Self-Styling Inspiration: A How-To From My Sister Kirby

My oldest sister Kirby, who was killed in October 2009, has long stood in my mind as an example of someone who lived a self-styled life—of how a person can get by without getting a “normal” career (though she did have many jobs).

Here’s just a smattering of those jobs:

  • Waitress
  • Manager of a horse farm
  • Manager of a pottery studio
  • Limousine driver
  • Decorative faux painter

An example of Kirby's painting work. (it's not a marble wall-she made it look that way)

As a result of shirking the “normal” career life, Kirby led a wonderfully abnormal life. By the end of it, she was actually fairly settled as a decorative faux painter. But her version of “settled” meant that she set her own schedule, working for about 7 months of the year and then traveling the rest of the year. She lived in Mexico, but still managed to visit far-away family and friends often and for long stretches due to the flexibility of her job. Kirby led a self-styled life.

In figuring out my own path, I have thought about hers a lot. These are just a few of the elements of success I’ve taken from her example:

  • Hard work: Kirby lived in a lot of different places—New York, Mexico, St. Croix, Lake Tahoe, etc. Wherever she was, though, she managed to find gainful employment. She often had multiple jobs, too, and rapidly progressed to other opportunities by impressing employers with her work ethic.
  • Living within means: Kirby was a purveyor of fine things, but knew how to wait for things that were worth it, or how to work a little harder or creatively to find a different path to her goal (she always told me that the best way to get beautiful, expensive, designer clothing was to hit the thrift stores in high-end neighborhoods). These skills certainly helped her maximize the value of her hard work, even if in lower-paying jobs.
  • Prioritizing needs and wants: This really makes living within your means possible. Kirby decided what was important to her. She wanted those 5 or so months off to travel and visit loved ones. So she worked her ass off in the preceding months and gave up other luxuries to save enough money to be able to take the time.
  • Recognizing other value in opportunities: Kirby frequently made alternative payment arrangements with her employers. In managing the horse farm, the pottery studio, and at times when faux painting, Kirby negotiated a place to live as part of her payment. She also bartered her work for things she needed or wanted, such as a vehicle or gemstones. She determined the value of her work, and by looking beyond money, she was often able to fill basic needs or acquire the pretty things that brought a little richness to her life.
  • Courage: Stepping off the tried and true path is scary. Looking for inspiration where we can find it is important.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Kirby provides one example of a self-styled life and while hers might not be for everyone, I do believe these traits are common to success in any style of life. I hope to showcase others who have inspired me in this concept, whose courage in diverging from the common path has encouraged me in finding my own.

Who has inspired you and how, and what do you think is necessary to build a self-styled life?

My sister Kirby, full of life.

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