Sunday, April 30, 2017

Makeover: Going to Hollywood

Bethany is an aspiring actress who is moving from the Boston area to California to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.

How I took her from her makeup-free look to her "after" look: I applied a moisturizing and plumping serum to prep her skin and let it set. I hid darkness around her eyes with a peach-toned concealer. A hydrating foundation was applied all over. Contouring powder was applied under her cheekbones, along the sides of her nose, and underneath the tip. A highlighter was applied above the cheekbones. Her eyes, which are close-set, were widened by applying liner with an emphasis on the outer area. Her eyes were emphasized with a neutral base, then I applied a pink-toned, shimmery shadow to the inner corners. Her lashes were played up with a lengthening mascara and falsies applied at the outer edges.

Brands used: It Cosmetics, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty, Maybelline

Friday, November 18, 2016

How to Build the Life of Your Dreams and Save it in the Process

You want to get away. Not just a weekend trip for a short break from the hustle of everyday life. You want to get away.

Maybe that means shedding all of the self that you’ve ever known. Maybe that means ditching the mundane routine you’ve barely muddled through for a decade. Maybe that means looking up and being able to truly appreciate the oddities of a rare beetle or the smell of baking bread without a deadline approaching. Maybe you’re aching for something far deeper.

It starts with getting away. That’s all you know for sure.

Hotel Caribe Town, a rustic bed and breakfast deliberately set five hours away from the nearest international airport in Costa Rica, is really getting away. Don’t just try it for the colorful, soothing décor or the homemade breakfasts or the personal greeting you get from the owner.

Try it because the owner knows exactly how you feel, and she created a space that’s balm to urban angst.

The owner is a testament of survival and grit, thriving today against overwhelming medical odds.
When she was just 20 years old, doctors told Jessica Sangster she had a few months to live. She immediately rerouted her goals to live out the remaining days as she wanted.

She was in college when she got the diagnosis that she had a rare heart condition which caused it to periodically stop. As scary as it was, the diagnosis (known in medical jargon as monomorphic tachycardia) was also a partial relief: For years, she had been told she was “lazy” or “clumsy” if she got winded or felt tired. To hear there was an actual reason for her symptoms was an odd comfort.

She immediately dropped out of college, eager to experience life and not sit in classes learning about it.

“If I was about to go, I wanted to know how adults lived,” Sangster says.
She also joined the corporate workforce so she could make the money she needed to have the experiences she wanted.

At just 21, she was working as an administrative assistant in the financial services world. As a woman living on borrowed time, she saw it as a lucrative industry that would make her money as quickly as possible. She worked harder than many of her colleagues, eager to prove her worth without a college degree.

Sangster far outlived the doctor’s prognosis. She also climbed the corporate ladder, got married, and had two children by the time she was in her late 20s. The years were a blur, and the life she got seemed to happen to her, rather than being one of her choosing. Inwardly, there was always a sense that her life was the product of someone trying desperately to keep friends, family and society placated.

“I had accomplished everything that society tells you will make you happy, and I was miserable,” Sangster recalls.

She even went to a psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressants. He studied her malaise at a clinical level, even theorizing that she was bipolar. Deep down, she knew what was fundamentally wrong: She felt so at odds with the corporate world, like an imposter playing a role every day.

“I was the best faker in the world,” she says.

Still, she told herself if she climbed far enough up the corporate ladder, the dissonance would subside. 

When she was passed over for a promotion, she went out to Newbury Street in Boston and bought a bunch of high-end corporate suits. Once she looked more like a financial executive, she soon got the promotion.

Then she realized it didn’t assuage any of the emptiness she felt. She vividly remembers the day everything came to a head: She walked up to her office building and stood outside the door with a sense of dread. Still, she went in and worked the day. When she got home, she felt the same sense of dread as she approached the door. Her whole life seemed to say, Turn around.

By then, the only remnants of Sangster’s illness were frequent bouts of pneumonia during the punishing New England winters. Eventually, they became so bad that she was forced to look at living in a warmer climate. She and her then-husband began researching areas. She settled on Costa Rice because everything about it felt right to her: It wasn’t ruled by the military or religious dogma; it was affordable and warm; it was an easy flight home to see family.

