Power of Following One’s Heart With Sarah Liller
Meet Sarah Liller, a fashion designer and personal stylist hailing from the picturesque Marin County, California. Although her parents envisioned a medical career for her, her love affair with fashion and sewing began at just 13. After a detour into the world of biochemistry, she bravely chose to pursue her passion and attended the renowned Parsons design school in the heart of New York.
Today, Sarah offers personal styling services, both in the Bay Area and virtually worldwide, guiding individuals to discover their unique style and step into their most empowered selves.
Join us as we delve into Sarah's inspiring journey and glean insights on how style can be a powerful tool for self-expression and empowerment. Sarah's journey is a testament to the power of following one's heart. You can find Sarah on Instagram @sarahlillerstyling
Watch Sarah's Story
Jennifer: Welcome to the I Don’t Give a Should Show – a podcast exploring ALL the ways that women SHOULD all over themselves. How many times do you find yourself acting out of obligation or doing what everyone ELSE expects from you without stopping to consider why? Where do all those beliefs that are driving you come from? If you’re tired of feeling resentful, overwhelmed, stuck, exhausted or pissed off you’re in the right place.
Shoulding all over yourself is a real thing, but it doesn’t have to be in the driver’s seat.
I’m your host Jen Sherwood, and I spent waaaaay too many years trying to prove that I was good enough and worrying what other people thought while avoiding conflict at all costs. Today, I don’t give a should – well not as many anyway and neither should you. I’m talking to women like you who figured out how to stop shoulding and start LIVING.
Today, my guest is Sarah Liller. I'm so excited to have Sarah here - she is a fashion designer and personal stylist based in Marin County, California. Sara learned to sew at the age of 13 and has always been passionate about her clothes, her parents wanted her to be a doctor.
After studying to get her master's in biochemistry, she decided to follow her passion and attend the prestigious Parsons Design School in New York. Sarah now has her own clothing line that she sells online. It's characterized by clean lines and sophisticated silhouettes, all while being incredibly comfortable. It sounds amazing. She also provides personal styling services both in the Bay Area and virtually all over the world to help men and women develop personal style and step into the highest level version of themselves.
That sounds incredible - Sarah, welcome, I'm so happy to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me.
Yeah, my pleasure.
Let's not delay any more. I'm excited to hear this story, so can you tell us what it was like for you when you were living under the shoulds?
Growing up, I was always really smart - always the brainy nose in the book type of kid and my parents and all my teachers, and everyone was like, you know, you're so smart, you really should become a doctor, you know, you're just so so smart. That's what you do if you want to have security and a good job, and you're totally capable of it.
I had always been the kid that, while I had my nose in the book, was always drawing or, you know, I learned to sew, and I was making my own clothes. I would spend hours and hours in my high school bedroom just putting outfits together, which is not normal, I found out now but at the time, this was like what I wanted to do. No one ever told me that I could make a living doing that or it could be a career, I had no positive role models that were artists that we're making a living. I was like, well, what I should do is have a secure career, and then I can always do this stuff on the side on my own, and so I went to school, and I studied chemistry. The funny thing is, I was actually really, really good at it, I was going to become a doctor, and I started interning at this hospital in Orange County where I was living at the time. I just was like, Oh, I don't know if I can do this, you know, I don't know if I can really care for people in this way.
My teacher at the time was my advisor and was like, well, if you're not going to become a doctor, you know what you should do, you should go to medical school and you should go to graduate. I applied to PhD programs in biochemistry, and I got into most of them. I ended up going into the University of Arizona in Tucson and doing their biochemistry PhD program and I was working on something crazy, like nuclear resonance spectroscopy of DNA binding proteins and bacteria or something just totally not not interesting at all. The crazy part about it is like everyone kept telling me how good I was at it, and I was like, kept feeling like, am I good at this because it doesn't feel like I'm that committed to it. It was like, oh, you're so smart, you're so good at this, you're gonna go far, like, you know, the weight of expectations, the weight of other people's expectations.
In the meantime, I still had this love for clothes and one of my best friends who I worked with in the lab with me, I've known her forever, you know, 15 years. She was like, I knew something was off when you would come to the lab in red high heels like that's not typical, right and there was this one night in particular, how did you just want to experiment and it was like a 36 hour experiment. At one point, I had to finish it in the lab and had to be there in like two in the morning, three in the morning, so I did it. I took the measurements at the end, and it didn't work, and I was really bummed.
