Lights, camera, action…
I just completed a branding photo shoot with one of the top photographers, Roy Cox, stylists, Tekesha and Buster Tyson and makeup artist, Christin Birckhead in preparation for my upcoming book #RelationshipGoals: A Therapist’s Answers to the Realest Relationship Questions Asked Behind Closed Doors. Coming from behind the closed door of my therapy office has been a process. For years I simply kept my head down and focused on being the best at doing the hard work of supporting clients, staying current on the science of relationships, and keeping my home and family afloat. I started my practice at age 29, and at the time I was ahead of the curve. A few years later when I became a mother I was unprepared for just how overwhelming it would be to keep juggling all the balls without letting one (or two) slip to the ground. The first 5 years of my daughter’s life were a worldwind as I fought to stay fit, fought to keep the house running like a well-oiled machine, fought to be present in my marriage, and fought to maintain my practice and my spot as a relationship expert on a leading urban radio show. It wasn’t until she started kindergarten and became a bit more self-sufficient that I could even think about actually growing my business or branding myself as anything other than a relationship therapist who treated clients one hour at a time. As the smoke began to clear I noticed that while I was once ahead of the curve, I was no longer even keeping up with the pack. Thankfully, I was healthy, wiser, and still in love with my work. However, I had a lot to tackle if I wanted to expand my platform. I found myself standing at a crossroad. Always a die-hard fan of doing the work, I chose the way forward.
This is not a piece on the struggles of being a working mother. On the contrary, this is a piece about keeping up with the times. Being a married entrepreneur with a family is simply one of many challenges that lots of men and women face. There’s another challenge that became more pressing as I dared to dream of being published, increasing my public speaking engagements and on-air presence, and sharing my clinical knowledge with the world. I had to face the fact that social media has shifted the way consumers all over the world collect information and choose providers. It was bad enough that the nature of my work as a therapist is confidential. I can’t exactly talk about what people share with me, despite how helpful their specific struggles and triumphs can be to the masses. I also had to confront the hard truth that I am on the tail end of the generation that didn’t grow up with social media as a mainstay in their daily lives. I just missed being a millennial by a hair, but it matters. I’ve found that my generation struggles with the idea of posting about life consistently. We are in fact, out living life, but it doesn’t come naturally to my peers or me to always post a picture, hashtag, or tweet about the process. Another ingrained value that affects my generation and me is modesty, which makes it even more daunting to show people when I’m at Martha’s Vineyard with my family, or eating something interesting that my clients and followers might benefit from seeing. In the age of increased narcissism, the generation of entrepreneurs that I grew up with is super sensitive about public image and branding. We are so fearful of projecting a lack of professionalism that we err on the side of privacy-even to our detriment.
As my stylists, Tekesha and Buster showcased unique pieces of clothing they chose specifically to fit my personality, all of my Generation Y-specific issues came tumbling out onto the showroom floor. “Those shoes are too…something”, “That blouse is too sheer”, “Those pants are too form-fitting.” I quipped. They listened intently and challenged me to explore the root of my fears. As authentic as I am in most everything I do, I was still afraid to be too expressive, informal, or sexy (I’m cringing at the mere mention of the word) in my marketing photos. I see clients from age 13 to 83, however many of my clients aren’t hardcore Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter fans. I worried that if they saw too much of me, they’d be turned off. In truth, I keep it very ‘Banana Republic’ in session. I want the focus to remain on my clients, their struggles, and the solutions-not my appearance. However, in my life outside of therapy I am a creative, artsy, bookish, fun-loving Gemini from Chicago, who loves Air Jordan sneakers, sundresses and sandals on sunny days, and a hint of flash in almost everything I do. On the rare occasion that clients of all ages have seen those aspects of my personality peeking out, they have quickly embraced them with comments like, “Perhaps in another life we could have been friends.” I’ve taken those sentiments to heart, then quickly buttoned myself back up to ensure that I’m not crossing any ethical boundaries that could hinder the process. You could say that I’ve been pretty protective of my public perception. I shared my beliefs about the need to remain pretty invisible to clients throughout the branding process.
“With all due respect, that’s a self-imposed perception you’ve created”, Buster said as we stood amidst their amazing inventory. “I challenge you to try on the pair of shoes that you liked the least and just see how they look with a complete outfit” Tekesha pressed. I ignored her. I waffled. I tried on other pairs. It wasn’t until she slipped away to grab another fabulous piece she thought would accentuate an outfit I’d chosen that I reluctantly slipped on the shoes I initially didn’t like because they felt too risky. They felt great going on. I zipped them up and took them for a stroll as she came back into the room. “They’re amazing!” She screamed as she snapped a quick photo. I looked at the image of myself staring back at me and had to admit that the shoes I immediately ruled out not only completed the ensemble that I was wearing, but they didn’t look so risky after I got them on my feet. They were simply different than what I was used to. I became more open to trying on some of the edgier pieces, while still maintaining my comfort level. It turns out that the world would discover that I have legs like everyone else after all.
With everyone’s help, the photo shoot went flawlessly, I felt like myself, and most importantly, I get to share my true self with the rest of the world. I admire public figures who use social media and marketing to their advantage and jump in with both feet. Sometimes they make mistakes, share too much, and have to do a little course correction. However, their message is out there. They believe they have something important or helpful to share with the public and they share it. As a clinician with over 15 years of professional and personal experience with helping individuals and couples get through some of the grittiest experiences of their lives and come out smiling on the other side, I too have a heart to share. So many of us are truly gifted at what we do, but can’t get out of our own way to help larger audiences experience the pieces of us that will help them identify even more with our mission and push themselves further. Well, today I’m here to challenge you to do your work. Like a caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, I’m coming out from behind my closed office door to assist you. Allow me to inspire you, guide you, and encourage you to brand yourself with boldness and authenticity that helps other people see value in who you are, what you do, and what you can bring to their life. Post or follow me on social media @weenacullinslcmft, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at (301) 592-7244 if you’re feeling this or want more information.
Lights, camera, ACTION!