Strong women are women who thanks to their passion, creativity and persistence change the world not only around them, but also the world which seems to be a distant and inaccessible land for many, reserved for a privileged few. The path they all had to take looked different for each of them, but any road they chose has led them towards their own success. Many times the accomplishment occurred to be too huge for outsiders to accept, not to mention to believe in the results of long weeks of tedious work, which was hidden behind each of these accomplishments.
The heroines, who we so eagerly look up to, didn’t always know whether their lives would go this or that way. Important decisions, which had to be taken, often turned to be crucial moments and sometimes even turned their lives upside down to open the doors of new possibilities which have always been there, but needed a trigger that would set them free, namely a decision. After just making the first step, they allowed their passions to lead them. They started being visible and getting people’s attention, the ones who were waiting for something that would be valuable, something that could be offered to them only by these particular women. As I’ve already mentioned before, the success pattern for each woman is similar, she just needs to overcome certain patterns which have nested not only in her heart and in her mind over the years, but also in the hearts and minds of other people. All women are capable of gaining success according to their possibilities, possibilities which are way greater than one could expect.
Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to Audrey Eugénie Schlegel – a happy wife, mom and the author of online courses and workshops related to fashion, as well as to styling. They have gained an enormous popularity and recognition not only among the experts, but also among the average women who desire to dress in style and to become their own stylists. In this interview you’ll get to know a little bit more about Audrey, her work, passions and the reason why she was featured in Vogue.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Audrey: I am the friend whose place you always crash at when everything else has failed. You know I won’t judge you, will listen patiently and even hold your hair back if you drank too much after your light fight with him and need to puke… and then I will wake you up at the crack of dawn the next morning with the strongest cup of black tea you have ever smelt and will somehow get your moaning self through the door for a run and a chat about what you will do TODAY to get out of there. You will feel frozen at first, but be so thankful – well, at least after a hot shower and some of my delicious whole grain vegan pancakes you will eat too much of, but somehow they won’t weigh you down.
A bit more details: I was born in France, I secretly dream of owning a cottage by the sea in the Downs (South England), but we are right now looking at buying a villa in the suburbs of Frankfurt, the European banking capital. When I say we, I mean my husband and partner-in-crime for “wait is it 10 years already?!!” and our daughter. Our household speaks 4 languages.
I love really dark chocolate (think 90%+!), which has powered me while going through the motions of building a double business during my maternity leave, with the goal to escape my 6-figures job as a corporate lawyer, so I wouldn’t have to work 60 hours a week while paying a nanny to take care of my daughter, who was a baby back then. The chocolate must have been good, because I succeeded.
Passion Piece: You’re a successful mom and an entrepreneur. Was it always like that?
Audrey: No – I never thought I had an entrepreneurial fiber to be honest.
The fun fact is… my grandparents were entrepreneurs. They were self-employed, owners of a vineyard. And while they amassed an interesting amount of wealth (turns out they weren’t bad at investing in real estate), my father has been marked by the ups and downs of his early childhood, the struggling cash flows… He went to university, became a civil servant and later a politician.
My mother was a teacher – also a civil servant in France. They both own ventures of a more or less entrepreneurial nature, and yet both always emphasized the importance of having a stable job. They didn’t understand why my husband moved companies every 2 and a half years, how I wandered from one country to the next in the early stages of my career.
Which shows 2 things: first, your parents want you to be safe – of course they want you to be happy, but they will always value your safety above all – maybe that comes from preventing you from eating too much candy when you were young, they still think along the same lines later “do the right thing now, so you can be happy later”.
A fun story: my mom still laments today I haven’t become a teacher. When I was admitted to France’s most elite university, she asked me “Are you sure you don’t want to go to an X instead, so you can become a teacher?”. “No mom, this is a one-of-a-kind opportunity, I can still sit the teacher’s exam later”. When I graduated and signed my first job contract “Sure you won’t regret not being a teacher?”. “No mom, I pushed myself through university by teaching German in Paris and London to spoilt brats, so enough teaching experience for me”.
When I got the raise that catapulted me into 6-figures for the next time “I think you would be happier being a teacher” (maybe she noticed I was unhappy, in her defense).
What does this tell you? If you go for justifying your choices… you will spend most of your time trying to explain things to people who don’t have the experience or background to understand what you are telling them. Well, they might be able to understand to a certain degree… but never totally. Of course, you might owe an explanation to your parents – one, and then be done. You totally should ask your spouse for support! You cannot expect them to stand behind you while you are maybe tapping into family savings without telling them what you are doing.
