May 17, 2021

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My Biggest Hair Disaster And How I Dealt With It All Wrong


Text overlay read "how I dealt with this MASSIVE hair mistake" over a picture of a client getting their hair rinsed at the salon sink

“I wasn’t listening, I was so panicked and scared”

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Welcome back to another episode of The Anxious Creative podcast! I’m so freakin’ stoked to be hanging out with you. Can you believe this is episode 101?! I’ve never really hit a milestone (or even celebrated a milestone) like this before. 

I’m one of those people who’s always looking ahead, wanting to grow and getting excited about what’s in the future that I often forget to stop and celebrate where I’m currently at. 

So thank you so much for making this possible and celebrating with me!

In this episode I’m going to be talking about the time that I royally messed up someone’s hair, how I handled it and what I wished I would’ve done and how I’m going to help you handle those stressful situations when you mess up someone’s hair. 

Buckle up friend, let’s dive in. 

A Night I Won’t Forget

August 30, 2016, is a night I will never forget…

You see, I had been throwing up every 20 minutes for 2-3 hours. Nick had called our HealthLink, where you can speak to a nurse on the phone, to try to figure out what was going on. 

I was convulsing but still coherent. The nurse on the phone thought I might be having a seizure and told us to get to the hospital IMMEDIATELY. I literally dragged myself to the car, laid across the back seat and threw up again on the way to the hospital. When we got there I laid down on the ER floor (you know you’re not feeling good when you’re willing to lay down on an ER floor). 

It felt like hours, but they finally called my name and I was sure that I was seeing a doctor. Sweet relief was near and I was desperate for it. They wheeled me through a set of doors, only to place me in another waiting room. 

Things started going downhill fast from there. My arms went stiff and numb, my face went soggy and I couldn’t for the life of me catch my breath. I screamed out to Nick to go find a doctor and he literally sauntered over. If I had any sort of strength in me I would’ve yelled at him again. I truly thought I was dying. 

It turns out that I had a massive panic attack due to the stress and anxiety I had been under for the last 7 months. 

When the Unexpected Happens

Let’s rewind to January 30th of 2016 – another day I will never forget. (2016 was a memorable year for all the wrong reasons). 

I had been invited by Cosmoprof to come do a photoshoot at ISSE with their team. But there was one client that I couldn’t reschedule so I ended up not going at all. I will forever regret that decision because what happened with that one client ended up changing the course of my career. 

I thought I was doing the right thing by staying behind and doing the client I couldn’t reschedule. It would’ve been unprofessional to cancel on her to go to a photoshoot, right?

Then the most horrific thing that’s ever happened to me in my 20 years in the industry happened. 

It felt like the universe was punishing me for doing the right thing. Especially when I watched the careers’ of the stylists that were part of that photoshoot completely explode. 

I was coloring my client’s hair, this wasn’t the first time I had colored it, in fact she totally loved it. She raved about how great it was and how she never wanted anyone else to touch their hair. I was flattered and my ego was fluffed. 

This particular appointment, she wanted to go blonder and do a big chop. 

So we started with the chop, no sense lightening hair we’re just gonna chop off anyway and I started applying the lightener. I was using a clay lightener as I had exclusively changed to open-air balayage at this point. 

I had been living in Calgary for just over a year, in my new downtown salon space and I was feeling like I was the sh*t. I was a big city stylist, in demand, I felt like I had finally made it to the big leagues. 

As I’m applying the lightener, we were talking about some racy and gossipy things and my client said: “It’s getting really hot in here.”

Thinking she was referring to the content of our conversation I joked back: “I know right?”

“No… my neck is sweating and I hear crackling…”

“What?!” I leaned forward getting closer to her hair and it felt like I was leaning in front of a fire. Like I had just opened a hot oven door in my face. 

And the noise… I could hear this crackling noise. Like a campfire popping. I anxiously peeked through the mesh and her hair was the palest yellow. I took her to the sink immediately. Reminding myself I can tone it down if we need. 

The walk to the sink felt like an eternity and my mind was racing: It was 10 minutes, how did this happen in 10 minutes? She’s a level 4 brunette, there’s no way it should’ve lifted that quickly… especially with clay lightener…

I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what could’ve happened. 

We finally reached the sink and as I combed through her hair, it just fell off. My stomach flipped. 

I sat down to try to gain some composure and my dog Leroy came and curled up on my lap. He was a big dog, not particularly what you’d call a lap dog, but he could sense my anxiety and he curled up right on my lap. 

I told my client honestly that I didn’t know what happened. All I knew was that it was a heat reaction. We had learned about them in school and that they could be caused by a number of things: copper pipes, metallic dyes, hormones, diets and who knows what else. I wasn’t going to send her hair to a lab, so there wasn’t any way we were going to know what happened. 

Thankfully, we had started with cutting her hair and it was just at the nape of her head. Although the damage was minimal and she wanted to cut it into a bob I was so embarrassed. 

My biggest fear was that other stylists in Calgary would find out that. You see, I had put on this facade that I was a good stylist and had all my shit together. I was so terrified that someone would find out that I was only human, that I wasn’t perfect and that mistakes happen and sometimes unpredictable events happen.

I was so scared that I went above and beyond (probably even a little overboard) for my client. I told her I would give her treatments every week, told her I would put extensions in her hair, told her she could call or text me any time. Although I was doing it because I cared about her, my real motivation was the fear that someone else would find out and call me a “bad stylist”. 

A Single Moment

16 years into my career and I felt like I had somehow faked my entire career up to this point. 

