Okay I’m going to admit something–Project Runway, a show produced by the Lifetime Television Network is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve been watching it for years. The formula is rather straightforward. Every week contestants struggle to create beautiful garments under the stressful conditions of limited time and resources, snarky colleagues, and harsh critiques. It always stretches the contestant’s talents to the breaking point as they try to use their creativity to create amazing clothes. This season on Project Runway All-Stars, I took a special liking to Helen Castillo.
Helen is talented, clever, creative and an intuitive contestant who puts everything on the line to meet each challenge. She is assertive, bold in her opinions, self-confident and articulate. She is focused and a formidable competitor who takes no prisoners! Throughout the season her work ranked consistently high–though there were times when she struggled to maintain her place in the competition (especially the next to last episode where she was required to to participate in a sudden death face-off). You can watch the show on many levels. Here are some life lessons I have learned from Helen.
Pressure Creates Diamonds
Helen’s best work came as she faced extreme pressure. Though all of her work was superb, I felt her best pieces–her most creative work–emerged as she faced psychological pressures that would make most of us scream. None like hardship or difficulties but these can be useful as a means of transformation. Struggle and challenge make us grow. Were it not for the creative environment, I do not think we would have seen the scope of Helen’s amazing abilities. That’s a lesson that should not be lost on the rest of us.
Use your emotions in your work
Helen taught us that we can use our emotions, whatever they maybe, to produce a transformative and creative work. In the face-off competition, Helen wept as she cut apart the garments of previous contestants in order to meet the challenge of making something new. It was clear that she respected her friends and their work. Her tears were based upon a genuine sadness that she was required to destroy their creations. For a moment, I thought she might refuse to go further. I would have understood that. I’ve often though of quitting under conditions like these. But Helen did something amazing. She used her sadness to produce a beautiful work–what Richard Rohr calls a “bright sadness.” The simple black dress with the white cat-eared collar communicated her sense of grieving, loss, and sadness even better than words. It was a beautiful statement piece–a monument of sorts–that paid homage to those who had passed from the show even as she was required to carry on. To me, that was one of Helen’s shining moments–perhaps a transforming one as well. It demonstrated how we should handle grief and disappointment.
Always be true to yourself
Another lesson we can learn from Helen is to always be true to your own sense of self. Helen trusts that her instincts will see her through. She demonstrates how one honors the self as they couple their unique interpretation of an assignment with personal style, creativity, and training. I never sensed that Helen compromised on the big things–those that would compromise who she was as a designer–in order to “better” please a judge or mentor. She demonstrates how we can be authentic and autonomous without resorting to rebelliousness. Because of this, Helen Castillo shared her one-of-a-kind gifts with all of us–and that’s an important lesson for us all to learn.
Respect other’s opinions as you remain true to your own sense of direction.
Finally, Helen was gracious when others expressed opinions of her work. Sometimes those opinions seem rather harsh to me. She did not wither under pressure nor did she respond angrily. She listened–occasionally stated her view–and took it all in. What I admired about Helen was her willingness to accept her own creations even if others did not appear to understand her vision. Though she appreciated compliments–she did not appear to need the approval of others. She is a strong woman.
Though Helen Castillo did not win the ultimate prize that was measured in dollars and a fashion magazine spread– she demonstrated that she had already obtained what Project Runway is really all about–a well-developed sense of personal style and autonomy that can be used to creatively produce beautiful clothes that make all of our lives just a bit better. The prize would have been nice–but it was not needed to validate her sense of worth or importance as a designer.
Helen, you’ll do just fine–I expect to hear great things from you!