Editor’s Note: This is one of the more unusual stories we’ve read. Not only is W. Paige Andros a physicist inside a hairstylist’s body, but she also makes rabbit cages and helps out non-profits.
She’s just about the most diverse individual you can imagine, but she has one important thing in common with the rest of our scholarship applicants: she knows how to hustle.
I finally let go of the last vestiges of desire to be a hairstylist the day I learned about thermodynamics. Electromagnetism, which I learned of that same day, was possibly the most incredible thing I had ever heard of; yet, here I was cutting and blow-drying hair at a salon, dreading my everyday work.
Many things made it clear to me I had chosen this career path poorly. The stylists and estheticians mocked me to no end for all the time I spend “doing my books” and “asking questions.” I took great pleasure in doing statistical analysis of my performance from, effectiveness to income generation. I would pass the time by doing ridiculous math equations with the clock.
I stock piled questions that had no bearing on my work, such as, “If the train running behind the salon experiences slope variations due to the terrain the tracks are built on, I wonder how it affects the overall energy usage of the engine…” I would reimagine these questions with hundreds of variations. Always general questions first, but as the day felt longer I would get myself through by imagining how increasingly specific details would affect the answers to my questions.
I soon learned to keep these questions to myself.
I decided to pursue cosmetology instead of auto mechanic training a couple years after high school. I thought it was something I could enjoy, would be good at, and could actually afford. I was not so wrong in that assessment, but I would find it wasn’t enough to sustain a lifelong career. I had an interest in nearly everything, from art and music to math and business to cars and construction.
After two years of waiting for my parents to file their back taxes so I could apply for the financial aid I needed to attend college, I decided to just go to vocational school, which I believed I could better afford. I did well in my cosmetology training, but never loved it. My teachers always assured me, “You’ll love it when you learn more.”
When I graduated they said, “You’ll love it once you work in a salon.” Next, after being miserable working in a salon, “You’ll love it when you find the right salon,” and finally, “Well, you’ll love it when you have built up a clientele, and have done it a few years.” As the years piled up, with every step I grew to hate it more. I was determined not to “give up” and to continue pursing what everyone convinced me was the only kind of success.
When I finally knew that it wasn’t success I was working towards, I made a change. Those who haven’t hustled to get what they want don’t understand it. Success isn’t just the end goal; it’s the whole process.
I didn’t really understand it before this pivotal point in my life, but I do now. I stopped following the scripts and followed my intuition. I had strong beliefs because there were many things I was passionate about. I believed I could experience that excitement in my work. My idea of success was no longer predicated by what I let others convince me it must be.
When I focused on the things I cared about, I had no end of energy to give to them. Furthermore, I had more energy for everything else in my life too. I started to harness this energy and began to finally taste my success. To make it all the more beautiful, failures were clearer as being opportunities to grow and improve.
The slow grind of the last few years left me almost stunned when I was finally accomplishing my goals in great leaps and with head-turning speed.
I had quit my job and enrolled at a community college. My co-workers were aghast. I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised by the polarity of their reactions. They thought I was throwing my life away; I was viewed as a great tragedy story of how talent can be wasted. Their opinions of my choices were a small price to pay to take control of my life. After all, how could they understand that the life they had chosen for themselves would never be enough for me?
My new found status as a hustler meant I knew when to stop internalizing advice and opinions that couldn’t serve me.
My first course in Physics was an eye-opener. I had no idea that the constant questions and scenarios I thought about to pass time at work were physics in action. I was so shocked to find that my thought processes fell into line perfectly with the study of physics, that I officially decided upon the major I had been considering: engineering.
Specifically, I am drawn to mechanical engineering. My love of cars and engines was the first hint towards moving in that direction. I loved math before, but I love it even more coming back to it after so many years. I also love designing and building things. I need a good challenge and crave variety. Mechanical engineering is so satisfying. It allows me to blend all my talents. I have even found that my great abundance of artistic skills has given me a considerable edge in this field of study. It is incredibly exciting to study and I have tapped a boundless potential of energy I wasn’t aware that I had before.
