Meaning of Work: The Spirit of Esthetics

By Anne Martin

Whether you have practiced for 22 days or 22 years, all estheticians reading this are colleagues.

In Buddhism, a group of like-minded individuals is called a "Sangha." Regardless of how differently you practice (medical, Ayurvedic, European, etc), or what your age, political or spiritual beliefs may be, you are bound by the thread, the sutra, of the practice of esthetics.

With that in mind, stop fearing that others know more if you are new to the field. Stop worrying those younger individuals will pass you by. Ease down those burdens and pick up the sutra that binds estheticians, realizing that there are no strangers in the esthetic Sangha.

The theologian William Barclay said, "There are two great days in our lives: the day we are born, and the day we discover why." There is a profound satisfaction in finding your life's purpose, and figuring that out is intrinsic to discovering your true calling.

Consider this bit of wisdom from Aristotle: "Where your talent and the needs of the world cross, there lies your calling"; and its geography is mapped using core values, beliefs, environment and character.

Core values contain elements of how you go about your work; they are observable, discernible and unchanged. "Integrity first; Service before self; Excellence in all we do." These core values of the US Air Force just as easily identify esthetic values.

The Buddha said, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought." Belief that your life matters, and that what you do has consequence are as lamps in the mind's darker rooms.

Consider those clients who look forward to their appointments for days, and sink gratefully into the peace you have created, to be eased and renewed by your labors. "We need a fresh way of looking at the importance of our lives," wrote James Hillman.

You have only to realize what you accomplish in service to others steadies the heartbeat of their world to know that your work matters. Generosity in the gift of bits of time, and kindness in seemingly toss-away conversations bring simple moments of piercing normalcy: they are balm to tired spirits.

It is common that physical environment influences choice of professions. An obvious example: there are more air conditioner specialists in Florida than Siberia. However, another kind of environment is one in which you were told you could accomplish anything to which you set your intention, and applauded as your imagination dreamed its way into reality, substance and purpose.

Character declarations, like Popeye's, "I yam what I yam!" refer to what is intrinsic in your nature. It also reveals this: The way you do things when no one is looking tells more than any degree, impressive bank account or national prominence. It surfaces in how you work each day; doing your best each time reflects a personal standard of excellence, revealing character.

This character manifests when you listen to the grief of the client whose husband or partner has died. To listen to another's sorrow is to bear witness to it, and that in itself is a courageous thing, a selfless thing, for their pain may remind you of your own. You may have no words to offer, but in their stead is something strong and fully human: compassion.

In the year 6 BC, the philosopher Heraclitus wrote: "The eye, the ear, the mind in action. These I value."

With every facial given, estheticians use these prized senses. You see the skin and analyze it. You listen to stories told by the client with acne whose raw distressed skin causes emotional suffering as much as physical. You listen to the aging client whose mirror starkly reflects a worn, tired looking face she does not recognize, showing the anonymity of age folding over the time still left, like deep snow covering a field, hushing her voice.

Deeply embedded in your mind is this understanding: the particulars of any suffering are less important than the fact that suffering itself exists, and that its impact on the client's spirit must be countered.

Therefore, you ponder treatments and products, and then set to work, for your talents intersect with their needs, and you choose to help. You purify infected skin, calm reddened faces, empty what is full, and smooth what is bumpy. You ease fine lines and lift what has slipped. You tell clients that staring into a mirror can actually distort vision, and that this healing and easing of thoughts is a journey, but that you will walk with them.

With this work, another sense is added beyond those Heraclitus valued. Your touch is without demands or judgments and is an offering of acceptance, especially to those who are not touched kindly, if at all.

Estheticians are hardwired to help through service, knowledgeable and educated work, intuition and understanding. Balancing logic and science with the radiant apprehension of the mind is a teeter-totter affair, for there are those who would dismiss esthetics as mere pampering and fluff; pity them.

In her book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, "Just as there exists in writing a literal truth and a poetic truth; there also exists in a human being a literal anatomy and a poetic anatomy. One, you can see; one, you cannot. One is made of bones and teeth and flesh; the other is made of energy and memory and faith. But they are both equally true."

Esthetics encompasses both anatomies by putting into service your eyes, ears, mind and hands. There is meaning found in practicing over and again spiritual values of generosity, beauty and craft as when you gently tuck in a client, wash her face and listen to her story. Your talents are meeting her world's needs, and so it is that your beloved profession calls you to work. Light the candle and shut the door: it is time.

This article was originally published in the March 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine, and is being reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Anne Martin is a licensed esthetician and esthetics instructor, and is a CIDESCO diplomate. She is the founder and chairperson of the NW Estheticians' Guild and chairperson of the Washington State Advisory Board for Cosmetology, Manicuring, Barbering and Esthetics. Along with Mark Lees, PhD, she co-founded the Institute of Advanced Clinical Esthetics, offering advanced seminars for estheticians. Martin currently has a private practice in Seattle where she specializes in the treatment of acne.

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