Moving Rubber Trees

I know a couple of people who have stepped into the competition arena for the first time, whipped up a set of nails, returned for the awards ceremony, claimed their first-place trophy, and immediately retired from competition.


WHAT EVAR! (Envision that with all the sarcasm and attitude of the average 15-year-old girl, then multiply it by 12.)


Those people are not human. There's just no other excuse. Well, there's also something to be said for the techs who spend their days doing nails in real life very similar to competition nails. Anyone who has taken a look at my work on my website can probably understand that what I do daily is nothing like competition nails! So this competing thing is really requiring me to step out of my comfort zone.


So I keep thinking about Kym Lee.


Kym Lee was the a-number-one, best-in-the-land, numero-uno competitor in the late ’80s. She went on start her own product company, Galaxy Nails, and that was the first product I ever saw in pink and white. So in a round about way, maybe Kym is the reason I'm a nail tech.


Anyway, I had a chance to meet Kym back in the early ‘90s at the NAILS Magazine tradeshow in Las Vegas. (I think it might actually have been the last of the tradeshows put on by NAILS.)


Kym Lee didn't so much offer a class at that show as much as give an EXCELLENT motivational speech to a room that was packed. It was, possibly, the most memorable lecture I have ever heard and I really think Kym should consider doing some more motivational speaking for the industry because not only was her story inspiring, but she told it with humor and humility that made it easy to identify with her.


She said she didn't win the first time she competed. She didn't win the second time either.


Now, it's been something like 15 years since I heard this story, and it isn't my own, so hopefully y'all will cut me some slack. And if Ms. Lee would like to write a rebuttal to school me proper-like, I'd consider that quite an honor. But I remember the story went something like this:


Kym Lee was a nail tech, back in the ‘80s — the golden age of the nail industry — when it was actually possible that the simple act of having some business cards printed up meant a full clientele by the end of the week. She was booked solid and making money hand over fist. So when she got a flier about a competition, she figured she'd enter. After all, she was a great nail tech. All her clients said so! And she had a lot of clients.


So she read the rules, sent in her registration form, picked a model, and proceeded to clear out a spot for the trophy and tell all her clients that she was going to win a competition. It was in the bag; she couldn't fail.


So she goes to the competition and does her set of nails. She finishes long before the 2-1/2 hour time limit and sits with her model making fun of all the other competitors who aren't even finished when “time” is called! She's thinking she HAS to have this thing wrapped up and she's wondering how she's going to fit the 8-foot trophy in her car.


So after the judging, she and her model take a look around the tradeshow floor, go to lunch, and come back for the awards to claim her trophy. They call third place — not her. They call second place — not her. Now she knows she won! Then they call first place. It isn't her. Huh? How could that be? That competitor couldn't even do a set of nails in 2-1/2 hours! So she went up to look at the winning nails.


She looked good and hard and was a little miffed. She asked the competitor, "I thought we couldn't use top coat or polish?" The competitor looks at her a little confused, and informs her that there is no top coat or polish on the unpolished hand. So Kym wants to know, if there's no topcoat or polish, how did the winner get the nails so shiny and pink and white?


Kym told us that's how she found out about pink-and-white acrylic. She went back to the salon, humbled. Had to tell everyone why she didn't have that shiny new trophy. When she saw her supply rep, she demanded to know why he'd never mentioned such a thing as pink-and-white acrylic! She bought some, and she bought a four-way buffer. She started practicing nails like she saw at the competition. She entered another competition, and another one, and another one ...


It took her several tries before she took home a trophy, but she ended up with an awful lot of them.


I didn't take home trophies when I tried competing the first time. I don't expect to take home trophies anytime soon. I just keep thinking of Kym and reminding myself not to give up.


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