Earning her stripes presenting to fashion and beauty industry bigwigs. directing major commercial shoots and building websites for rockstars like Madonna, Sarah Ancalmo’s career got off to an envious start.  The inside story was a little different: Sarah quietly doubted herself and her place in her glamorous environment, and her confidence took a knock.  With a little soul-searching and drawing on her creative flair, Sarah took on a new design project: herself. With a new, authentic image, a new confidence was born… and with it a business idea.  Sarah now utilises her brand and design expertise alongside her knowledge of fashion and style as the founder of Public Persona, working with women entrepreneurs, in-person and internationally via Skype, to help them discover their unique, iconic brand style and image.  I’m so excited that Sarah is today sharing the secrets of her success…


Hi Sarah… Please will you introduce yourself to The Glitterati girls:

I’m Creative Director, stylist, designer and entrepreneur at Public Persona


What has been the ‘defining moment’ that set you on the path you’re on today?  How did you get to where you are now?

I’ve been a Designer and Creative Director in NYC for the entertainment, advertising and beauty industries for about 13 years.  For the first few years, while I felt confident and comfortable behind the computer, I felt incredibly vulnerable whenever I stepped out in front of it and represented myself, my work and the boutique design group I was working for at the time.  I was under the intense scrutiny of high-end, multi-million-dollar paying clients and I felt I looked like a kid with a baby-face.  Imagine how I felt pitching a video at VOGUE headquarters. It was a bit like a scene from The Devil Wears Prada and I was Andy, pre-makeover. 

I remember the sensation of being looked over, from head to toe. My heart would sink and the confidence would slowly drain out of my body. I felt like an imposter, and I was convinced my clients thought so as well.  I realised there was a very real disconnect between my high-level skills, my physical appearance and my confidence levels.  Whenever I felt judged, self-conscious, or uncomfortable about my appearance, I projected that: “Hi, I’m Sarah. I might have knowledge, experience, and talent, but I’m totally lacking in confidence so don’t listen to a word I say.”  I was self-sabotaging myself. 

I finally grasped that I needed to feel confident about what I was putting out there first, before other people could have confidence in me.  Not the other way around. I did some soul-searching to determine who I was and applied my intuitive knack for creative design to redesigning me—from my clothes, to my hair, to my makeup, to my body language and, in turn, my confidence grew.  The results I experienced from that point forward were AM-A-ZING.  It was my ‘aha’ moment, my experience, and embracing my own identity that led to me formally studying fashion and style and weaving that together with my creative direction and design experience to create Public Persona.  My business helps successful entrepreneurs to curate what’s incredible about their personality and business, and turn it into a noticeable, unforgettable, consistent image; one that shines through both their business brand and their personal style.

[Tweet “”I finally grasped that I needed to feel confident about what I was putting out there first, before other people could have confidence in me” @PublicPersona via @EmmaGwillim”]

Tell me about your vision/goals for your future.

If the sky’s the limit: I’d LOVE a private jet and a walk-in closet the size of Texas filled with all the latest-and-greatest. But seriously…  I’d absolutely love to be able to offer an online course that teaches women (and men) how to brand and style themselves in such a way that it’ll magnetise their ideal clients. I’d love to begin a video series of interviews and style tips.  I’d even love to teach live workshops. Secretly though, I’m extra-nervous about speaking in public so to conquer that fear while helping others look and feel amazing both on and offline would be a winning combo for me in the next year or so. 


What has been most effective for you in your achievements so far, in turning your goals/visions into reality?  Where do you start?

Three things: 

Good old fashioned brainstorming whether it be alone, with a friend, or a committee… the momentum from that always gets me revved up for a new project.  

My instincts. I’ve found that the best idea is typically the first idea.   

Not waiting until I’m ready, just jumping in.  Going in head-first always yields the best results in any creative endeavor. I think we always underestimate our ability to figure out the strokes as we go along. 


How do you stay motivated and inspired?

I thrive on experiencing and seeing new things. That’s perhaps why I’m so addicted to Pinterest. Seriously addicted.  Here’s my board.  I feel like I’m always on a quest to create something new or different, that’s what keeps me motivated more than anything.  I find that everything from modern home interiors to film noir stills to an architectural stiletto inspires me to look at and approach things in a different way.  And to mix two totally unexpected things? The unique juxtaposition is heaven for me.  If I’m really hard up for motivation and inspiration, I tend to take a field trip to an international newsstand and Toys R’ Us in Times Square. Without fail, something about looking beyond the walls of my comfort zone and then revisiting my childhood helps to reignite my creativity. 


What has been your biggest lesson learned?

Be yourself.  I LOVE what Judy Garland so wisely said: “Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”  I think I spent way too much of my life and career thinking that I had to be everything to everyone.  I found myself a watered-down version of what everyone else wanted me to be/look/sound like. Finding and owning my own identity and embracing my own tastes, thoughts, ideas and uniqueness not only set me free but I’ve also found that it encourages others to do the same.


What have been (or still are) your biggest fears and challenges, and how do you overcome them? 

Aside from public speaking nothing gives me a racing heartbeat and sweaty palms more than the thought of losing momentum!  I have a tendency to try to get too far ahead too fast.  Sometimes I feel like starting and growing your own business is a lot like running an ultra-marathon with a moveable finish line.  It’s as though I keep meeting the milestones but then fifty new ones pop up ahead. It can be so challenging but, just like the tortoise and the hare, I’m learning that sticking to the old adage of “slow and steady wins the race” is the best way to go.

[Tweet “”Starting & growing your own business is a lot like running an ultra-marathon with a moveable finish line” @PublicPersona via @EmmaGwillim”] 

What do you believe is the secret of your success?

I don’t think I’ve truly achieved success yet but I think I owe my progress to three words: vision, strategy and drive.  The quote “vision without action is merely a dream” comes to mind as I say this.  Throughout my commercial career, I’ve pretty much reinvented myself from being a print designer to a web designer, to a motion graphics designer and fashion blogger, to a Creative Director and stylist for beauty and lifestyle brands, and now to working with amazing individuals.  When I think about what led to each of those shifts, the seed was a vision… you know, that BIG dream of where it is that you want to go. I could see it, I could feel it, I could taste it.  I would daydream about it. It felt real.  Then came a pretty clear strategy on how to get there and, of course, then the consistent drive to constantly take me one step closer.  Funnily enough, I do realise that I’ve often been described as a dog that won’t let go of a bone no matter what when it comes to achieving my goals.  I guess my mandibular death-grip pays off.  That said, I think success is not really a destination but rather a pitstop on a journey.  It seems as though each time I make it to my goal, another goal appears down the road. I think this will probably continue infinitum for me as, good or bad, I’m never totally satisfied. 


What 3 tips would you offer ambitious women reading this?

  • Keep things fresh…nothing kills inspiration like stagnation. Try to do something each and every day that pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone. 
  • Jump in, you’ll figure it out.  
  • Always, always, always be yourself.  Be Y-O-U-nique. 

[Tweet “”Always, always, always be yourself. Be Y-O-U-nique” @PublicPersona via @EmmaGwillim”] 

What book has most inspired you?

So many! I think Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach might be my all-time-inspirational fave.  It’s a great quick read about stopping living on autopilot and moving to self acceptance, inner strength, and happiness: “you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way“.  This has always resonated with me which I now see has a clear correlation with what I do with women: helping them to feel great about themselves and confident, by bring their inside to the outside so that everyone can see them like they want to be seen.  Isn’t it funny how we tend to teach the things we need to learn ourselves? 

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