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Applied Teaching. My Business Journey.

April 5, 2019

Hello readers,

It’s a rainy day here in the Blue Mountains and I’m at the end of a week that has been quite remarkable for me, remarkable in a simple, invisible-to-others way.  This week I’ve felt the earth shift a little as I work through my relationship with my business. I’m telling you this knowing that some of you read this just so you can copy me or to “be me but better”. I know that there is a risk that you will copy this too. I mention this because I have a lot of customers that worry out loud to me about people copying them. I tell them the same as I tell myself:  Nobody can be you, you are unique, complex and wonderful.  Only worry about what you can control,  where you are going, what you want to achieve and why.  If people insist on following you just make sure they have somewhere good (and hard) to go. Make them work hard, run far and sweat blood.  We are women (and men)  that run with the wolves…

I just celebrated the week by purchasing this print for my office. You can find Tessa Lyons work here. A bit indulgent of me being as though I’ve got a bit of work to do on my finances at the moment but hey, you only live once and this art would look as good in a tent as it does in my house 🙂

Anyway, here’s a bit more back story.

I’ve been in the cosmetics industry for twenty-two years now and in that time I’ve seen a lot of changes, some for what I feel to be the better but many that seem to be sending us down a path full of nonsense (non-science, that’s what I like to call it).  To cut what could be a long story short the amount of bull crap that I now find piled up in the virtual hallways of the internet and people’s minds had started to pollute my heart and affect my motivation.  That might sound a bit melodramatic but wallow in shit for long enough and you turn to shit.

I don’t tend naturally to wallow in shit, I’m not the type of person to go running into a drama just to watch, take selfies and spread the gossip. Mostly I prefer to not talk to anyone.  However, my work does, by its very nature, bring me up-close-and-personal with the issues of the day, many of which I blog about here but many more I just stew on as I attempt to process them in a way that is respectful of people’s intangible humanness (that’s my other phrase for feelings).

There has been much to stew about too, from unbridled consumerism and chemical phobia to protection of indigenous intellectual property, plastic pollution and the politics of palm free.  But it’s not these issues that I’m stewing (or stuck) on per se,  it is our human ability to constantly fuck things up and avoid real meaningful action by jumping to simple, bias and often fact-less or fact-lacking conclusions of how to manage all of the above.  I am constantly finding myself stuck in a spider-web-like thought bubble of other people’s making trying to free myself so I can get to the great stuff on the other side.  To put that in a simple way, I’ve been spending so much of my time trying to work through other people’s feelings both with them and on my own in order that I can create enough space and trust between us for new ideas to sprout.  Only I have come to the realisation that many people have concreted over their brains with the same zeal that Australian political parties have for concreting over our bush.  Not much space for organic growth is left and I’m left feeling mentally exhausted, wound up and disengaged.

Only that changed this week.

I sensed my growing discontent late last year and, with my children both having reached ages where it is no longer illegal to expect them to fend for themselves (and let’s face it, they have the skills and the desire) I can actually try something new, just for me.

I enrolled in a Masters of Education Degree just after Christmas with a view to learning more about teaching (specifically chemistry but teaching in general too) and am currently working through my first semester.  Having just completed (almost) my first assignment I am starting to feel something weird and exciting happening to my brain, a feeling that I’ve missed for so long.  That feeling is one of accomplishment, synchronicity even, like the world is starting to make sense again in a whole new, deeper and more empowering way.  I feel like I’ve been handed a fresh new map that contains within its ridge lines and land marks endless new adventures and life-enriching experiences.   What I have found outside of the cosmetics industry is my love of research, planning, order and scientific enquiry reflected back at me in a way that empowers and builds real knowledge rather than fakery.

So am I saying the cosmetic industry is fake?

Hummmmmmmm deep breath…


This is what I think is going on.

Learning how to educate others for educations sake is a pure, co-operative and intensely human experience.  Sure there are agreements on what to teach (a syllabus or schedule etc) and that may be politically motivated but spend five minutes reading about teaching and you realise that the ‘what’ is nowhere near enough to make a difference on its own.

As I mentioned, I’m picking up this study at the time when my children are moving into another stage of their development, as such I can reflect on what has mattered in my teaching of them.  Was what I said more important than what I did? Absolutely not. Was how much they respected and trusted me more impactful than what I physically provided for them? I can guarantee that it was.

Thinking about my work,  I am paid to solve problems,  produce products and pull answers out of somewhere – hopefully the ‘right’ answers.  Sure, I’m also sometimes  paid to teach and my professional teaching has been my favourite part of my career to date, but I’m starting to see that many clients (though not all) only want to be taught on their terms and when they are prepared for it.

Thinking about my industry as a whole, science is always applied to a scenario and usually one that has a sales opportunity or risk attached to it.  Science for science sake or what I still call ‘blue sky thinking’ is still there but is somewhat hidden under the pile of work that must be done so that bills are paid, new products are created and customers get answers.

  • Reflecting this back on myself I can now see where my frustration stems from:
  • I see every interaction as an opportunity to teach and to learn.
  • I never feel comfortable assuming the how, why and where’s, I want to explore them. There often isn’t time.
  • I always want to feel something and make the story behind the product strong and cohesive.
  • I find joy in tackling and not just solving problems.
  • I need to be with people who do, not just people who think they do.

So, to sum this up, I don’t think the industry or the science it does is fake at all, it serves a purpose and is often carried out very professionally and thoroughly. However, just as with parenting and teaching, there is an X factor that sits behind industry that is less measurable or definable because it’s about relationships, meaning and trust and maybe that’s where I’m feeling the disconnect. In fact, I’m sure it is.

Reflecting on that in my business.

