On Looking Professional without Sacrificing Productivity

Being successful at work is really important to me, and I’m at my best when I am completely focused.  If I’m in “the zone,” you might find that if you walk past my cubicle and say hello I’ll jump a bit, completely startled that anyone else was in the room.  (Thankfully we have security doors, so I don’t have to worry too much about someone sneaking up behind me!)  That’s just how I roll: I sit down, dig in, and get things done.

But here’s the thing:  if my sweater sleeves are itchy, if my pants are ill-fitting, if my bangs fall in my eyes or if my shoes are uncomfortable, I can’t do my best work. My mind will be distracted by how much I hate my outfit or how uncomfortable I am.  I’m not sure men have these problems.  But that’s not what this blog post is about. 

To do my best work, I need to be comfortable. A dress with a cardigan or blazer is ideal, so long as hosiery isn’t rolling down or bunching up. Slacks and a sweater or blouse can also be great, if the pants fit well and my cubby isn’t too hot or too cold. I really like to wear heels at my desk – partly because they feel fancy and partly because I don’t have to wear socks so my feet don’t get too hot.  I try to wear layers that can be stripped off without scandal in case I get too warm.  My ideal work set-up requires changing from flats to heels and a sweater to a blazer just like Mr. Rogers did.  (Dreams do come true, kids.)

If this all sounds a little crazy to you, that’s okay – my productivity makes me a fantastic employee, so if comfortable clothes and fancy shoes are what it takes for me to strategically plan broad organizational change or write and edit convincing and accurate reports on a deadline, I’m down for a little craziness.

This past week, however, a blog I read was talking about the difference between wearing clothes that make you feel good, and wearing clothes that make people think of you as the boss. As young female professionals, we want to do whatever it takes so that our management thinks of us when developing the organization’s succession plan, filling vacancies, etc. And what this blog post and the comments that followed boldly stated was that the best way to be empowered in your workplace is not to feel valued and loved and comfortable in whatever position you hold or clothes you wear. The most effective way to be empowered in your workplace is to have actual power in your workplace — a.k.a. to be the boss.

While I absolutely want to dress in a comfortable way that allows me to do my best work, I also want to look like someone who should be in charge. If someone new walked into the room and scanned the people sitting around the conference room table, I want that visitor to assume I’m already holding a management position.

Spring is coming (slowly but surely) and each day I’m edging closer to 30 and farther away from 25. It’s time for a[nother] closet overhaul.  It seems like I need one of these every now and then!  I’m not sure if fashion posts are your thing, but I’ll be checking in for the next few weeks on my 2014 closet revamp.

To kick us off, today I’m linking you up with my favorite fashion blogs:

1. Capitol Hill Style – Belle’s a former Capitol Hill Staffer, and she provides realistic and specific advice for a professional wardrobe on a variety of budgets, and she includes plus size options and hair and makeup recommendations.

2. Corporette – Fashion, lifestyle, and career advice from former firm attorney turned full-time blogger, Kat. The comment sections here are incredible, and if you have a question about how to navigate a difficult work situation or what to wear to work-ish events, this is where you want to go.

3. The Small Things Blog – For hair and makeup and all-around beauty, Kate’s blog is the place to go. I used one of her hair tutorials for my hairstyle during one of my best friend’s weddings last summer, and she gives honest reviews of products to help you find what works for you. She also just had a very adorable baby. Kate’s archives are gold.

 

Okay, so tell me where you fall on the spectrum:  do you dress for comfort or to make a positive impression?  Maybe a little bit of both?  Does hearing this perspective on empowerment make you re-evaluate your own wardrobe choices? 

Monday: My Little Elk

I’ve been using up all of my good thoughts in other places these last few weeks, and I haven’t been giving you my best work.  I think you know that, in my actual life, I do a lot more than just write this blog.  I’ve told you how my job can be really hard, and that it’s been a challenging few weeks, and that I really love my work.  I also mentioned last week that I’m working on a writing project outside of this blog.  I love this space, and I want to treat it right, so today I have something special for you.

Elk March 22

It’s a photograph of an Elk, taken on Saturday.  

I was going to find a good poem about an elk for you to make this super literary or what-not and, what do you know, the only poem I could find was about a bunch of wolves stalking and then murdering an elk.  Not exactly what I was going for.

Instead, I have something better than a poem about elk for you.  I have an article about a little boy who loves My Little Pony, and a school district that learned [unfortunately a bit too late in this case] not to punish the victim.  You’re a bit of a slow learner sometimes, America, but I’m forever proud of you when you try to do better.

Happy Monday, my friends.  Have a wonderful week! 

A Metaphor

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This beautiful piece of art in the northwest corner of my building lobby is known to my colleagues as The Big Pile of Garbage. We sometimes use the pile of garbage as a landmark for meeting locations, such as: let’s grab coffee at 11. See you at the pile of garbage.

It also has another name, abbreviated BPOS, which is an accurate metaphor for how I feel about this week. Being alive is still baller, but I am ready for the weekend.

