Nailed it—Kristen Gale On Leveling Up

This profile of Grow Class’ Kristen Gale is part of Street Meet, FLEETSTREET’s series, where we meet up with trailblazers and thought leaders to deliver unique insight and inspiration into issues we all care about.

You are enough. Of course, you are. But there are also days when you look around and think, I’m better than this. And it’s then when you want to be inspired, motivated and see the bigger picture. Imagine being a just-fired intern and then fast-forwarding to being a sought-after speaker for the C-suite and entrepreneurs. That is Kristen Gale, who at one point worked at Vice and Strut magazines, but is now the founder of The Ten Spot. Now the international beauty bar chain has 45 locations in Canada and four in the U.S.

Why “The Ten Spot”? Well as a nail bar, alluding to 10 digits seems obvious, but it’s Gale’s goal of perfection. She’s clear that she doesn’t expect everything she aims for to be a 10, but that’s helped her reach some pretty damn good 8s and 9s. That’s why her slogan is “life at a 10.” Is it too much? Is it not enough? I chatted with the former magazine editor and graphic designer to find out. 

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FLEETSTREET: Why is the number 10 a thing for you? For many it’s an intimidating number, and it makes me think of the movie 10 with Bo Derek, which suggests not everything is achievable. 

Kristen Gale: For me, it’s about the bar. If you set the bar really high, and you don’t hit it, at least you’ve shot for something more, something potentially more aggressive than you would think you could do.

I’ll give you a very practical example. When I was getting back into fitness, I was like, I’m going set the goal to exercise seven days a week. And then, guess what. I fit in four. But say, I set my goal at three times a week. If I fail, I may only hit one time. And, so for me, the idea of setting a goal is to be more ambitious, because it’s not about whether I hit it or not, it’s about striving. Living a life at a 10 is not going to be a 10 all the time. But I’d rather try for 10 than try for a five.

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FS: Is that how you approach your businesses? Is that your work ethic?

KG: It’s how I approach life. So, yes, with the business, too. And, I always have, ever since I was young. The game for me is to live the best version of my life I possibly can. In striving for that, I don’t hit 10 all the time, but then I’m like “What else can I do, other than try to have the greatest experience?” That has been my driving force.

Very profound things come out of very practical elements of life. It helps me pick and choose goals. It’s so easy to say, “Oh, we could expand into the States, but that’s going to be hard, and we’re doing so good here in Canada.” You can go down this rabbit hole of decreasing from that 10, to be like, “Well, three is fine, right.”

That is surviving, and the game is thriving. The game is pushing yourself, growing and learning and finding the novelty and fun. 

I’ve never thought of it in that way. I’ve never been asked that question. But, yes, why not? I’ve still got energy, we’ve still got enthusiasm, let’s give it a try. Let’s go for “the 10.”

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FS: What doesn’t make you feel like a 10? And, then what do you do to feel like a 10? 

KG: Things that don’t make me feel like 10 are things I really do not enjoy. They make me feel drained or overwhelmed. At the base of that, it’s the opposite of feeling inspired. Inspiration is the good feeling of anxiousness. And it’s when you’re raring to take action on something. Inspiration, for me, is a combination of action and positive energy. It’s fun and exciting. When life becomes this mundane set of “have-tos”, and you feel like you can’t get off the train, I’m careening into, you know, the feeling of being exhausted all the time. 

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FS: What do you do? What will nudge you to a higher a number?

KG: For me, I think it’s about not living life perfectly. So, it’s where you realize that you’ve overextended yourself or that your attention has been pulled too much in one direction, and then other areas of life are suffering. The way that I muster up the inspired feeling again and breathe energy and excitement back into things is through being creative. 

Creativity is novelty and it’s fun. So I get creative by thinking of things as “projects.” That applies a purpose to it. 

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FS: Can you give an example from your own life?

KG: Say, I’m not inspired for dinner. Well, out of the seven days, I have four to cook. I “delete” the days when I’ve got CrossFit and whatever’s on for the kids’ routine. We’re going to order in for those nights. Now, I’ve got four days left, down from seven. I can get creative for the four nights, which is much less overwhelming than 365 nights. Then, I think, let’s do something weird. Let’s pick something we’ve never done before. I’ve never made fish before. Let’s cook a whole fish. Trying to figure out a novel way that involves learning. 

But it’s a tricky thing with my friends and me. We’re women that want to have it all, right? We were promised you can have it all. But we’re here and like, this is BS – we can’t have it all. It’s exhausting and tiring. 

But at the same time, I think we actually can [have it all], but it’s how we go about it. It’s not set up in our mindset and headspace. It’s missing that element of creativity, fun and winning. Especially for ambitious high-performing career people. We’re really good at our careers because we know how to win. We know our roles. We know what’s expected of us, we tick boxes, we get gold stars. 

In the realm of real life, it’s a bit different, and you don’t necessarily have it outlined for how to win. Whereas with work, things feel more project-based and with starts and ends, and [there are] creative elements. Bringing those into the home and family and relationship domains, and framing things in that way, brings a different way of living.

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FS: Oh, interesting. How did you come to that?

KG: I’ve lived both ways. The way that let me have a successful career and a miserable home life. I’ve learned from that. I took business elements that made my career successful and applied them to home life. Let’s give things a “purpose.” Let’s have core values. Let’s make things into projects. Let’s know our roles. Let’s win. Let’s have achievements. 

That to me makes living more creative and fun. I feel more like I’m living my life versus trudging along. This is the “10 version.”

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FS: You’re a sought-after speaker. How do you prepare for a speech? How do you make sure you’re focused on the day and not exhausted?

KG: The stakes are high. And now, especially as a paid speaker. It’s one thing where I want to do a good job and I don’t want to embarrass myself, look unprepared and stumble over my words. But then you compound that with getting paid, there’s a lot of pressure. To your point, I want to do a good job.

Avoiding it is going to make me have more feelings of dread. I have to dig in. There’s a good lyric by John Mayer about power. “Power is made by power being taken.” So, I’d rather sit down and deal with it. I’m going to write this and I’m going to do it. There’s power of the situation over me, but taking that power back is how I feel prepared and in control. That’s where I get energy from. 

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FS: At what point with your business did you realize that you wanted to grow it from one Ten Spot to more than 10 Ten Spots?

KG: It was always a business but, it was a small business. The brilliant thing is I didn’t have any experience or any education in business or franchise. So it’s always been a “let’s make it up” thing. 

As a small business owner, I was my own contractor, my own graphic designer, my own marketer and all that stuff. I always did the things that seemed very logical to me. Sometimes that worked out really well.

For example, we got a lot of traction in the early days, because the brand was going to just be me – talking to people in the exact way that I talk. I have a 14-year-old boy’s sense of humour, so I made cheeky, dumb innuendo jokes. And it landed with people. I think that authenticity sometimes lands and it attracts people.

Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Then, I obviously need somebody else to do that role, because that’s not something that I’m capable of. For the first little bit, it was doing whatever I thought was best for plugging the holes. I knew that I wasn’t going to do the finances. My very first hire was a bookkeeper. 

The CBC interviewed with me at the first location I opened, ironically asking me if I would like to have 10 Ten Spots across Canada. It was funny because that’s when I realized we just opened number 15.