Are your clothes a distraction to your career?
"In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes." - John Ruskin
Early in my career I had a boss who pulled me aside after a convention to tell me that a particular dress that I had worn during the convention was a little "too short" and had generated comments from other women in our organization. He suggested that I retire the dress and use better judgment in my wardrobe selection.
Then he bolted out of the room so that I had no chance to throw the hot potato back at him.
I was stunned. I was angry. It wasn't fair!
I immediately shifted to detective mode.
Who complained? I wanted to talk to her (them?)!
Was the other girl who had the same dress (different color) getting the same feedback? She should!
Why was it women who complained?
I felt humiliated, outraged, and indignant all at the same time. How could I fix what happened?
The answer depressed me. I couldn't change a thing.
All I could do was make different choices going forward. The mistake was made and I could only control the next decision.
It turned out the chat with my boss was a gift.
I didn't want my clothes distracting anyone from my competencies as an employee. I couldn't afford to be dismissed as someone who was either clueless about my appearance or indifferent to the perception of others. I had to swallow my pride at being told how to dress. It was a trade-off between pride and humility; between repeating a mistake or acknowledging one.
Fair or not, I donated the dress.
I wrote the post above because this experience was a defining moment of my career. Though I haven't reconciled the "fairness" of the feedback or the style by which the criticism was delivered, I've come to truly appreciate the input.
Have you ever had a similar defining moment of feedback?