brutal first impressions

A HeSo Lost and Found (Part 1)

“Find a way to get paid to do what you love.”

That ubiquitous advice used to drive me crazy because I had no idea what I loved to do besides for watching television and eating cookies – and I couldn’t find a single job listing for a cookie taster.

I started this blog as a public quest to figure out what satisfies my HeSo. In case you’ve wondered what HeSo means, it’s my nickname for heart and soul. Like a lot of people, I got to a place in my life where I had no idea what made my soul happy. There were lots of things that made me happy – but nothing on a deeper, spiritual level.

For so long I let fear (mostly fear of being poor) control my decisions. I didn’t know how to let passion take over. Besides, how could I let passion take over my decision-making process when I didn’t even know what I was passionate about. This blog was my permission to try new things, make mistakes, and ultimately figure out my HeSo project – or as the yoga sutras describe it:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Before starting this blog, I quit a lucrative job, and had $50,000 in savings. I was absolutely petrified that I would go broke and never be able to amass that sense of security again. But I had 40 loyal readers and I couldn’t let them down. In my first year on the HeSo project, I became obsessed with an invention I came up with for baby beds. I went through about $20,000 in savings for this project and ultimately had to let it go when I found out I couldn’t get safety approval. But here’s what I learned:

  • How to get comfortable taking a risk
  • How to run a small business
  • How to let go when something is not working.
Getting ready to give up on the foam

Me getting fed up with making the prototype.

It was really hard to let that dream go, and I retreated into a part-time job, thinking the security of a paycheck would help me feel like less of a failure. However, I’m extremely hard-working and that part-time job quickly became a senior management position and all of a sudden I was working sixty hours a week on a job I didn’t care about. I had to stop and remember the HeSo. I quit the next day.

By this time I was really giving into my writing urges. The dream of becoming a professional writer seemed far-fetched but that didn’t keep me from writing whenever I had the chance. Even though I was done to $10,000 in savings, I decided to take a six month break from searching for a career and focus on my writing. I took classes and began writing 750 words a day. This was really hard work, and even though it wasn’t fun all the time, my HeSo was growing – but so was my debt.

I reached a fork in the road. I realized I wanted to keep writing, but I also wanted to be able to pay the rent. I took on another part-time job that left me with enough mental energy to come home and write every day. At this time an amazing thing happened:

I told myself that I would apply for a “real” job once I dipped below my last $2,000 in savings, but until then I would push forward with my writing. Every time I came close to that threshold, money appeared from out of nowhere. First, I got a completely unexpected $1,000 refund from the government for a tax return from three years prior. Next, a client from my old job randomly decided to pay my bill which was overdue for four years. Later, I got asked to be in a focus group for one hour and the pay was $300. Again and again, money appeared when I thought I’d have to give up on writing. I decided to take that as a sign that if I was going to pursue writing, the universe will support me.

The beginning and the peak of BFI.

The beginning and the peak of BFI.

At this same time I came up with the crazy idea for Brutal First Impressions. I went to the park with a sign telling people I would give them my honest feedback about their general appearance if they gave me a few dollars. This was a HUGE hit, and everyone loved this idea – except for me. I take that back. I loved the idea, but I hated doing it. I’m naturally an introvert, so it was extremely uncomfortable for me to stand in front of a group of strangers and criticize them. Also, I love looking for the best in people, so my patrons were often disappointed when I didn’t give them harsher feedback.

I think this was the moment I realized I was done with BFI.

I think this was the moment I realized I was done with BFI.

I decided to pursue this idea anyway because everyone else was so excited by it, but deep down, I just wanted to keep writing. I started a website and got a few clients, and I did BFI in central park a few times, but it never took off and I think that’s because my heart was still in my writing. However, I did learn these valuable skills from it:

  • How to design and program a website.
  • How to market an idea
  • How to be ballsy

I am telling you all this because I love hearing about all the “failures” people go through before they discover what really works for them. The good news is that I finally figure it out. I found my HeSo project!!! … and I’ll tell you all about it in the next post 😛

Not Everything Is about You

I’m always amazed by how egotistical people can be–especially when it comes to something negative.

