Almost Failing as a Talent: The Highs and Lows of My Journey Into the Industry

6 Aug

It struck me that lately a lot of people have asked what prompted my decision to pursue a career in the modeling, writing and styling industries.  I thought I’d share in a blog for anyone interested.  I hope that some of my journey helps to inspire those interested in similar pursuits and offer usable tips.

It was about a year and a half ago when on a whim I replied to a post from the Editor of a local magazine about being featured in the About Me section, a small feature that shared highlights of someone in the community discussing fashion, hobbies and interests.  I didn’t really figure I’d hear back but I figured I had nothing to lose.  I was surprised when she emailed me back quickly and said absolutely, we’d love to use you.  I was really excited actually.  How fun!  The photographer assigned to shoot me was James Patrick (www.JamesPatrick.com ), ironically because he doesn’t really shoot that feature much.  I’m very superstitious and believe people come in to your life for a reason, keep that in mind as you read on.

James showed up to shoot me a few weeks later and we got to talking.  We have a lot in common and I was impressed by his enthusiasm for his art.  It was such a fun shoot. I remember I kept saying “you can photo-shop this right?”  Funny, I know now he prefers not to over photo- shop things.  He tends to see the beauty in realness, something I’ve come to appreciate.

The feature appeared in So Scottsdale’s (www.SoScottsdale.com) January 2011 issue.  James Patrick and I became fast friends and he spent a handful of months convincing me I should shoot some portfolio images with him.  I thought the idea was pretty ridiculous at first (fear!).  Finally I decided what the heck, it will be fun and booked him.  While shooting with him he mentioned he’d had some challenges with a location scheduled for that weekend in Tucson.  Remember, we’d become friends so I said “I can help with that,” and I did.  A friend of mine had the perfect house  and she was gracious enough to allow me to use it.  As such, I joined James alongside his assistant Jason Black (www.portfolioblack.com ) for that shoot and helped  on-set.  That shoot happened to be the cover shoot for Max Sports & Fitness Magazine (www.MaxSportsandFitness.com ) with Alex LaChance and Matt Christianer (www.MattChristianer.com).

During the shoot I did what I was told and tried to not get in the way too much but I remember being so excited to be there and just captivated watching the models.  Alex was the sweetest person.  If I remember correctly this was her first cover shoot.  In true Kim style (www.KimMillerStyle.com) I couldn’t help but jump in a few times… use my earrings, try this on, can I fix your hair?  Then I’d realize what I was doing and back-up.   Everyone seemed to appreciate it though, including James, so it worked.

I loved being there so much and wanted to learn that I offered to help James with anything and everything he needed for free.  (NOTE –  for free).  I figured there was something I could offer him of value, and I wanted to learn from him and the models with whom he worked.  He took me up on it.  I’m pretty good at logistics so I started booking locations for him and helping on set.  Having worked in fashion for 6 years prior styling came pretty naturally.  Fitness models on the whole seem to really appreciate styling assistance.  They are often self-admittedly not fashionable so many allowed me to help.

Having shot for a magazine, portfolio in hand, and some experience watching models on set I was seriously beginning to consider what I could do in the industry. Three of my friends sent me a casting call for City Center of City North.  City North is a commercial and residential development (http://citycenterofcitynorth.com )   They were holding an open call to cast a handful of people to model for all their venues.  “You should absolutely go,” my friend told me.  No way, I thought, I won’t get picked.  “This is so you,” she said. ” You dine, shop and frequent these places.  They want REAL people.”  I finally caved and decided to go.  I was pretty nervous when I showed up. Here’s the dialogue that played out in my head.

 “Let go of your fear Kim, Just do this.”

“You really don’t have any right to be here.” 

“Stop, that’s negative talk. You’re gonna get this if you believe you can.”

“I know some people are probably laughing at me for doing this.” 

“That’s not true, that’s in your head.”

……and on and on it went.

I was so well prepared and the audition lasted 5 minutes.   Geez, not a lot of time to impress, I thought, but a week later I got the call.  “You got the gig”.  I was at work at Divalicious (www.shopDivalicious.com) at the time.  Terri Coakley gave me a big hug.  She was the first person I shared the news with.

One of the shot used by City North in their marketing campaign.

