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So I Tried Out for Project Runway. I Learned 4 Key Lessons About Getting Ahead in Business and Life.

Sandra Espinoza

So I tried out for the infamous TV show, Project Runway. And while I was in the contestants’ cue . . .

I could see various fashionista-types with lots of attitude ahead of me.

You know, the kind of attitude you wished you had? Or at least the kind you wished you could fake really well - if you ever needed to?

One of them made a particular impression - with long and gleaming frosted hair, huge designer shades on her slim face, sitting on a very expensive suitcase filled with her fashion wares, and barely shivering in the cold damp Chicago air.

Looking and taking it like a model.

-----“She's in”, I thought to myself.


Did I mention the infinite line of hopefuls wrapping around the W Hotel?

All of the people who arrived there before me, and all of the people after me?

And how long we'd all been standing there?

What were my chances? What chance did any of us have for that matter?

But this one? Yeah, she was unlike most of us - in many ways.

-----“She’s got that Reality TV look,” I thought to myself.

Not to mention how this Texan (me), forgot what it was like in Chicago, even though I had lived there for years. And because of this, was completely unprepared for the weather.

I was layered with various borrowed mismatched and ill-fitting outerwear and accessories my lovely friend (who hosted my stay the night before) so graciously let me use.

So, I appeared more hobo and less chicjittering all the while so that I could keep myself warm - as if I had consumed too much caffeine.

The anxiously excited group of ladies I was standing with marked the halfway point. And we stood there barely moving forward.

For hours. And hours.

So what happened? And why am I sharing this with you?

Well, here’s what went down:

As luck would have it, the fashionista-model type with the glasses was ushered right through the doors.

-----“Ha, I knew it!” I thought to myself.

Time passed. We shuffled ourselves and all of our heavy stuff forward a couple of times. We shivered.

Then out came Lady Luck.

I was transfixed.

This time her lithe and gamine self walked out of those fateful doors with her head held down. Crying and defeated, she dragged her beautiful wheeled luggage quickly behind her.

-----“$#!%,” I thought to myself.

It was a horrible sight for all of us to behold.

I’m sharing this little sliver of my life because it was a turning point for me. And I learned a lot while I was there.

These are a few of the lessons I want to share with you, because they influence my sewing business and my sewing life daily.

4 Key Lessons Cheat Sheet EXTRA!

'Ultimate Get Ahead in Business and Life for Creatives' Cheat Sheet

Put your desired actions in motion to get where you want to go.

The 4 Key Lessons for Getting Ahead:

LESSON 1: When You Really Want It - Show Up Even Earlier

This isn’t only true at the holidays when you’ve got to get your hands on the newest gadget for your loved one (or yourself)!

I spent a lot of time and money getting myself to the right place at the right time - and experienced plenty of discomfort while waiting for my turn. I made it through the staff’s scouring and prodding of my samples.

But when the announcement came that the talent scouts had enough contestants to pick from, I was literally just one person - standing at an arm’s length away - from getting through the doors.

Slam. You may leave now. But in fewer words. Ugh.

-----“I should have gotten here sooner,” I thought to myself.

That was then . . .

Of course, in daily life, being early always makes a better impression than being late - especially in business and social situations.

Has a client or customer of yours ever complained when they got exactly what they wanted early? No, they didn’t. These happy people smile and they give referrals.

Before you travel down the path, ask yourself this:


Do I really want this opportunity?

LESSON 2: Have Foresight - Play to Your Strengths at All Times

It’s just too hard doing anything that doesn’t - dare I say it - come naturally to you.

Now, when I say naturally, I do mean that you can do it second nature.

Whether it’s ingrained or learned.

Picasso painted. A lot. And from a very early age. He had the skill and allowed plenty of time to refine his strengths in his chosen medium.

At the time of the Project Runway tryouts, I knew that my construction and execution skills were very good. That’s what I had planned on pointing out and speaking about with the talent scouts: about my strengths - the techniques.

If you don’t know your strengths when you’re going into a particular life or business situation, you must figure them out beforehand! Ask yourself these two questions:


What is the desired outcome of this situation for the project/customer/client?

Which of my qualities or skills will best contribute to that specific outcome?

And when you know that, you’re armed with having the ability to put your best foot forward for that situation. You can even steer the conversation and/or project around it. Voilà!

LESSON 3: Be Prepared, or Risk Falling Short

I’ve said it once on a video and I’ll say it again. Edna Mode’s quote in The Incredibles movie:

-----“Luck favors the prepared.”

If you had never made a quilt, would you start making a quilt without looking and salivating through pages of quilt books first, carefully gathering the exact tools you’d need, and obsessing over the perfect materials? No, not a smart person like you.

Well, I wasn’t prepared for what would happen while I was in line for Project Runway.

I thought I was . . . at least until the fateful moment when the scouring and prodding crew drilled me about my samples:

----- "No, I do not have the full ensemble to go with the men’s jacket."

----- "No, I did not bring the other pieces that go with the ladies’ pants."

----- "No, the hat and train do not accompany this wedding gown today."

Every time I said "No" to these intent eyes gazing on my work, I felt my confidence dwindle.

The entry form noted that we should bring “3 Pieces” to show. But I should have known better - 3 full ensembles is what they wanted to see. From me. That more full representation of the work I planned to show.

This is what I would call a shortcoming. And it hurt my soul.

How many times do you say, “Oops, I wish I hadn’t forgotten that?” It happens to every one of us.

Consider these questions:


What else might I need to make my case or to prove myself so that I can land this client or project?

Is there a similar project I've completed and evidence or lessons I can draw upon to help seal this deal?

LESSON 4: When Opportunity Knocks - Pounce, Baby!! 

Carpe diem.

Seize the day, in other words.

When you’ve got the urge to do something big - something out of the ordinary . . . you must give it priority consideration.

Needless to say, but I’ll do it anyway, my experience at Project Runway wasn’t ideal.

But it was enlightening.

And I know that I won’t ever do it again. My sewing businesses take up a lot of my time. I’m having a great time with them. But because I am also a mother and wife I also need time to be with my family.

However, that particular moment was right for me - I had a sliver of time that my husband could care for our 5 year old and 8 month old. I had just enough money to hop on a plane. Enough energy to finish a couple of new pieces to show the judges.

And enough confidence in myself and my skills at that point in my life to just do it.

I had more insight when I came back to my sewing studio. I was disappointed, but I had found direction. I found purpose.

I was grateful I took the chance on myself and my future. And I still remember it fondly.

But it does take a good amount of consideration to make a big move like this. So proceed carefully and consider how viable this is:


Will I have another opportunity like this?

Do I foresee another perfect moment in time that will allow me to do something like this?

Whether you’re trying to get a new client, attempting to go in a different direction with your business, or hoping to try something that is a stretch in your skills - you’ve got to jump on it when you have the chance.

When that idea to do something wonderful and different springs into your mind . . .

And your heart flutters a bit . . .

That’s when your spirit is guiding you to move forward. It’s your opportunity for growth - in ability and in character.

The experience will be good for you, I just know it.

And if you’re early enough, and prepared, you might just squeeze through those fateful doors. And find something wonderful on the other side.

Something like a statuesque Tim Gunn, radiating the sun's light itself. Yes, he glows.

At least from what I could see on my way to the Ladies’ Room.

4 Key Lessons Cheat Sheet EXTRA!

'Ultimate Get Ahead in Business and Life for Creatives' Cheat Sheet

Put your desired actions in motion to get where you want to go.

4 Key Lessons About Getting Ahead that I Learned at Project Runway

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