I remember just going home and sitting on my couch and just crying and being like this is not the life I want for myself.It just like hit me like a ton of bricks that I had this, this personal potential, not this potential that other people saw in me, but like a personal potential that I wasn't tapping into. I didn't know exactly what it was going to look like, but I knew that where I was at that moment was wrong. I knew that I had to get out of that pain, so I decided, okay, I have to figure out what I'm going to do instead of this. I kept going through the program and going to work and doing all those things but I just had in the back of my mind, like, what am I going to do next and of course, the shoulds in me is like, well, if you're not going to be a doctor, then you are a PhD, then you should become a lawyer.
I was exactly when people when you were young, you were like, well, you should be a doctor. No one said to you, do you enjoy taking care of other people? Science, like, you're smart so should be a doctorate and so it actually makes me laugh that you send that love, I'm not going to be a doctor, then I should be a lawyer, because that's the second job for smart people. Exactly. Yeah, only two jobs for people, and that's all you get.
Luckily, I was smart enough at the time to be like, okay, well, this is what I want to do. I want to see what it's like, so I shadowed a patent lawyer for a day, and it was like the worst experience. First of all, it was like all men, and all they talked about was golf. They had these big stacks of books and he was telling me how to become a partner, you have to work these, like 60-80 hour weeks. I was like, not for me. I just felt so lost and I went through this period of a few months where I just felt really lost and not knowing what to do.
I had a really good friend who knew me for a long time, sat me down and was like, you know, what do you actually want to do? He was like, you don't have a mortgage, you don't have a family like this is your chance to do whatever the hell you want. And so I really sat down and thought about what do I love and the thing I always came back to as clothes like I've always loved shopping, I've always loved making clothes.
I've just, there's something about color and fabric and design that is so inherent in who I am as a person. It's like in my soul, and that's a soul-centered thing that I've always been good at, but I never thought I was special. I was like, well, that's an interesting idea and luckily, at that time, I had a friend who had lived in New York and had had a roommate that had gone to Parsons. I knew somebody who knew somebody who was working in fashion actually making a living doing it and I think that was the thing that opened my mind to be. Well, maybe this is a possibility, and it was probably the scariest decision I've ever made even to just apply.
Yeah, I bet.
Well, I was just thinking, as you were saying that, and I hope this doesn't come out sounding offensive but I think you'll see where I'm going with going back to kind of like the way we're programmed in this society. If you're thinking fashion, that's not typically what you think of when you think of smart people so this should be on you, that's, that's more creative, it's more and I can see where you would have been afraid maybe people were going to dismiss you for this idea.
For all the reasons, all those stereotypical reasons that we can come up with. And yet what I loved about this was you just said, the design color clothing, it's my superpower, but you didn't even know it. And I love that because the longer I do these interviews, and the more people I talk to, the more I realize, we don't know our superpowers, because it's so innate in us, we don't realize that other people don't have a natural propensity towards this.
For you to suddenly take this question, like really take your friend's question of what do you want to do and then actually run with it. I love the story so much because I imagine you were terrified - this is you're already, you know, sort of turning your back, not sort of your you're turning your back on where you thought you were going, and then it's this whole, where do I go now?
I'm thinking about fashion as a career and how this is such a 180 from where you are and took such courage. What do you think it was that gave you the courage to make that big shift?
I think for me, so I lost my mother fairly early, like right before I turned 18 and I think when I got to Arizona, I finally was mourning her and I had like gotten through this point of like, getting to where I wasn't, I was no longer using the school and the achievement as a point of coping with that.
I think having moved past that and realizing that, oh my gosh, she passed away in her 50s. Life is so short - I only have this one chance and I don't want to regret anything, because I know that she had regrets. Most people do when they pass so I was like, you know, science will always be there, I can always go back to this. No decision is permanent, and if I don't do this now, I'm gonna regret it for the rest of my life.
That was far more scary for me than to stay then like the fear of going into the unknown.
Wow, what an incredible way to take a situation that was so difficult and so painful and then eventually be able to look at it as a catalyst of, of moving on, you didn't want.
You wanted a different experience for yourself and so I just want to recognize that that was such an incredible way that you took this, this, what I would imagine was a devastating experience losing your mom so young, and then using it to propel yourself forward.
Okay, so you get up the nerve, you apply to Parsons?
Yeah, I applied to Parsons.
I had to put a project together to get in, and it was the funniest thing I did.
You go from the experiment where you're like, to in the morning at work, and I got to put a project together. I mean, for anyone who's watching, that is such a visceral, visible difference.
I hope you take this as a takeaway that when you do the thing you love, that's what it feels like.
Yeah, it was so fun.
I sent it in and I was just so proud of it but I was like, you know what, if it doesn't happen, if I don't get in, I'll figure out a way. I was looking into local community colleges and all that stuff, and I remember the day I got the letter in the mail saying that I got in. I fell to my knees and just started bawling because I was like, I don't know, for me when I when something is like a gut and to me that's like my soul's response to like, this is you got it.