Dreaming of Spring

It’s been a long winter.  I can’t remember a day that I haven’t made the choice between snow boots or regular boots.  The snow boots usually win out.  I’ve worn my full-length eggplant purple coat nearly every day since the package arrived in our gym.  [We get packages delivered to the gym in our building.  It's a little strange.]

There are a lot more weeks of winter-ish weather ahead, but I’m so ready to wear something different.  I’ve been online window-shopping like nobody’s business.  I know it’s better to spend your clothing budgets on quality, not quantity, but these items are just thrifty enough that I might pick up one or two to add a little spice to my sweaters and wool slacks while I wait for signs of spring.

SET: Dreaming of Spring

Old Navy navy shoes
oldnavy.gap.com

Forever 21 loafer
forever21.com

Necklace
shopruche.com

Pink scarf
shopruche.com

Except, probably not the shoes. I think it’s going to be a while before I can go outside without warm socks. But a girl can dream, right?

Getting Over My Giant Failure Complex

It’s a little embarrassing how many times I’ve written this to you, how many ways I’ve slid references to my giant failure complex into blog posts without really addressing it. I’ve made bold claims that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as a failure and start loving the life I’m currently living in a dozen half-hearted ways, but so far I’m still just rocking back and forth on life’s teeter totter: At the top, I am so ridiculously relieved that I am working (because others I love aren’t) and that I have a healthy work-life balance and that my job is mostly fun and engaging, but when the see-saw rocks downward I remember that I thought I would be doing something different.

The “L” word still makes me feel like a loser.

I know in my heart that I am where I need to be, but I have to remind myself all the time that this life I’m living is something to celebrate, not something to mourn. Sometimes I have to say it to friends and have them say it back to me, to tell me it’s okay.  I know that I’m not the only one, but I often feel alone with this. I fold this idea into so much of my blogging because, while this blog is many things to me and hopefully a few things to you, its chief purpose right now is to remind me that life is beautiful and fun and it’s okay to just be who you are I am right now.

I loved law school. I’m not one to say “Oh, it was so hard and I’m so glad it is over,” and I’ve never regretted attending. It was one of the best things I’ve ever committed to doing. It made me smarter and more attentive and a better person. Even now, while I’m not practicing, I still did all of the things to be a licensed attorney and I can go back to being a “real” lawyer whenever I want to, if I ever really want to.

I’m getting tired of trying so hard to convince myself that I am awesome and that I am making a real difference by working hard for my country.  I am already doing these things and it’s become a bit of a broken record for me (and I’m sure not all that interesting for you, my friends). I’d like for this to become a non-issue for me, but it may be a few more months or years before I can really settle into owning my own life and living it for myself. I struggle to surpass expectations that don’t actually exist.

But I think for recovering people-pleasers and perfectionists like me, we often feel like posers in our late twenties. We’re wearing the hats and carrying big titles on freshly minted business cards but are we really good enough to hold this much responsibility? Friends from school are carrying the lives and hopes and dreams of two, or three, or four children already and I can’t imagine ever being qualified for such a hard and important job. Do you ever really feel like you know how to be a mother, a manager, a professor or scholar, or do you just jump in, throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks? I’m always afraid that someone will look over and see that I’m really not as awesome as everyone thinks.  I wonder, if they knew how much television I watched in the evenings, and how rarely I finish the books I’m always buying, if they would still want me to mentor their students, or file their taxes, or write their reports.

I paid real cash monies to register for a faith and writing conference in Grand Rapids in April. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this conference feeling that I’m not qualified to be there. I don’t want to awkwardly shift on my feet or avoid meeting interesting people because when they say “Oh, I write a blog about faith and life and my book is being published in October,” and then ask about me, I don’t have a good enough answer. I want to do whatever it takes before I pick up my rental car and drive two hours and forty-seven minutes around the bottom of Lake Michigan so that, when I step out of my car and into the conference, I believe I am a “real” writer and I believe that I am qualified to engage, network, discuss, and struggle with them to create beautiful sentences.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20, is the first of fifty days before my conference begins. This may be a rough-and-tumble sort of commitment, but I’ll be doing “the things that writers do” for each of these fifty days so that I can step into the Grand Rapids community with a few pages I can be proud of, with a project I can discuss, or at the very least with the confidence that I certainly belong at the table. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m starting this effort off with a Story Sessions writing boot camp and I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want this to journey to include. I have a working list, but before I put it out into the internet world I wanted to hear from you: what do you recommend? What makes you feel like a “real” writer, or a “real” professional, or a “real” mom, instead of just a poser? What gives you confidence in your calling?  

Winter living: like a boss

The sun is shining today, so even though it is literally 12* with a wind chill of 3*, I went out to grab lunch. I need to see the sun, my body soaks up the light and immediately converts it into happiness.

I’ve discovered this winter that while my calorie counts and daily food costs are lower when I pack my lunch, I really need the break that purchasing a meal requires. I need to stand up and physically step away from my desk. I need to bundle up and walk the block or two to grab warm food. I need to see other humans living and thriving in this cold to remind me that I can live and thrive too.

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Today’s lunch: teriyaki chicken on napa cabbage with two BBQ pork bao, purchased from Wow Bao. I love Wow Bao. The WordPress App has trouble embedding links now, but if you’d like to check out Wow Bao just visit http://www.wowbao.com.

