My friend and I were temporary, seasonal help and not the full-time merchandisers assigned to the Couture department in a major department store. Normally, we weren’t allowed to touch any mannequins but when a guest wanted a dress off one when we were the only merchandisers working, we had no choice but to change it. Mannequins used to be complicated, heavy fixtures secured with wires and poles making them extremely difficult to change, and getting the Valentino dress off this one for this shopper wasn’t an easy task.
We took the risk anyway and headed up to the second floor. First, we loosened the wires, removed her arms and wiggled off the thousand dollar dress. My friend ran it over to the register and I stood there, holding the heavy, naked plaster praying she’d stop pirouetting on her fused toe. Finally, my friend returned with excitement in her eyes. “You won’t believe who’s downstairs,” she whispered. “Annie Lennox is in the store and she’s heading up here! We have to get something on this mannequin fast!”
The Eurhythmics were huge in the ’80s and the lead singer, Annie Lennox was one of my “vocal” idols. I was beyond nervous having the chance to see her in person even if I was at work. I mean, who gets to meet rock stars at work? We frantically slipped another dress on our ungainly friend, replaced her arms and gathered the wires to secure her to the floor, but just as I was trying to tie one of them down, the mannequin began to spin. She did a perfect 360 and crashed to the floor. My friend and I stood looking on, horrified as the mannequin’s head hit the floor, cracked off at the neck and rolled down the ‘Up’ escalator. Hopeful no one witnessed what had happened; we stared down the escalator stunned, trying to figure out what to do next when we saw Annie Lennox slowly rising up it. She was holding the mannequin’s head, like an offering. “This must belong to you,” she said in her soft, British accent as she handed it to my friend. We were star struck and mortified all at the same time.
I had no intention of being a Visual Merchandiser but after college, I had no idea of what I wanted to “be”. I had graduated three years earlier and had already worked as a waitress, a singer in a band, an operating room technician in a major hospital and now as a “window decorator” in a major department store. It wasn’t easy being the only one changing jobs each year when all my friends were advancing up their career ladders but I was determined to find a career I could be passionate about.
We were taught to go to college, graduate in your major and work 30 years in the industry you chose at 17 and this seemed impossible to me.
Thankfully, it’s different today. Last week I brought my daughter to orientation at the university she’ll be attending in the fall and I was stunned by the message presented in every parent meeting. “Encourage your students to follow their passion and that will bring them success.” What a refreshing approach to choosing a major or career.
I believe we should all live by this philosophy. Each day we have the opportunity to follow our passion. I am still determined to find joy in what I do on a daily basis but like everyone, I have those days when the mannequin’s head breaks off, the fabric we ordered never delivered or our website crashed. It’s important to remember that following our passion doesn’t mean everyday will be perfect. Still, I am a true believer that life is too short to be stuck in a career that makes you miserable and leaves you completely unfulfilled. We need to take inventory of our lives from time to time and be willing to try a new path if we are truly unhappy. I realize this sounds simplistic. Most of us have mortgages, college tuitions and other financial restraints that keep us in our current jobs but that doesn’t mean we can’t pursue our passions.
A good friend of mine confessed she’d always wanted to be an artist and when I suggested she paint after work for one hour a night, she brightened up. “I never thought of trying it like that,” she said. So, she painted one picture every night for one year and she had an opening showing her 365 paintings when the year was over. She sold many of them and even though she didn’t make painting her full time job, she ended up feeling completely fulfilled and glad she pursued her passion.
We can’t associate our passion with a dollar amount or we’ll never pursue it, especially as we get older.
Success and happiness come from doing what you’re passionate about and it’s never too late to follow it. When we pursue our passions, we make our lives richer, but remember, just because it’s your passion, doesn’t mean it will always be easy. The payoff comes from being persistent even on those days when the mannequin’s head breaks off. Remember what drove you to pursue your passion in the first place and remember you just may get to meet Annie Lennox in the process.
-Germaine Caprio, Company Owner & Designer