Hairdressing Career Coach: First in a New Series – Career

Hairdressing Career Coach: First in a New Series – Career

I get asked a lot, “how can I get to do what you do?”

My response back is usually “which ‘do’ are you referring to?” Because I am fortunate that I am able to do a lot of things. 

The great thing about our industry is how many opportunities we have. Gone are the days of referring to ourselves as “Just a hairdresser.” We are far from being “just” anything.  We are so important to so many. We change lives. We have the power to change our own lives. This industry has so many paths to take, many that I have yet to discover. Believe me, I am actively trying.

Michelle Pargee, hairstylist, mentor, Goldwell artist and educator, has survived stage 4 cancer...

Michelle Pargee, hairstylist, mentor, Goldwell artist and educator, has survived stage 4 cancer not just once but twice. This, she says, has changed her personal and global perspective on life, family, friends, and career. Pargee likes to challenge herself—and others—by asking: “Old age is a privilege, but not a guarantee. You are alive today; what are you going to do with it?”

Finding Your “Why”

Most of the mentoring I do is focused on finding the right path for you. That journey is unique for each person.

The key to being successful is being happy. The key to being happy is to be authentic and passionate about how you choose to focus your energy. Many call this your “why.”

It’s simple. Do you! You have something no one else has. You can do something better than anyone on the planet. You just need to tap into it.

I fully believe in the adage, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Success. Money. Happiness. Opportunities… all flows to those who are authentic. You can’t fool people. People know fake. They also know authentic when they see it.

If you want to find what that is, ask yourself what lights YOUR fire. We all daydream. What’s yours? You may be a new stylist just starting out. You may be a seasoned pro. In the very beginning of your career you had dreams and goals you wanted to achieve. Fantasies about where you career could lead. How do you get back to that?

I had big dreams when I was a 16 year old apprentice. I wanted to create. I wanted to show the world what I was capable of. I wanted to be a platform artist and stand on stages and create beauty. I wanted to travel.

Then life hit. Responsibilities. Bills. Children. Mortgage payments. Struggles. Clients. Daily life. Reality.

My dreams faded more with each passing year. I read industry magazines and attended hair shows and watched and read about those on stage with admiration and a little bit of longing. By the time I was in my early 40s,  I had put those dreams far into the back of line mind. They were still there, just faint.

I had built a successful salon. I had a thriving clientele. Was raising the last two of my four children. I was in a terribly unhappy and abusive marriage, which I hid from the world. Hiding within my own life was my specialty. I was miserable and defeated.

Hair: Michelle Pargee

Photo: Greg Swales

Hair: Michelle Pargee

Photo: Greg Swales

Aha Moment

In 2009 I attended Goldwell’s global event, then called Color Zoom, now Global Creative Awards. I sat in the audience and watched my idols on stage competing. Shining. Beside me sat my then-husband.

Oprah always talks about “Aha” moments. Mine happened at that event, in the audience, in Valencia, Spain.

As I sat watching I suddenly said out loud, “next year I want to do that” referring to the artists competing on stage. My husband immediately looked at me and said, “you are not good enough for that.”

As soon as his words came out I felt the fear. The voices in my head that said “that’s not for you.” I felt ashamed just wanting it. I imagined myself being embarrassed even for trying.

His words also had another effect. I felt a little bit of anger. Defiance. Why not me? I have talent and skill. I can do that. Suddenly I remembered the dreams of my youth.

When I returned home I was determined to enter the next year. I had no idea how I was going to, but I wanted to figure it out. I obsessed about it. I stopped thinking about what was impossible and focused on what was possible.

  • I read the entry rules.
  • Researched past winners.
  • Drew sketches of ideas on paper.
  • Found an amazing young, just starting out photographer. His name is Greg Swales. He was trying to break into the world of fashion photography. (Check out his Instagram. He’s now ridiculously famous.)

Hair: Michelle Pargee

Photo: Greg Swales

Hair: Michelle Pargee

Photo: Greg Swales

Together he and I planned out our first photo shoot. I prepped 5 models. We shot them. The work made me cry with pride the first time I saw them on the  screen. In my mind this was the achievement. I was so content. No matter what happened with the photos, I did something I had only dreamed about.

