Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What IS she wearing?

As a huge Go Fug Yourself fan, I will fully admit to loving a little fashion critique. And, like those girls, I believe that stars on the red carpet invite analysis. But, sometimes when I see girls (or guys) walking down the street, I can't help but think, "I know what you think you look like - but you're not quite there."

It's like you can tell where they were going, but their styling, their dimensions, the lack of Gucci - something - prevented them from achieving the look they clearly were targeting. Still, in their mind, they are rocking that look. And who am I (random stranger) to burst there bubble? (and, I'm SURE I am just as guilty of this - on days when I am pursuing a "look" of any kind)

and... you knew this would be a work blog, right? you know me well enough for that, right?

Sometimes I think people at work (or elsewhere), behave in the same way. They put on this behavioral outfit of a role or a style and then try to rock it. He might be a hardass inside, looking to seem sympathetic by telling kid stories. She might be chickenshit, trying to lead with force and conviction - and a quivering voice. He might see himself swooping in to save the day - committed to Superman dreams - only to find the day already going quite well, thank you.

On one hand, I do deeply believe in "fake it till you make it." I learned in consulting that a little courage of conviction and definitive delivery takes you a long way, even if you aren't entirely certain you're right. In fact, the one major beef* I have with Martha Stewart was on her ill-fated debut as the Donald on the apprentice, she once chastised and fired a woman for espousing the philosophy. In line with that, acting in a way that isn't entirely aligned with your true emotions or behavior can be a key to fully embracing that behavior. File that one under "Smile, even though your heart is aching..."

On the other hand, I also very much value authenticity, and these behavioral outfits often seem like the opposite. My gut says this is for a few reasons - but someone, check my gut:
  • The stretch is just too far. You can fake increased confidence in material, but you can't hide complete ignorance. Similarly, you can care more or less about something, but if you don't care at all, seeming like you care may come off flat.
  • You don't accept your limitations. I don't think you can fake absolutely anything - I think there are domains which are just antithetical to your being, where putting on the outfit would be very obvious. But, as in all things in life, you have to sort your "never gonna happen" items from your "stretch goals."
  • The cognitive dissonance hurts. Perhaps, some of those "never gonna happen" items hurt to admit. Maybe you'll never be aggressive. Or a leader. Or a good follower. Or a great creative mind. Or a good process person. Hell, I can barely accept that I can neither sing nor draw, 33 years into my life. But, if I built my career around either, I can imagine that my behavioral outfit would fit pretty poorly.
Sometimes, when we see someone in a behavioral outfit, trying to better him/herself, we root for them. We pretend we don't see that their hem is too long, as treat them like they look amazing. Go Skippy! You can rock that customer presentation!  Other times, we act line Mean Girls, wanting to cut them down to size by exposing their ill-fitting suit. Who does he think he is? As if he really cares about me and my concerns! A lot of that spread has to come down to intent, the authentic self we actually know, our hopes for the person, their self-awareness of their stretch goal, and so on...

But, it does make me think about the behavioral suits in my closet. Lately, exhausted, I've had a lot of track suit days. My benevolent boss has been understanding (as he is wont to be - Hi RR!), but I think it may be time to take a shower, wash my hair, and put on something more tailored to me.

*This must only linger in my memory, as thongcharm appears as one of the top 10 results when you put in "martha stewart apprentice fake it till you make it" in google. Eek.

1 comment:

PD said...

Excellent Points!

For some reason I find it completely ridiculous when executives decide to wear blazers and jeans when going down-tempo for silicon valley. Like, why not just go full-force up all night techie with dorito stained khakis?

Which leads me to Hawaiian shirts. I work with someone who wears them every day, not just on Friday, and I LOVE THIS.

Also this entire post could inspire a movie, aka Legally Blonde. See Elle Woods dress for Harvard Law! See her dress for Congress!