Devon Brooks exudes warmth and inclusion for a wildly successful, young entrepreneur. We first met when she had co-founded Blo Dry Bar, the original North American blow dry bar. With over 70+ locations worldwide, it all sparked with an idea Devon conjured up while away in London for university. Amidst the incredible success she experienced, there lies a story of struggle, suffering, and ultimate triumph in her journey to becoming the wholehearted person she is today. We caught up for a vulnerable, honest conversation during her recent visit to Toronto:
If you’re more of an audio person, listen below:
Do you think you had any foreshadowing about Blo’s success, or any of the work you’re doing currently, when you were younger?
I inherently thought I would end up being entrepreneurial because that was really all that I was exposed to. I didn’t even know there was another way. When I was starting my first freelance consultancy gig when I was 18, and people commented that I was an entrepreneur…I didn’t really even know what that meant. I hadn’t really thought about it. When I reflect and I think about what my ambitions were and what I dreamed for myself as a kid, I was always really motivated by community. I was motivated by deep interactions. An example of this is when I was in grade 8 or 9, I would skip school and go to do personal interviews and read to people that lived in the old folks home across the street. I’ve always been so fascinated with the real lived experience of others. What brings us to the moments we’re in? I look at that now retrospectively and can identify that in myself. If you get the opportunity to feel called and pulled towards certain things, you either have parents that help nurture that or you fight to nourish those things about yourself.
I did sketchbooks of fashion labels. I used to talk about buildings that I was going to build. It’s funny that I ended up building a retail concept with my mom that grew and was so successful. It was so much about materializing community spaces. That’s what happens when you bring women together to get their hair done — there’s a vibration in the room, and they feel totally different when they leave.
As a kid I was always a human interest person. My favourite books when I was young were Chicken Soup for the Soul (not the teenage version). I always found the resilience of humanity to be the most interesting. I don’t think that foreshadowing is an easy thing to do, very few people know what their career is going to look like, unless you’re something like a doctor. For me now looking back, I had been very intuitive to what my strengths were at a young age.
The Blo Dry concept came out of your university experience, and that parlayed itself nicely into after you graduated. How have you managed to sort out what the next step of your career is?
It’s been organic. I felt really called towards nurturing concepts with other founders. I don’t consider myself a coach, I don’t market myself that way, I just started to be contacted by founders and interesting people with ambitious ideas who needed support. It was fulfilling to me to be supporting creativity and concepts in that way. I just started to pick up the phone and interesting people were on the other end of it.
Where I am right now, I’m writing a book and working on a new platform. When I first started speaking out on violence against women or when I started really sharing in a very transparent and intentional way about assault and violence, and gender based challenges, my intention was to disrupt the narrative around entrepreneurial life. I started to become very weary of what I was seeing reflected back at me by my peers, having had success so young. I felt like so many people had skewed views of what success looked like, and all of a sudden you’re over the bell curve.
I started to be outspoken about my experiences because I was learning a lot about leading teams as a young business owner. I was leading teams and franchisees that were 10-20 years older, with children sometimes my age. It really shaped the way I wanted to lead. Where I am right now with the book and the advocacy platform I’m trying to build is the result of me picking up the phone. I wanted to make myself accessible. I truly love humanity and love people. When people make a mark on me, I really let them make a mark on me.
“I truly love humanity and love people. When people make a mark on me, I really let them make a mark on me.”
You share that you believe each person has a gift — how do you feel like you were able to identify your gift and how it can make a mark on other people?
One of the things I’m launching in the next 60 or so days is a couple of peer circles, that I’ll produce and moderate. That is all going to be focused on helping people articulate what I call “your reason for being.” When I started to have dialogue about purpose and values as a 20, 21 year old entrepreneur, I started to see that being a trendy term in the business community. I feel like when vocabulary goes mainstream, it gets convoluted with tons of different definitions. All of a sudden people get confused. The reason I refer to my purpose as my “reason for being,” is because it’s such a direct and simplified version of why I’m getting up every day.
On the days I feel awful, depressed, anxious, feel insecure, like nobody cares…what’s getting me out of bed that day (aside from my two incredible children and husband)? For me, it’s about igniting transformational dialogue and cultivating community that is provocative and unconventional. I live to question the status quo. That’s what I get excited about, and what I encourage people to do in their lives. In all facets of our existence, the second we start to settle into norms, we start to lose our reason for being.
“I live to question the status quo. That’s what I get excited about, and what I encourage people to do in their lives. In all facets of our existence, the second we start to settle into norms, we start to lose our reason for being.”
You went through not just one assault experience, but two. How do you feel like you’re able to cope with these experiences and share them candidly with others?
