Here’s what they never tell you. The grown-ups. The successful ones. The winners in life. They never tell you that right up until the moment they “won” – they were faking it. In relationships, career paths, all of it. While we’re looking in from the outside thinking they’ve got it all together – they’re flying by the seat of their pants, praying it doesn’t all come crashing down. Working at it until they do in fact know what the hell they’re doing and leaning into luck to keep them afloat until then.

This is a secret of adulthood that I only just recently realized. After obsessively listening to and reading interviews and biographies of people I admire, it suddenly struck me that there was one thread that tied them all together. In the beginning? They faked it. With shaking knees they went out into the world and projected confidence in whatever it was they wanted to do. And day after day, they got one step further away from having to fake it and one step closer to being a master of it. From Michelle Obama to Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Dolly Parton – everyone basically said the same thing.

The important distinction to me was that their “faking” was still authentic because it was something they were truly passionate about. If it’s a sham marriage or a job you’re only in for the payout and you’re faking it – things likely won’t work out according to these rules. But if your heart’s in it? Go ahead and tell that person you love them even if you think you’re “bad” at relationships. Sell the house and move abroad even if you don’t know how to navigate France and barely speak the language. Take the promotion even if you think you’re not yet fully ready for it. I’m not saying get yourself into a position where you’re grossly under-qualified, but winners don’t wait for “ready”. They feel scared and do it anyway. And if they can? You can fake it ’til you make it too.

You know what else helps? Dressing like you mean business. Here are some great plaid blazers sure to do the trick:

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A couple of weeks ago I published my first post about the topic of money (one I’m excited to talk more about!) – and it was all about how I set myself up for financial health and changed my money mindset. Well, if there was ever a time to test my own willpower – it’s the fall fashion season. I blame it on the fact that as a kid the only real “shopping spree” I ever got to go on was for back to school, when my Mom would take my sister and I to pick out a new pair of jeans, new shoes and a few other new novelty items before the school year started – and it felt like SUCH a treat. Flash forward to being an adult, the onslaught of new arrivals, magazine’s September issues and the fact that I just truly love fall clothes.. and it can be really hard to stay on track. This year, I was determined to do things differently though. And so I came up with a strategy.

Rule One: Don’t buy anything in July. Or August for that matter. If you haven’t unpacked your sweaters from storage, it can be really easy to forget that you do in fact already own an oversized cream cardigan and before you know it, you’ve bought a second one. Last week, I dutifully flipped my closet and found myself excited about all of my favorites that I already own and get to wear again this season. While you’re doing this, think about which pieces you wore most last year. If it was crewneck sweaters, maybe you could use a new one to add to the rotation. If you remember feeling like you never had any cute blouses to wear to work, keep that in mind as you shop.

Rule Two: Make a good old fashioned moodboard. Or a Pinterest board. Or hit save on Instagram. Back in high school, I used to pour over magazines and whittle down the one or two key pieces that I could buy into (on a budget) – maybe it was one cool pair of boots or a particular handbag silhouette – and the rest I would try to find in my own closet. I started doing this again and SO many of the looks I was seeing in my inbox or on Instagram, I could nearly recreate with pieces I already owned. I just had to ignore the shiny new version. Below are looks from Veronica Beard, Sezane and Reiss that I loved.

Rule Three: Make a list. Write out the things you still really have your heart set on, and be specific. You’ll be able to see that three pairs of ankle boots are on the list.. and can clearly cut back. Or the fact that three fancy dresses are on there, but you end up in jeans and a t-shirt everyday and you work from home.. so maybe re-think that. Note the prices and estimate a rough cost per wear (a $40 trendy sweater you’ll wear 2 times has a $20cpw while a $140 camel cashmere sweater you’ll wear 40 times this fall has a $3.50cpw). While it’s nice to add a couple of fun things into the mix to refresh your existing wardrobe, be realistic about what you feel comfortable in and where you want to put your money.