What I have recognised here is a disconnect between how I communicate and lay out what I value and where I get my energy/ flow/ joy from and what my customers come to me for, not in terms of product but in terms of process.  An example might help to flesh this out more clearly:

A customer may come to me for a formula. They pay the money and then sit back and wait. This is a transaction with a relatively low cognitive load for them. I am their outsourced brain, they paid me so they don’t have to think about this side of things.

I see formulating as an opportunity to teach and empower the customer, using the formula as my framework. I  am  open with how I do things, sharing my process and the evolution of the formula and talking through the challenges and trials I’ve gone through.  The customer receives multiple versions of a formula idea as it progresses through different stages and eventually we get a winner. In my eyes the customer gets added value as they now not only have one formula, they have several. They not only get the finished product, they know how to make and tweak it. To me that’s huge!

The customer, not necessarily being prepared for this level of information/ choice may either get overwhelmed or confused with the process. They may tend to focus on areas that they are already comfortable with (their prior knowledge), or they obsess over small details that they don’t fully understand (cognitive distress).  Not seeing this exchange as ‘education’ (they didn’t pay for a class), they may just not value it at all (which may leave me feeling frustrated) or may find it causes them more problems than it solves (they recognise they don’t understand what I’ve done and now feel vulnerable, confused and possibly even further away from their goals).

Now reading this may lead you to think that every formulating job ends in disaster. That isn’t the case at all but what can happen both to me and in other formulator/ client relationships that I’ve been party to is that there is a general disconnect between the two parties that tends towards maintaining the status quo educational-wise rather than progressing it.  What I mean by that is that many formulators feel that many customers don’t really understand them and many customers don’t really understand what they have purchased.  The net result being we all stay where we are.

THAT, in a 1700 word nutshell is what I’ve realised.

Going forward with my business.

I’m teaching this weekend and so will use the next few days to reflect on all of the above before making any firm changes but what I’m leaning towards is me orientating my business more intentionally towards education than it has been before.  The customers that I’ve had the best relationships with over the years have been supportive of my explorational approach to the industry and my work and, most importantly, have been open to learning and teaching themselves.

My final point at this pivotal moment in my work journey is to reflect back to the fact that when I first left the corporate world to set up this business I called myself ‘Selling Science Pty Ltd’ and had the idea of being an educator. Maybe now is the right time to actually revisit that initial idea. Maybe now I have the experience and the words.

Before I go I think it is important for me to note that I do realise that not all people who seek out cosmetic chemists will want someone like me to wants to teach them.  When I book a mechanic I don’t necessarily want them to tell me how they fixed my car. However, I’m not saying that it has to be that way, more that the ability to teach and learn, that connection is and opportunity is something I value. Back to the mechanic example and I can tell you now that when something does go wrong with your car it is so refreshing to be able to respectfully discuss (and trust) the person with the spanner in their hands no matter how little you aspire to be in their position.  If all else fails maybe those ‘other’ customers can find other chemists.

Anyway, thanks for listening, for teaching me and learning by my side.





6 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    April 5, 2019 3:18 pm

    Yes, yes, yes!!. It’s all about the process, not just the product. We talk about this endlessly when we complain that too often teachers teach content and not the ‘how’or ‘why’. As in when you’re given this task how do you start to break it down? This is what I want my kids to learn, not be able to name the Antarctic bases (for example).

    I would love to enter into an educational exploration when it comes to new product formulation. As a client, in my opinion it’s far more valuable that I understand the thing we’ve formulated together including why we selected certain ingredients AND rejected others. This puts me in a good place to explain the new and unique product to our clients with confidence and conviction.

    Knowing and acknowledging that you enjoy this educational, exploratory process helps you to figure out what your ideal clients looks like. And it also helps you get clear about what the outcome is likely to look like. Those who want one version of a finalised formula may be best suited to another formulator but those who want to understand and be involved in the decision making process and don’t mind finishing up with a framework not just a formula might be perfectly suited.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 5, 2019 3:23 pm

      So true hey! Glad it resonates with you too.

  2. April 5, 2019 3:48 pm

    Yep, I feel the pain. Same business as you, and I’ve done the teaching qual. I’m wired and trained as a scientist. Something I did some years ago was the Cambridge Teaching English as a Second Language program. It was a grueling 4-5 weeks. Took my mind off the issues you discuss. I never planned to be an English Teacher, but what I was interested in was the teaching methodology. Plus the communication approach to non-English speakers. The outcomes…. sharpened my communication skills with consulting clients. It has been a great help.

    Has the BS in the cosmetics industry diminished? No, it’s getting worse.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 5, 2019 3:54 pm

      Aha, another kindred spirit! At risk of being melodramatic all over again I’d say that now is a very un-rewarding time to be scientifically minded in an industry like this. The cosmetic industry does produce some good science but the cosmetic buying public are primed for myth, make-believe and alternative facts. If I had a dollar for every time I heard ‘but it’s what the market wants’ I’d be rich then I could come over and have a chat and a cuppa with you!

  3. April 23, 2019 1:45 am

    How Interesting you are! My impulse is to gush out, “I love you for this”, but I realize that you probably have an aversion to such emotional nonsense. I treasure this blog as a source of my extended learning. I have always viewed you as my educator in a subject area where I am self-taught. It makes so much sense to turn to the study of education to find a way out of the pit of cosmetic marketing mindlessness. If you think the beauty industry is full of bull, you should check out the pet grooming industry, where there is no mandate for ingredient disclosure and no accountability for product claims. You have truly helped me understand my own angst by sharing yours. Thank you, Amanda, for being Amanda. I am excited to share your journey.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 23, 2019 9:50 am

      Aahhh you are very kind. Thank you. I am not one for over-emotional clap trap but a sincere ‘you go girl’ is much appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. I am very grateful.

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