“What does a professional look like?”
Growing up, a professional was someone dressed in a suit – someone who went to work in a big office, and was paid lots of money to do a very serious job.
This is despite the fact that I grew up watching my Mum support us through her work at home – first as a Montessori school teacher, and later as a psychotherapist – never once wearing a suit, or leaving the house to even work from anywhere else, let alone a large corporate office.
But my definition was formed in my mind, didn’t change much for many years, as I studied law and saw the (in)formal uniform of my potential future.
Even as I chose a different path, and worked in the less corporate world of construction, there was still a formality to our office wear – the men wore shirts & trousers and the women wore smart dresses.
After reading Lean In, many years ago, I decided to implement a uniform of my own – buying enough shirts & skirts to last me a week, and rotating them consistently. It removed the decision-making dilemma every morning assessing each dress in my wardrobe to check the suitability of its fit and length for purpose that day. This was not well-received in my office – I was perceived to be “power-dressing”, ironically seen as competing with the women at work, rather than leaning in to compete on a more level playing field with the men!
Eventually I left the corporate world, to work for myself, and build a life on my own terms. This included returning to school, to study coaching at Birkbeck, University of London, and so I embraced a more student-like way of dressing – Converse and jeans were far more comfortable than my pencil skirts and shirts of my previous life!
Over time, as I began seeing my coaching clients, running more events for ToGetHer Further, and doing more public speaking, I felt less comfortable in my jeans & jumpers, and longed for a more “professional” look. But what does professional even mean to me anymore?
Who am I without a uniform? Without a label? Or an ascribed identity?
This is part of struggle of living a more creative life – letting go of your corporate role does not just happen once. It is not simply handing in your notice and walking away into a brand new life. It’s an iterative process. A metamorphosis. Where you form repeated cocoons, and emerge anew. If you’re open to it.
The truth is, as I learned from my dear friend Abigail, how you look matters a lot less than how you feel, and what you say. Your clothes, your hair, your make-up, whatever, are not the point. They are a distraction. You are more than your appearance. You have wisdom to share, and a life to live, and you cannot let fear of being judged hold you back.
Find your way – find your own way to be comfortable in your skin. Not when you’re thin enough / pretty enough / rich enough – but today.
Because otherwise, what is the point.
Why take this exciting rollercoaster journey of a more fulfilling life, if you don’t enjoy the ride?