A few years ago, I was in a high-level position working directly for the head of a pretty conservative organization. My job was to represent him and the office to both internal and external people and groups. And having moved directly from LA to the Midwest, I had developed a penchant for edgy suits, some leather, and high heels. And I always felt confident in them.
Soon into the position, while at an event, I had someone (not a close friend) approach me (uninvited but well-intended, I think) and say to me, “Frances, now that you have your new position, you really need to dress differently. What you wear now is not appropriate. I can refer you to a stylist if you’d like.” …. Her comments shook me more than I was ready for. I immediately lost confidence. I oscillated between being angry and hurt. I went to the bathroom and came really close to crying and all I wanted to do was go home. I let that one comment undo my complete sense of self.
Later that evening, when we were closing up the office and I had a moment alone with my boss, whom I highly respect, I asked him to be completely honest with me and tell me if he felt I was not appropriately representing him or the office. I told him about the interaction and about my frustration, anger, and now concern about being in my position. He looked at me and the first thing he did was chuckle before saying, “What you wear is a reflection of you. I didn’t hire you to change who you are. I hired you because of who you are.”
I appreciated his words greatly and they immediately washed away my feelings of self doubt and fear. But I had to reflect on why someone else’s opinion would shake me so much and shatter my confidence. At the heart of it, I was reminded of being in junior high when fitting in was the goal and individuality was poo-pooed. As adults, we should leave those insecurities behind, but it’s not always easy. We are conditioned to seek approval and understanding of our lives and our choices. But at what cost do we abandon who we are to receive recognition or approval? In my opinion, the cost is way to high.
I sit in a space today where I’m not at all apologetic for being who I am, wearing what I want to wear, doing what I want to do. The people who matter in your life will love you BECAUSE of who you are. You should love yourself that way, too.