The transformation happened around 3 pm. The loose yet clingy cotton sweater enveloped me like a hug only a mother can provide. I felt warm. I felt important. The cloth tickled my knee. Why was something designed for my upper body touching my knee?
"Don't question it," I thought to myself. From now on, the world questions you and not the other way around.
The idea to dress like Justin Bieber occurred to me about two minutes before I actually did dress like Justin Bieber. I couldn't help but notice how remarkably fashionable my co-worker's sweater was. It was feminine in all the right places. Edgy where it needed to be. Oversized but formfitting.
In fact, it was just like a sweater Justin once wore on the "Today" show.
I asked her if I could try it on.
Being the quick-thinking digital media professional I am, I realized there was a story to be written about this moment. If there's one key to success in this ever-changing game of Internet writing, it's you can't be afraid to be vulnerable. You can't be apprehensive about exposing yourself and reaching new personal depths.
I wasn't dressing like Justin Bieber for myself. I was dressing like Justin Bieber for all the people who have thought about it but were too discouraged to follow through.
Most of us will never get to meet Justin Bieber. We'll never fully understand what it's like to live like Justin Bieber. If I can provide even just a little insight into the world of the most intriguing pop star on the planet, then I've done my job as a journalist.
This is what happened, minute by minute, the day I dressed like Justin Bieber.
I became inexplicably hungry. I wasn't hungry for food so much as I was hungry for the act of ordering food. I went on Seamless and ordered 100 gluten-free chicken tenders, which weren't even on the menu. I knew damn well that when they arrived, I wouldn't open the delivery bag. I wouldn't even look in its direction.
I texted my mom to tell her our relationship was over. Mostly because I suddenly blamed her for setting her standards so high. Sure, I'm an uber success in the media world, but that doesn't come without pain and constantly not knowing if people like you for you or because you work for the World Wide Web.
My calendar notified me I had an editorial brainstorm meeting. Instead of showing up, I posted a selfie to Instagram with the caption:
"Love you guys, but I'm going to be canceling all my meetings (which I usually refer to as meet-and-greets). I enjoy sharing ideas and strategizing with such semi-talented individuals, but I end up feeling so drained and filled with so much of other people's work stress that I end up tired and unhappy."
Minute 4 - 7
I sat at my desk, sweater still draped over my lean frame; it's bottom brushing against the floor. People were coming up to me with questions and important information. I remember hearing fragments of sentences like "The website is down" and "The building is flooding." Though for the life of me I couldn't respond with anything other than head nods and shoulder shrugs. I was finally able to muster up a few mumbled "yeahs" and "rights."
I tried my hardest to make eye contact but some invisible force wouldn't let me. Trying to give the people the respect they deserved by looking at their eyes was like trying to get two magnets with the same polarity to connect.
My internal work messaging app began filling up with notifications from co-workers. At the same time, my phone began to blow up with text messages from friends and family. Most of the notifications shared the same theme.
"I hate you, Greg. You used to be such a role model but you've changed."
"I heard you threw a hard-boiled egg at Lydia."
"I heard you left your illegal pet chameleon in Singapore."
"I'm no psychic, but it's clear to see you're on the verge of spiraling out of control. Continue down this path and you will tarnish your image."
"Just take the damn sweater off. Take control of your life again."
I was overwhelmed with a feeling of sorrow. I had the urge to apologize to everyone I'd hurt. But at the same time, I didn't want to take the sweater off. Was there no way to keep the sweater on and change my ways? No way to get people to see the man beneath the sweater?
Even though I'm more of a boy than a man. A scared, insecure boy.
I didn't necessarily ask for this life. I didn't ask to be born in the '90s and, in turn, be inherently good at Internet things.
How could I get people to see me for me again?
My order of 100 chicken tenders arrived, seven bags in total. There was only one thing for me to do. I had to give back to the people. I attached a Post-it note to each chicken tender that read, "Is it too late now to say sorry?" and handed them out to everyone in the office.
As the 10th minute came to an end, I decided to take the sweater off. I still had hope I could have proven I was capable of change even with the sweater on. But sometimes you need to strip yourself down and start all over again from the basics.
I'm only 26 years young after all. There's still plenty of time to put the sweater back on when I'm ready.
Greg's collection of essays, “The Art of Living Other People's Lives: Stories, Confessions and Memorable Mistakes,” is available for pre-order here.