Life can be messy. Our plans may or may not work out the way we, well, planned…. But if you give yourself time, and if you believe you can reinvent yourself, you can achieve what you really want. Case in point, my friend Sybil had a dream: to be an esthetician (licensed skin care professional). However, sensible and well-intended people around her steered her in a different career direction. She did well for herself, and found professional excellence along the way for twenty-plus years. Then, what looked like a door closing—a corporate restructuring—actually opened the door to pursuing her childhood dream. Once again, some reluctant voices cautioned her that starting over again in her 50s might not be a wise decision. However, Sybil persevered, and chose to listen to her inner voice. She went back to school and became an esthetician. She opened up her own business and found her bliss. She is thrilled to have taken a chance later in life.
New beginnings can be scary, especially later in life, but they are also exciting. This is one of the things I’ve always admired and loved about America: you can always reinvent yourself at any age, and you can be successful. You are not stuck with the one thing you studied in school, with the path that your degree dictates, or, with the path that your circumstances dictated in the past. It’s OK to try different approaches until you find your version of happiness and fulfillment.
It’s your life. Live it your way!
A native of the Knoxville, TN area, Sybil Bailey spent most of her adult life—25 years—working in various corporate roles. When a company restructuring presented her with the option to take a severance package, she put it to good use: she followed her lifelong dream of becoming an esthetician, and opened her own skincare business, Afro Mermaid Skincare. Now in her early 50s, she is proud to be a new business owner and a happiness purveyor, improving her clients’ lives through customized skincare and body care treatments.
Oana Harrison: Tell me a little bit about your business. How did the idea come about and what was your process?
Sybil Bailey: I’ve always wanted to become an esthetician, but years ago everyone around me told me I should just go to college. Fast forward through six thousand various jobs, I ended up at Scripps. When the company was acquired by Discovery, I received a severance package and I used the money to pay for beauty school. I was the oldest student there—I was older than the instructor—but I still really really enjoyed it. When I graduated, I thought I would get a job at a spa somewhere, I didn’t want to think too hard about what I had to do: I thought I would do my job and then go home. But then a friend of mine mentioned that she knew a guy who owned a commercial space and who was thinking about adding an esthetician. I thought I should at least meet with him. We hit it off immediately and he offered me space to rent in his spa—and the rest is history. My friends and family showed up and my business has grown mainly by word of mouth.
Also, my friends from Scripps really came through! They helped me set up my business, which saved me a lot of out-of-pocket expenses: Paul Seylar designed my logo, Crystal Martin took the photographs, Anne Wilkerson built my website and connected it to scheduling and all that good technical stuff, and my friends modeled free of charge.
I think it was just meant to be. Too many good things happened at once, from finding a space, to having all those folks volunteer to do what would have cost of ton of money otherwise. I am here doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I absolutely love it. I’m so thankful everyday and I think Is this really happening?, Am I going to be able to make my car payment doing this?, and sure enough it is and I am.
OH: I think you also hit on an unfilled market there.
SB: I think so. Initially, when I open my space in the Bearden area of Knoxville, which is a really convenient location—not too far east or west—in a predominantly white neighborhood, I though that my clientele would be predominantly white. And initially, it was maybe 75% white; but as time went on, the black women and women of color discovered that there was somebody around who might have actually experienced some of the skin care issues that they have, so they were excited. They showed up and have supported me, and the ratios have completely changed. It’s been interesting and fulfilling, and just I love it. I can’t stop saying that, but that’s the overall gist of it.
OH: Why was this something that you really wanted to start; why is this near and dear to you?
SB: Over my lifetime I have been adamant about not wanting children, but all my friends always described me as sort of mothering. I like taking care of people and even when we got together with friends and their kids, I would be the one doing nails, or giving impromptu facials, or doing makeup, and I think I just always liked doing that. So, if I can make a living doing what I like to do anyway, then it’s happening.