But we often justify our choices far beyond these people, our immediate family and friends. To colleagues when we are quitting our jobs since our business became so successful. To former mentors. To friends who aren’t really friends.
If one explanation is not enough, the second probably won’t help either. And actually, you aren’t doing that to help them understand you – you are doing that because secretly, you hope for their validation you are on the right path. Well, they are not qualified to give it. You, or people in your industry, colleagues or fellows, can validate part of your plans, saying “You have a sound business model.”, “Look at these financials! That’s great!”, “Wow, this is an amazing product!”, “You really got incredible feedback!”, “You are so talented!”, but the ultimate validation shall come from within you.
And I struggled to find that, to be honest. because of this story that a paid job equals stability (we have seen that during the 2008 crisis, during the Corona crisis…). And actually, I kept reading books, blog posts, listening to podcasts… that were from, or for, entrepreneurs. So part of me was cut for that.
Also, you can’t get a good career without being proactive about it – both your responsibilities and the promotion of your career. Guess what? That’s a lot like being a business owner.
Passion Piece: You received a very good education and had a prosperous job. Why did you decide to change your career path?
Audrey: Several things – the main wish being to be able to spend time with my daughter. In Germany, we get a paid maternity leave for one year, so I had every intention to use that. But I really had the blues about going back, and then one morning when she was not yet 2 months old, I took her in our bed to cuddle before really standing up and starting the day, and I simply… broke into tears. It’s hard to describe – like a sadness you won’t be able to overcome. No matter what, you won’t be able to forget, to get over it.
When I look back at all the times I have been at a turning point, this was the one time that really changed everything. On a rainy winter morning of January, I was in my bed, in my pajamas, and decided to totally change the course of my life. I decided I wouldn’t go back to my job, and carve something out for myself.
I considered first joining a family law firm, but to be honest… I was calling my job “the place where the dreams go to die”. I had interned with the UN, at the European Court of Human Rights, and somehow things went south and I went into corporate. I didn’t want to do that anymore.
I became fascinated in the online world, but to be honest, I was watching Fleur de Force’s vlogs back then, and realized… no way I could become an influencer, having a camera trust in my face anytime. But looking behind the picture, I realized she totally was an entrepreneur. Or Victoria Magrath from the great blog Inthefrow. It was a schedule, a business. And I thought “Hey, I like writing, I have been a ghost writer as a hobby… maybe I could do something out of that”.
But how do you monetize a blog? What do you blog about?
Then I met my mentor, well I had come across her, before we worked together for 18 months, and I realized the fast track would be to sell my own products.
So I made a list of the things I wanted to change in the world. I hated the pressure we women face about our image – weigh less, buy more. I was good at styling. But also, even during maternity leave I kept having former students, or colleagues, coming back to me for help about their resumes and cover letters, or for tips to negotiate their salaries. And when I was hearing how they were approaching that… seriously, I liked them, well at least most of them most of the time, and I felt like banging their hands against the wall for being so clueless. Everybody was sweating the small stuff, never the right stuff.
And a bit of googling told me the Internet wasn’t helping either. Maybe it’s still No. 1 today, but 3 years ago googling “How to answer the question ‘tell me about yourself’ in an interview?” would lead to tips such as “structure your answer in a way that makes sense”, which is… totally irrelevant and stupid, but at least not harmful. followed by the “stick to the past-present-future” format. That’s not only stupid, but will also get you stuck in a matrix where you ramble about nothing relevant for ⅔ of the time, getting your interviewer to zone out.
And yes, most people were ending their answers with “so… yeah”. You are applying for a job at executive or at least sub-executive level and you have nothing else to say but “so… yeah”? Come on.
So there was a need, and it turned out I had the answers. I started organizing workshops, I grew successful, and we are now filming the 2.0 version of our online courses. I also… went into studying the systems, the psychology of what goes on when we get dressed. what is about colors, shapes etc. And I created here also, first a workshop and then an online course on how to get dressed from your closet and buy smarter. I got featured in Vogue for that!
Passion Piece: What does your business deal with? What kind of difficulties did you have to face on the way to your own success?