The City North experience was incredible and it was there that I had a chance to talk to photographer Elvis Castillo (www.elvis-castillo.com ) who gave me some great advice.  “Kim, you really ought to start a fan page on facebook and a website.”  I laughed out loud…seriously!  It’s funny looking back because I thought the idea was so ridiculous at the time.  I now understand what he meant.  My facebook page, Kim Miller Style (www.facebook.com/KimMillerStyle) and my personal profile at Kimberly Kay Miller, to some degree, is meant to be a forum to offer information, share my work, share the work of others and inspire people along their own journey.  It’s not all “look at me”.  At least I really hope it’s not anyway.  I didn’t get that at the time.  Live and learn.  He gave me a ton of good modeling advice.  I was very grateful.So now I had some real modeling work under my belt, still helping James for free, and really focusing on fitness, my true love.  I have a personal transformation story having lost 50 pounds and in working with James I’d met a lot of physique competitors.  I decided on two things. I’d compete and I’d blog (www.themodernme.wordpress.com ).  I love to write but the idea of blogging was scary at first to me.  People will think I’m weird.  Who blogs?  The more I thought about it though I figured maybe there were just a few people that would benefit from hearing my story.  If I can lose the weight, find strategies and make it work, anyone can.  So that was my lead story.  I jumped in and started blogging, and haven’t stopped since!

Along the lines of competing…I started researching coaches and decided on Scott Keppel (http://www.scottstrainingsystems.com ).  I’ve worked with Scott’s Training Systems (STS) for a year now and couldn’t be happier.  Scott has a “real-life” approach to coaching, which I love.  It’s never win at all costs.  This worked for me, as I am a strong proponent of balance.  Working with Scott took my fitness to the next level, and although my bikini competitions were my first and probably last, they were one of the best things I’ve done to understand who I am and what I represent.  I was never there for a trophy; I was there for their journey.

So, here’s where we are at.  I’m still working for James (for free), meeting models, improving upon my logistics and styling skills, building a portfolio, blogging & focusing on fitness.  I hear about Fitness & Sports Network’s conference (www.fmievents.com) from a number of people and decide to go.  I feel a bit unqualified to be attending because at this point I don’t completely know what I’m getting in to (release fear!) but I register anyway.  I remember asking James, should I have business cards?  What should I write on them as a title?  “What do you think you should have as a title,” he says. (So James if you know him).  “Uhhhh…I don’t know.  Can’t you please just tell me,” I respond.  We end up talking at length about this and I finally decide on commercial and fitness talent and here’s why. I see myself as much more than a model.  I really love to write, share information, motivate others to live healthy and embrace fitness, help people become more fashionable, etc.  I also aim to not be limited to work in the fitness industry, so this title seems to work.  It’s broader than model in my mind and seems to suit me better.

I show up at FMI, it’s October 2011.  I’m near competition and I look super fit but I’m run down and in a serious phase of self-discovery.  To be perfectly honest I was completely overwhelmed at FMI.  During the conference I broke down crying with James Patrick and Jason Black (my dear friends at that point) and confided in Shannon Jay Doughtery (www.shannonjaydougherty.com ), who’d also become a good friend and motivator for me.  All three of them helped me pull it together.  I just kept thinking, ohh my gosh, I’m going to completely fail if I don’t book some really big job or end up on a magazine cover.  It honestly took me a while a sort through all the information I learned at FMI, and a while to make sense of it.  The challenge of that conference is that you leave fairly overwhelmed with information, and if you are like me you want to live up to expectations. I’m not a real “get out there and market the hell out of yourself” kind of girl and leaving the conference I felt a bit like I failed.  I didn’t work hard enough.  I felt unlike myself there because I was overwhelmed.  One of the few things I remember clearly from this conference is sitting listening to Fitness Model and Talent Danielle Pacente (www.daniellepascente.com) talk about her entry into the industry.  She shared her expereinces and it struck me when she said, “I knew I wanted a career doing this, so there was no maybe for me,  it was happening.”  That kind of attitiude is contagious so I figured, we’ll if she was brave enough to do some of the things she did I can certainly at least try.  The conference was one of the best things I’ve done for my career, it just took me a while to figure it out.  The people I met at FMI have been some of the greatest supporters I could ever ask for and the information presented has been extremely valuable.  I believe people never succeed in isolation, only in groups, so this was an integral part of my career development, not to mention it earned me some life-long friends.

