Transcript: Alanna's Story
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So in this episode of the podcast I’m delighted to be joined by Alanna, who’s a friend of mine, and we’ve known each other, not for that long. A year or so?
A: Yeah. Invited into your life by my sister.
C: Yes, bless her, who knows everybody.
C: So we have a Tuesday morning sort of bible study, prayer group, place to chat kind of thing for women on a Tuesday. So that’s where we met. And then because you are really good at cutting people’s hair –
A: Thank you
C: – I came and had the joy of coming and sitting in your beautiful little hair salon. Do you wanna describe that for us, and how you ended up with it?
A: Yeah, it was a natural season in my life. I’ve been self-employed since I was 21, and I did mobile hairdressing, and then I decided that I wanted to further that and do my teaching and assessing, and then I had children, and everything just revolves around them, so that’s meant work had to, and my other half, Lee, he said he would build me a salon, and we have space for that. So it was going to be a multi-functional room, and I worked alongside a friend, a good friend of mine, who I’d worked with at Tony&Guy for a long time, and then covid happened, and it seemed to be the sanctuary for people, where there was me, and there was that whole hour, and there was a clean-down, and God just really opened that door to loads and loads of older ladies who were in a state of panic of even going into town and pressing a button that would give them a car-parking ticket. And knowing that they were coming into an extremely spacious place which was clean and they trusted me to know that it could be, as, as clean as it could be, and as safe as it could be for them. And I really felt that all through the time that Lee had built me that, there was always going to be a purpose for it. A retreat, a place to come, a safe place. And I think when you’re talking homes, that’s what you want your home to be to your friends, your family, and anyone who’s introduced into your circle of trust. So people who got to know me as a hairdresser, and have stayed with me outside of covid and further, I really find that it’s a sanctuary for them, and a peaceful place. And I get “thanks for the haircut, and thanks for the therapy”, as they walk out the door. And a lot of the time we have, I call it “the hot seat”, but there’s tissues next to it, and it’s also, it’s also a prayer seat. It’s also a quiet time, it’s also an offload. And I’m very mindful of what I can absorb, and what I can give to God when someone’s talking to me. But I also am really blessed knowing that I can help people. And it’s not just a haircut. Y’know, you wear that every day, and that’s got to look good, and it does make you feel confident. But when a problem’s shared, in my eyes, it’s halved. And then when I bring God into that situation, it’s taken away and it’s sorted out. And I have every faith in that.
C: Yeah. It is a really tranquil space. Coz I’ve obviously… I came, and I brought my son, who is… not good with hairdressers, shall we say.
C: So the fact that we could come, and there was a space where there was just you, and me, and him, and it was peaceful, and he really felt that, and really felt that kind of place of tranquillity.
A: Yeah, yeah. It’s certainly an open door, and I like to be accessible to everybody, make sure everybody feels comfortable. You’ve got the tree swing for anybody who brings their children and just feels like they need that extra activity. Because it’s very hard when you have children, and you want to go and have something basic done, as a haircut, to make yourself feel better, and keep yourself looking sharp, and I just, I thought when I originally opened the salon, that that would be a place for Mums, and that was definitely on my heart, it would be multifunctional, very welcoming, home from home place. And yeah, it’s evolved massively, covid has evolved it in lots of ways, but people see it as “safe”. And that to me is important. Safe with their words to me, and safe with the physicality of it, in a world that is very unstable and lots of insecurities, I think finding something that’s safe and someone who you can trust. Those foundations are… I feel privileged to be a part of people’s lives, doing it, coz they’re so important.
C: Yeah. So really shining all through all of that is your sense that this is not just about a haircut, although you’ve also talked about the fact that that is, that that is a really important thing too.
C: And it’s a valuable thing that people come away feeling better about themselves.
C: But that real sense that you have a calling to offer something to people which is really quite holistic. I like the fact that people say “thank you for the therapy”.
C: Obviously, that’s not come by chance. That’s really been, that’s really been on your heart.
A: Mm. I think you’re either open to helping, and I feel in such close proximity of people, making someone feel comfortable, is something that I’ve just learnt over the years and I am 38, I started hairdressing whilst I was still at school, actually, I did my work experience, so that’s something that you learn along the way, but it’s whether you want to accept that you are not just a hairdresser, you are something more than that, and you can give more, if you are willing to open yourself up to that and receive. And I’ve tried, over the years, to move away from hairdressing.
