Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. Meet Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, personal branding expert, keynote speaker and author of Your Clothes Speak: Understanding and Using the Powerful Language of Your Personal Style and The Second Act: Styling You from the Inside Out.
A former labor lawyer, university professor and associate dean of student development, and management consultant, Carol Parker Walsh draws on her extensive professional background to advise and coach women to achieve their full potential. Based in Vancouver, Carol has a column in the Vancouver Business Journal and appears regularly on ABC affiliate KATU’s AM Northwest Morning Show. She also been seen in the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, PopSugar, Who What Wear, and on CBS, NBC and FOX. I met Carol when she was a featured speaker at the Women of Color in Pharma conference in New Jersey. Her warmth, wisdom and personal story of a courageous professional pivot made me want to know her better. Listen in as we get acquainted. Read all the way to the end for her #1 image tip for women.
Q: When did you first realize you were doing your life’s work?
A: The precipice of me turning 50 was when I realized I was not doing my life’s work. It was a process. In my mid-40s, I had a massive car accident and from that time until the time I was turning 50 I knew that I was not doing what I was meant to do. I was struggling to find what that would be. It was the death of my father that forced me to figure it out. I felt like that was a quest my father was always on and he never quite achieved it and in a lot of ways it was me honoring him and acknowledging the struggle I was having internally.
I left my job and started down the road of image consulting and thought that would be the work that I would do. Image gets misconstrued. It’s not just about outside appearance, but it’s really about an understanding of how you show up in the world, including how you communicate and your presence. My doctorate work was all around identity development and how women figure out who they are in the world. Do you stay home? Do you work? Do you have kids or not? I was studying and researching those things and it led me to the path of image work. That’s how I started in my business doing image consulting. After a couple of years, I realized what I loved even more than the visual branding. It was helping women step confidently into an understanding of who they are and how they can apply their superpowers to the world.
Q: How do you do that?
A: I help my clients go back through the course of their life to find the key experiences and moments where their true superpower was revealed and how it manifested itself at various times in their life so they can get in touch with that. What happens through our life experiences is that we get influenced by our spouses, jobs, relationships, location and we tend to lose a sense of ourselves, particularly women who tend to be more of the nurturers and givers so we will be much more sacrificial of ourselves. We are more equipped than we realize. I help women understand what they already have to offer and examine how they can leverage their existing skills to do what they are truly meant to do.
Q: What is the one word that best describes you?
A: Tenacious keeps coming to mind. I am tenacious for my clients; I’m their biggest cheerleader and support system because I believe that we are all here to do something incredible and magnificent with our lives. Whether it is in the family room or the boardroom — wherever your space and community is — we just have to find it.
Q: What’s the one daily practice that energizes you the most?
A: My morning ritual is getting up and spending some time in meditation and reading. Those are key for me. It’s the quiet moment I have to settle my mind and get myself focused to set my attention for the day. Then reading fills me with ideas and inspiration. That’s the one time I know I can focus on reading. Even if it’s only five or 10 minutes to expand my mind and to continue growing in terms of my own development so I can be the best version of myself with all the work that I do. For so many women, we multitask so if we don’t take that time for self, we will put ourselves on the backburner. It’s a smart practice to fill your cup up first before you fill others’.
Q: What can women do to realize their ambitions?
A: My motto is for women to unapologetically be who they’re meant to be. So, I don’t believe in disguising what you want. I believe in boldly claiming it and going after it. Studies even talk about how we’re the last ones to toot our own horn when we have achievements and we tend to sit back and wait for others to do that. I think it’s because we live in a very patriarchal paradigm that defines the feminine roll to be more subservient and humble and not self-focused. It’s not “lady-like” to step forth and own your talents and abilities. I’m grateful that I had a father who taught his girls something different — to be ambitious and bold. I think the reason that we don’t do it is because we’ve just been intuitively and societally trained not to. I think that’s what holds us back. I try and give women permission to own that, to own their greatness and their talents. I know for my generation this is not something embedded in us. But I know I raised my daughter to totally be bold and go and ask for what she wants. I was raised by a southern woman who grew up during the Depression and her greatest ambition for me was to find a husband who could take care of me. It was definitely a learning process with my father in one ear telling me to do what I wanted and mother telling me not to be too much because a man won’t like that! Being pulled between those two concepts I think is why women from a certain generation struggle with prioritizing themselves and their desires. “Ambitious” seems like a bad word or an aggressive word so I think women try to do it in a more passive manner rather than more openly.
Q: How has your ability as a communicator helped you become an effective leader?
A: Communication means everything. My bachelor’s degree is in communications and I think it is at the core of everything. I think if you can’t get your message across and communicate to other people then you can’t be as effective as you really want to be. So, I feel like it’s something I’ve been naturally blessed with and something that I have worked on to be able to speak in a way that is accessible for women. At the core I am an educator, so to teach and to share to expand worldviews and mindsets is a gift of mine and something I try to include in everything I do.
Q: Who is the most interesting influencer for you right now?
A: I have always joked that Coco Chanel was my spirit animal. The thing that I think that both have — Chanel and Frida Kahlo, who I also admire — is their independence. They had it at a time and a place when they weren’t meant to be who they were. They did it their way, they did it unapologetically, and they rose to prominence because of it, defying what other people thought they should look like or how they should act or dress. They had a vision and an idea that they continued to move forward on without any thought of what others would say. They were tenacious women!
Q: What motivates you?
A: What motivates me is why I think I’m here on this earth, my purpose. My purpose motivates me to communicate and to inspire. It gives me so much joy to know that if I can share something and provide a piece of information that changes someone’s life for the better then I am at the happiest level I could potentially be. The other thing that motivates me is just being an example to my children to seeing what is possible in life. To show that they don’t have to walk some prescribed path of how to live their life, but that they can create their own path to doing it in a way that makes sense for them. I never want them to feel that the only options to them are A and B, but that there’s a plethora of options. We live in such a binary society where we want people to choose A or B and that’s not the way life is. There is a plurality of things that you could potentially do.
Q: If you could share one overarching image tip for women everywhere, what would that be?
A: Stop wearing black! Find your color and wear it boldly. Black doesn’t have any energy and it doesn’t communicate anything. By wearing color, even in a scarf or any accessory, just something that adds energy to you and those around you that is my biggest image tip in the world! When I work with people and they start shifting their colors they feel so alive and much better. Then they start looking at black like they don’t want to wear it and if they do it’s with so much more style and pizazz than how we usually think to wear it as a coverall!