A force in Austin’s burgeoning fashion scene, Margaret Williamson Bechtold is a stylist, trend forecaster and creative consultant. She's also the founder of Girls Our Age, a curated zine that collects artwork and writing from millennial self-identified women from around the world. A New York City transplant, Bechtold’s remarkable warmth and generosity of spirit are on full display in this interview. Refreshingly transparent about everything from toxic work relationships to her unique perspective on the “catch and release” of motivation, she also has one of the most admirably simple “big dreams” I’ve heard, to simply “do what feels right.”
How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as a maker?
Some of my consulting clients are in the startup stages of their businesses, fighting lots of uphill battles and facing a lot of no’s from people in the market not quite ready for their idea. To keep those teams’ spirits up, I always encourage that they celebrate even the tiniest victories – getting a big meeting on the books or an email response can be causes for a champagne toast. All of the negativity can really make you second-guess what you’re doing. It’s so important to fill up your reserves whenever you have an excuse to. Alas, I am not always so quick to take my own advice. Working solo means that your wins are sort of only apparent to you – it’s only your inbox, your workload, your calendar, your bank account that are effected by the projects you take on, and no one else’s. On top of that, the nature of my job has me working on multiple assignments at once, each in different stages of completion and all in varying health. Landing a new client or wrapping up a task on one project can coincide with a setback on another. I really have to actively remind myself to acknowledge my achievements on a daily basis. I have learned so much about myself over the last two years as a freelancer. I am learning to be less detrimentally self-critical (since holding on to some of that self-awareness can be a good thing). To that end, I try to always keep what my friend Jen (@heyjinnij) said to me a while back are in mind: speak to yourself like you would speak to your closest companions – because we would never be as mean to others as we are to ourselves in our heads. It also helps to have a project of your own that you can control, and that only brings you positivity. I run an annual zine called Girls Our Age that brings me only total and complete pride and joy. To be honest though, I could stand to get better at handling the lows. I tend to sink waaaay into them, unhealthily so. That’s high on my personal to-do list for this year. What a waste of energy!
When is a time you felt really successful? Or a time you felt like you failed?
In the past, I’ve failed miserably at letting bad working relationships drag on way longer than what should have been their expiration date, letting a sense of loyalty take priority over my own sanity. I’m getting much better at exiting situations that are no longer nourishing though. I think my greatest success so far is my marriage to my husband, Matt. It takes courage to open yourself up to someone, faith to become partners, and commitment to continually put in the attention and effort it takes to stay in step with one another. He makes me feel supported and creative and interesting, all of which have taken on a new preciousness since we moved to a new city and I decided to go independent with my work. It’s the only way any of this is possible. Being in Austin has been a really compelling chapter for us.
What is your biggest struggle as a person in creative industry?
Imposter syndrome – that nasty feeling that you don’t deserve to be doing what you’re doing – can be really paralyzing for creatives. When you dedicate your working life to doing what you love, it can sneak up on you when you least expect it. I’m trying to retrain my brain to equate that feeling of ease and effortlessness that can come with doing something you’re good at with flow state, an admirable thing! as opposed to letting thoughts of “wait, I get PAID for this???” cause me to spiral into a place where I’m second-guessing myself. No one’s going to do their best work with that type of weight on their confidence.
What is your daily routine? Your weekend routine?
Weekdays in Austin: Right now it’s cold water wash with my Grown Alchemist cleanser and a drop of Dirt Shop’s Earth Dirt Oil on my wrist before a cup of coffee from our French press and that morning’s episode of The Daily podcast while I’m checking email. I stopped checking mail right before bed to avoid too many work dreams (and it’s worked!), so I usually have a bit of correspondence to catch up on. From there, every day is different. In-person meetings, conference calls, video chats and check-ins plus any project work I have to do that day on my own. I usually take an afternoon walk to re-energize. Weekdays in New York (where I spend about half my time): I grab an iced coffee and take The Daily on the road in my headphones on my way to wherever my work day is starting. Saturdays usually look a lot like an Austin weekday until around 2 or 3, when I try to get off tech and hang with Matt. Sundays are usually more relaxed – we’ll sleep in later, cook breakfast at home before we head out for whatever we’re doing that day – seeing art, grabbing a drink, meeting friends. Unless I’m on a deadline, I try to keep work and work talk to an absolute minimum on this day.
How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done?
It’s kind of funny, but I don’t have much trouble getting motivated. I love crossing things off a list. It’s like my motivation comes from that feeling of finishing something, and a motivation to open space for the next thing that pops up. I played little league baseball when I was a kid, and it kind of reminds me of that – you don’t hang onto the ball in that game, you catch and release. Your goal is to handle the ball to your best ability when it heads in your direction, and then deliver it swiftly to its next best keeper.