I have so many ideas that my husband gets a smirk when I say for the millionth time, “Derek, I have an idea…”
I have worked, pushing through smaller goals to larger goals, surpassing even my own expectations for myself. I began seeing constant results from my work, greatly contrasting my status quo before I had made a career change. I took courses not only in the sciences and general education, but in accounting, business, and art as well, exceling in all of them.
Achieving my academic goals placed me on the Presidential Scholar list. I received an invitation to join the International Honor Society, and most recently received the Award of Academic Achievement in Physics from my school, Northern Virginia Community College. I set a goal to transfer to the university I thought best suited my educational desires, and was situated in the DC area, where I wish to live.
The University of Maryland has a very competitive engineering school, and although I initially worried that I would not be accepted as one of the few transfer students they let in, I made it happen. I was offered a Presidential Transfer scholarship for four semesters from UMD, helping relieve some of the burden of tuition costs based on my application essay, experiences, and academic achievement.
It is the beginning of my second phase goals for undergraduate education. I now am working towards additional scholarships to supplement the high out-of-state tuition costs. The best part of all these accomplishments is that I am happy. I hustled to get what I wanted and I have tasted satisfaction and success all along the way.
It wasn’t until I started taking action and making good on all my ideas that things changed to what they are now. I had to define success for myself and then believe I would achieve it before it was possible. The conviction and energy that I rely on to get me from one success to the next merely needed to be tapped into.
I have so many ideas that my husband gets a smirk when I say for the millionth time, “Derek, I have an idea…”
My First Insight: Identifying a Problem
Pursuing my education is an accumulation of many years of little ideas coming together to form one large idea. It will in turn accumulate with other ideas and create something even bigger still. I have always known I would be a great business leader. I have many ideas for businesses and products. I know where I’d like to start – in a salon.
There are so many ways that I would approach running a salon differently than the salons I’ve worked for. As a stylist I saw why the stylist owners ran the salons the way they did; however, being good at doing hair doesn’t necessarily translate to being good at running a business, even if it is a salon. So many stylists don’t take this idea into account!
This is, in my opinion, why most salons fail. I do have a fondness for the beauty industry, and although being a stylist is certainly not for me, I have a respect for those who desire to live out careers “behind the chair.” I could run a salon with beautiful efficiency because my traits better lend themselves to running a business.
I have developed a business plan for a salon and spa, which I revisit frequently. It may seem odd after studying mechanical engineering, but it actually fits my life plans quite well. For starters, I designed several related mechanical devices.
One device drastically improves efficiency of hair extension application; another is for mixing color and developer to greatly reduce waste. My education has allowed me to improve these designs, and has confirmed that they are possible within the scope I planned. I plan to build working prototypes for my designs over the next few years while I am studying, then acquire patents for them. I have dozens of energy saving ideas I would like to incorporate into the salon.
The struggling salons I worked for would have realized significant savings if they were conscientious of energy and water usage, which would have lowered their utility bills.
I will continue to learn as much as I can in mechanical engineering, but it is not mutually exclusive to the myriad business ideas I plan to pursue. As I mentioned before, I crave variety. When I am juggling multiple balls, a challenge that utilizes my entire skill set, I always perform my absolute best.
My First Start-up Idea
The first start-up I will launch is a not-for-profit. The salon will be my first for-profit business, but the non-for profit could be up and running this year potentially! It doesn’t require the investment that the salon will need and it is a concept close to my heart. I have developed a business plan and just need to test some prototypes before it will be ready to go online.
I have pet rabbits, and have found many of my needs and desires for caring for my animals to be completely unmet by any companies in the pet industry. I will provide the foremost of these needs: living space.
The pet stores sell tiny cages that are inappropriately sized for even the smallest breed. This fact is not disputed by any of the rabbit rescue groups, including the prominent House Rabbit Society. Not only are they four times too small for a single dwarf rabbit (and rabbits are recommended to always be kept in pairs), but the cages are ugly, hard to clean, heavy, and ridiculously expensive! I have a solution.