Audrey: I faced really different challenges in each of these business ventures. Some had to do with… knowledge, skills. Not about what I was teaching, but about… well marketing my knowledge. Or how to run a website – I basically taught myself HTML and CSS coding, as well as web design, bit by bit in the course of 2 years. And yes, you can learn it all for free on the Internet – it will take you two years. Had I known I would have needed this so often, I would have dropped some money onto a 6 weeks course to really get an intensive learning experience and save, well, 2 years and so many doubts.
On the plus side, this position of knowing nothing, taught me everything. Especially about Facebook ads. This year, someone raised the fact to my attention that I nail over-average conversion rates every step of the customer journey, starting with my ads. Actually, ads are a game of maths and psychology, both things I adore… I couldn’t believe that now I had something to teach about it, but I was asked to be a speaker at a conference, our inbox got a fit flooded… so I hired someone else to help me and we set out to offer ads management services.
Which shows you can always reinvent yourself. Well, not reinventing… but developing yourself further. It doesn’t erase who you have been, it builds on that.
And speaking of that… my second issue was the lack of certification to show. Actually, in our career business, I had the work experience to show, the salary bulletins, the letters telling me I had earned an X amount of bonus. Which is more than most career advisors, who have never had a career anyways, and not at the level of the executives they dream of coaching! Not that you can never learn from an outsider. But still, at some point you need to be in touch with your industry. Only trust a career coach who is at least a headhunter or recruiter! At least they know how it works. You can hire coaches for voice, presence, to be more convincing, come across as more friendly, fight burnout. But here again, if they aren’t either standing on the shoulders of giants by having some training, or having gone through it themselves… be skeptical, because otherwise, they are learning with you, at your expense.
In the fashion field, I never took an 8 weeks certification course to become a fashion stylist. Because… this is a system working on commissions. The goal is to make you buy, and I wanted to change the rules of the game, not to learn how to play according to actual rules. My message totally resonated, I was styling Chinese millionaires within 10 months of starting, US Senators, UK MP’s. A few doctors. I was helping the girl next door – and her mother. And this was my validation – not the certification I didn’t have. But I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I was qualified, especially when some people said I had no legitimation.
Well, actually… no one who is ahead of you will criticize you. No one who feels confident where they are will do it. People who will go screaming are those who will feel threatened by you, or you have already taken over. Successful stylists, who were styling for big brands, when I was brought into play, they were interested in listening to me, to discover new ideas and learn from, and in return they taught me a few things, insider styling hacks. I wasn’t redoing the job of styling, I was changing the business around it, the business of fashion. And let’s be honest, there will always be people to buy a new wardrobe every six months and splurge 50 bucks on that. And stylists catering to them will never run out of work. Those who went against me were the ones who were struggling, and couldn’t fathom I would be successful with an online course teaching women to style themselves, and make 6 figures within 6 months with a single course!
People who know their job and can recognize your worth won’t care about your certifications – Vogue certainly didn’t care. And you shouldn’t care about the rest.
Passion Piece: Is your help aimed only at women? Who can turn to you for some advice?
Audrey: Mostly towards women…. well, a fun story. Back then I was still doing styling workshops, we read through an application with my VA and waved it through (people had to apply for the workshop). The first name was in our eyes gender-neutral. We then discovered it was a man. We have never put “for ladies only” in the sales page of our workshop, I thought it was self-evident.
And actually, this was a really wonderful experience – when we came to talking about how to dress our shape, and how our heads and hearts mess with our perception. Because this man was totally struck when he found out how much we as women struggle with our body shape!
Otherwise, of course both women and men benefit from learning how to negotiate their salary. However, I also address struggles that are specific to women – how to react to sexist remarks. Women aren’t encouraged to ask for a raise, some people never heard of a woman asking for a raise and are at a loss when a woman stands in their office and says she deserves an additional 500 a month! Women more often have some “gaps” due to years they took off to look after their children. Or because they had to leave a job to follow their partner, and first couldn’t find another one in another region or country. So I address these particular challenges, and even when I record my courses I visualize an audience of women.
Men have different struggles, of course. But most help out there is geared at them anyways, even though there is a lack of qualified help, there still is some.
To sum up in a nutshell: we never turn down men, discouraging them from joining our courses and workshops. But we are upfront about the fact that these are for women first and foremost, and that they might not feel related to some of the challenges we are going to provide strategies and tactics for.
Passion Piece: You once mentioned that you’re a person who loves observing others to study individual cases of people’s successes and the factors which made these particular people win in different spheres of their lives. Have you already found a pattern which is the key to a fulfilled life?
