Life Experience

Shedding The Professional Uniform

“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?

2 thoughts on “Shedding The Professional Uniform”

  1. Whenever I interacted with you, I never saw competetition because of the way you dressed, I saw a benchmark for the way to BE. You showed me how to be taken seriously without losing ‘oneself’, you showed me now to get the best out of people, no matter who it was, and you showed me how to laugh where I thought you shouldn’t (in this image that we constructed of ‘work’). Thank you for sharing and I’m so happy for the steps you’ve taken! I wish you all the success!

    Liked by 1 person

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