I recently wrote a post for my Brutal First Impressions blog titled, 10 Signs You’re a Bad Friend, and I got texts from friends asking if I was referring to something they did. I wrote this list based on the complaints my friends have had about other friends over the years.

When I wrote a post about women who wear too much make up, people asked me if I was writing about them. I wrote this post after seeing a group women on the subway whose natural beauty was disguised under a thick mask of make up. I wanted to shake their shoulders and yell, “stop wearing so much make up,” but instead I wrote a blog post.

rubensIn college I made a painting of an obese woman, and more than one person asked if I based it on them. The woman in the painting was about four times the size of the people who asked me. It was an exaggeration of a Peter Paul Ruben’s woman.

Why are we so vain when it comes to the wrong things?

If I wrote a post thanking an anonymous person who has changed my life because of his/her friendship, I don’t think a single person would ask me if I was writing about them. Funny how we think the negative slights are about us, but not the positive praise.

I wonder why this is. Any thoughts?

You guys rock!

2014-03-23 15.56.14Thank you so much for the feedback on my new website, Brutal First Impressions. I got over 400 hits on my website in the last two days!  From the legal advice, to the copy editing, to the opinions on the layout, I really took your comments to heart and I think the website is much better thanks to my readers’ suggestions. The layout of the mobile site is still a little funky, but it’s getting better.

Now’s your chance to share it 🙂 Please tell everyone you know about Brutal First Impressions. Facebook, twitter, linkedin, email, word of mouth, any way you can share it would be awesome! You can also follow my BFI account on twitter. I can’t wait to share my success with you 🙂

A special thanks to Alice, Dale, David, Deanne, Eda, Francis, Jeff, Jerry, Mandi, Marie, Melissa, Mike, Sojo and Tricia.

Give me your brutal first impressions

I’ve been hard at work making the website for Brutal First Impressions, and I finally have something to show for it! I’m eager to hear what you think of it. If you have a chance, can you look at this site and tell me what you think?

  • What do you think of the photos?
  • Do you see any typos? Weird wording?
  • How are the prices and descriptions?
  • Is the font difficult to read?
  • Is the blog funny?
  • Is this the kind of thing you would share?

For now, this is just a sneak peak for my amazing readers so please don’t share the site yet (don’t worry there will be plenty of time to share it in the future).

Feel free to buy one of the services as well!

You can send me feedback either as a comment in this blog, on the contact page of the site, or at Tracy@brutalfirstimpressions.com.

The worst job interview

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting me to apply for an open job position. Writing a novel is all well and good, but until that sells I need a job to pay my bills. I was more than qualified for the position and I figured I would apply as a safety net. I bought a new interview outfit, updated my resume, practiced my talking points, and then showed up. You know what they say about  99% of success is just showing up? That’s b.s.

Over 200 people showed up for this “job interview,” which was more like a cattle call. It took place in a school auditorium with terrible acoustics so everyone was yelling to be heard. The heat was turned up, so the room stank of sweaty wool suits. I waited  in line for a half hour to talk to H.R. and when I finally got to the front, I was sat with 9 other people at a round table. We all had to go in a circle pitching our qualifications. One after one, I listened to the other candidates amazing backgrounds. Even though I knew I would be amazing at the job, I couldn’t compete with the 9 other people at my table let alone the 190 other people in the room. Nor did I want to.

I was herded to the next H.R. table where the person took one look at my resume, with two years of experience in a director position and three years of experience as the vice president of a company, and all she said was, “Wow, you’re really unfocused.” At which point I collected my things and left.

This terrible experience was exactly what I needed to get the ball rolling on my website for Brutal First Impressions. I am far too creative, curious, and, yes, unfocused, to mold myself into some boring job. I can’t and don’t want to compete in this kind of demeaning job market so the only solution is to create my own job market.