Now the fun part – shop for the things left on your list. I mean, wait for sales.. but then, you know, go for it. Below – the things I’m spending on this season and why:

  1. Plaid Miniskirt – In the past ten years I’d say consistently the item I wear most in fall is a plaid miniskirt. To work with tights and a button down shirt, for a date night with over the knee boots or casually with sneakers and a crewneck sweater. It’s my signature style. I love this one with the hits of green and know I’ll get tons of wear out of it.
  2. Patent Leather Loafers – I had a pair of black patent ankle boots and black patent leather flats that I literally wore to shreds over the past three years and finally had to toss them both. This feels like a hybrid. I tried on in store to be sure they passed the ‘walk to work’ test too.
  3. Simple Cardigan – I eyed this fluffy cardigan ALL of last fall and winter and didn’t pull the trigger but this year I’m doing it. I love that you can wear it with the buttons in front or back, all buttoned up or off the shoulder for a cool, undone look. So simple, so chic.
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Bookstores have always been one of my happiest places. My Mom worked in a library when I was a little girl and there’s something about being surrounded by books that I find deeply comforting. A tiny corner to hideaway from the world and explore one that might be completely foreign to you.

Not surprisingly, I’ve got a handful of tried and true favorite bookstores here in New York and almost always seek out bookstores when we travel (I like to buy books when I travel that remind me of that specific place – Little Women from a bookshop in New England for instance or Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ in Paris).

I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite shops around the world and hope that if you have a favorite that’s not on this list in your town (or someplace great that you’ve traveled) you’ll share it with me so that I can add it to my list.

  1. Strand Bookstore (Union Square, NYC) – This is my home court so to speak. For 6 of my 10 years in New York I’ve lived within walking distance to the Strand – and you can bet that if I’m within a few blocks of passing by, I’m going in. So many books on my shelf have come from here and I love that they also will buy books back in good condition – in the case that your tiny apartment no longer holds your collection. It gets packed on the weekends but I love the feeling of New Yorkers (and a good fill of tourists) all jammed in together, excited to get a new book.
  2. Shakespeare & Co (Paris, France) –  If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me. That logic applies to both bars and bookstores, but in the case of Shakespeare & Co. you can get your fill of reading. The original opened in 1918 and then passed along its name to the new location, which sits along the banks of the Seine and opened in the 1950s. From F. Scott Fitzgerald to Allen Ginsberg to Zadie Smith, generations of American writers have passed through the doors of this tiny English-language bookstore in the City of Light. It’s a must visit before you browse the vintage book sellers along the river.
  3. The Spotted Dog (Hudson, NY) – Less than two hours north of Manhattan, along the quaint main street of Hudson – The Spotted Dog earns a spot on this list because it combines two of my favorite things – books and beer. A full bar with craft beer on tap sits right among the shelves. Adam and I passed an entire rainy afternoon in this sweet little spot and I can’t wait to go back again this Fall.
  4. Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC) – A cute little shop right along upper King Street. There’s a lot of shopping in this stretch that feels touristy but Blue Bicycle has an authentic Southern hospitality in my opinion, with friendly staff and a great selection. Don’t miss grabbing a biscuit at Callie’s afterwards.
  5. Albertine (Upper East Side, NYC) – An extension of the French Embassy, this swoon-worthy bookstore is devoted to French & English books and sits across from Central Park on Fifth Avenue. After a stroll through the park, I suggest popping in just to see the grand ceilings alone and picking up a tres bien livre (very good book).
  6. Daunt (London, England) – This one really has my heart. A travel-focused bookshop set in London’s very posh Marylebone neighborhood, my study abroad University was just a few blocks away from this so I passed many hours between classes by popping into this shop. It’s just beautiful inside and when I finally had a chance to go back a couple of years ago, it was still as charming as ever.
  7. Brattle Bookshop (Boston, MA) – One of the oldest and largest used bookstores in America, this one fits well with Boston’s historic charm. You’ll find plenty of great affordable options plus rare first editions all just a skip away from a stroll through Boston Common.
  8. Rizzoli (Flatiron, NYC) – Another NYC favorite – I couldn’t possibly just pick one.. or two – is conveniently located in the Flatiron district and is a wealth of beautiful coffee table books, new fiction, hobby sections like cooking or photography and a cute kids section. I often pop in on my lunch break just because its so pretty inside.
  9. South Congress Books (Austin, TX) – This place has exactly the sort of quirky charm you expect in Austin’s hip South Congress neighborhood. Pick out a used or vintage book here before heading to grab tacos at nearby Guero’s.
  10. Bookmarc (West Village, NYC) – Okay, okay, one more in New York. Bookmarc is a mainstay in the West Village to me and while it’s small it has a perfectly curated, highly fashionable offering that’s always worth stopping by to see. Plus, they carry Olympia Le Tan clutches (hand-embroidered small box clutches that look like famous book covers) which I will continue to swoon over until I can one day afford.

