Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kelly Cutrone: Bringing the Power of the “Ancient Feminine” Back

I just finished reading Kelly Cutrone’s If You Have to Cry, Go Outside and Other Things Your Mother Never Told You and was pleasantly surprised by how inspiring and motivating her coming of age and rise to power story is. Expecting this to be the wanna-be PR girl’s handbook, I was also surprised by how universal her message is. Kelly Cutrone is the founder of fashion public relations, branding and marketing company People’s Revolution. You may have seen her using her tongue as a lethal weapon doling out brutal truths to employees and clients and pulling rank on a number of sobbing interns on shows like The Hills, The City or her new Bravo series Kell on Earth. Cutrone is the leader of the New York PR power-girl pack and serves as “Mama Wolf” over all twenty-something fashion girls who dream of one day rubbing elbows backstage with the likes of Jeremy Scott or Vivienne Westwood. If You Have to Cry…is her no-bullshit how-to guide to making it in New York’s crushing and soul-stealing fashion publicity world. I’m not a fashionista, nor am I looking for a New York Fashion Week internship. I’m just a health policy consultant with a reality-TV addiction who has found Cutrone interesting since first seeing her mentor Whitney Port and Lauren Conrad on The Hills. I wanted a little insight into her and her industry. I also thought “this woman is completely balls-out crazy on TV—she must have an interesting story to tell and I sure need some entertainment on this long-ass bus ride I’m about to take!” Six hours and 197 pages later I had laughed, cried, furiously scribbled notes in the margins, and had recalculated an old resolve.

If you've ever seen Kelly Cutrone in action on TV, you must have noticed that this lady has a strong sense of self and confidence out the wazoo. In her guide, Cutrone attributes her uber confidence to an awakening of her true self and discovery of her own inner voice. She insists that finding your true inner voice and learning to tune out all other voices of the world forcing you down pre-programmed paths—society, parents, friends--will lead you down the path toward fulfilling your destiny. An abstract message, but one that I ultimately agree with. Self-awareness is lacking, especially among ambitious young go-getters. Some people stumble along career paths because it's what their parents expect or what society expects (or they do it for the opposite reason--because they think nobody expects it) without really considering who they are. Luckily, I also agree with Cutrone that youth is the time for experimentation and for making such mistakes. Learning who you aren't can be just as valuable towards the goal of self-awareness. So don't be afraid to stumble and fall on the path of your dreams.
Another great lesson from Kelly Cutrone is about finding your "tribe"and surrounding yourself with positive like-minded people. This is how you’re going to get to wherever it is you want to go, be it Bryant Park or Wall St, and even though it's not the only way, it sure makes the journey more fun and maybe even a little easier. I have noticed that a lot of my peers don't know the value of mentors outside of the ones assigned to them by their workplace. I think this is sad and a mistake. Cutrone advises developing a "tribal council" of trusted advisors. I was given this advice long ago and call my group my personal board of directors. I run most important decisions by them. My board includes former supervisors, professors from college, family, and a few dynamite friends. I would be nowhere without this trusted group who supports me and helps me navigate the path when I can't see from every perspective.
Some of the chapter titles in this career manual are great--in The Truth Hurts: When did Spiritual Become Equated with Nice? Cutrone tells us about how her own spiritual brand equips her with the power to be honest and slay lies. Kelly goes into a lot of details about her spirituality and calls herself a "Hindu-esque Tantric Toltec Priestess", but one of her points is that through her spirituality she finds a calling to be committed to the "destruction of falsity and ignorance". Which I think is noble, even if it is not always welcome or well-received.
Cutrone further asserts the power of her spirituality in what was probably my favorite chapter and message in the book, Bitch Is Not a Bad Word: A Call to Arms for a Return to the Ancient Feminine. Here she advocates for female solidarity as we climb the rungs of the career ladder. No more cattiness and backstabbing in the sisterhood. Cutrone asserts that in ancient religions women were worshipped as goddesses. She has even appointed the head of her own personal spiritual brand “The Goddess". Now, women often see each other as the enemy instead of realizing their own power that they have within themselves and the power we have as a sisterhood. I rather like this notion. I know I've grown tired of feeling overly competitive towards other women in the workplace. Now that I work for a small boutique firm run by a woman and am a part of a senior team of women, I feel more at peace with the power that we have and the harmony that we work together with. So, ladies, let us run with perseverance towards the goal of equal rights and not against each other.
In It’s Not a Breakdown, It’s a Breakthrough, Cutrone describes a major breakdown in the midst of her second divorce. She euphemistically refers to this breakdown as a rebirth, a breakthrough. She says she’s died and been reborn several times in this life. And the biographical stories in this book confirm it! She has had to start over from scratch a number of times and completely rebuild herself from the ground up.
Kelly Cutrone is an old-school new-school girl, if that makes any sense. While she's a New York power-girl, she hails from a small, average town outside of Syracuse and got there the old-fashioned way--hard work and determination. These are the values she presents and promotes to young women in her book. Cutrone offers great advice on personal brand development and management because boring and normal will get you nowhere, especially in creative industries like hers. She asserts the value of a strong work ethic, admonishing young adults against any sense of birthright or entitlement our "over involved parents" may have instilled in us. She even revives the old "fake it 'til you make it" mantra, encouraging us to “act confidently and decisively, without regret or self-doubt—in other words, with detachment from the outcome”. On having it all, Kelly answers honestly, with what I've suspected all along:  "how do you have it all? I tell them that it’s not actually that hard to have it all; you just can’t have it all in the same proportion or at the same time." These are surely lessons for any wanna-be power girl in any industry. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, enjoy the ebbs and flows, and of course, I don't think this needs any explanation, if you have to cry, go outside.

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