OH: Getting paid to do what you love is great.
SB: Yeah, always every cliché I’ve ever heard has come back to punch me in the face, because—literally— it is not work if you’re doing what you love. I just didn’t think I’d ever be in a position to do that.
OH: What would you say is the most fulfilling part of what you’re doing? What gives you the most joy at the end of the day?
SB: Lots of Scripps folks still come to see me, and that’s been pretty heartwarming.
I love being able to help people improve things about their skin that they didn’t think they could; maybe they tried all these different things, they bought a million products for themselves, and didn’t see results. I love being able to give people tips and provide services that allow them to see positive changes actually happen.
The other thing is, skin care is a pretty intimate service. You’re in a small room with somebody for an hour, you’re touching their face the entire time, and also talking. I called this room the vault because a lot of times people share their joys and their sorrows, and I think that’s the other thing that brings me joy: knowing that people trust me enough to do that. I’m proud of the relationships that I’ve built.
OH: The pandemic put a damper on all things “touchy.” How did you deal with it, especially as a new business owner?
SB: I opened on January 1, 2020 and promptly shut down on March the 4th, 2020. So, ugh. I was closed for almost an entire year. I was terrified, completely terrified, but again, my friends and clients came through. I had good clients from when I was in beauty school who bought gift cards for their loved ones for Christmas, birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, and then my mom, my husband, and everybody chipped in to keep me going until I could get back in here and get the business off the ground. You know, regularly, my mom tells me I wish I had encouraged you to do this 30 years ago, but as cheesy as it is, I really think now is when I am supposed to be doing it. I had to learn all those lessons that I’ve learned in the past 30 years to be able to do this now, and to have the patience for all of the ups and downs that come with business ownership.
OH: Everything in its good time, right? Patience is a hard lesson to learn for sure.
SB: This is when getting older actually helps.…
OH: Speaking of lessons, what are some of the lessons you learned from your previous work experience that helped you open up your own business, and also what have you learned from being an entrepreneur?
SB: Something I’ve learned over my lifetime and that helped me the most when opening my own business was that—I’m just full of clichés today—nothing is ever as bad as you’re stressing or worrying that it will be. Worry is a waste of energy. You have to just deal with things as they come. In my younger days, I was a bit of a worrier. Now, older and wiser, I’ve managed to conquer it, so it was very useful as an entrepreneur, especially during the pandemic. I think that not worrying saved me.
Several of my previous jobs were very customer service oriented and I’m also pretty empathetic by nature. These skills came in handy in my own business, because, like I said, people share personal things, want advice, and talk about some of their deepest darkest stuff. I think that even if I’m not always solving their issues, I’m a good sounding board.
OH: What are some of the things that could help prepare someone else wanting to jump into entrepreneurship?
SB: Never underestimate the kindness of people. There are people who will help you and are cheering for you that you may not even know about. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. It’s scary to open a business no matter how big or small and I never ever thought I would be somebody who’d do it, but here I am, and it’s possible. Also, just don’t give up. Another cliché, but it’s true—they are clichés for a reason.
OH: What should your clients look forward to in the future? Is there anything new and exciting coming along?
SB: I’m looking to offer more services, and I’m revamping some of the current ones. I’m always learning new things, continuing my education, so I always look to improve my services.
Ideally, we would have all the services under one roof: skincare, nails, hair, massage, etc. Anything is possible going forward after 2020. It’s all going to be exciting and new.
But, you know, I keep saying this out loud: I’m just so happy and content right now, I kind of don’t wanna rock the boat. I just want to enjoy it, I’m just gonna bask in this for now.
OH: Knowing what you know now, would you still choose the same path?
SB: Oh yeah, I enjoyed the path and it got me here to this super happy spot, so I would absolutely do it again. I really am happier than I’ve ever been.
Sybil is looking forward to treat you to a customized skincare session, so check out the range of services she offers and go pamper yourself today!