Some years ago I worked at a law firm that was quite buttoned up. I was a fish out of water – fashion wise and personality wise.
I had incredibly challenging work and was paid above market. I worked a lot, but I loved my job even though the firm was tough. I learned more there than at any other job. I was pushed there more than I had ever been before and working there helped me grow immensely.
But… and there’s a big but…it wasn’t the right place for me.
I remember the day I realized I didn’t fit in like it was yesterday.
My female boss (who was always well put together) said to me, “You have too much sunshine.” She followed that statement with l advice on how I should dress and act going forward.
I was told to ditch the bright colors I wore in favor of dark suits. She said I shouldn’t end my sentences on high notes and to change the pitch of my voice. She also told me to pull my hair back and “downplay” my looks, or whatever that meant.
I was so taken aback and my sunshine quickly faded. I felt so self conscious going forward about what I wore and how I acted.
I knew I couldn’t stay there long because I couldn’t be ME.
I’ll never forget that day, and I’ve recounted that story numerous times to friends over the years who have shared similar stories from their own workplaces.
That day I learned that we are all judged on our appearances in addition to our values, personality and intelligence.
I also learned that finding the right work environment that accepts and appreciates you for you is just as important – if not more important – than finding the right job.
It doesn’t matter how great a job is or how well it pays, if you can’t be yourself, or being successful there requires you to be someone you’re not, then it’s not the right place for you – in the short- and long-term.
Is it really that big of a deal to change the colors of what you wear to fit in? Or to not wear makeup and pull your hair back so that you don’t get attention? Or smile less? Maybe yes, maybe not. It’s what you’re comfortable with.
I have fond memories of the time I spent at this firm, but I also wouldn’t give up my sunshine or bright colors. I can’t. I will always keep shining – no matter what.
Remember to always BE YOU.