Returning from FMI, I began to work on pitching stories and writing.  A friend of mine, Gretchen Goodell, happen to send one of my blogs (fate) to the AZ Republic Newspaper with a note that said, ‘I love her articles, maybe you can use her for something.”  Just days later I had an interview with the newspaper who eventually agreed to use me as a featured fitness blogger (www.azcvoices.com).  Woohoo!  I’d been working hard on my blog and gaining followers and this was the next step.  A goal of mine when I first has ideas about writing had been to work with them so I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity.  As a side note, my blogging for the Republic later resulted in being published in AZ Magazine (www.azcentral.com/style/azmag/ ).  Being published in AZ Magazine resulted in many people connecting with me for tips, training, jobs and just to say that they were inspired by something I wrote.  I’ll take it.  My primary goal is and will continue to be to change lives for the better and help inspire healthy living, balance and confidence, so while these small things don’t get a lot of public recognition, I consider them the most valuable thing I do.

Pitching, pitching, pitching…images, article, images, articles, and often both.  This sponsorship, that opportunity, this ambassadorship, that contest.  Everything that suited me I looked into.  The thing about it, if you follow me on facebook you see some of the highlights of the things I’ve done and been successful at.  What you don’t see is that for every one thing I land I’ve probably been told no nine other times.  My success rate is probably about 10-15%.  It’s a small margin but I’ll take it because I love the things I work on.  So, don’t be disappointed when you send in a few things and get a no, or better yet get no response.  Just keep plugging. Jeremy Scott (www.JeremyScottFitness.com ) once shared with me that he never gives up.  He just puts his head down and keeps working.  Eventually when its’ right it will happen.  That advice and knowing the success he’s achieved has gone a long way toward helping me realize you have to put a whole lot out there and get comfortable with hearing no to make progress.

As luck would have it a friend of mine, Chris Lynn (www.chrislynnemodel.com) saw my styling potential and hired me to style her for upcoming photo shoots.  If memory serves, she was my first paying styling client.  She later landed on the cover of Scottsdale Health Magazine and allowed me to style her for that feature.  So grateful.  She’s a talented model and has become a great friend.   That cover caught the attention of Arizona Model and Actor Management Owner Gail McCauley (www.azmodelandactormanagement.com ), who contacted me shortly after to introduce herself.  A handful of conversations later, I met with her to discuss my career goals.  She saw my potential and offered to sign me and I took it.  Here’s why.  Gail’s been in the industry for a long time and a handful of years ago had a vision and decided to create her own agency.  There are some really big agencies in town, but AMAM suits me.  Gail provides her talent with personalized attention and actively seeks out opportunities.  She looks for not only talent but personality.  As such, our agency is filled with folks who love what they do, support each other, are grateful and give 110%.  I feel lucky everyday to be part of this great team and AMAM has built a strong reputation in the fitness community, which is fabulous because so much of what I like to do falls within this realm.

Ohh my gosh, I’m signed with an agency!  I’m honestly so excited at this point and this helped me tremendously because with Gail’s representation I start booking more jobs.  Commercial and fitness work, print ads, web videos, runway shows, brand ambassadorships.  I definitely believe that if you want to succeed in the modeling industry you should find the right agent and work to become signed.  It helps to have someone acting on your behalf who has your best interest in mind.

I’m still pitching and I’m lucky enough to get some yeses.  Pressure’s on now.  The playing field changes when you are getting paid.  I’m writing on things like running, and parenting and nutrition and mental fitness.  Trying to stick with things that fit my brand.  I write on things I love and I am excited to be published.  I always worry with every great thing that it will be the last.  I’ve learned to do everything I can though to not think that way and just keep saying “yes I can.”  The yes I can attitude is the best indication of whether you will succeed.  Convince yourself of it!

To wrap this article we come back to James Patrick. It took me 6 months of free work and I loved every minute of it!  Finally, James says you are hired.  I don’t want you going anywhere Kim.  I adore working for him because he inspires me both personally and professionally and the models we work with are truly the most amazing people.  Of all the things I do, I probably love this the most.  There is not better feeling then helping someone look and feel amazing on camera.  Working with James has helped me realize that GOOD photographers can take experienced models and create fabulous images but  GREAT photographers can take a novice, inspire confidence, help them open up and show their true personality on camera and create amazing images.  There is a big difference there!  So, sorry to say, but if you are a photographer that complains all the time about shooting models who hire you who are not experienced enough… the “I’m so great that you should bow down to me attitude”, then you are really missing out.  Some of the most talented and and accomplished models I know started their career because a photographer believed in them enough to say “you can do this” and helped coach in a way that inspired them and allowed them to learn.

