Funky fades, shaved designs, pink hair, blue hair, mohawks, mullets and teased tresses — these images filled my dreams of becoming a hairstylist since I was 10 years old, providing me with an early peek into the person I would one day become.
Nine years later, I realized my dream. All of the magical elements of hairstyling I had anticipated now made up my everyday life. Even the not-so-magical realities of coming home with hair in my bra and dealing with constant back pain became daily reminders of living a life I love. I proudly rocked my bleach-stained wardrobe and practiced yoga to strengthen my body and recharge my mind.
Now, after eight years of professionally doing hair, I have willingly left hairstyling — a career I love — to become a full-time student studying comparative literature and Japanese at UC Berkeley.
I know what you’re thinking. And no, I didn’t leave my job to make more money or because I was burnt out. It wasn’t because of the tedious responsibilities that came along with being an independent contractor and running my own business, such as staying on top of finances, inventory and client appointments. It wasn’t even because of the many months of COVID-19 closures that temporarily deemed hairstyling illegal. It came down to hair being just one of my three core passions, alongside writing and music.
People have often told me how lucky I am to have known from such a young age exactly what I want to do — how lucky I am to get to avoid the elusive search for the one career that fits me perfectly.
I loved hair, and I still do, but in focusing most of my life on hairstyling, I felt I was missing out on the opportunity to explore career paths during my youth. I became a hairstylist at the age of 19. What if I didn’t want to do this one job forever? What if I didn’t want to experience what 30 years of hairstylist back pain felt like? What if I had decided on a lifelong career too early?
Still, I feared I was being ungrateful anytime I felt unfulfilled at the salon. I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I had been allowed to do what I loved and wasn’t appreciating the dream correctly.
Five years into my work as a hairstylist, I decided to keep my career and explore at the same time. I enrolled in a nighttime college English course to quench my thirst for discussion and writing. I pulled my guitar out of storage, warmed up my vocal cords and formed a cover band. My time was evenly split among my three passions. I had it all.
Over time, however, it became all too easy to resent playing four-hour gigs with my band every week after full days at the salon. It became too easy to space out during talks with my clients after nights I had stayed up late completing homework assignments. I had lost sight of what brought me to my passions in the first place.
It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I was forced to slow down. The salon was closed, gigs were canceled and I took time off from school. I immediately longed for the familiarity of a packed and productive schedule because I didn’t know how to not be busy. But I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly I missed about my pre-pandemic life.
I soon realized I missed having intimate talks with my salon clients as I boosted their confidence with bright colors and touches of hairspray. I missed obsessing over specific passages and dissecting the multiple meanings of words with my fellow literary nerds. I missed the little moments on stage when I’d tune in to the subtle melody my bassist was riffing or when my drummer would pop in an unexpected fill.
The pause of the pandemic showed me the repercussions of trying to do it all at once: I couldn’t enjoy the career or the activities that I so passionately started.
And so I made a choice.
Sometimes I beat myself up for not sticking to hair. Sometimes, I think I’m a fool for leaving my dream career without a concrete goal in sight. But, ultimately, I know I’m not abandoning my past. I’m building on it and bringing everything I’ve learned from hair — entrepreneurship, people skills and, of course, creativity — with me as I explore new opportunities, paying particular attention to the quality time spent enjoying my love for writing.
I’ve had the pleasure of living the life of a hairstylist, a trade that I can make a full return to whenever I want. Music and hair are still very much a part of my life, but right now, I’m shining the spotlight on writing and language, a craft that, as I think this piece shows, brings all of my passions together harmoniously.
The presence of pink hair and teased tresses in my life hasn’t diminished. Now, they appear in the form of my reflection as I style my own hair in the mirror before school — a playful practice that originally sparked my sense of creativity as a child.
I’m still learning how to merge passion with professionalism, but now I keep my 10-year-old self in mind as I decide where to focus my attention, hoping to make her proud.