(pictured below: The Spotted Dog and Daunt)

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I think its safe to say that work keeps a lot of us up at night. Stress over your next career move, worry about a big project deadline.. as an adult these are the things that go bump in the night.

I’m a notoriously good sleeper. I’m asleep before Adam’s head has hit the pillow after kissing me goodnight. Give me an 8 hour flight and I’ll be asleep before we’re off the tarmac.. the stewardess gently nudging me at landing. But lately, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night consumed with thoughts of work.

I moved into a new role at the beginning of the summer and its been stressful as I transitioned into a more managerial position. Each week, without fail, come Wednesday or so and I’d start to get restless in the night. The sounds of sirens out my window not enough to drown out the noise inside my own head. Little things that I needed to add to my to-do list or bigger picture things like budget planning for 2020. And what’s worse is that first my brain would think of work and then it would veer into new (old) territory – that time I said the wrong thing to that person 7 years ago. The perfect comeback line I should have used on that ex-boyfriend. How it would have been best to stop at three tequila shots that time at that bar. You get the idea. It seems my transition at work was strangely digging up my entire past.

Joan Didion once said “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4AM of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” This summer has been the first time I truly understood her.

But then last week – something changed. I launched a project at work and was really happy with the results, then came home and had spent the evening feeling very excited about a side project I’ve been working on, thinking about how it perfectly combines some of my passions and will be a great creative outlet besides my full time career. That night I predictably woke in the dark, but this time – my mind was bright with ideas. I was back asleep before I knew it. I’ve been sleeping soundly ever since.

It turns out – you may need to shake your mind awake so that you can sleep. There’s always going to be things to be stressed about (career-wise or life-wise), but for me at least – once I managed to flip the script and think of all the possibilities of the future, the missteps of the past started to quiet down in my head. Here’s to a solid eight hours.


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I was floored by the fact that so many of you responded with a resounding ‘yes!’ to my prompt about financial posts here on the blog. In general, I find the conversation among young women about money terribly lacking. Couple that with the fact that most of us were raised not to discuss money and never taught anything about the practical side of things like bills, student loan debt and retirement savings in school (why is this not a required class??) – and I think it deserves at least a blog post or two. 

To begin – I’m clearly not an expert on any of this. But I think that’s a good thing. It’s intimidating to read advice from financial experts – but from a woman who is working hard to pay off her credit cards and find more ways to save money plus plan for the future? That seems easier to swallow. I’ve made money mistakes too, so you’re not on your own.