A lot of great projects came my way I haven’t mentioned in this post.  It’s getting awfully long so I’m not going to go into it, except to say you can also check TheProExposure at www.theproexposure.com, a podcast I co-produce in an effort to help those  looking to succeed in the industry learn from those who have been successful.  There we interview models, photographers, editors and other folks who have great insights and believe in helping others.  The ProExposure is soon expanding to include video clips, blogs, articles and many other user-friendly resources.

If you only read one paragraph I hope it’s the one below.  The important themes I hope you picked up on are:

Release Fear: 

Everything I do requires an element of letting go of fear.  I’m not a risk-taker and all the things I pursue involve an element of risk.  I might not make it, I might not succeed, I might be told I flat out suck.  I have to actively remember to let this go.  It’s the only way I’ve succed at anything.  You have to remember this as well.  Set aside your doubt.  If people don’t see your potential, they are not worth worrying about.  Follow your passion.  Believe you can do it!

Just be You:

People in the areas I dabble in get it.  They understand blogging, they understand fan pages, they get why I read marketing and motivational books, they appreciate the challenge of fitness pursuits; they know what it’s like to pitch articles and get rejected.  People not in that world don’t always get it or why anyone would do it.  I’ve lost friends as result.  I had to learn to become comfortable with being judged.  I had to believe that regardless of what people said I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I had to stand by that.  Just be Kim was my motto.  You can’t make everyone happy all the time.

Invest in People:

People come into your life for a reason.  I obviously didn’t mention a million people who have impacted my career, but I’ve named a few here.  I look at every person and think, there’s a reason this person’s in my life.  What can I learn from them?  We’ve all met others who seem to know it all and don’t think they can learn from others, especially those who might be perceived as “less accomplished.”  I suppose I don’t think that way.  Sometimes it’s the people you least expect that change your life.  Always keep that in mind.

 Do Not Quit:

I have wanted to quit so many times in my life.  In high school athletics, in college activities, in grad school overwhelmed with academics, in my fitness pursuits and goals to lose weight and get in shape, in physique competing and even in parenting sometimes during my darkest moments, and especially in pursuing a career in the talent industry. If you really want something under NO circumstances is quitting an option.  If you are working really hard I guarantee you will hit a wall.  There will be a moment that you think everything you have done has gotten you no where.  You will be frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, dismayed and sad.  It is that very moment right then that will determine your success.  That’s usually the turning point.  Those that want it pull it together, put their head down and work harder.  Call who ever you need to for support, pull in all your resources, ask people to cheerlead for you.  Whatever you do, don’t give up…period!!!!

9 Responses to “Almost Failing as a Talent: The Highs and Lows of My Journey Into the Industry”

  1. James Patrick August 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Kim, I cannot express how proud I am of you for the fantastic journey you’ve taken in your life during the past year and a half. You overcame the greatest obstacle we all face; fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being good enough. You did it anyway! This is such a fantastic article detailing the ups and downs of this journey and how you used your momentum to continually push forward. I’m very honored that I have had the opportunity to have been a witness to your journey.

    • The Modern Me August 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      Yes, fear does get in the way sometimes doesn’t it! Not sure it ever really goes away, my hope is that we get better at knowing how to manage it. You’ve been a fabulous mentor and friend since the beginning, for that I’m grateful.

  2. Tammy Lynn Ramos August 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Love this Kim! Thanks for sharing!

    • The Modern Me August 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      Thanks for reading and commenting Tammy! I appreciate that!

  3. gail mccauley August 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Kim, Arizona Model and Actor Management is honored to work with you each and every day! Keep on doing what you are doing because you are doing it right! You are amazing:)

    • The Modern Me August 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      That’s so sweet of you. I am very lucky to be surrounded by such talented people and part of an outstanding agency. Grateful to be doing work I love!

  4. Sonal Haerter August 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Way to go Kim…..I have always enjoyed reading your blogs and will admit that they do inspire me to conquer some of my fears.

  5. shell August 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    This is a great read! I’m so glad I read it!

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