Although Sangster and her husband divorced before she made the move, she was determined to set up a life there. When she arrived in Costa Rica, she said it felt like nothing short of falling in love. That same sense of rapture filled her. She felt finally at home.

“I remember looking out at the ocean and not seeing another person, then turning around and not seeing another person,” she says. “I felt like Boston just took and took from me, until I had nothing left to give.”

However, Costa Rica proved to have its own challenges. When purchasing a property, there is no formal inspection. It’s basically the Wild-Wild West where the buyer negotiates the mortgage with the seller. The first year, Sangster came upon obstacle after obstacle while trying to set up a bed and breakfast. The building had far more problems than she’d anticipated, from electrical issues to no plumbing to major structural issues. The expenses became so high, she began to count on the kindness of others to cover basic living needs. While the stresses of trying to get the building fixed were immense, she never considered returning to her former life. One of Sangster’s favorite sayings is by Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

She did.

“When you’re trying to change your life, don’t give yourself an out,” she cautions sternly. “If you do, you will run the moment things get scary.”

It took her five years to get the property fully renovated, but it is now running successfully as a bed and breakfast. She and her fiancé work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, but the workload doesn’t drain her. She is filled, rather than depleted, by her work. Her illness has been in remission for years. She shed 50 pounds since moving to Costa Rica, something she attributes to going on a diet from corporate America. She is now forty, an accomplishment on its own considering she was never to make it to legal drinking age.

Sangster takes pride that her guests are willing to make the five-hour journey to her bed and breakfast. The intention is to make them feel away from the “real world,” to put them in immediate proximity to the natural surroundings, and to feed them only unprocessed food that is in as pure a state as possible. The feel of the hotel is rustic and homey, not like it’s trying to imitate one of the major five-star chain hotels. The patterns and colors are bright and uplifting. The little touches, such as a kitchenette for guests to make meals, are to give them a more personalized stay. The sand on the neighboring beach is either white or black, depending on the weather.

“I make people happy for a living,” Sangster says with punctual emphasis. “It’s wonderful. There’s a big difference between a life of happy moments and a happy life. I have a happy life.”

Sangster even fell in love again during the process, this time with a person and not just the place. Once the ultimate cynic about romantic love, she now emphatically believes it exists and says to never settle for anything less.

Sangster knows her guests are people looking for a respite from the outer cold or their own inner cold, and she is eager to provide them with that sense of warmth. She and her fiancé make all of the breakfasts, and everything down to the jelly is homemade. Until recently, they did almost all the daily operations work, including room cleaning. They’ve just expanded their staff to a count of four, including housekeeping.

As for the illness, she is grateful for it. It forced her to live the life that was of her own making and not built around societal expectation, a business card, or a fancy corporate title.

“I think about how lucky I was that I got this (heart condition). It gave me a real respect for life,” she says. “Never give up or accept second best. The right life, the right love, is out there for each of us. I truly believe this. We need to learn to keep searching.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Reality of Today's Workforce and the Lessons

I recruit for a company now: This is a job I never sought out or thought I'd have any interest in. I see three types of people: The young job seeker who has plenty of time to turn his or her life around; the older worker whose back is against the wall and is choking down his or her pride; and then there's the older worker who has been in dead-end employment all his or her life and doesn't do anything to get out of the trap. There are probably hundreds of stories behind their respective journeys to this job, stories I wonder about frequently.

I've seen more illiteracy than I ever knew existed in our country. If it looks depressing as a statistic, it's far harder to see in the form of a 58-year-old man whose expression has gelled into a permanent state of despondency. I've seen people who don't know where to start when they see a computer. I've seen people literally scraping for spare change, going hungry, living a hand-to-mouth existence. The irony is they're working for one of the richest companies in the world.