I’ve got a lot of ideas for posts surrounding this topic – but to start, I wanted to share how I changed my money mindset at the beginning of the year. To make a long story short – I spent a lot of years pretty broke. A combination of student loan debt, high cost of living in New York and entry level wages. Then a cross-country move to LA.. then a cross-country move to get back home to New York. It all took its toll. And even years after I was not necessarily broke, I was kind of just getting by. There never felt like there was enough to substantially save let alone plan for my long-term future. And somewhere around January 1st of this year I kind of just snapped. I couldn’t take one more day/week/month/year of letting my finances control me. I wanted complete control. I wanted to feel the freedom of knowing I was financially secure.

That tipping point will likely be sparked by different things for different people. Maybe you just got a big raise and finally want to spend it smartly. Maybe you found out you’re pregnant and are freaking out about how you are going to afford it. Regardless, I think when you’re really truly ready to make a change to your money mindset – you’ll know it. From there, think long and hard about your goals. Do you want to retire early? Travel the world now? There’s no wrong answer, but you’ll want a clear set of goals in order for these changes to really stick.

To begin – you need to get a really firm grasp on every single dollar in your life. I made spreadsheets that laid out every dollar I earn, every dollar that goes to a fixed cost and every extra dollar. Then all of those got further broken down into categories. You’ll start to see patterns.. do you have 15 subscriptions you never use? There’s $150 a month out the window. Do you buy your lunch instead of planning ahead and packing. Boom, there’s $50+ a week back in your pocket. Decide what you feel like you can’t live without and what you can, cut the fat, wait a day and then look again. Repeat the process.

Once you see your money staring back at you it’s a lot easier to make decisions about it. There are great apps for this (Minted and Every Dollar are both good), but a simple google sheet will do the job too. When I started and needed the most radical help, I found apps a little bit passive – but when I actually had to type out that I paid $14 for a salad.. it held me more accountable and kept inspiring me to make changes in order to create a spreadsheet that I would feel proud to look at every week. And instead of vaguely thinking at the end of each month – I wish I could have saved more, I started considering my debt payments and the savings fixed costs. Like rent, they became non-negotiable.

Once I felt like I had a real handle on what was possible in a given month, I made a one year plan. Plus a five year, ten year and twenty year financial plan. Obviously there are things that could radically change over that period of time, but if I think in 10 years I want to own a getaway home outside the city or in 20 years I want to have a college savings fund for a couple of kids.. I need to be thinking about that now.

So the plans were set. Now how did I stick to it? I made it a habit. Habits are easier than self control. It doesn’t take a lot of will power to brush your teeth every morning (it’s a habit), so I wanted to get to the point where managing my money properly felt the same way.

And when I was tempted by a cute new pair of shoes or a dress on sale? I consulted the spreadsheet. Like literally would stand in a store and pull up the spreadsheet on my phone. Sometimes just that simple act was enough to remind me that I had bigger goals and I’d easily be able to walk out the door. But just in case – I unsubscribed from store emails too and started walking home a different way so I no longer passed by some of my favorite Fifth Avenue shops. And if I still wanted that dress? I wrote it down on a list of “wants”. Everything from a new couch to those cute shoes would go on the list and then as I looked at my weekly discretionary money I could consult the list and decide what I really wanted most and what I could stand waiting on.

In short, I made a lot of lists. 8 months later though? And I’ve never felt more free. Sometimes Adam and I just look at the number in our savings account and are dumbfounded at how we saved so much so far this year (listen it’s not like we’re running away to the South of France anytime soon – but it’s more than we’ve ever had in that account before). And it’s because I made it a habit for us. I drew a firm line in the sand and refused to step back over it. Every single day I think about my money for at least a few minutes. I check in, I remind myself why I started and I plan for tomorrow.

If it sounds overwhelming, I promise you the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck is more overwhelming. We devote time every day to our mental and physical health, surely we can give 5 minutes a day to financial health, no?

Next time I’m going to tackle my strategy for fall shopping (in keeping with my new money mindset) and I’ve got posts planned for how I deal with living in a veryyy expensive city, decorating a home on a budget and how I balance money in my relationship with Adam. Lots more to come! Happy saving my friends.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.