A: It’s something that I had a very big stigma about when I was in my 20s and in my early 30s, to be honest. It’s only really recently gone away that when people say “oh, what do you do?”, “I’m a hairdresser.” Now, not everybody can be a hairdresser, just as not everybody can do IT or be practical in lots of different ways, but I really didn’t feel like it was something I was proud of. And I’ve really prayed about that, because I’ve desperately tried different avenues, and nothing fulfills what I can do, and how to touch people’s lives. I mean, let’s face it, you’re sitting in that seat and you’re not going to just depart from me half way through a haircut when your hair’s wet. So I have your full attention for 45minutes, and you have my full attention for 45minutes to an hour, and in that time, we are in a close environment, and that to me is so-o… such a privilege. I know I keep using the word privileged, but I do, I feel so privileged that people allow me in that space, that to honour that and to respect that and to give back to that, I feel like I need to be open, and really real and human. Which, a lot of people have the niceties and “Oh, where are you going on your holidays” and natural ‘hairdresser chit chat’, and there’s a stigma that comes along with it, and I can safely say, I definitely don’t have that. I don’t overly think my questions, and I think, massively, the lead that I get from people, when they sit in that chair, and know that they maybe have something to share with me, one conversation leads to another, and I think, tears and laughter all the way through. And it’s just… it was very hard not to hug my clients in covid, let’s just say that. I like a good hug. I love a good hug. I think it’s a wonderful way to express love. Yeah, that was a struggle, but I think that went, and took me deeper. Because I couldn’t hug my clients, my emotional connection had to go that little bit deeper. So they knew that I cared, it wasn’t just ‘you’re here for an hour, let’s entertain you, let’s entertain me’, it was genuine. And I hope and pray that my clients know that they are really loved.
C: Yeah, I’m sure they do. And just the fact that actually, you give people a really big chunk of time when they come and see you, there’s no sense of dashing in and dashing out, there’s a real sense that this is, that they would come feeling “this is my space, this is my space to have a treat, –
C: – and this is a place of tranquillity”. And the fact that it’s just you and them does mean that there is a kind of privacy about that.
A: Mm. Mm. Very much so.
C: And I’m really interested in that language that you use of privilege, because I think often, it’s when we feel that something’s a real privilege –
C: – that’s often a really good clue that that’s absolutely what we’re called to do.
A: Mm. True, yes. Never seen it like that, but absolutely,
A: Yeah. Well, I know that I’ve been running away from it, and I know that God’s shut so many doors so I think, I’m sitting with it now. And I’m sitting happy with it, peaceful about it. I don’t really know what’s next because I’ve stopped thinking, “what’s next?”.
C: Yeah. It’s interesting when you were talking about it, that part of your wanting to run away from it, was to do with the stigma of hairdressing.
C: Which is interesting. Because I think often we think “I ought to do something which has… a grand label attached to it.” Yeah, there’s huge value in hairdressing. I don’t know if you know, but one of the careers which has the greatest job satisfaction, is hairdressing.
C: If you talk to people about people who are happy in their work –
C: – hairdressers come kind of right up there.
A: Mm. I’ve never been unhappy in it.
A: There’s never been a moment where I’ve left work and thought, “I really, really don’t like this job.”
A: I just always thought, I’d do something different. Even if you ask my Mum, y’know my brother and sister both went to university, and she said, “are you sure you don’t want to go to university?” And I said “no, I’m really, really fine with this.” And if I change my mind I can always do further education. But this is a great fall back on any level. If anything ever went wrong, I’ll always have these skills. And I worked for a fantastic company, gained those skills, I did a lot of travel with that, which opened other doors, but I think it’s the vast amount of people that you touch. When you have a set job and you go into that work and everyone else is doing that set job, you are embodied in that work space doing that set job. There doesn’t seem to be a variance to it, the way I see hairdressing as. The networking, the contacts that I have, because of the people that I know, and it’s like going to university every day, because someone will come in and tell you a fact, and it’s like, every day’s a school day. You learn something new about them, something what they’ve learnt, read, been, travelled, experienced. And you’ll learn to share those things. Because someone’s sharing them with you, and it’s a good news so you want to share it with others, and it’s, it’s just a wonderful platform to have. And I respect the platform that I have.
