June 2010

Jaime Schrabeck

The Nail Extension | by Jaime Schrabeck


Doing Nails Proves More Satisfying

The prospect of having to write on this month’s topic proved more daunting than I expected. It would have been so much easier to express an opinion on a particular topic.

Selecting my own topic, I could rant about the negative impact of unlicensed activity, rave about the value of continuing education or explain how your salon can attract more male clients (wait . . . that next month’s topic!).

Given this opportunity to share what’s on my mind, however, I can tell you that what I think isn’t nearly as important as what I do. All clichés aside, I strive everyday to act according to my priorities. Providing for my family comes first, and despite other means of achieving that end, I choose to earn my living in the beauty industry, doing what I love.

Not surprisingly, doing nails is not what I aspired to in my youth. It was merely a hobby during high school, something I did to compensate for my pathetically weak natural nails.

Applying full coverage, press-on nails, while quick and easy, required virtually no talent and it showed. Eventually, I discovered a talent for acrylic nails, and despite my lack of formal training or quality professional products, my nails looked decent and cost me very little to maintain.

Entering college as a chemistry major, I intended to become a pediatric dentist, envisioning myself wearing latex gloves and using sterilized metal tools to facilitate better oral health in children. Not only would dentistry be intellectually challenging, it would be respectable and profitable. That seemed like more than enough motivation until I found more enjoyment in my literature classes, and changed majors to become an English teacher.

During those college years, I worked retail jobs and managed a deli, but had never considered making money doing nails. When faced with the time constraints and cost of graduate school, however, I needed something different. Becoming a professional manicurist offered the chance to play with nail products, work a flexible schedule, own a business and support educational pursuits until I could begin my real career.

Over a summer break, I completed a manicuring course financed by the Regional Occupational Program. The only expense was the overpriced $180 kit, for which my grandmother generously paid. I wish I could say that in those nine weeks my beauty school instructors trained and prepared me to succeed in the salon.

Instead, vocational “education” was a huge disappointment, despite having low expectations to begin with. I resented the hours spent studying and practicing alone, and the few clients who frequented the beauty school seemed unlikely to ever pay more than $5 for a manicure.

If nothing else, I learned that my success as a manicurist would depend on my willingness to obtain more training and my first was a full-day acrylic class taught by Kym Lee, owner of Galaxy Nails and dominant competition champion. Some of our most influential nail professionals, including Tom Holcomb, Trang Nguyen and Carla Collier, competed for Galaxy Nails early in their careers.

I learned more in that eight-hour day than in the entire nine weeks of beauty school, and it was truly inspiring. But it was not enough to convince me that my career would be in the beauty industry. I had already invested years and dollars in my academic education and was determined to complete an advanced degree.

Even after earning a Ph.D. in education, teaching at every academic level from elementary to university and making lots of money preparing students for college admissions tests, doing nails proved more satisfying.

While my family was very supportive, my academic advisors and colleagues thought being a manicurist was beneath me. In my defense, I assured them that I’d give up nails when the ideal teaching job presented itself.

But after a semester of juggling reading classes with my salon business, I made a choice that I’ve never regretted. Given all my academic experiences, I did not expect to have a viable, rewarding career that initially required only nine weeks of vocational training. Whether I’m providing nail services, managing employees, eliminating unlicensed activity, evaluating new products, networking with other professionals, writing articles, judging competitions or teaching classes, my work as a manicurist continues to challenge me and I love it.

Just days ago I had occasion to attend an honor roll ceremony with my sixth-grade son. Seated in a large audience filled with proud parents and accomplished students, I recalled attending a similar ceremony in that same gym 30 years ago. It seemed that not much has changed as students spoke eloquently of their future plans and thanked their parents and teachers for encouraging academic achievement and character development.

In the intervening years, it’s my perspective that has changed drastically. My own experience demonstrates that students should be encouraged to pursue their unique interests and talents when choosing a career, even if that means applying a great education to what some would consider a less than desirable vocation.

Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. owns Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. She can be reached at info@precisionnails.com.