Vulnerability 101

Posted: December 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Housewife Fashion Tips, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Style, Working World | 10 Comments »

We do more than drink wine in my book club. We also eat. And talk about our kids. And sure, there’s some book talk too.

Last time we met our conversation led to my friend Margot mentioning Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk, which she’d just seen on YouTube. It’s worth watching if you haven’t checked it out.

Margot was telling us how Brene’s research is centered around shame, vulnerability, and imperfection. If I’m getting this right, she says that being vulnerable—something a lot of people tend to think of as negative—actually allows you to make human connections. And it turns out that human connections are what bring us joy. A surprising, and very cool, cycle.

So I started a new freelance gig a few weeks back. (Hence my shameful blog neglect. Apologies if you’ve been forced to read a good book during my hiatus.) I’m doing some client relationship management for a creative agency in San Francisco. And even though I know a couple folks there, I’ve never worked with anyone on the team I’m on. So I’m in that mode where I’m hyper-aware of the first impressions I make. You know, sharpening my pencils and brushing my teeth even more than usual.

Now, creative workplaces present a special kind of fashion quandary. As the new freelancer you want to look professional and polished, but nearly everyone in the office has jeans on. Over-dressing is downright dorkish. Under-dressing can come off as cavalier—especially if you’re in a management role. So for my first day, I attempted to strike the right balance. As I left the house the girls and Mark gave me a thumbs up. I had on wool pants, boots, a white long-sleeved t-shirt, and a chunky necklace. As I dashed out the door I grabbed a cardigan.

As my first meeting started, the project manager launched into an overview of the work we’d be doing. She mentioned that Sam—another employee at the agency—had been invited to join us, but she wasn’t sure if he was going to make it.

About 10 minutes in, this Sam guy arrives. He slides into a seat at the conference table, smiles, and holds out his hand to introduce himself. He’s in a hoodie, but it’s probably cashmere. He’s got on jeans and some huge watch that’s sporty and probably pretty schmancy. He’s clearly clearly cracked the clothing code of the place, and for that alone I am humbled.

After a brief pause before launching back into our agenda I asked, “So, Sam, what do you do here?”

“Brand strategy,” he said brightly. And then he added more quietly, “And, I’m also the founder.”

Yes, boys and girls, I asked the president of the company I’m working at what he does. As if he was like, the Latte Boy or something.

By gum, I was off to a good start.

I got home later that afternoon feeling excited about my new gig. The agency folks were smart, the client was cutting edge. There were cute dogs and good snacks in the office.

The Husband was in the kitchen. He’d been working from home. He looked up from the sandwich he was assembling and said, “Hey! How was your meeting? Your sweater’s on inside-out.”

I looked down in a panic. Two bright white tags emerged from the waist of my chocolate brown cardigan. Ridiculous. Why do they even need those Care Instruction tags anyway? For God sakes, don’t people know how to manage wool at this point?

As Mark sliced his sandwich in two he said, “You’ll get the hang of this work thing soon, honey.”

I dashed to the bathroom mirror and twisted to see my back, hoping my hair covered the label at the top of the sweater. But OF COURSE IT DIDN’T. It was sticking out proudly just below my hairline.

I also saw that the exposed seams were jagged and thready-looking. I mean, Helen Keller would have noticed this sweater was on inside-out.

I could only hope that I distracted the meeting attendees from my madwoman fashion stylings by asking the president what he did at the company. I mean, if I was lucky one of my humiliating faux-pas might have overshadowed the other one.

In bed that night I whispered to Mark in the dark, “Do you think I should tell them I was recently struck by lightning? Maybe that could explain the sweater thing at least.”

Last weekend we went to a weird fun performance called Mummenschanz with Lily and her fam. In the endless concession line at intermission I stood behind a heavyset woman and her young daughter. As the three tones rang out indicating our break was ending—as was our hope of getting a snack—I noticed the mom in front of us had her long, tan cardigan on inside-out. I didn’t know her, but in that spinach-in-your-teeth way of the sisterhood of woman, I felt it was my duty to tap her on the arm and quietly point it out.

