I met Project Runway’s Anya Ayoung-Chee at the Clever Girls Collectives’ Ladies who Tech Happy Hour at the super swank Wynn/Encore hotel in Las Vegas. We both were in town for CES 2012 and taking a much needed break from the frenetic show floor.(You can read some of my coverage of CES 2012 on Type A Parent.)
I am normally terrible when it comes to recognizing celebrities, but I knew Anya immediately. It was as if I spent an hour with her in my living room every week for fourteen weeks in a row. Oh wait… I did.
I adored her on the ninth season of Project Runway, cheered along as she won the competition, and was thrilled at the chance of meeting her in person. She is as lovely and gracious seated across a table as she appeared to be on the show. We had a terrific conversation, and as a testament to what a tech-savvy and dedicated blogger I am, it did not occur to me to RECORD any of it until halfway in.
That night, I ran back to my hotel room (on the less then swanky side of the Strip) to record every bit of wisdom, inspiration, and insight gained from my fifteen minutes of rubbing elbows with fame. So, how did this graphic artist turned beauty queen turned reality show sensation win it all at Project Runway within just FOUR MONTHS of learning to sew?
Focus on What Matters. Forget the Rest.
What I found most inspiring about Anya was actually her inability to sew, and I told her so.
You could turn any garment that Laura, Josh, or Victor made inside out and wear it. The craftsmanship was so flawless. My clothes were probably a mess up close, but you couldn’t tell on the runway.
As Michael Kors repeats season after season of the show, “It’s Project Runway, not Project Seamstress”. Anya latched on to that idea quickly and knew exactly where to spend her energy. She focused on her talents and did not let the other stuff (the things that didn’t matter anyway) bog her down.
She could have beaten herself up over her supposed lack of sewing abilities. She could have obsessed over all the reasons why she “shouldn’t” and “can’t” and “what if”, all the while talking herself out of even trying. Instead, she decided to win.
Everyone is filling a role that they think they ought to be.
The funny thing about TV is that we use it to watch “reality” when we know perfectly well that it is anything but… Scenes are edited. Words are taken out of context. Other things are added. Yet, we still want to believe that it’s all truth and goodness.
I’ve only been on one side of it, so I asked Anya what it was really like to be on Project Runaway. The REAL Project Runway.
The cattiness and drama on the show was… surprise… edited into the show. According to Anya the entire group was very supportive of one another and had a strong sense of camaraderie. Remarks seen on TV were taken out of context or completely forgotten.
This made it awkward to watch the show together, but we all understood that what you saw on TV wasn’t real.
When I asked what it was like to be judged on the runway week after week, she admitted that it truly was nerve-wracking.
“Michael Kors was so funny,” she added. She knew not to take his remarks personally, but use it as advice. “Heidi, Tim, Michael, Nina. They all wanted us to succeed and they were only trying to help. They just seemed harsher when on TV because that was the role they were supposed to play”.
I’m very guilty to taking any sort criticism to heart. My first reaction is to lash out, defend myself, or just freak out. In reality, there can be a lot of good to be gained from criticism– an opportunity to do better, suggestions for improvements, holes in your plan. However you want to take it, it’s just as important to consider the source. Perhaps, they too are simply “playing a role” that they think they need to fill.
Get to work.
When Tim Gunn visited Anya at home, she had completed very little. At the time, there was civil unrest in her home country, a lot going on in her personal life, and the added pressure of competing on the show. “The stress was just so overwhelming!” she said, and it showed in her work. She flitted from one idea to another, accomplishing nearly nothing. How many of us can relate to this?
The best advice from Tim was to just muscle through.
Treat my workroom as an intensive incubator. Start draping muslin. Get to work.
I asked how she was able to find her focus during the show. While the show was broadcast once a week, the challenges came one right after the other with very little time to rest and regroup in between. “It was grueling,” says Anya, but she credits her success to remaining focused and being cut off from the rest of the world. All together. All in it together. There were no distractions or outside delays.
It’s no surprise that the most productive time is alone time, free of interruptions and distraction. And, the best way to get alone time is to demand it. Set aside specific hours in which you turn off your phone, block social media, and don’t hold any meetings. Shut the door, sit down, and focus nonstop.
In other words, GET TO WORK.