Are your clothes a distraction to your career?

July 10, 2014

@work

“In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”   – John Ruskin

Early in my career I had a boss who pulled me aside after a convention to tell me that a particular dress that I had worn during the convention was a little “too short” and had generated comments from other women in our organization.  He suggested that I retire the dress and use better judgment in my wardrobe selection.

Then he bolted out of the room so that I had no chance to throw the hot potato back at him.

Wow.

I was stunned.
I was angry.
It wasn’t fair!

I immediately shifted to detective mode.

Who complained? I wanted to talk to her (them?)!

Was the other girl who had the same dress (different color) getting the same feedback?  She should!

Why was it women who complained?

I felt humiliated, outraged, and indignant all at the same time.  How could I fix what happened?

The answer depressed me.  I couldn’t change a thing.

All I could do was make different choices going forward.  The mistake was made and I could only control the next decision.

It turned out the chat with my boss was a gift.

I didn’t want my clothes distracting anyone from my competencies as an employee.  I couldn’t afford to be dismissed as someone who was either clueless about my appearance or indifferent to the perception of others.  I had to swallow my pride at being told how to dress. It was a trade-off between pride and humility; between repeating a mistake or acknowledging one.

Fair or not, I donated the dress.

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I wrote the post above because this experience was a defining moment of my career.  Though I haven’t reconciled the “fairness” of the feedback or the style by which the criticism was delivered, I’ve come to truly appreciate the input.

Have you ever had a similar defining moment of feedback?

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