A: And I massively, again, feel privileged that I have it. Because hairdressing isn’t really something that… well, of course, if you want to go down to London and spend X amount, but… most people will, in Stoke on Trent, for example, that’s where we are right now, will pay a certain amount of money on their hair every three months or so. So it doesn’t segregate, y’know? It’s not just for the elite, or people with money. It’s for people who want to come and have their time.
A: And I think we are a little behind on the therapy side of things. And again, that’s an expense that people say, “Oh, y’know, spending it on me, and sitting and talking to somebody, spending it on therapy, and it’s a lot of money, and I take time out for it…” . Hairdressing, they have that therapy, and they have that haircut, and I don’t think a lot of people overly think “I’m not going to spend that money on me.” Y’know, most people will wash and dry their hair at least once a week.
A: So that time, for them, is precious. So I just feel like an added bonus for them, which is wonderful.
C: So looking back, can you remember what it was about hairdressing that drew you to it in the first place?
A: My Mum used to have a wonderful hairdresser. Him and his partner, so Mark and Ian, they were special, they were real, they were encouraging. And in a world where you’re kind of growing up and people tell you to “be quiet, sit still now and don’t get in the way”, never had that when I went to the salon and it was always, I was always encouraged, “yeah of course if you wanna sweep up, Alana, of course, no problem, you carry on!” And the chatter was there, and the happiness in the environment. And I do think that when I went through school, I was never really an academic. And I always liked to be practical. So when I did my GCSEs I took graphics and art, and I got a A* in my art and an A in my graphics, and everything else was Cs and Ds. And I thought to myself, “oh, I’ll do interior design”. But to do that, I would have had to go to London, possibly, to do my work experience, and it just happened that Tony&Guy had opened on the top of Piccadilly on the corner in Hanley, and I saw it as a very “arty” place, and I thought to myself, “oh, I’m just going to see if I can get a job”, like my work experience was 2 weeks there, and in my second week, I got offered a Saturday job. And then I worked all through the summer, and I absolutely loved it. The boss said, would you like to come and start doing your training one evening?” and obviously I had a plethora of friends at school who were like, “yeah, of course you can practise washing my hair and blow drying my hair, of course you can!” So I’d bring my friends up on a Wednesday evening, and it’d just be kind of ‘me growing up time’, me, y’know, having a time where I was turning into an adult. And enjoying doing that. And surrounded with lots of older girls who I saw as all sisters, and I still see a lot of them now, or in touch with them, and I really felt God in that moment. There was, again, the stigma of “you go to a hairdressers, and everyone’s a bit gossipy, and just a bit nasty”
A: The girls that I worked with were just, we just got along. We were really professional, we got along, we respected one another’s positionings, we helped one another. Again, the lady I worked with in my salon, she was Head Junior, and she took me under her wing and showed me what was what, and she put my foundations in place for a good work ethic, and the training that came alongside that was Manchester, so I had to travel to Manchester, entered competitions in London, and it grew my independence. And when you have a security in what you want to do, I think sometimes that can make you thrive. And I do worry about the generations that sit at school and say, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I really don’t know.” I have never been in that place.
A: So to have the…empathy? for that, I really try and dig for that
A: Because I don’t know. To be wondering where you’re going, I really felt that, I got just taken into this place and I haven’t stopped yet.
A: So, never to wonder is amazing.
C: Yeah. So there’s kind of a number of threads that you can see God working through, can’t you. So, that experience of your Mum’s hairdressers –
C: – and just who they were as people –
C: – and the way they approached that, and that obviously keyed into something in you –
C: – because that wasn’t part of the wallpaper of your life, that was something that felt really significant. And then knowing that you had some strengths in terms of being artistic, and then this arty kind of hair salon opens up –
C: – and then you get a job. So there’s a real kind of –
C: a real thread of both God’s leading, and who you are and what you bring to the world.
C: And I can really hear how both the kind of the artiness and your love of people, and your kind of, it really sounds like you’re somebody who likes quite a bit of a social buzz.
A: Mmm, yeah. But then, when I come home, I do quite smile, because Lee’s quite the quiet type, and I think, I really know sometimes, that God gave me Lee. Because he doesn’t overly chatter. I’ve been chatting all day. So I’m ready to just silence myself –
A: – eat my food, find some peace, let someone else entertain me, tv wise or the children, he never pushes for that, he’s quite a relaxed individual. So I think, “thank goodness I dont have a chatty husband at home, or else I think my voice box would possibly go!”
A: So yes, yeah, very extreme on the – my hobby is gardening, if I want an escapism.