Audrey: You have mentioned “different spheres of their lives”… and actually there are a few meta skills that will translate into anything. Here are a few patterns or meta skills I have noticed:
– When something goes wrong, look at yourself: how often have you had a fight with someone and came back to them to say “I was totally wrong and such a dumbhead?” You didn’t. you think they were the dumbhead. Probably they were. But probably you brought out the dumbhead in them. Have you thought about your contribution to the problem? I am talking about contribution, not responsibility. We could often have done something to improve a situation, and we didn’t. We are not guilty because something happened we didn’t cause, but maybe we could have alleviated damages. For example, your child doesn’t eat her vegetables? Well, what is the story you are building around vegetables? “I know, it doesn’t taste great but you HAVE TO eat them.” ? You have never thought of vegetables as tasty so you have never tried to incorporate them into tasty recipes, you just serve them because you have to? Or in business – most people don’t have business problems. They have personal problems reflected in their businesses.
– They do their research. They know so much that they know there is always more to learn. They ask people for their opinion, they actively seek feedback. They read books, they enroll into online courses. They observe what others do.
– They change the facts. I had a friend who complained about her job, because her manager really values people who get more clients through the firm, because she cares about money. I pointed out to my friend that actually, all businesses are ultimately about money, so the concern was normal. Was it at the expense of doing quality work, aka short term v. long term? In that case, facts were that the company valued short time gains over long term relationship, and she should change the job. Or, maybe the company was fine and my friend was taking too much time with single clients and could look into optimizing her workflows. Or the company was fine, but my friend would benefit from changing for a company providing premium services at premium prices, so she could spend more time with each client.
– They don’t complain, they react. They don’t ask “why?”, but “what?”. Why did this happen? v. What can I do now?
– They value relationships. friendships, families.
– They let themselves be influenced by others – but they pick these others wisely. What I mean is, they are open to listening to opinions of a select few, or maybe even more. They aren’t obstinate, never listening to their business partners, or life partner, walling up if they don’t get their way.
– They aren’t envious. They appreciate what they have, knowing you could always get more… but they see the choices behind what other people have, and don’t envy that. And if they envy that, they go out to achieve that.
– They disconnect regularly. They refuse to take phone calls after a certain time, or to work on weekend.
Passion Piece: I always ask my interviewees to help my readers to solve certain problems or to tell them how to take a new challenge in the area of their interest. Today, seeing how a wonderful person you are, I’d like to ask you for help on my own behalf. What could I do to gain an international success following my passion and doing what I truly love?
Audrey: How do you define success? I will assume it is at least in some way related to making money, earning your life – that’s the dream, doing what you love and being able to pay the bills. And also, you want recognition for that – at an international level.
There are 2 camps there. The ones who sell the idea that never mind your passion, you will always be able to make money from it – that’s what about any business coach in any Facebook group will tell you.
A fun story on the side, to serve as a warning: I use Kajabi to power our website, and there is a Facebook group exclusively for them. People come there to celebrate their successes, get technical questions answered, or find a solution to their business struggles. And one user… wanted to sell her course about email marketing. The goal of email marketing is… well, like any marketing, to sell. To make a profit. She was selling a course on how to sell online…. and wasn’t making any sales. What does this tell us? Either she wasn’t walking her own walk, or her method didn’t work. So, beware of business coaches who have time to chase clients on Facebook… go for those who don’t chase you. They are busy serving their clients and making money from it.
Which doesn’t mean you can’t make money from your passion, by the way… because here is what the second camp says “Find a problem, come up with a solution, and people will pay you for it”.
This is also, equally flawed advice. Why?
Does Netflix solve a problem? No, but this is a company valued billions.
Does any fashion blog solve a problem? No, but this is one of the most profitable influencers’ niche?
Or maybe they do solve a problem? Netflix frees you from boredom. Fashion blogs give you inspiration, entertainment, and a possibility for brands to put their designs in front of the end consumers.
Do we need cooking blogs? I mean, finding a recipe isn’t such a pressing need, you would be able to eat without that. And yet they make money. So yes, they are born from passion. And they solve a problem, if you want.
What I want to demonstrate is that if you are passionate about something, you will always make the time and find the energy to devote to it. So you will amass knowledge, you will become an expert, or do whatever you do better than the others. This will attract attention.