I entered one those photos in the next Goldwell Global Competition. I also entered the collection in the Contessa Awards (Canada’s NAHA’s).

I won the chance to compete on stage at the world event for Goldwell in Las Vegas that year. I competed and didn’t win, but placed second by one point. It was the experience of my life, one I’ll never forget.

“Mom, It’s You”

I also made finals for the Contessa Awards. My husband didn’t want to go because he said I wasn’t going to win and it was a waste of money. I pretty much snuck out of the house at 5:30am and went anyways. Flew from Vancouver to Toronto with my grown daughter. Greg was already in Toronto and he attended with us.

We sat at a table. I didn’t personally know anyone at the event, but knew who many of them where. They were famous hairdressers I’d admired for years.

When my category came up and they announced a winner I started clapping. I was so happy to be there I was clapping for whoever won. Then my daughter started hitting my leg,“Mom, it’s you!”

It took a few second to sink in. My photographer grabbed my hand and we both went up. I made some sobbing speech about finding my passion again. It’s all a blur. That night I won two Contessas: Master Colorist of the Year and Makeover Colorist of the year. I called my Mom from bathroom there, crying, mascara running down my face, “Mom, I won.”  She was also a hairdresser.

Three weeks after that night I found the strength to end my marriage. I had found my confidence again. I found me again.

Life Line

Hair: Michelle Pargee

Photo: Joan Novak

Hair: Michelle Pargee

Photo: Joan Novak

When I tell people hair photo shoots changed my life I am not being dramatic. Without them I don’t want to think about where I would be. They showed me that anything is possible. I found my voice and self esteem again.

Since that night I have won many awards. Rebuilt my life. Stood on stages as an educator and mentored others to reach their goals. Travelled the world. None of what I have achieved will ever compare to the thrill of mentoring. Coaching someone to reach a goal and be there to cheer for them when they do.

The joy of photoshoots have gotten me through stage 4 cancer, divorce, custody battles and financial challenges. It has sustained me and given me a high that I ride through the dark moments. I once asked an Oncologist to delay my first chemo by one day because I had a photo shoot planned. I’m sure he thought I was nuts.

I explained to him that the coming months were going to be really hard. I needed the joy that shoot would give me to be a positive light to focus on. It was. It filled me up and gave me hope.  I also won Canadian Colorist of the Year with that collection. Through terrible pain there is always something good to focus on if you look hard enough.  

Who Are You? 

I’ve lost more awards and failed more than I have won. Grateful for it all. It’s all part of the journey. I’m grateful that I keep trying to improve. I’m grateful that this incredible industry inspires me so much. I’m grateful for the experiences and people. I’m grateful for the clients who keep me grounded. I’m grateful for all the lessons that helped me see my worth. After 40 years in this industry I am more inspired now than ever. I feel like it’s just all beginning despite being in the Autumn of my career and life.

So when someone asks me how to do what I do, I’ll ask them, “Who are you? What are your dreams? What feeds your soul and lights you on fire?”

All you need to be willing to do is fearlessly go after it.

Do the work.

Take risks.

Stop worrying about failing. You will. We all do. However, if you pay attention and keep trying, it will happen.

And finally, “What’s holding you back? Who’s voice is in your head telling you that you are not good enough?”

Scream louder that the voice in your head. First step…repeat after me…”I am good enough!” ❤️

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be continuing my blog to help others find their path. Ask me questions and advice about your career. Entering hair competitions. Doing photo shoots. Building your brand. Running your business. Client consultation advice. How to have difficult conversations. Finding good models. How to increase your income. How to build a bigger clientele. Pricing. Tips and tricks.

Even if I don’t know the asker I know others way smarter than me I can ask.

Ask away. Anything.

Send them to

Use “Ask Michelle” in the subject line.

I’ll also be writing a blog about the journey to KAO Salon’s Global Creative Awards Competition 2023, which will take place in Chicago next fall. I’ll take you along the journey of my students and what it takes to win. It’s a fun and wild ride I get to take each year with them.

Buckle up. 😘

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