Oh, my gosh, your soul that went to undergrad and was doing this PhD program in this thing that you were really good at, but you didn't love and suddenly it just all opens up into this thing you really love.
Of course, you're always like, oh, yeah, I know but it's crazy, so I did this, and then I had to make a decision. For me, it was just like a heck yes, like, I have to do this, but to tell my advisor and to tell, you know, my friends and the people I knew, like my close friends, were very supportive. Yeah, like people kind of on the more periphery or especially people who were mentors were like, what the heck are you doing?
Then they have their own conditioning, so they're just like, it helped me all the things. That's such a competitive field or oh, you know, it's so hard to make money doing that and luckily, I was just like, I can't listen to this.
Otherwise, you would have just not followed your dreams - isn't it funny?
I mean, I think people have such good intentions when they say stuff like that to you, but really, you knew where you were going. It was a matter of I just need to inform you of this and move on.
This is not asking you for permission like I've already given myself permission to do this.
Sorry, I totally cut you off but I just had this thought so many of the women I work with and who are attracted to my work tend to be people pleasers, and have a hard time speaking up. This is where a lot of the shoulds come from, so I wonder if at any point in this process was there for you?
I mean, I realize it was hard to tell these advisors and professors and people who you looked up to, was there fear for you of what people were going to think of you and how people were going to judge you?
Oh, yeah, like I'm a quitter.
That was a medieval one, like, oh, she's a quitter, or, oh, she's frivolous. She's doing something frivolous because, you know, I was in biomedical research, you know, I'm helping people, but you know, it was like a land, you know, I think there is like you were talking about before this idea that that's not what smart people do or like I'm wasting my intelligence.
Yet now, on the other side of all this should you be, glowing as you talked about, what do you do and so, you made this choice, you moved on?
I can't imagine - I mean, I don't think this should ever completely stop for anybody. I think it's how we respond to them. So I'm wondering, as you start following your actual passion, how do things change for you? How is life different for you?
When I went to New York, that was like the most expansive and also scary portion of my life. Like for the first time in my life, I was actually allowed to call myself an artist and that was really really big for me, and it even took me a year to kind of get to that point where I could really be like, I'm an artist.
It's so funny because the idea of me in a lab at this point in my life is like, so sad and depressing because what is this my day is filled with color and fittings and going to people's homes and cleaning out their closets and showing them what looks good on them.
I'm helping people through that, you know, the original intent was to help people, and now I'm doing it through this other vehicle that comes so much more naturally to me. That just lights me the heck up like, I just freakin' love what I do. I love the fashion industry - I just think it's so fun.
I was just thinking, as you were saying, that you just seem so joy-filled. Before you made the change, was there, I don't want to say was their joy, because I'm sure there was in you know, I don't think you were like, the most miserable person in the world but I should let you answer that question.
But like, what was it like then versus now?
Yes, this is a great question.
The joy then always came from pleasing other people and getting praise. Like, either I got an A, or I had a professor telling me I did a good job or something along those lines. It never felt intrinsic, now, I mean, everybody, I still have that conditioning where, you know, I like to be told, I'm doing a good job.
I get validation, but it comes from such a different place now. My happiness and my joy and my satisfaction - that it's you. I can't compare the two. It's like that was such a fake or, like, very outside-centered joy, it comes from inside.
Oh, I love that so much.
The external validation gave you sort of a gold star, and then that's what you were seeking, which we all are worth. I don't know where you know, for most, I don't know where that lies for most people but it's so common to want that external validation. Now what it sounds like to me is, you know, what you want and the joy is coming from within.
If someone pays you a compliment now, that's nice, and it sort of adds to that, but you don't need it.
Is that what I'm hearing?
Oh, I love that.
Life looks very, very different now for Sarah, while you follow your passion than it did back when you were doing what you were more than capable of doing but not happy doing?
It's not to say that there aren't tough days, I mean, it is a tough industry and there's a lot of competition. You really have to hustle sometimes, but it's like, overall, I'm so happy with my choices.
Isn't that what we really want from everything?
I think it took an incredible amount of courage for you to make that change. I just love the message of it all, just how much more joyful your life is, and I hope people listening actually really take that in that you were on this pathway that was very socially acceptable and encouraged.
You just took the turn and you're here to tell the table in here to talk about how much you love what you're doing.
Can you share more about what you're doing and who and how you work?
Yeah, so I kind of like to do a lot of I'd like to refer to myself as a multi passionate fashion.
I have a clothing line, and everything is produced in San Francisco - I've been doing it for about 10 years, and I sell to boutiques across the US and also online on my website. What I love about my clothing line is I get to make women feel beautiful, and everything is comfortable.