I don't blame the company's founder: He was the brilliant one who took a risk that worked for him. There's a quote that 99% of the population is working for the 1% of the population that had the courage to pursue a dream. Most of us don't risk because we're scared, so we go the route we think is safe. My own situation is a reflection of that choice we all have deep inside us but let go undisturbed. So we live a "safe" life of a steady paycheck, but it costs us something deeper: Our souls.

The way out of struggle isn't another job. Maybe there was a time when it was, but it isn't anymore. I read Inc. magazine, which recently dedicated an entire issue to people who got into financial hot water and pulled themselves out. The common theme was they figured out a way to make money themselves: They didn't rely on a raise, promotion, or a winning scratch ticket.

When the financial collapse of 2008 occurred, it was a huge lesson that your employer won't save you. I saw so many people who gave more than 20 years of their lives to a company, only to be tossed out once times got tough. What caused the collapse is inexcusable and impacted millions of people who had nothing to do with predatory lending.

When you're recruiting, you learn to spot situations that don't make sense: I saw an older man in a training session whipping through the computer application process, then helping others who were computer illiterate. I spotted him a few weeks later on the warehouse floor. Maybe we both sensed we didn't seem to belong there. He came up to me and asked what I was doing there. I asked him his story. He was a financial executive for many years, making $200,000/year. When the economy crashed, he got laid off and has been unable to find another job. At 58, he knows his age is working against him in the job search. Even though age discrimination is illegal, it goes on all the time. He's been given the “you're overqualified” speech many times. Now his back is against the wall, and he's working for $12/hour in a warehouse. His wife told him to get a job – anything he could get – to help pay the gas bill and their real estate taxes. His mortgage is tied up in litigation for being a predatory loan.

When a company tries to lure employees in, they use the carrot-and-stick approach: You can grow here (maybe, but usually that will be if the right person likes you and the politics work in your favor); you can win a flatscreen TV or an Xbox if you dutifully come to work (feed poverty with more liabilities). What would be the better approach? You can LEARN here. You can learn a skill that will empower you to someday embark on your own journey. The smart ones will cull something valuable from the experience and move on to a greater journey. I wish I could tell them all this advice, but I can't. I have to read off a corporate presentation and stay silent about the truth. One job applicant, who didn't have a filter but did have a brain, blurted out during the presentation: "That is some serious brainwashing!"

Ultimately, each of us, dealing with varying levels of struggle, need to learn we're our own answer to our own problems. For me, I stopped almost all discretionary purchases when the economy collapsed (Black Friday and Cyber Monday held no appeal to me, but I saw many pull out their credit cards and stand outside in the cold at 2 a.m.). If I have to buy something, I weigh it long and hard and only buy it if it's an absolute need. I've learned the hard way how to distinguish between an asset and a liability. I hate the frustration I feel daily, and that frustration motivates me to think harder and deeper about what I really want in life, what my true passions are, and how I can give back to the world even in moments when I think there's nothing to give.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: L'Oreal Visible Lift Blur foundation

After 25, there are definitely things you might want to "blur." This has become the new buzzword in the makeup industry: Optical illusion through makeup that takes down the appearance of things like fine lines and wrinkles through a "blurring" technique. Call it the reverse HD effect. The product retails for close to $15 (pricey for a drugstore foundation) and comes in a plastic squeeze tube.

This foundation looks great on the skin upon first application. I don't see a visible difference in things like fine lines, nor do I see any lifting effect, but it does create an airbrushed finish. As a cautionary, if you have combination to oily skin, the foundation wears down and separates very quickly. The initial result lasts a short amount of time.

I imagine this product lasts much better on someone with normal to dry skin. It has a moisturizing texture and isn't long-wear. I also don't know that I buy into the "blurring" effect of the product: I remember trying Lancome's Teint Resist, and in every single light (including florescent), I looked amazing (and of course it's off the market). I swear, that foundation contained unicorn tears. Optical filters are a wonderful idea, but the company doesn't really explain how the product works, and I don't see that dramatic an effect on the skin.

