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Is That a New Suit?

I had never bought a suit. I didn't know what to expect. At all. I thought the pockets were fake because I couldn't put anything in them. I didn't know they were sewn shut. For a LONG time. Like, until I heard a joke about a suit being so new the pockets were sewn shut. I think that "joke" was from The Sopranos, so , you know, dark humor.

All of my fashion sense came from nowhere. All of my teenage photos are in a two-key safe deposit box in an undisclosed location just for this reason. My super awesome Levi's had a patch on the waistband. It was branded and advertised to the world my waist and inseam. As a skinny-ish teen, that was no big deal. But it was an indicator to how things are in my reality and surely must be true everywhere else. This had to be especially true for fancy stuff like brand-name clothes.

So, there I sat in the middle of my first professional on-site interview. A day on campus. I'm in the MIDDLE of the interview. I'm sitting with the administrative support staff. She is so pleasant, kind, and light-hearted. Somehow, during the conversation, I realize that the branded item on the suit shouldn't be there. Nope. That's not their gimmick, that's just a good old-fashioned tag.

The inner dialogue fires up:

  • How do I get this off all smooth-like?

  • Do I excuse myself to the restroom and sticky-finger the scissors that are now mockingly staring at me as I leave the room?

  • No, we're in a 6x8 room, no way I can be that smooth to take AND return scissors without her noticing.

  • If I ask, I'll just look dumb.

  • Well, maybe it's okay just to leave it alone. It's been a half a day after all.

The day went well and I enjoyed my time meeting everyone. At the end of the day, I was asked, "Is that a new suit?" The question came from one of the directors of the program. Also, pleasant, kind, light-hearted, but maybe just a skosh more sriracha in her sense of humor. She wasn't inquiring, she was observing. At the very least, I picked up on this.

Did I explain this was my first suit? Oh, gosh no. That would have required humility, vulnerability, and demonstrating my lack of knowledge. Maybe more importantly, it would have forced me to say, "I'm a poor kid and have no idea how a suit is supposed to work except to make me look like a banker." Also, I didn't have to. Everyone knew. Because NO ONE wears a suit in public let alone to an interview with the frickin' tag on the sleeve.


So instead of acknowledging that, I lept straight to sharing my inner dialogue from the moment I realized I was wearing a label-bedazzled suit. We shared good humor, got off the topic quickly but not awkwardly. Later, they offered me a job and I accepted. Just great people to work with.

Flash forward MANY years later. Like, days ago. I was travelling for work and had a Zoom call. I'm Zooming from The Carffice. This is the back bench seat of my minivan. The Carffice is parked on the street. It's not overly hot or sunny, so it's a good day for The Carffice in the wild. In order to accommodate for my needs, specifically my wimpy laptop battery, I used my phone for the call and used my computer to take notes. As things tend to do, my prep time dwindled to nothing so I set my phone up and clicked the button.

I was not pleased with the image of me on the phone.

The rule is your eyes belong in the top third of the screen. Done. I don't know that I've seen any guidance on where your waist belongs in the shot. Which, in a seated position, isn't precisely camera-ready. How about your hands? As my wow-you-must-play-piano fingers fly over my Bluetooth keyboard, I wonder; is that proper? Does the viewer get distracted? Mesmerized? Seasick?

It is a disservice to my client to interrupt their excellent discussion for something minor, particularly my vanity. But I keep looking at my image and thinking, "That doesn't work for me at all." So, at a decent break, I said, "I'm going to need to turn off my video for a minute and readjust. I'm uncomfortable."

No excuse. No making it about my client by saying I'll adjust my camera for them. Nothing but the honest, unvarnished truth from my point of view. I took maybe a minute to adjust the camera, feel good about the shot, and re-engage the video. I was looking better and feeling better. More importantly, my image didn't distract me from my actual necessary focus; my client.

My young professional self should have known to go cut the tag off once he realized it was there and shouldn't be. But thanks to the kindness of others, it was an issue of humor rather than humiliation.

Over the years dealing with my mistakes, oversights, and misunderstandings, I've gotten a lot of practice responding with an even temper. Because, like you, I'm just a person trying to figure things out. My experiences have shown me that I can admit and accept an error, claim it, correct it, and move on. It's likely I don't have this disposition in every situation every time. But to try to go through life pretending that the tag on my sleeve is supposed to be there is no way to learn, develop, or build relationships. A person who is never wrong is not a pleasant colleague.

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