“Clearly I don’t know what I’m doing” was a thought I couldn’t shake after that incident. I based my entire career on this one appointment where something unpredictable happened. 

I spent close to $2000 worth of extensions for her and I comped it all. When I put them in we went back to the original length she had come in with before the big chop. 

Within two weeks she wanted them removed. She told me she was feeling like she was breaking out with hives. Looking back she probably had her own stress and anxiety going on. I nearly cried as I took them out, seeing all my money literally going into the trash. 

Even though she kept saying “let’s go shorter” I refused to listen because I was so panicked and scared. 

I eventually ended up throwing my back out with all the stress and anxiety I was in. I would constantly have intrusive thoughts of “what if” and how it all could’ve gone so much worse. 

Thoughts like:

  • What if she goes to see another stylist…

  • What if they find out it was me who did her hair?

  • What if they know I made a mistake?

  • What if they call me a terrible stylist…

I was spiralling down a hole of anxiety, fast. 

That’s when she texted me that she had booked in somewhere else. And all those intrusive thoughts came full force right back at me. 

I completely forgot about the 16 years of success I had and I thought I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. And I hid in fear for the next 7 months. 

I would rarely go out in public because I was terrified of bumping into her. I had this irrational fear and overwhelming anxiety. 

I stopped posting to social media and I never wanted to show a before until I knew for sure that it turned out well. The last thing I wanted to do was show a whole process if there was a possibility that something could go wrong. 

The next time I put lightener onto someone’s hair I was completely terrified and I ended up playing small for the next 2-3 years. 

I really backed away from the momentum I had created for myself. 


The biggest mistake of this situation was not having thorough communication and a consultation ahead of time with the risks involved. 

Now with every new client I explain that there’s a risk involved with using chemicals and I’m going to do my best to catch it as soon as possible, but I need to let you know so you don’t think it’s my fault. 

And that’s what I wish I would’ve done. 

However, most of our greatest lessons in life (including everything I teach) comes from a place of completely messing it up first. 

I certainly didn’t handle the situation properly. I gave her way too much. And most importantly, I acted out of fear rather than acting from a place of caring and taking care of my client. I had no boundaries and I ended up making myself sick. 

So although I lost her as a client and it bummed me out and I would certainly do things differently if I had time-travelling abilities. I learned a lot in the process. I learned a lot about compassion with myself. Even though it took 7 months of severe anxiety and wanting to quit the industry and my entire career. I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow. 

I want you to know, if you’re going through anything similar, I understand those feelings and I know how real it is. I want to remind you that you’re allowed to feel your feelings and how you are feeling is totally legit. 

It took from January 30th to August 30th, 7 months to the day. It was that night in the hospital, where I felt like I really was able to purge a lot of that anxiety. After having that extreme panic attack and not being able to breathe, there was a sort of relief that came after. 

It was like I had been clinging onto this fear for 7 months. The fear of “what are people going to think”, “what if word gets out someone’s hair didn’t turn out”, “people aren’t going to want to learn from me, I’m not going to be able to teach me anymore”. 

That’s Life

Realizing that mistakes are part of life and welcoming when things go sideways has been a huge shift for me. 

That’s life. That’s our career. There’s no way that things will turn out exactly perfect every single time. And if we don’t learn how to adapt and evolve with things, if we don’t learn to make decisions quickly, if we don’t learn to be flexible when things don’t go right, that could be our greatest downfall. 

I handled that situation in the best way I knew how to at that time. I think we can be hard on ourselves as we learn new ways of doing life and doing work, we can be hard on ourselves when we look back, like: “I can’t believe I did it that way”. 

But I only had so much knowledge back then and that situation, unfortunate as it was, actually made me learn a lot about communication with clients. 

If it weren’t for that fateful situation, I wouldn’t have created my custom consultation form, I wouldn’t have created Rock Your Consultation and I definitely wouldn’t have made Rock Your Business (which, by the way, enrolment is opening soon, so you should definitely get on the waitlist)

None of these programs would have existed. The lives that have changed and the incredible community I’ve been able to facilitate never would’ve come to fruition. 

I’m so humbled when I see the incredible things my students and community are doing. They’re freakin’ amazing because they support and love each other. 

I wish I had a community when I moved here. I didn’t have any connections in the industry and I didn’t try to make connections because I was super shy and insecure. But I put on this exterior that I had it all together, when in reality I was so lonely and scared. 

And I had no one in the industry to share this burden I was feeling. Or to tell me that it happens to so many people. I didn’t have a support system and it sucked and it made it so much worse. 

That’s why I created these communities and these programs to help others through similar situations. 

I wanted to share that with you so you know 1) I’m human and 2) I don’t have all my shit together, all the time. This happened only 4 short years ago and I thought I would never be able to move past that moment. 

Know that your life and your career and your business is not tied to a single event. Not one “failure”. Know that you are not a failure if something has failed. Know that you, if you make a mistake or if something unexpected happened, it is not a direct reflection of who you are. 

I see it happen in our industry, more than others, is that we often think our identity is tied to how happy we can make our clients. And we need to start seeing our identity outside of that. 

I hope this has encouraged you, I hope you enjoyed this story. I hope it’s inspired you. Drop me a DM or tag me on Instagram @dawnbradleyhair if you have a story like this one. I seriously love hearing from you. 

See ya in the next episode, friend!

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I am just a small-town, Canadian gal from the prairies who teaches thousands of creatives around the globe how to earn 6-figures stress-free!

Hey, I’m Dawn!

“Rock Your Business” Course Creator, Host of “The Anxious Creative” Podcast. Named by Salon Magazine as Canada’s #1 women of influence.

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