When many of my peers found out where I’m working this summer, a lot of them were puzzled. Here at business school I’ve become known for a few different things, but when it comes to career prospects, I’ve been known essentially for one thing and one thing only: food.
That’s no surprise, frankly. I was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago when I moved to to Boston, and my recovery is intimately connected to coming to this city. I discovered Boston through the lens of "gluten-freedom," developing a vigilance toward food for the sake of reclaiming my health, whether I was going out to dinner with friends or going to the supermarket to buy groceries. Over the course of the following year, the interest in food shifted from meeting baseline needs for personal health toward fulfilling a greater sense of purpose. When I applied to MBA programs, I was one month and 110% into my startup, an allergy-friendly wholesale baking company, and my essays demonstrated an all-consuming (so to speak) passion to change the business of the way we eat.
Throughout orientation, when asked about what I wanted to do after Sloan, I spoke animatedly about careers and companies in the food industry. Food, business, food businesses, and business school have comprised most of my identity the past three years and will remain a part of it for the rest of my life in some measure. Personally, for sure. Professionally, highly likely.
But not necessarily.
While my love of food and cooking goes back to my senior year of high school, helping a friend’s mother cook and enjoying the galletas prepared by my Spanish teacher every viernes, my love of beauty is the longer-nurtured one.
There’s a picture of me from when I was four years old at a Halloween party in which I’m dressed up like Jasmine from Aladdin: seafoam getup, puffy sleeves, gold collar necklace and all. Clownish red on my lips and turquoise lining my eyes, I’ve got the biggest smile on my face. I’m more excited about my mom painting me with all the mysterious things from her beauty drawer than about “being a princess” for the day.
My mother could tell you about how I sat at her vanity for hours, enjoying coloring my face more than playing with coloring books. I wasn’t too good at coloring within the lines, smears of lipstick drawn well outside my lip line (some things never change). Before nights out for dinner, I stared in awe at my mom's reflection in the mirror, tattooing navy eyeliner on her lids to highlight her orbish blue eyes (a feature and habit I’ve inherited and share with all the women on my mother’s side).
I learned what a budget was whenever my mom went to Vit-A-Life and Harmon, local drug and beauty supply stores of Wayne, New Jersey: “I’ll give you $20 to spend, sweetie. And you can buy whatever you want, but you only get $20.” I applied my lessons from math class toward determining how many unique flavors of Lip Smacker lip balms I could buy with $20. (Lessons in optimization at age 10). I collected stamps, coins, dolls, and Beanie Babies, but my true “pride and joy" collection was the Lip Smackers one. By the end of my childhood, if there were a “Most Valuable Customer” award from Bonne Bell, I’d have won it handily. The Dr. Pepper flavor still holds cult status in my beauty bag.
Until middle school, my favorite retailer was the Limited Too, less for the clothing than for the personal care products: I’d play mad scientist in my bathtub, mixing scents and consistencies of the shower gels to get it “just right.” I’d comb their entire hair gel product line into sections of my hair with great ceremony and walk around the house with my head, a crunchy, glittery rainbow, held up high. (These gels didn’t smell like alcohol, either: if you smelled my scalp, you’d have gotten a whiff of blueberry pie with vanilla whipped cream. I wish they still sold the stuff).
When I got older and the thing to do in suburban New Jersey was to go to the mall and the movies with friends, I tagged along wherever the group whim took us, but I always ensured we had the bookstores and makeup counters on our agenda, places where I easily could have spent hours. As a typical teenager, I had my days of getting high--though not on your standard substances but on prose and perfume samples. Imagine a precocious teenager reading a Clockwork Orange cover to cover with a shade of Tangerine on her lips and you’d have my high school caricature in the Border’s Books and Music of Garden State Plaza. My friends remember our stops at beauty retailers so well that when I asked some high school friends where I was working this summer and dropped the hint, “What’s my favorite store in the mall?” they named the exact company within three guesses.
Leaving my job at HBS, I asked the faculty with whom I worked for their advice for me as I left for b-school, crossing over the river from Allston and the Jeffersonian country club casual of HBS into the tech park that is Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Aside from one faculty member saying that I should strongly consider going back for my doctorate after my MBA, both shared the opinion that I should remain open. “Be a sponge,” my boss said. “Soak up as much as you possibly can. Allow the experience to change your mind.”
In my case, I haven’t experienced a change of mind so much as a return to roots.
My personal mission is about empowering people. The more obvious side of that mission, given my own dietary restrictions, is with food--giving people with special needs better choices to fit their lifestyles, and, more broadly, helping people take charge of their health and wellbeing. The less obvious side (hopefully more obvious now that you’ve read this post) is with regard to beauty. I’m a shameless idealist, and for all the flaws of the industry, I see working in beauty as working in empowerment--from the outside in rather than the inside out. No matter what actually happens over the course of this summer, I’m excited to be interning at a place that empowers people with the knowledge, products, and resources to feel beautiful.
Beginning to pack my suitcase for California, I’m connecting my past and my future, somewhere between fairy godmother waving a mascara wand and business warrior armed with bullets of lipstick. I’m proud to say I’ll be soaking it all in in San Francisco at the company of my dreams.
Six weeks and counting until I get made up for my date with destiny. But I'll be honest, Sephora. It was love at first blush.