Monday, May 23, 2011

Dress For The Job You Want, Not The Job You Have

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  As an unpublished writer, I often find myself feeling like a fraud.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?

Sound familiar?

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.


  1. Absolutely agree Paul. Sloppy dress most often relates to a sloppy character. First impressions really count and the way one dresses reflects an awful lot about ones personality and work ethic. Perhaps I need to fish out a shirt and tie from the cupboard for my tuition classes!

    Duncan In Kuantan

  2. Who wants to hear what you have to say, Paul? Probably the kid who is being bullied, who is being tortured so much to the point where they're contemplating suicide or hurting others. You have a very important message to get out there, Paul, and I'm very relieved to hear you are owning your writing journey. If even one kid is saved from the horrors of bullying because of what you write, then you will certainly have succeeded in dressing the part.

    Oh, and as you know by now I refuse to let you not follow through on your writing dreams. Writing is who you are, Paul. It's who I am. We're on this journey together, brother.

  3. So well-written, and so relevant these days. Coincidentally, I just completed a list that makes up my "ideal life." Dress for the job you want, and live the life you want. Be what you want and don't allow yourself to believe for one second that you are not what you want to be.

    By the way, you are most definitely a writer, and a professional one to me. I remember back to over a year ago, when you were still not quite sure if you could your book happen. It's great to see how far you've come, and I'm rooting for you to reach your goal and live your dream. You are an inspiration Paul!

  4. Now I have an image complex - I doubt my blog presents a real author!

  5. Well written, Paul. Every 'aspiring' writer must go through that awkward phase then. I feel exactly what you described. But I am learning that more I tell people I'm a writer, as I own it, it feels true and I go back and double my efforts. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one timidly declaring my intentions. Thanks.

  6. My two cents...

    There is just something about a well-dressed person or a well-wrapped present. It represents something special and that care has been taken.

    It is no different for writing or blogging. Does the writer care enough to edit and present their best work?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  7. Duncan: I agree; it paints a picture of who you are, especially when meeting someone for the first time. In cyberspace, it's equally important to "dress" by always posting our best efforts. You never know who is checking in.

    Jeffrey: Methinks I'm lucky to have found supportive writing friends like yourself. It really makes all the difference and I can't thank you enough. Your positive energy is much appreciated, and I'll do my best not to let you down. Thanks for the words, brother!

    Jillian: Thanks so much, friend! It's funny to think back to the days I would roam the lobby with no motivation. It feels like a lifetime ago. You have been supportive from day one - since we met, actually, and I don't forget the people who pushed me through the journey. Thanks for everything!

    Alex: Your blog says a lot more than 'real author' - it says, 'one gosh darn brilliant man!'

    Scott: You are not the only one; I'm right there with you most days. But, as you said, little by little our confidence grows, and the timidness begins to fade. We have to believe in ourselves first, and that starts with owning our work.

    Dawn: My pleasure. Presenting our best work is key. I'm extremely guilty of posting for the sake of posting and forgetting to proofread my writing. Sometimes, I just want to hit publish and be done with it. I'm trying to pay more attention and be mindful of my online appearance. It's important!

  8. I believe dressing the part requires PJ's and a cup of coffee. Other than that, your wardrobe is yours for the taking because no one will ever see what you wear when you are writing, including your birthday suit if you see fit. That is one of the corporate benefits of being a writer. Glad you've accepted your title as official.

  9. I've often come across a writer's blog and wondered just what the hell they were thinking before they pressed POST or selected their fluro pink background. I had always put it down to my propensity to be a little elitist and judgmental about such things, but you are completely correct. A website is often out first point of contact with the industry or our peers: how do we want to be perceived from the start?

    I guess this related to so much more than just the physical look or feel of a blog as well. How often we post, the content we do post, how we interact with readers, etc. It's all connected.

    It would be amusing, as an aside, if there were a traditional writer's uniform we were expected to adhere to. I imagine a Mac computer and a Starbucks would be essential. I think I'd fail here: sometimes I write in my underwear, sometimes I'm at the beach in a pair of boardshorts, other times, like now, I'm supposed to be working my real job but I've found a way to steal a local internet connection.

    I've never really made the connection between a writer's uniform and their website and online presence though ... it's very apt!

  10. Spot on! I think this every time I visit a blog full of errors, or see someone misbehaving on Twitter. I think they are unprofessional and not taking the job of writer seriously. No one is perfect, of course, but it's obvious who's seriously in it, and who's treating it as a game. And you, friend, are the real deal, a pro all the way:)

  11. Very true. I have felt this way many times as a writer (sometimes I still do)that I'm a fraud, but I must believe in myself, and as you say, dress the part.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. Luke: Methinks you are too smart to be haning around her. That being said, it sounds like you picked up the connection I was trying to make perfectly. This was a big reason for me 'redecorating' my blog a few months ago. It's part of my uniform. I think interacting with readers is a big part of dressing the part. I'm not sure why a writer would have a blog with comments enabled if you have no intention of responding. To me, that is not a blog. It's a web site, and there IS a difference. I also think the manner we do this (or the level of respect one shows for others) is a key factor in letting your personality shine through.

    Michele: Shucks; thank you! It is pretty obvious who is not taking the job seriously. I see unprofessional tweets all the time. I'm guilty of many myself (I certainly give that Sn00ki a hard time) but I always think carefully about how I say things. Some people are downright offensive.

    Christine: I think it's hard not to. We are constantly judged in this world, and people forget that you have to start at the bottom to achieve anything in this world. I just remind myself if you are putting words on paper (or document), then you are a writer.

  13. Great run-down. Yes, NEVER say you're "aspiring." If you write something--anything--you're a writer! Viola! ;o) Very cool that we as writers "dress" for our part by the combo of our words and the visual parts of cyberspace. Interesting!!

  14. Great post, Paul. Very articulate! I love the dress code analogy! This could be the base for a great talk at conference!

    Paul Greci

  15. Hey, thats a better gig than being an unpaid intern. But I agree on the clothes. No one ever got a promotion wearing cargo shorts.

  16. I absolutely agree with the author that as writers, we don't convey our style or image through clothing. One good writer told me he started to cooperate with the And after I tried this service too, I decided to work with them.


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