A Cut Above
I was 14 years old when I started giving haircuts in my parents’ garage in New Jersey, at first to friends and eventually to half the school. A few years later, I was halfway through college when my dad asked, “when are you going to go to hair school?”. That was the moment where I shifted my focus and began offering haircuts in exchange for class notes – teaching myself a lesson that no professor could offer me at the time – a lesson on how to hustle.
I completed college with a bachelor’s in business management and finally went to hair school. Many years after assisting at hair salons, and working my way up from salon to salon, I landed my own chair at a high-end salon in New York City where I was charging top dollar. By all industry standards I had “made it” but I didn’t feel fulfilled. It wasn’t until a family trip to the Philippines that I realized why.
My first time visiting the Philippines was when I was 12 years old. That was my first true experience with poverty. When I revisited the Philippines as a 28-year-old searching for true success, I was forced to reconcile my privileged youth with the realities these kids were living: on the streets, with no parents, in 100-degree heat. I knew I had to give back somehow, so I decided to use the best tool I had. I rented a chair in a local barber shop and started offering free haircuts to children in need. My first customer was a 12-year-old boy, and the smile on his face after a quick cut ignited something in me. It finally clicked that my job wasn’t just about making people look good, but about making them feel good.
On my first Sunday back home, I packed a backpack with scissors and combs and hit the streets in New York. Outside the Bowery Mission on the Lower East Side, I nervously paced back and forth trying to build up my confidence when one man standing alone caught my eye. I approached him and said, “I want to do something nice for you today.” I asked what he wanted to eat and after taking him for chicken and rice, I cut his hair in a park. When I handed him a mirror to take a look, he turned around – again with that beaming smile – and said, “Do you know anyone that’s hiring? I want to get a job.” I can’t say for sure if he got a job after that, but I can tell you that I never saw that man on the streets again.
Today I own two hair salons, one in New Jersey and on in New York City, and my 14-year-old self would have said that was the dream. Little did he know that his true passion wasn’t perfect edges and fades – it was empowering people of all walks of life to make their own dreams come true.