for you. (Even after 30 years, whenever I get my paycheck, I still think, this is really great—and I get paid for this!)
Interestingly, even when you find the right road, one of the obstacles you'll encounter is jealousy. At first, this was strange for me: One day I'd be someone's friend, and the next day I'd wind up being the color director and working above them. Suddenly, they wouldn't talk to me any more. To this day, if I encounter jealousy in someone, I'll say to them, "What can I do to make it better for you?" This really catches them off-guard, especially if they're expecting an argument. That's something I'd never do. My experience has taught me a very important lesson: Keep your focus, do your work, and never treat anyone badly just because you might have been treated badly yourself.
If you're in search of your own "road not taken," ask yourself, deep down, how you feel with where you are today. How do you feel about doing hair, or being an artist, or a lawyer? Try to find how to get in touch with your feelings, whether through friends or therapy or music or whatever it takes; your gut feelings will guide you. You'll know it immediately when it happens, and you will be grateful for it.