“Oh God,” she harrumphed, as she peeled her sweater off to turn it around. “Thank you.”

“Trust me,” I said as I took Kate’s hand to head back to our seats. “I’ve been there.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I too am seeking joy by making myself vulnerable! The clothing trick is only one of my moves.” But I thought there was a good chance she’d have no idea what I was talking about.


10 Comments on “Vulnerability 101”

  1. 1 Alexandra said at 5:53 am on December 5th, 2012:

    You’ll rock this. You’re a smart woman.

    I once had the stuff you only see in movies happen to me. Walked around before a presentation with toilet paper on the bottom of my shoe.
    Yes, death by mortification.

  2. 2 RookieMom Whitney said at 7:55 am on December 5th, 2012:

    Another Kristen story well-told. Next clothing swap will have a theme, okay? 100% Reversible, Creative Agency-Approved Clothing

  3. 3 Jeff P said at 9:30 am on December 5th, 2012:

    hahahaahaa…congrats on your vulnerability. My wife is famous for wearing her underwear inside-out, but hopefully no one is noticing that at her work. Also, I love Mummenschanz. I remember watching them on Sesame Street growing up.

  4. 4 Clearly Kristal said at 9:44 am on December 5th, 2012:

    I commend your vulnerability. I can totally relate as I did something similar at a corporate event a few years ago – leaving the tag on my “Ross Dress for Less” at a fancy holiday party. Yes, the $9.99 tag was sticking out the entire evening. I was horrified to come home and see the tag in the bathroom mirror. AHHH! By the way, I just watched the video of Brene Brown. Awesome. Good for you in being vulnerable. You are enough! Hang in there.

  5. 5 kristen from motherload said at 8:13 pm on December 5th, 2012:

    Brilliant, Whitney. And maybe some jeans that aren’t all size 2s…

  6. 6 Mel@TheDizzyMom said at 10:34 pm on December 5th, 2012:

    I’ve done this, too! On my first day at my first real job I asked the CEO what he did. I didn’t know he was the CEO! Luckily, he has a sense of humor!

    Congrats on the new gig!

  7. 7 Mary Patrick said at 8:32 am on December 7th, 2012:

    How about this: I run a program at a university with perhaps 2 african american students. One attended a workshop I had on public speaking and nailed it. When I saw her in cafeteria later I complimented her and got a blank stare. That’s because I complimented THE OTHER only black student. Cringe. Cringe. Cringe. I wanted to flash my family photos full of real live black relatives (my cousins, my godsons), show her a pix of my black (fireman) sweetheart, PROVE that I don’t think all black people look alike. But at 50, all young people of any color, race, size, hair style DO look alike to me. Thanks for this my dear. We are all such asses at times. And the ass is so vulnerable when exposed.

  8. 8 kristen from motherload said at 8:37 am on December 7th, 2012:

    Kristal, I can see how that’s be embarrassing for most humans, but me, I’m a gal who likes a bargain *so much* that I’d be thumping you on the back! I’d assume you were just showing off that you got a great dress for LESS THAN TEN DOLLARS.

  9. 9 kristen from motherload said at 11:31 am on December 7th, 2012:

    Mary Patrick, you did NOT do that. I love it.

    Once when Kate was in preschool during the election 4 years ago, we walked into Safeway and there was a black man down one of the aisles. He was overweight, short, and gray-haired—looked nothing like our soon to be prez. But Kate bellowed down the aisle, “Mama, LOOK! It’s Barack Obama!”

    I wanted to sink into the floor.

  10. 10 RookieMom Whitney said at 11:36 am on December 7th, 2012:

    I was interviewing a celebrity doctor for my blog and he showed me a photo on his laptop of his son “with his godfather”. He was clearly boasting about who the godfather was, so I leaned in close to see the picture.

    “Willie Brown!” I exclaimed, acknowledging his right to brag.

    “No, that’s Quincy Jones,” he corrected.

    Then I died.

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