I’m really hoping Brutal First Impressions will be successful and I can look back on this terrible job interview as a catalyst for a great career, but for the meantime, I’m still pretty bitter.

When Will It Stop?

When will you stop making excuses and start making changes?

When will you stop letting your childhood fears control you and start letting your adult dreams guide you?

When will you stop living in protection and start living in possibility?

When?

The next TLC course is set for March 14-16 in Tarrytown, NY.

People ask me how I have the guts to try things out like Brutal First Impressions or travel without any plans, and the answer is TLC created a safe environment for me to tap into and develop facets of my personality that I didn’t even know were there. Any time I leave my comfort zone, I call on the tools I learned from TLC and suddenly it becomes easy to take risks and live the life I want.

You’re going to sign up for the next course because:

  • You deserve it.
  • You are too smart to keep running into the same problems.
  • You know you have a wealth of potential and you have only begun to tap it.
  • You are curious and you know that sometimes you just need to take a chance.

Stop putting it off. Sign up now.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s what one of the amazing students said about the last course:

It’s hard for me to believe that 5 short months ago I was a very different person. Don’t get me wrong- I was the fun Diane I still am today but my heart was heavy & filled with unspoken anger & bitter disappointments in where my life had been & where it was going.

By all appearances I had an amazing life & was fortunate to have the resources to go places & do what I wanted. But it wasn’t enough for me. I was lacking true happiness in spite of my charmed life. I had a tremendous amount of anger deep inside that had been building for so long it scared me. I never knew when or how it was going to surface. Worst of all, I didn’t know who was going to bear the brunt of my anger. I never felt worthy of true love.

I came to a TLC weekend on the recommendation of a good friend who had been through the course. It took me awhile to commit. I thought I didn’t really need it. How could a weekend with a group of strangers change my life? I knew I was stuck in a pattern of behaviors that were no longer serving me- in fact, they never did. Doing the same thing the same way & expecting different results is pure insanity so I committed to going for the September class in 2013.

It’s impossible to put into words what TLC has done for me. I consider that weekend to be my real “birthday” as my eyes were opened & I discovered a new way to live my life. I have never been happier. People in my life wanted to know what was different about me after that weekend. “You are glowing!” “Did you lose weight?”(my personal favorite!!) “What’s different about you? Did you get a new haircut?” I am excited to share TLC with whomever will listen. But honestly, you need to experience it. It will change your life for the better. I know because it did for me. Thank you to my TLC family & friends for your unconditional love & support. You are all a shining example of the good that is possible in this world. 

A Second First Impression

2012-11-07 22.09.12

Day 2 on the High Line

Since I got such a great reaction to my crazy idea, I decided to go out this past Saturday and try it again . My friend and I visited the High Line, which is one of my favorite spots in Manhattan. This historic, elevated railway line was converted into a public park in 2009. With help from a long list of high-profile investors (such as David Bowie), the High Line has become a great place to stroll along the West Side, 30 feet above ground, and soak up the indigenous flora of New York along side the glass and steel high-rises. They have great food vendors too!

2012-11-07 22.32.02

At the center of a crowd.

I was a little hesitant about taking this project to the High Line because they’re strict about street performers, but two separate guards came by to tell me that technically I wasn’t allowed to be there, but that it was so funny they would look the other way. The crowds started instantly.

Again, people could not fathom how I came up with this idea. Coming up with the idea was easy – actually going outside and trying it out, subjecting myself to potential ridicule and public shamming, was the hard part. I feel like I’ve invented the adult version of the lemonade stand; something that gets people to stop and say, “oh that’s too cute, honey, give her a dollar.”

2012-11-07 23.18.36

Giving advice on a handshake.

So far three different people in television have expressed interest in this idea. I’m not holding my breath, and I certainly didn’t do this to get a pilot, but I do love the idea that as soon as I got out of my comfort zone, opportunities just started presenting themselves.

2012-11-07 22.58.43

People tell me the funniest stories when I’m doing this.

