About four years ago after filing for divorce, I started seeing a therapist. Sometimes we need help sorting through big changes in our lives.
One day I was sitting on my therapist’s couch and I was visibly uncomfortable. My jacket didn’t feel right. Lois noticed it right away. She said, “You look uncomfortable. Why don’t you take off your jacket?” So I took off my jacket. Then my high-heeled shoes were uncomfortable. So she suggested I take those off too.
She asked me what was going on. I told her I had a lot on my mind at work and was super busy and preoccupied. Then I randomly made this comment to her, “You know, I always feel like I get more done when I wear my jeans and dress casually at work.” She asked me the obvious next question: “So why don’t you wear your jeans every day to work?”
I told her I just couldn’t. Honestly, I told her that I was the CEO of my company and CEOs don’t wear jeans to work. She, of course, pointed out the obvious examples of Steve Jobs and John Mackey. Then, my next line of defense was that I had a closet full of expensive dress suits, skirts, and high heels, so I would look the part of a CEO. I had to wear them.
She looked me straight in the eye and told me, “I want you to wear jeans to work every day. Period. You must wear jeans to work and dress casually every day until I see you in two weeks.” Yes, ma’am!
So I wore jeans to work every day. I wore jeans to work even when I met with a big client. (Admittedly, I am in the agriculture business, so it’s not a big stretch to wear jeans to a client meeting).
When I went back to see Lois two weeks later, I was able to report to her how much more productive I was at work. I felt like a wave of freedom and flexibility had come over me. Not surprisingly, a few months later, I changed the dress code at my company, going from casual summer dress to casual dress all year long. I think everyone at my office was instantly more relaxed and productive.
Then last summer, I went to get my color wardrobe palette done. About every 10 years, I see Jennifer Butler (www.jenniferbutlercolor.com) to make sure the color and style of my clothes are most complementary to my eye color, skin tone, and hair color and texture. As we grow older, our colors become more muted and evolve. During this session, my colorist noticed a slight curl in my hair. She asked me about it and I revealed that I had naturally curly hair but had straightened it for the last 30 years or so. Jennifer suggested that I might want to wear my hair “natural,” i.e., curly, and darken it to my natural color (instead of having it highlighted)—to be more authentic.
I told her I just couldn’t. Honestly, I told her that I was CEO of my company and CEOs don’t have curly hair. I mean, people wouldn’t take me seriously if I let my hair go curly. (I had secretly hated my curly, frizzy hair since I was a child, so when the Brazilian straightening technique came out, I was hooked.) Well, Jennifer pointed out the obvious example of Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal“ who rocks curly hair 24/7.
So I took a couple of deep breaths and decided to see what it felt like when I wore my hair naturally curly. The next day I came into work with my hair curly (some coworkers didn’t recognize me!), and it felt great. I’ve never looked back. I forget about it when I run into a friend or business colleague I haven’t seen in a couple of years. More than one was startled as they didn’t realize it was me. I just fluff my curly hair and say, “Yeah, I went back to my natural hair.”
I am sharing these two stories because I think there are other people out there who are afraid to reveal their real selves. Their authentic selves. There are so many stereotypes of how we should look, how we should act, how we should be. So we develop this habit of being—imposters.
That’s what I felt like. I felt like no one would take me seriously as a CEO if I didn’t look and dress the part. And then I decided to be the real me. The casually dressed, curly-haired me.
And the most interesting thing happened.
Many, many women are now wearing their hair naturally curly. It’s like they were hiding before and now they’ve all appeared at once.
I also noticed that, at many business and social events, people were dressing in jeans, creating a more casual vibe. It’s a lot less stressful.
So, if you ever get that feeling of not being comfortable in your skin (or your dress), I can assure you that no one will judge you as an imposter. It’s much easier to be the real you. So try it!