Since I broke out of the false notions I was bound to in my old career path, I have be able to take up my natural instincts again. I re-embraced my love of design and believed my ideas did have merit.
I designed dozens of different cages that utilize materials that are safe for the animals; are sturdy, yet lighter-weight than store bought cages; are adequately sized for rabbit pairs (they are taller than they are wide for a smaller footprint, but with different sizing options for different breeds); are esthetically pleasing with various designs that will complement different house spaces (removing the association that eye-sore habitats are a given to owning rabbits); and are easy to clean and have optional textured replaceable (once or twice per year) cage liners that rabbits won’t chew on and are stain-resistant.
But the best part is that even with all these elements addressed, my cages are still cheaper than the store-bought cages.
I can build them myself with just a few moderately priced tools – which is half the fun! I have also designed them to be simple for manufacturing in bulk in the future. I have dozens of other products designed that, as an owner of four very different rabbits, I can say are very practical, beautiful, and desirable. The products I want to offer would greatly simply my life, improving the relationship I share with my pets and would save me money!
Everything I designed addresses need first and cost second.
I listened to the complaints of other rabbit owners and found that the needs I have identified are common in the community. I wish to do this as a not-for-profit because I do not plan to generate personal revenue from this venture. I want to fill a need that generates income for small rabbit rescues, and that generates income that allows the product lines to be expanded.
I want to fill a need to help develop more symbiotic relationships with rabbits in the home. The current products available are insufficient for this task. Better care for the animals means that perhaps more might be adopted into homes that are capable of loving and caring for them properly.
This is a very low-risk idea, as I have designed all the products myself and priced the cost of production. The internet allows me to have an online presence while the space and cost efficient product designs allow me to stock and ship them from my own home. I am excited that it is coming together so smoothly and quickly.
My Second Non-Profit Startup
Another start-up I am planning for the future, that can grow as I grow in my career, is also planned to be a not-for-profit. It is to help non-profits generate relevant supplemental income for themselves. I would employ salaried skilled individuals that could work with the non-profits to help them develop ideas they could put into practice to generate income.
This is to enable the non-profits to rely less on constant donations. It will take me more education and research to fully develop this business plan. I plan to launch it after I have established the salon for three years.
As way of example, I point to the need of my local food banks. They need money and food donations constantly. If they could open a small sidewalk corner food stand, near the popular food truck areas of the district, they could sell crepes, or possibly hotdogs at lunch to help generate small income for the food bank.
They could depend less on donations, or they could feed more people, or they could create healthier meals (with more expensive fresh produce). It would open up options for them. It could be called “Feed the Food Bank.” Time and work could be put into generating a good quality product- the crepes or hotdogs- and working on the necessary permits. Very low-overhead and low risk would make this a good venture for the food bank.
The administration of this business could be handled by my not-for-profit if the food bank could not handle the administration, but the profits would still go to them. We would generate our own investments and perhaps keep small percentages of the income from the ideas we create for other organizations, to further help other organizations.
Additionally, I would like to encourage non-profits to work together towards similar goals. It has been my experience that many times non-profits behave like competing businesses when they could and should work together for the greater good of those they claim to be trying to help. Many well intentioned non-profits could better achieve their goals if they had a third party capable of helping each organization that also assisted them in working together.
I’ve always had business saavy, ideas, and designs that I’ve wanted to put into practice. When I was a kid I sold candy airheads and soda in my front yard. I constantly adjusted my ideas to try and become more successful in my little ventures. As I got older I let myself believe it was for the best to follow the pre-made paths that I saw before me.
Since I broke out of the false notions I was bound to in my old career path, I have be able to take up my natural instincts again. I re-embraced my love of design and believed my ideas did have merit. Then I hustled for the first time in my adult life and made things happen.
It feels good to finally have gotten the things I wanted out of life, but it feels even better knowing that I will continue get whatever I want out of my life because I know how to hustle.