And once you have the attention, you can market it. Start small, get some market validation – ask people for feedback. Pitch yourself to them. Listen to what they say, to why they signed up, engaged you – or why they didn’t.
I would actually suggest a concrete 3 steps plan:
– Devote yourself to your passion. Blog, write, interview, read about it, listen to your audience, answer questions, ask questions yourself.
– Find out where people have needs, wants, or problems they are either willing to directly pay for (develop your own products or services) or you can make money off (affiliate links, the example of the fashion blog making money with sponsored posts). Warning: ideally, you have both – you make way more money in so much less time, and you aren’t dependent on anyone else’s approval (except of your audience) when you sell your own products!
– Test-drive your product on the market. Learn to pitch, cold email people, first offer your product for free to 5 testers, do a test launch. Once you have market validation… go all in.
– Don’t be afraid to use Facebook and Instagram ads, so you will reach a lot of people, build your audience while making money, which will enable you to devote yourself to any passion project you have… and you will have an audience ready for it. Also, out of this passion project might arise a new opportunity, leading to a bigger audience and even more money… it never stops. But keep listening to your people. Never disconnect yourself from them.
Passion Piece: What makes people’s lives empty? What do they regret most at the end of a day?
Audrey: Have you ever read the book Top 5 Regrets of the Dying? It was written by Bronnie Ware, a nurse in palliative care. This book… it will forever change how you see your life, and the world. It has changed everything for me, and I think it perfectly answers your question.
Here are the 5 things:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends (which trails back to the results of the longest study on happiness… connections are what make us thrive).
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
What I love about these, is that you see… these are regrets from women, from men. From people who were wealthy, and some who never were. But it always comes back to one thing: your life is full of choices. You choose what you make. Of course, there is privilege. I have battled with depression and sometimes even the decision to battle it… it’s not even a decision.
But otherwise: you decide to be safe, or to try to be happy. You read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and you decide your kids make you poor, or you need to get rich for them. You decide to call your mom and tell her you love her, but are hurt by her attitude. You decide to tell your mother-in-law she is great, but could she just BUTT out. You decide to carve out time for friends, or you don’t. We can’t decide everything… but you can decide much more than you tend to think.
Passion Piece: Name three things which can change our lives for the better.
Audrey: 1. Aim to read one book a week – it doesn’t matter if you fail, or not make it every week. But the purpose will already make you stronger.
2. Get your arse into strength training – the best combination for optimal heath and mental wellbeing
3. If you are married, read the book 7 Principles of Marriage by Gottman.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time? Is there anything you’re totally hopeless at but you still enjoy doing it?
Audrey: I love going to the park with my daughter, having dinner with my husband, reading (you didn’t see that one coming, did you?), testing new recipes, and waking up early to workout. Oh, and fashion.
I am totally hopeless a playing badminton, still enjoying the concentration it requires! I am hopeless at photo shoots. I weirdly enjoy them now. Well, I enjoy them once they are over!
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? What would you like to work on in the nearest future?
Audrey: In 10 years’ time I would like to have at least 3 kids, if not four. Have a nice villa with a huge garden, full of our friends. I will have published a real book with a publisher, maybe have turned to politics. I will have had my own interview in Forbes, have a full range of 15 online courses, given a TED Talk. My business will be in the multiple 7 figures range, and I will be able to support even more the charities I care about, such as The Hunger Project (goal = end hunger in the world by 2030!). I will have an honorary Ph.D. from one university I admire (this was a project I had to put on the backburner for now).
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Audrey: “It’s always easier than it looks”. Seriously, it has proven true of whatever I have had to face in my life so far. Getting into one elite university. Getting into an elite university – abroad. Getting my first job. Taking into 6 figures. Becoming pregnant. Raising that child. Getting the hang of married life with a child. Learning all about Facebook ads. Building a website. Hiring one person to help me. Hiring more persons to help me. Learning how to effectively delegate. Landing blog interviews!
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I can’t wait to hear about your future accomplishments.
The success you desire is just at your fingertips, but you need to make a decision, you need to decide that you really want to gain it. Don’t block your thoughts and desires just because you think that something is impossible to happen. Let’s remember about Audrey during moments of doubt, and be sure that there are more women like you. Let yourself start a journey into the unknown, open the doors which will set your possibilities free… if you make a decision, the right one.
See you around!
Photos by: Audrey Eugénie Schlegel