The dresses have pockets - it's very designed for a woman, women by a woman so it's also practical, it's good for packing.
I always imagined my muse is the woman who wants to fly off to Paris, have something comfortable to wear on the plane, but get off and not look like an American. There's like sophistication, but also an ease to it, which I just absolutely adore.
That's one half of me, and then the other half is I do personal styling, and this is something I'm really, really passionate about. What I love about style is that it's so unique to each person, and it's your way of telling people how you want to be treated. I just find so much power in that, you know, it's really taking your power back and showing up for yourself and for your job and for your family and for whoever in the way you want and it's like a very external way to do that. It's so easy once you get the right tools and help to show up in that way on a consistent basis.
Yeah, can you say more about that, how you want to be treated? What do you mean when you say that because I think there's a lot of power in there.
One pushback I get sometimes is like, oh, well, you shouldn't be judged, by the way you look but we live in a society where it only takes seven seconds for someone to make a first impression. That's just human nature and so instead of being a victim to that, I like women or men to take their power back and say like, okay, well, if this is the case, if this is the game, then I'm going to play the game.
I'm going to show up in a way that feels X, Y, and Z so when I work with clients, the first thing we talk about is like, how do you want to feel? How do you want people to treat you? What words do you want to use to describe yourself, and you get things like, authoritative or colorful or approachable or feminine.
I have them choose their top five, and that's what we use to kind of guide all of our work together. For me, clothes have always been something that evokes a feeling and energy. You can really, really own that with style, own the energy that you want to put out in the world. Other people feed off of that, so if you show up, for example, in, you know, something that you've had for 30 years, and you don't feel good in, and it's all black and saggy, you know, people are gonna react to you. You're telling people that you don't value yourself in a way? How do you expect them to value you if you don't value yourself?
I love that.
The flip side is if you if you, you know, get help, or if you go on YouTube and learn some things about your body type and your coloring, and you show up and like a bright blouse and do your hair and put on some lipstick, and you it just it changes how people see you, but also how you see yourself and so it's a loop the whole dynamics.
I'm so glad you described it in the way that you did because it's clearly such a different experience from walking into a store and picking up something and trying it on and thinking. I mean, you're actually I love that what you say to someone is how you want to feel. It changes everything there, and of course, I'm sure that you're not saying if there's somebody who has very strong feelings about they don't want to get into sort of the conventional patriarchal, you need to show up.
Certainly, that's fine - show up however you want to show up because if you're owning who you are, then that also projects something but I totally hear what you're saying. Like just think about how you want to feel and then how do you show up and, and that whole cyclical dynamic between you and the other person? I think that is so important. Again, I can't emphasize enough that you're going in and working with the person on who they want to be in this world.
It's not just covering up it's actually bringing the person out as I hear you saying this.
I think fashion gets a bad rap because, you know, there is a lot of shallowness to it, but at the same time, it's such an amazing tool that you can use to really express yourself.
It's interesting that I had done the same thing in an episode with a woman who was a makeup artist, and it's the same idea, like it can be looked at as shallow. Yet, if you're helping someone enhance themselves and feel better, it's going to change the way they show up and so it's this beautiful.
I don't even know if synbiotic is the right word for that, but this whole thing feeds another and how we show up, and then you can change how you're thinking about yourself, and it's just beautiful. I love love love your approach to this, I really do. I can imagine there are people out there like, okay Jen, how do I get a hold of, like, I bought what she's having sort of a thing?
Can you share who you work with and how people can follow you or reach you?
Yeah, so I work with men and women who are just ready to level up they're just tired of not showing up the way they want to in the world. A lot of them have gone through changes like having a baby or getting a new job or a divorce or whatever life throws at you. You know, those are always good opportunities to check in and make a change, but I think sometimes you're just like me, and you sit on your couch and start crying and realize you need to change.
Whatever that is, you know that's who I work with and I work in the Bay Area in person or also virtually around the world. My website is https://www.stylingwithsarah.com
You can also see my clothing line that's just my name https://sarahliller.com and I'm on Instagram as well again at @sarahliller is my clothing line and then at @sarahlillerstyling is my instagram handle for the styling business.
We will put all the information in when this is posted as well. Sarah, I can't thank you enough for being here. This has just been such a joy and a pleasure to have this conversation with you and I. I've no doubt that people are walking away with some inspiration and maybe some ideas about who you know, maybe re looking at how they're showing up in the world and what that could do for them so thank you for sharing your story with us - I really appreciate it.
You're so welcome and thank you so much for having this is really fun.
My pleasure - it was fun!
Those of you who are watching or listening, thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you next time.