My first post-college job was as an instructional assistant for fifth grade special education students. It was that or subbing, so I decided to go for the gig that provided a salary, full benefits, and a consistent schedule in the same building each day. At twenty-two, it was okay. Most days, it was mind-numbing, but it was still a foot in the door.
Of course, my goal was never to be an instructional assistant. It was the job I had, not the job I wanted. Assistants worked under a different contract from the teachers. My hours were longer. I endured crappier pastimes like monitoring the cafeteria, which was conveniently omitted from the job description when I applied for the position. Yet, one advantage was the dress code; assistants were not required to show up in the same professional attire as classroom teachers. Ties were not necessary, but I wore one four days a week (we had 'Casual Friday'). Sneakers were permissible, but I wore dress shoes. I wanted to be a teacher, so I dressed the part.
To be clear, dressing as a teacher had no impact on me landing a job, but it helped me feel like a teacher long before I was one. I didn't look any different from the other adults. I didn't have 'trainee' or 'poser' tattooed across my forehead . I didn't demonstrate my lower hierarchical ranking by wearing a different uniform. I made it known that my credentials and qualifications matched the other professionals in the building, and I maintained an image that correlated with my goals.
Six years later, I am attempting to follow the same philosophy in a different industry. As an unpublished writer, I often find myself feeling like a fraud. How can I call myself a writer at this stage in the process? What have I accomplished to be worthy of the title? What business do I have chiming in on discussions pertaining to the? Who wants my advice? Who wants to hear what I have to say?
It took me over a year before I would comfortably refer to myself as writer. Even then, I would include the verb aspiring as a disclaimer. I feared being outed as an impostor. Finally, I came to my senses and learned a writer is simply one who writes, and by writing seven days a week, I was allowed to assume the title.
Of course, there is a difference between writing and writing professionally, and although I'm very much aware I am not a professional writer, I feel it is important to dress the part since that is my ultimate goal. If I want to be taken seriously, I must own my writing journey as I would any other occupation. Others must see it is a part of who I am.
As writers, we don't convey our style or image through clothing. Instead, our websites, blogs, and twitter streams introduce us to others in the industry. Our online profiles share our hobbies, interests, and inspiration. Just as the suit worn to an interview creates that first impression, our online persona - our words, thoughts, and even head shots - paint the picture of who we are and what we stand for.
If we own our writing - if we present ourselves as professionals who are passionate about our work - then we are dressing the part and others will see us the way we want to be seen: as writers.
Dress for the job you want, my friends. Whatever that job may be, dress the part.