We all have a story to tell. I hope mine can help a few of you who feel stuck or unsure on what to do with your journey. The reality is, no matter how much we plan, sometimes it just doesn’t go the way we want it to go. My mom & dad are incredible parents who decided to drop everything that they worked for in Vietnam to move our family to the US just so we can have a chance to live a better life. My mom was selfless and she had one goal, to work extreme hours to save enough money to buy a beautiful home for us. Everything she planned stopped when she went into a coma after a stroke. I thought I lost her when the doctor said to me “she won’t make it, call your family”. This was the moment that shifted my perspective and belief in life. Everything I thought I knew and planned out suddenly became empty. The lesson I learned is that life truly is short, don’t over think and never over plan because honestly everything can disappear in a blink of an eye.
I have worked every kind of job you can imagine from packing underwear that customers have opened to check their sizes at Walmart, pushing carts at a grocery store through countless winter storms, washing dishes in a restaurant till 2 in the morning smelling like Indian food, heavy construction work, fast food restaurants, rock climbing instructor, family portrait studio photographer, and now I am a Makeup Artist in one of the best city in the world, New York City. Everyday I wake up, I feel so thankful and happy that I can call that my career.
Throughout high school and college I dedicated all my time as a track athlete trying to break the Vietnamese record as a Pole Vaulter which ended sophomore year because I wanted to fully experience college. Then I wanted to travel so I joined a rock band. We got signed to a label and it allowed me to travel and see the world with my friends. It was incredible, life was fun, full of surprises and living on the edge. I’ve traveled to pretty much most of the states on the US map and experienced things that school could never teach me.
Just when I thought I got life all figured out, I’ve decided to do something ridiculous. At the age of 25 in 2013, I told myself I want to become a makeup artist. Speaking from a guy that thought makeup is a waste of money, makeup is for girls only, refuse to take a step into a cosmetic store, and the person that got upset when my ex girlfriend spent more than 10 minutes getting ready (Sorry Leslie).
My friend Ashley Grant will take up most of this article and i’ll tell you why. Ashley was getting ready one night and it randomly sparked an interest, so I asked if she can teach me. Poor Ashley said yes and not knowing what she was about to sign up for. I remember clearly she had this Holiday makeup set from Sephora that opens up and contained everything from eyes to cheek to lips. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever although it took her a full week to explain to me what a face primer was. I went to my sister and asked to see if she had any makeup products I can borrow and I'm sure at that moment she had a million things running through her head but she didn’t question me because that’s the person she is, supportive, no matter what.
Ashley came over pretty much 3-4 times a week, sometimes late at night and would stay till 2am in the morning just so I can practice on her, making her look like a gremlin most of the time. Pretty sure our parents thought we were up to something else. She stuck with me throughout the entire journey and I give her full credit for my success because without this woman, I really would not be sitting here typing you this. The same week, I asked her what company I should apply for. She said Mac Cosmetics so I went to my local Macy's in Shrewsbury, MA with a small Mac counter of 4 staff. I gave them my resume listing “Rock Climbing Instructor” as my first job. You already know how this is gonna end. Well to keep it moving, they didn’t give me a job, haha.
The idea of NYC randomly crossed my mind so I printed a stack of resumes and asked Ashley if she would do a road trip with me to NYC for a day. I dropped off my resume at every single Mac store in NYC and no one walked out of the office to speak to me. I felt embarrassed and destroyed inside. Right before our bus back to Boston, I noticed there was another Mac store in Soho. Why not right? A beautiful, angelic man by the name of Michael Patterson who was a manager at that store stepped out and introduced himself to me. I gave him my resume and told him that I am straight, I don’t know how to do makeup but I want to learn and I will work hard.
A month went by and I already gave up on becoming a makeup artist. My phone rang and I remember very clearly, the woman saying “Hi, my name is **** with Mac, we wanted to let you know there is a position open and we would like to have you come in for an interview”, I said to her “you got the wrong number, I never applied at the apple store for a job” so I hung up and then a few moments later it dawned on me and realized what I did.
Well, they ended up giving me a job in FLUSHING, NY. For anyone that has never been there, it was basically China even though I wanted to work in NYC! I packed my backpack, without knowing what I am about to get myself into, and moved to NYC! But little did I know, a tiny counter of 5 staff taught me everything I needed know as a makeup artist and also how to be a kind person. (Shout out to Mei, Steph, Annie, Jini & Nicole) I am forever thankful that I had them in the beginning of my career because they molded me into the artist that I am today. My goal was to do fashion week, Victoria Secret Fashion show, campaign shoots and celebrities, but back then it seemed like it was impossible.
Three years went by, I decided that retail, living paycheck by paycheck, waking up everyday taking the same train to work and eating at the same 3 restaurants was not exactly the reason why I moved to NYC. I decided to put in my 2 weeks. It was scary, risky, and uncomfortable but I had to do it since I was not happy. That was one of the best decisions of my life. It allowed me to visit my country that I left in 2000 and that never been back since. I got to spend time with my relatives, backpacked through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and everywhere in between by myself for a month and half. It felt incredible. Since then I try to travel at least once a year for “me” time no matter how busy life gets.
The only problem is, I had no clue what I was going to do when I returned from my trip. I didn’t have a plan, a home, much money in my bank account or a job. Everything happens for a reason. The struggle was worth it and I made it out alive. In less than 3 years, I’ve supported New York Fashion Week every season with a full schedule, shot countless campaigns, built my own clientele, worked with incredible celebrities, received opportunities to work with some of the best makeup artists in the world. Oh and did I forget that I just achieved my ultimate goal? VICTORIA SECRET FASHION SHOW 2018!
I am now 31 years old and my way of living life and my biggest advice for myself and others is to not be afraid to take risks to do what you love, even if it feels scary at the moment. Don’t just think about money because money will come if you truly love what you do because you will be passionately doing it. You know, it gets easier every time you take that leap of faith, I promise. Always surround yourself with positive people with positive energy because it is contagious. What got me this far in my career is definitely not just doing makeup. People care and see who you are as a person. Treat everyone with kindness, honesty, care about the people around you, and help them succeed because you never know, the person you are working with might become the next Kevyn Aucoin.
In conclusion, DON’T BE MEAN TO OTHERS and always remember, THERE'S FREE CATERING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Follow me on Instagram! @vanmakeupartistry
Thank you Pauline for the editing this article for me! She is also a makeup artist! go follow her! @paulineroquee