You’re doing fine until someone makes a snide remark on social media. Then a literary agent says your book idea won’t sell, and two editors haven’t responded to your story pitches.
Soon you’re having trouble getting through the day.
What you need is a mini Denise Vivaldo on your shoulder. This successful food stylist and food writer is one of the most optimistic people I know. She seems to let slights, criticisms and rejection slide right off. I thought I should interview her to find out how she does it:
Q. You say you have thick skin. How do you define that?
A. I got a thick skin early in life and it has worked for me. As a child I danced and by the time I was eight or nine years old, I was already losing. Somebody else always got the best part and the best costume.
I realized that you can do the best work early on, work like a motherfucker, and you still may not win. At the end of the day, you pull off those point shoes, and you can’t even get the tights off because the blisters have made the tights stick. My ballet teacher said to me, “Ballet is 95 percent perspiration and 5 percent talent.”
In high school I realized dancing was not going to work for me. Later I sold real estate for a few years. I did very well as selling comes naturally for me, because I believed in my product. Then I got over to food. In 1983, 99 percent of the men who ran restaurants didn’t know why I was even going to culinary school. The kitchen looked like a chain gang. So if I didn’t have a thick skin by then, that would be the time to get one.
I went on a cruise ship as an intern, and a big Samoan guy who peeled potatoes in the kitchen would walk me back to my room. I roomed with the cocktail waitresses because there were no other women in the kitchen. I learned so much. The girls took johns into the bathroom and were turning tricks to make money. This was a pretty low point in my life!
Then I remember thinking, never mind, how other people act is not going to define my career. I was down to my last $8,000 but I was persistent, and determined. It was more blind faith than talent.
I made a business card where I called myself chef, stylist and writer. Five years later I got a job as an executive chef, making $100,000 with 15 Hispanic men working for me. And then I started to style. I took a writing course at UCLA and the teacher said, “You’re a different kind of writer. Accept who you are and write what you want. One day the market may catch up to you.”
Q. Okay, that’s a great story. But there really are things that hurt your feelings, right? Can you give some examples?
A. Of course there are. Like when you get a bad review on Amazon for a book that 40 other people said, “this book changed my life.” I have to discount the negative and reread the positive. That person needed something I couldn’t give them and I have to move on.
Q. Do you have role models who are thick skinned?
A. I worked with Susanne Somers on many of her cookbooks. Richard Simmons. Jenny Craig. It’s been up and down for them. They’ve gone through divorce or cancer and they just keep chugging along. They don’t let other people determine their path.
Paula Deen’s an example. She has walked through the fires of hell and she’s saying to hell with you, I’m going to do what I continue to do. And apparently millions of people love her.
Q. She just got her own imprint from Hachette.
A. That’s right. Also, you can’t let a perfect stranger get to you. I’m not going to take their words over my own self esteem? No way.
You couldn’t let the chef see you cry in chef school. It was all over, like sharks and blood.
Q. You always seem extra-positive on social media. Does this help and if so, how?
A. I was born positive! My father used to say this about me: ‘In a room full of horse shit, I’m always looking for a pony.’ However, life is hard, and it can be disappointing. I’m 63. If I have 20 good years left, I’m not wasting any time.
Sometimes I say to myself, I’m going to feel sorry for myself for exactly 30 minutes. What went wrong, why am I disappointed, and couldn’t I have changed the equation? And then I get over it and move on.
Q. I love that. Any last words of advice?
A. The more you put yourself out there, the more you will get rejected. But who cares? Just keep moving. You can’t get anywhere if you worry about what others think.