This weather has reminded me that I am strong. Because honestly? It has never been so cold that I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Is it a little crazy to walk four blocks to yoga at 9 p.m. during a polar vortex? Perhaps. But I did it anyway.

My home-loving introverted self may be genetically predisposed to living in the freezing cold Midwest after all. (Please note I never have to shovel snow. This may be a factor in my overall assessment.). A Saturday spent indoors baking and watching movies with my little family? Couldn’t imagine a better way to live. It turns out this whole winter-living thing is a little harder on the extroverts among us.

Being Alive is Baller

I have a quick note for you before I head to bed.  I’ve been getting into work earlier than normal this week and my blogging schedule is a little off.  But, today is an anniversary of sorts and I thought I would share a few memories and some photos with you.

Six years ago tonight my mom was in surgery and my college got destroyed by a tornado.  Today, my mom is cancer-free and my alma mater is looking way better than it did while I studied there.  It’s almost like that night was a scary movie that we watched and then when it was over, we took it out of the DVD player and sent it back to Netflix along with all of those DVDs of the Wire.  Except, I have a friend who has some health issues that stem from that night.  And while I remember this tornado as a crazy thing that we all survived, I pray for her health and healing.  Friend, if you read this, you matter to me.

It’s easy to forget.  Our clothes are wrinkled or we spill coffee on a notebook or, my personal daily recurring problem of late:  I rub the makeup off my nose while blowing it incessantly but still have makeup on my cheeks and chin, which looks so awkward, oh man my life is over… Except, it isn’t.  Because I am alive.  And makeup or no makeup, being alive is baller.

Click through the two links here for photos from my tornado experience.  These photos are posted on Union’s Flickr account:  tornado night // the day after.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 11.22.2013

Five 2

On Utilizing Dissent in the Workplace and the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of JFK

You guys know I often read Harvard Business Review’s Blog, and find a lot of interesting articles on careers and leadership and culture shifts there.  A colleague pointed me to the New York Times’ Corner Office, and I’ve been digging deep into their archives this week.  I very much enjoyed Bob Pittman’s interview on the value of dissent.

A short piece about decision-making during John F. Kennedy’s presidency is related, showcasing JFK’s utilization of conflict to develop full briefings on both pros and cons of important issues.  I found this fascinating and think I would bring that system into practice if ever I were to be the manager of such a team.

On Psyching Yourself Out Before Heading Home Next Week

How to argue about Obamacare over Thanksgiving .  This post gives you tips for your holidays-with-family arguments whether you are for or against Obamacare.  As for me, I just avoid these conversations like the plague.  No good comes from mixing politics and family.  BUT I will say that having lived through emergent health situations in my own family, I stand with Richard Beck and many others to say that If you have a way to provide healthcare for more people than Obamacare will cover, and you have a way to convince Congress to pass it and fund it, let’s talk.  After the holidays, of course.   

On Accomplishment and Anxiety

What to do when good news makes you anxious.  I loved this quote (see below) and the tips that follow are quite helpful.

“[N]othing about anxiety is as disruptive as its propensity to pop up when least expected, or in contexts where anything but anxiety seems appropriate: after a  positive outcome like a promotion, a plum committee assignment, or  stellar quarterly results. Unfortunately, those who don’t know how painful these bouts of anxiety are usually trivialize them: Women suffering anxiety after success were, until recently, diagnosed with a “fear of success.” When men suffered these symptoms it was called “happiness anxiety.” Actually, it’s neither.

People forget that good news is often a double-edged sword, stroking egos and enhancing status (not to mention financial rewards) with one edge, while imposing performance demands and social isolation with the other.”

On Alterations, Disposable Clothing, and Dressing Well

A great blog post regarding how, why, when, and for what cost you should be altering your clothes is going to be a good source of information for me long-term, and also referred me to the Wardrobe from Scratch Series (an oldie but I think a goodie) at Putting Me Together.  I’m going to spend some time with this blog series this weekend.

Teleworking?

Today I worked from home for the entire day. Not between off-site meetings, not before and after an appointment, but the entire day from start to finish.

Teleworking is something many employees do regularly and some do full-time, but I’m not sure it’s for me. I’m considering adding regular teleworking to my weekly schedule as winter approaches, either one or two days per week, but I’m still thinking through the pros and cons.

Pro: no waiting for the bus in the freezing cold.

Con: I finished an entire workday without leaving the apartment.

Pro: I made fresh pasta on my lunch break.

Con: I really wanted to watch TV and it was right there the whole time.

Pro: It was easier to start and stop on-time without the need to commute

Con: I felt a bit paranoid that someone might think I wasn’t working enough, causing me to feel slightly stressed.

Introverts need interaction too, and it may be a little too quiet for me at home.

Do you telework? How did you know it was right for you?

Photo-blog// Work-Life Wednesday 11.20.2013

New tea mug.

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Christmas is coming to my commute.

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My cubicle (cubby) could use a serious makeover.

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How do you make your office space more homey? (I could use the tips.)

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