C: Yeah, yeah
A: And that it, there’s no one to talk to me there –
A: – I’m quite at peace with that.
C: Yeah. So, the other thing you’ve talked about, is that sense of stigma that there is around hairdressing, and you talked about kind of looking for other avenues.
C: It sounds as if your looking for other avenues wasn’t because you didn’t like the hairdressing, but more because you thought you ought to do something different.
A: Yes. So, just the practical side really, I’m self employed, it’s a very arduous job sometimes, being on your feet for 12 hours, something I’m accustomed to now, in fact, sitting down for more than 2, I get itchy feet. So I always thought I’d get into something that would give me a pension, or, y’know, pay me to have a holiday.
A: That’d be fabulous! And not to take work home. Because I would, if a client would say, share something with me, I would mull it over and think about it, and then, your phone’s always there, and your diary’s always open, and that’s 7 days a week, because when you run your own business, you have to have that. So I thought maybe just to kick back and just take the pressure off… I think I create my own pressure, to be honest. I think everybody does have a choice whether they want to embody something or absorb something, and I think actually, I could just say, “well, I’m not going to”. So again, covid, as much as it turned the world upside down, made me think, “I’m gonna say, no I can’t do that, I’m gonna take that time off”. So I think, the children are 6 and 9, they’re at the age where they’re going to grow up quickly and soon be independent, but they’re at a beautiful age where I feel like I want to really embody myself in them, so that as well is making me make choices about time management with things.
A: So I’m actually finding that settling, I think it’s taken a long time to settle –
A: – and find a balance, I think you can constantly run without knowing, and then exhaust yourself, and then have 5 minutes, and then get back up again, and I’m learning.
C: So, you’ve found a way of getting that balance without having to leave your career.
A: Yeah, or feeling guilty. I think again, I’m driven by guilt a lot of the time. “You should be doing this, you should be doing that. If you don’t, maybe what will that person think?” But actually, the more confident I am, in who I am, which I think comes with age, I think by the time that I’m 40, I think I’ll have nailed it.
C: Just a couple of years.
A: Yeah. I do think that finding everything in moderation, and learning to say no, not because you’re being rude, but actually, it’s just because I need you to respect my time. I need to respect my time. Coz if I don’t respect it, why should I expect anyone else to.
A: And I think, in life, and how busy it is, and people’s high expectations and the speed of it, it’s very easy, very easy, to just get swept up again. So, yeah, holding your brakes sturdy is good.
C: Yeah. And have you lost that sense of “this has a stigma” about it?
A: I think so. Yeah, I think I have. And again that’s a self-worth, knowing what I provide, within the service that I give, has made me realise that yeah, I’m not a normal hairdresser, in lots of respects.
A: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to transfer it into a therapist of any sorts, just coz I’d have to sit down then, wouldn’t I?
A: I’d have to sit in one of them seats, and just like, relax.
A: It’s just not me. I am, yeah, I have a little bit of ADD, and I am a busy, busy person. I like to keep moving.
C: So you like to be physically busy?
A: I really do. And I think, y’know, God knew that as well. He knew that I’d be able to talk, and keep moving –
A: – and work, at the same time. It’s like, going to the gym, seeing your friend and working, all in one. And it’s amazing. Realistically, it works for me.
A: And maybe that’s why I’ve never found anything that would suit, so. And I’ve searched. So unless God drops it on my lap, I’m really done with searching now. *laughs*
C: But it kinda sounds like God did drop it in your lap.
C: Just quite a long time ago.
A: Mm, He did. He did, yeah. It’s always seasons, isn’t there
A: At the moment it very much works around my children, really
A: And there’s lots of travelling with that involved, so I have to be flexible.
A: So, it works.
C: So letting go of some of those kinds of “ought to, should be” pressures, that has enabled you to kind of say no to stuff, to get a balance –
C: – has enabled you to get that sort of, that sense that you’re not kind of rushed by everything, that you were looking for.
A: I… I think, actually, the balance was just, allowing yourself that time.
A: And realising that when you do just stop, that’s ok. Because nothing changes particularly. It’s just, a guilt-free stop is where you need to be.
A: Things resume. Nothing falls to pieces. Noone decides that they don’t like you, just coz you had a day off! *laughs* So it’s.. Yeah, it’s good.
C: Yeah, it’s really good. Thank you Alanna, that’s brilliant.
A: Thank you Catherine.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.