At the end of the day, this is a lot of fun. Yes, I’m wracked with anxiety before I go out, but it’s easy to feed off of everyone else’s enthusiasm. There’s a lot of laughter and appreciation. Yes, appreciation.

I can’t believe how much people love to hear criticism. While I don’t critique things that people can’t change, I’ll tell someone they should try a different lipstick color, or  that their pants don’t fit them right. When they listen to this they look relieved. Perhaps they’ve wondered about the lipstick before, and now they finally have a stranger’s confirmation. Or maybe they just appreciate having someone’s undivided attention for a few minutes. I don’t know what it is exactly, but people are really enjoying it.

2012-11-07 22.37.13

At times I feel like a therapist. People really like to explain themselves during the process.

2012-11-07 23.21.16

I felt like such a mom telling this girl to keep her hair off of her face.

I Have Gone Insane: Brutal First Impressions

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

On the subway ride to Central Park, I clutched my sign and bit my lip. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” I said to my husband. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.

I made my way through Central Park, searching for the perfect spot: one with lots of foot traffic but still quiet, and I set up my sign and hat. I took a deep breath and prayed that no one would beat me up. Immediately people stopped and stared. Then the cameras came out. I started panicking that I would soon be ridiculed on the internet like the typewriting hipster.

A few months ago, I had the idea of starting a business called Brutal First Impressions. Most of us surround ourselves with people who wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings. While this can be good for our egos, it can also hinder our growth, and we can become comfortable with habits that might be off-putting for others. I figured that for a small price, I could be the one to tell it like it is: put on some deodorant, that shirt is terrible, you talk too much when you’re nervous…that kind of thing. But first I wanted to gain some experience. Why not try it out in Central Park!

The first guys to try it out.

The first guys to try it out.

I set the price at $5. At first, the people walking by would take pictures and laugh, saying, “that’s the best idea ever!” but they weren’t paying me for it. As soon as I lowered it to $1, people started lining up.

I asked each participant for their name, a handshake and a smile. Then I would ask them to take a few steps back and walk towards me, and then turn around slowly. At that point I would critique everything that I saw.

Here is some general advice I had to give almost everyone:

  • Make eye contact when you shake hands
  • Show your teeth when you smile
  • Keep your chin up when you walk

I couldn’t believe how many people needed that advice, and as soon as I said it and they tried it out, they seemed like new people.

2012-10-31 22.28.02It wasn’t easy being mean. A crowd would typically form around whomever I was critiquing and I could tell that they wanted to see tears. At one point I told a guy he had dandruff, and his friends practically cheered. I told another guy that he needed to pluck his uni-brow. When the crowd ohhed and ahhed at this, I asked to see a show of hands for who thought he should pluck his eyebrows. Almost everyone raised their hands. When I wasn’t mean, people would start heckling me saying, “Come on, this is supposed to be brutal.”

2012-10-31 22.23.04The whole time I was doing this I kept expecting someone to ask me my qualifications. I had my response all figured out: I’m classically trained in art and literature so I have a discerning eye and a critical mind. I learned how to evaluate presentation styles from my years as a teacher and teacher trainer. But the only person who asked for my qualifications immediately answered for me: “You’re a woman. Women know how to criticize.”

I was surprised that people were really interested in my story. At one point I had four guys sitting on the bench next to me asking my life story (ladies, this is a great way to pick up men if you’re interested). Everyone wanted to know how I got the idea and how much money I was making. So here’s the grand total…for 3 hours of sitting in the park, meeting interesting people, I made $43. I definitely want to try this again. I think I could make a lot more if I get better at working the crowd.

Originally, I wanted to do this because I thought it could help people present themselves better. At the end of the day I realized that I helped in a different way. I got people to laugh and not take themselves so seriously. I got people taking pictures and saying “only in New York.” I figured someone’s going to go back home and talk about the crazy lady they saw in Central Park. As an aspiring writer, I feel great that I gave someone a good story.