If your skin is dry or normal and you want to minimize the look of fine lines, this product is possibly worth a try. Overall, I don't think it's worth the hype or promises. Miracle? No. Blur? Undetermined.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: L'Oreal Voluminous Superstar mascara

Mascara is one of the hardest products to review, because everyone's lashes are different and take to mascaras differently. I rarely review mascaras because I have a very sad story: I have typical Asian lashes - short, straight, almost non-existent. They're a little like Whoopi Goldberg's eyebrows.

I'm envious when I watch the non-Asian reviewers applying mascara and it boosting what's already there. For me, finding a mascara that produces a visible result is a huge accomplishment. The first mascara that accomplished this for me was Cover Girl Professional mascara. A few years back, I discovered the L'Oreal Voluminous line. There have been so many offspring of this original version that I can't keep it straight: Some have worked for me; some haven't. L'Oreal's Full Definition performed so well on me, I kept repurchasing it. Then, as it happens, it got discontinued.

I tried L'Oreal Superstar mascara on the hunch that a primer would help the helpless. To my amazement, the primer adds a level of volume and definition to the lashes. The mascara itself produces visible length and volume to my lashes. Here's the litmus test: If after I apply the mascara, my lashes touch my glasses, I know a measurable impact occurred. This happens every time I apply this mascara.

The brush is the standard L'Oreal Voluminous curved wand. The formula is thick but doesn't appear clumpy on the lashes. The mascara applies smoothly and leaves lashes evenly defined. After a day's wear, there is no flaking or smudging.



Sunday, October 18, 2015

What It Means to be a Journalist

The job that intrigues people the most about me is that I was journalist. They think it sounds glamorous, maybe gutsy. When I try to explain the world of it, I am thrown back into a fascinating whirlwind of stories - other people's stories. To be a really good journalist is to be able to morph yourself into someone else's world and mind long enough to tell their story.

Here's how it started: I was a child who got put in the Blue Birds group for reading comprehension. The Blue Birds were the strongest readers and writers. When other children would struggle with a word, I'd get so frustrated that I'd want to get up and read it for them. I could remember how to spell a word just by seeing it once. My brain didn't work like that in other areas, but words landed in my mind like photographic images.

I would write prolifically as a child, spending hours I couldn't recall later roped into the world of the word. Something happens to a writer's brain during the writing process: Time stops and you lose all sense of self. Words actually appear on the page before your brain fully processes them. Literally, I would stand up a few times and wonder, How did that get there? I didn't write that.

While other students struggled trying to figure out their major in college, I knew that I would be a journalist. I didn't know it isn't always a lucrative career, and it's one of the one's most susceptible to economic collapses. I once read that passion doesn't make sense. You follow it because there's no other choice.

The dichotomy of me is that I'm by nature a very introverted and shy person. Once I got into a journalism job, I learned fast that I'd have to fight that in order to pull information from people. I also learned journalists have terrible reputations: People just inherently don't trust them. People would test me with "off the record" and "on the record." If they later saw anything that was "off the record" in print, they wouldn't talk to me. This never happened, because I never burned them. Yet I knew I was getting tested for my integrity.

When I got to New York City, I became a financial journalist. My manager told me my first day, "Call traders. You're going to sink or swim." It was one of the scariest tasks as a early twenty-something, but I swam.

Here's what worked: I got straight to the point; I listened; I used my soft, feminine voice to entice them to call back (that's as far as I'll go with playing the "girl card"). I also learned about people very fast: Some of the most outwardly friendly traders were the scammers, and the most bristly trader ended up being the most honest. Journalism is a strange dance of psychology: You're reading them, and they're reading you.

I left journalism when September 11, 2001 hit. Many of the young journalists voluntarily walked away. Why? Because in the midst of tremendous grief, we were asked to call people and pull a story. Here's where I'm not a hardcore journalist: When someone is hurting, I don't want to intrude and ask them how much it hurts so I can get marketable copy.

I remember us sitting in a divey bar shortly before we all left. Prince's Purple Rain was playing in the background. Our futures were unmapped, but we were young with the mystery of time on our side. In the years following, I went back into journalism, then I tried a series of office jobs that were boring but provided the false sense of security journalism never does.

The reality is, I am still a journalist. It's in my blood. No job compares to telling the truth of our world.