How do you manage the stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there?
I’ve gotten much more comfortable with self-promotion – my previous discomfort with it could have really held me back, so I pushed myself to get over it. Pitching new business is a lot of blind outreach, sample projects building, and unsolicited opinion giving, all of which can feel really foreign to the somewhat self-conscious person I was when I started this journey. “People will let you do what they’ve seen you do” was my mantra in 2016, and I made it my business to produce examples of the type of work that I wanted to be paid for when I was trying to prove out my skill sets – I am so proud of that year of work, and the tenacity it took to build up to the work I was able to take on throughout 2017. Putting yourself out there is scary! But so is being broke. If the choice is to let people know what you do or sit back and wait for people to ask, you learn to get over it pretty quickly. Success begets success.
Especially given that it’s unusually expensive to make things, how do you afford to be a creative person financially?
It can get super expensive if you don’t watch it! I’m naturally a launcher – I love making up new things – and there are so many personal projects that I want to do that I really have to watch that I don’t spread myself too thin. One way I help to justify my own elective expenses is to submit any unpaid projects, say an article or a shoot, to publications I admire and would be proud to see my byline in. It all goes back to that “Let you do what they’ve seen you do” thing and the fact that “work gets work.” I can usually leverage an unpaid project that I’ve spent on (be it the opportunity cost of time not spent researching or pitching new clients or actual money out of pocket paid to get samples shipped in from showrooms) to get a paid one in the future. You can also give yourself a little “building budget,” a pot of money that you’re comfortable spending on passion projects, and keep yourself within that limit. Take the money you make, minus the set expenses you have, and consider how much you can spare to put toward your creative energy. Factor in your emotional well-being, of course. Would creating something make you feel more fulfilled than, like, one nice meal out a month? Invest in yourself.
How do you know when it’s time to rest?
Yet another thing I’m learning! It’s always been my natural inclination to run myself absolutely ragged before taking a break. It’s pretty standard for me to get sick on long weekends and vacations – as soon as my adrenaline drops and my body recognizes that we’re slowing down for a minute, it seems to take that as an opportunity to put me in the extended timeout I didn’t realize I needed. I’m usually super-efficient when I’m working, so going freelance and removing the distractions and slowdowns that an office environment can bring opened up a lot of space for me. While I can tend to just go into over-drive and fill those new pockets of time with more and more work, I am increasingly careful to savor having a flexible schedule. Yes, I might need to work all weekend at times, but that makes going to the pool in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday feel less indulgent, more like a necessary opportunity to catch my breath.
How do you manage the internet/social media?
I think we all have a certain degree of personal power and responsibility for what we take in online, and I feel pretty in control of that. It’s the addiction to my device I need to ween myself off of – I use Instagram for work, for instance, both as a way to share my point of view and as a research tool. But even though I like scrolling through the Discover page, it’s become sort of a compulsion for me. These things were designed to keep our attention on them as long as possible. It’s up to us as consumers to draw the line and say when. It’s actually one of my New Year’s resolutions – to eliminate mindless scrolling and become more surgical about that time I spend on Instagram -- get-in-and-get-out. It’s not easy! I moved the icon to the last page of my phone and try to reach for the French conversation app I put in its place instead. Which is pretty successful in making me not really want to be on my phone that much so far lol. Watch me get addicted to French conjugation exercises though.
Do you collaborate, and if so, what’s your collaborative process like?
I do! As the kid in class projects who would have just rather done the whole thing herself, and as adult whose work requires a lot of solo hustle, I have a newfound appreciation for collaborative projects. It makes such a difference when your partners all elect to be there, leveraging each other’s strengths, complementing each other’s’ abilities, contributing to a shared end product. And it’s a quick way to bulk up your communication muscle – establishing a vision and keeping everyone on the same page is so key. In person meetings are great and necessary, but after working with so many different types of entrepreneurs and creatives, I have a broadened respect and regard for differing work styles. My productive mornings are someone else’s preference for late nights, and you want everyone at their best. I rely on collaborative tech tools to keep a record of where projects are so that my collaborators can visit it when they’re most ready to connect and contribute. Google Docs, Pinterest, IG message groups – anything with share-ability.
What’s your big dream? Do you have one? How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?
That’s a good question…My big dream is pretty broad: To do what feels right. One of my biggest fears is of waking up one day and wondering where the years have gone…of feeling out of touch with myself…numb, indifferent, complacent. For a personality type like mine, one that’s really achievement-driven and self-motivated, I have to be careful to not make too many plans for the future, because chances are high that I’ll probably actually do them! At any cost, even if it’s not something I really want anymore. So instead, I want to go with the flow a little more. I want to surprise myself, and open up to opportunities and evolution. So far so good to that end!