How To Balance Being Business Casual And An Unapologetic Individual
There is no class or a single YouTube tutorial to help with the transition of being a grownup and getting a nine-to-five.
As a young adult or oversized child (however you prefer to look at the age range), you enter the workforce with your résumé in hand and interview smile on.
If you're lucky enough to land a job, not only will you learn what to do so you don't get fired from said job, but you can also learn about the phenomenon known as workplace culture.
I stumble through workplace culture on a daily basis and have had a gut-wrenching intuition about this clumsiness from day one. However, the lesson is fairly easy: Stay true to your fabulous self, but compromise is king until you become your own boss.
That intuition wasn't so much foreseeing, but simply being self-aware. I'm more of a free spirit. Shoo away the images of flower crowns and expensive abroad trips from your mind's eye; I'm just very much an individual.
Bold lipsticks? Bring them on. Multiple piercings ranging in location? Got that. Shirts that are sassy and curse-word-ridden? Check. Protest causing political/social views? I mean, duh.
On the same note, I'm a hustler. I decided at a young age that I would be successful, and so far, I have kept that promise to myself.
That hustler spirit has landed me ahead of most of my peers, career wise at least. Balancing these two selves is not a walk in the park by any means and balancing them while navigating workplace culture is even harder.
It always starts simple enough; the email came in confirming the employment of my first (and current) "real" job.
I squealed like Babe the pig herding his first group of sheep. If you don't get the reference, watch this movie and enjoy all the feels the world has to offer.
The job was an entry-level position in the industry I'd just spent four years studying, interning in and elevator pitching my ass off for, so the excitement matched the hard work.
That was, until I looked down at my nails clacking against the keys to respond with an eager, "See you Monday!"
To paint the picture, they resembled the talons of a fabulous dragon daring to protect the palace of the perfected pout (as in, not office appropriate).
Now self-expression is insanely important in declaring your individuality and keeping your sanity. However, office culture, no matter how liberal, restricts the extent to which one can assert such individuality.
This translated to my personal bargaining between the free spirit and hustler. And so, the compromising began, and in most cases, the hustler won.
Clothing is typically first when it comes to finding a happy medium between expression and being work appropriate. Now, being on the curvier side of life and not being able to yell, “I am woman, hear me roar!” was a bit of a bummer for me.
However, I understand – to a degree – why there are guidelines in place. I’m trying to use this lesson for the powers of progression, not coverage. I still stick to my style and my preferred way of how clothing fits my body (tight or loose fits, for example).
That’s the compromise with clothing because regardless of the job, employees should be comfortable with how their own outfits fit, at the very least.
Add the basic lesson of "first impressions last" and that every hustler knows how to work that first impression in his or her favor.
But, the free spirit knows that a bold flare is worth remembering, too.
Makeup, piercings, tats and hair or nail design approval will vary in offices. Many places are becoming more nonchalant about tats and some piercings, but hair, nails and makeup generally depend on the personalities of the superiors.
For example, I’m dying to dye my hair white (yes, like Khaleesi from "Game of Thrones." I'm a big fan of dragons, if you couldn't tell).
That’s a drastic change, so I asked my superiors if a. it’s technically allowed via dress code and b. it is actually acceptable (socially approved)?
This may not seem like a compromise to some, but coming from retail and other free-range-on-expression jobs, it’s a big change.
Also, my free spirit side doesn't like asking a soul for permission for any damn thing. Being an individual means individual choices on what I want to change, not turning to group chats.
Sometimes, you need to force your own impulses to have several seats and play the game a bit. A hustler knows this because a hustler wants to run sh*t first, dye hair later.
The biggest trip up comes down to views: political, social, entertainment or otherwise. People you work with may only share one thing in common with you, which is sharing the same work address.
After attending protests, reading countless articles and trying my hardest to be open minded, some people and their views still drive me up a wall. The lesson is tricky because it's about knowing when to argue and when not to argue about opposing views in the office.
If it's a topic that ignites a warrior-like passion within, argue because your beliefs and morals should not feel compromised, ever.
If it's just a view, like "I'm part of the so-and-so party," sit it out because you shouldn't make someone else feel bad for viewing life in his or her own way.
The difference here is topic vs. view. It's the difference between arguing for pro-choice and arguing with someone simply for being pro-choice. Being an individual is cool, being a dick is not.
We still have outside of the office to flaunt all the cleavage, sweatpant outlines and cuss-filled views we'd like. Ah yes, outside of work is the beautiful place where you can be your true, uncensored self! Oh wait, your boss follows you on EVERYTHING? Even Instagram?
Well, props to you for having a boss youthful enough to know about #thegram, but here comes the hard part of the balance: clean up social media or not. Is it even possible? So many questions, so many questionable tagged pictures.
The best answer/compromise I've come up with takes some work. Enter the world of spilt personalities, also known as having two accounts.
The hustler gets the professional account and the free spirit goes wild on private. Is it more work? Yes. Is it worth it? Depends on your field of choice.
Honestly, I'm still working on it.
If you can combine the two, that's amazing and please help a girl out!
Until then, I'll be dancing this line with my pale magenta lipstick on and nails filed, but bright red. My tattoos are still visible, and I'm working my way up the ladder so I can sit pretty on top.