I’ve used my experiences to grow is because I felt empowered to be intentional about my post-victimization. Being raped is awful, I was 18 and my flight was booked to leave a couple weeks later for university. I was chugging along, sink or swim, trying to contain myself. I kind of went with every next thing, and even though I really accepted and understood the magnitude of what happened to me, I didn’t digest it.
The interesting thing about experiencing challenges that are violence related or not, is that one of the things that ends up resulting is post traumatic stress disorder. It was within the year of and a half that I started to see anxiety and depression develop rapidly. Some things were obvious like blacking out as a result of stress, waking up in ER and not knowing how I got there. Huge indicators of a stressed or scared person. Then there were more subtle things like forgetting entire conversations I had. Booking meetings and not remembering I had booked them two hours later. I got to a point where I knew if I continued that way, without recognizing and surrendering to how these incidents have affected my entire existence, that I’ll never be the powerful person I want to be.
“I got to a point where I knew if I continued that way, without recognizing and surrendering to how these incidents have affected my entire existence, that I’ll never be the powerful person I want to be.”
That thought completely floored me. Although I didn’t have any control over what happened to me, that I ultimately got to choose what it was going to mean in my life was very empowering.
That’s such a future-looking piece for you to have. I feel a lot of people would get caught up in the day to day coping of it.
Because it’s heavy shit. Regardless of if you’ve been assaulted or you had violence or sexualized violence, when we experience challenges in our lives that are disruptive or challenging or heart-breaking…the effects are very implicit. Unless we decide to look at them and take inventory of our challenges and our triumphs, it’s very difficult to respect that there’s space for them on the same shelf. What I’m saying is that when I started to embrace my fragility as being just as important as my strength, I started to become more powerful and more clear.
“…when I started to embrace my fragility as being just as important as my strength, I started to become more powerful and more clear.”
You’re sharing a piece of that fragility with so many people on an ongoing basis. Some people might have preconceived notions (especially since they don’t get to interact with you one-on-one), what makes you feel comfortable with the message that’s being shared?
I think because I have already stood at the side of the train tracks and wondered what it would be like to jump. When you’ve been there and felt those feelings, you can start to see what the idea of being fearless means. To me, the idea of being fearless doesn’t mean not having fears, it means looking at those fears, acknowledging them, and deciding what you’re going to do next. Having been at the place where I felt suicidal, where I felt like there was so much hurt and so much betrayal in my life and inside my heart, I just started to realize that this was a message someone out there was waiting to hear. I’m going to share it and not be afraid of the consequences. When you do things with a clear intent, the right people are going to hear the right message.
“To me, the idea of being fearless doesn’t mean not having fears, it means looking at those fears, acknowledging them, and deciding what you’re going to do next.”
If some of the wrong people hear the wrong message, then that’s okay. When you’re clear on your message and who you are, and your articulation…you’re only concerned about the right people hearing the right thing. People hear mixed messages all the time. There’s a lot of individuals around the world that interpret religion one way, and their counterparts interpret it another way. For me it’s about who I’m trying to reach, what I’m trying to say, and what I’m leaving them with. If I’m achieving that then I don’t have to worry about what’s wrong.
Switching it up a bit, in terms of young entrepreneurs, what can they do to maintain their mental wellness. Why do you think it is that someone can exercise to make sure they’re mentally well?
There’s a lot of talk about innovation and disruption. What I’m interested in is how to apply those theories around being a disruptive and innovative company, to being a disruptive and innovative person. How can you evolve those philosophies into livable, tangible ways to get you closer to where you’re trying to go, and put you more in tune with who you know you really are.
For me it’s about acknowledging and staying curious about the ways I can improve myself. Continuing to ask myself: are there norms that I’m accepting? Am I being complacent in any way in my life? When you check in on yourself regularly, there are hard questions to ask yourself and give yourself honest answers about.
Ultimately getting where we want to go and achieving what we want to achieve and setting out and reaching our ambitions and our goals is all driven by us. It’s an individual drive. As much as we’re all teachers, we’re constant and perpetual students.
What’s the next piece of learning for you, personally, do you think?
I’m really interested in social conditioning. I think that social conditioning is a part of our vocabulary that hasn’t reached the collective mainstream. It’s not part of popular culture. Social conditioning and social narrative are phrases that many people don’t understand. They’re two things that play an inherent role in how we respond to every situation we’re faced with, good and bad. I’m looking at how can I disrupt social conditioning and narrative that’s getting in the way for people to learn who they are.
Sign up for Devon’s coaching and guidance: http://www.devsdevelopment.com/guidance/