“There are so many pain points when it comes to figuring out how to look our best. And in my case, as with most minority women, we’re using what we wear as a tool. It’s not just to feel good about ourselves. We’re literally communicating, by how we look, that we’re qualified to be in that room. Despite the assumptions made about us,” said Melissa Lorenzo Hervé, Attorney, Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur.
She added, “So, that was always my major motivator on top of the fact, that I love clothing. I had to be in a room dressed in a way that overcame my impostor syndrome. It helped me and it helped everybody else understand that no, I’m not the secretary or the paralegal. I’m here to help you with this deal.”
We lack the role models to keep imposter syndrome in check. And most industries, even before the pandemic, were not female or family-friendly. So, whether you’re planning to make career lemonade from turmoil, launch a business or return to the office stronger, you’ll need to tap that inner spark. And after a year and a half of hazing, you may not be feeling it. So, how you can move towards what’s next with more confidence? Melissa started a fashion business while managing a demanding full-time role and life with little ones. And there are amazing lessons from her reinvention.
Learn How to Own the Rooms you Enter
Melissa said, “It’s quite unfair that the way we look or the clothing we wear can determine where someone else places us. But it is a reality. And there are two pieces. It’s looking polished, like you fit the part that other people expect you to play. But it’s also internal, like the way you feel putting on your favorite song!” Channeling that sense of self-assurance matters. And we all rely on different props to do so. She explained, “Even men say, ‘I have my Superman suit today, I’ve got to nail this case’ and they’ll put on that suit of armor, not the regular suit.”
Melissa always loved design and wanted to solve that, ‘what to wear’ dilemma in an elegant way. She said, “I had spent a lot of time coming up with a specific dress. It was about helping women solve a big chunk of our day, that stresses us out and makes us waste a lot of time. And it kind of bothered me that men weren’t wasting that amount of time.”
Remind Yourself of Your Many Gifts
Melissa explained, “I didn’t know anything about the fashion industry, other than as a consumer. So, aesthetically I knew quite a bit about trends but not about manufacturing or marketing.” She was motivated to solve this problem and learned everything she could quickly. She also remained grounded in what she did know instead of focusing on everything she had to learn.
Melissa said, “Although I didn’t know a lot about fabrics, seams and sewing, I’m bringing something. I know what will attract women to these different cuts. And I had to conform to different environments, after living in Miami and New York. So, I figured out how to feel like I own the room, with this tool I have, called clothing.”
Rehearse Your New Identity
Melissa had to incorporate fashion design into her professional identity to gain momentum. She said, “I still struggle here and there. Because it kind of feels like I’m waking up and saying, I’m a painter or I’m an artist. It just feels very foreign to anything that I had approved for myself. When you have trade certifications, you can say certain things. Because there’s a physical paper and this bar exam. So, at first, saying that I was an entrepreneur didn’t feel right. It felt like a big heavy costume that I was trying to fit into, but it was still swimming on me. So, I had to get comfortable saying it, over and over again.”
This is true for many who make bold career shifts. And we’re both from immigrant families, where we were trained to pursue stable careers, from an early age. She added, “It was through repetition and just saying it, even when it felt uncomfortable. Then it was hearing other people refer to me that way, ‘oh she runs a fashion company.’ It was like, well if they’re saying it, I can’t argue with it. And it’s literally true so I need to get used to it.”
And Get Comfortable With Context Switching
Melissa now realizes her ability to navigate contrasting environments is a strength. She said, “If you’re in a warehouse filled with bolts of fabric versus, being in front of a judge in a courtroom, there is a bit of internal self-talk and external costume changing that allows you to be able to perform in these different spaces.” And ‘owning the room’ is a mindset. Melissa said, “The first factory I worked with, the owner didn’t speak any English, so thank God that I’m fluent! I always say it’s the biggest gift my parents gave me. I don’t think there’s anything I can do in English that I can’t do in Spanish. And so I was able to negotiate with him and explain what I needed the contract to look like.” Brilliant!
Adapt to New Ways of Working
Melissa explained, “At first I really didn’t know how to change from being a lawyer and someone who does a ton of research to then not doing that, in the fashion space. I had to learn that there’s no time for that. The deadlines aren’t what they are in the court system. There are negative and expensive consequences for filing late. Or for putting information incorrectly into anything I publish, because I’m in legal publishing.” Every industry has its unique rules.
She added, “It’s hard to enforce a deadline in fashion. If the dresses aren’t made, the dresses aren’t made. And you can pay for them but you’re still not going to get them. I had to let go of trying to get all the answers ahead of time. Because whenever you’re doing anything for the court system, you need to get all of the information and then figure out what’s relevant. So, I couldn’t sit here and say I’m going to look at all the silks and then decide, right? You can’t do that. I had to let go of the lawyerly way of doing things and adapt to this much quicker way.”
And Build Your New Network to Open Doors
Melissa admitted, “It drove me nuts sometimes, but I was so grateful every day to even be there. In a lot of these places, I couldn’t even enter unless someone brought me in. The only reason I could get meetings with some of the textile reps, was because of the production manager I was working with. Again, it all comes down to relationships. And based on the relationships you have, cultivate and nurture, you get access to certain spaces. And that’s how the world works, whether you’re in law or fashion or anywhere else.” Absolutely.
A lot of us resist the call to make professional changes. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can bring new energy, into your career, in many ways. The path to reinvent your work, is rarely prescribed. Expect and enjoy making real-time changes, as part of the process.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
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Many thanks to the talented Melissa Lorenzo Hervé!
Tags: Career development, Career Development for Moms, Entrepreneurship for Moms, Moms Career Growth, Moms Personal Growth