Dressing for Work, 3 Ways

Summer 2017

I love a good design challenge. Last year, I heard someone say, "Constraint breeds creativity," and it rang so true for me. Even though we (especially Americans) think that more always = better, when you put a box around your millions of choices, I believe that you're able to go deeper and create new ideas.

After the Dressing 3 Ways - Backpack Edition came out a few months ago, my good friend Emily reported back, "I want to see outfits for lesbians: Pantsuits! Flannel! Overalls!" This whole series was her idea in the first place, so I kiiiiiiiind of have an obligation to do whatever she commands of me. (Don't get an ideas that are too wild, Emily).

I loved the idea posed by this constraint: get out of my own head and incorporate someone else's taste in the work wardrobe. Considering I allot my husband exactly 5% of decorating space in our home, I don't incorporate others' tastes easily :) 

While I didn't follow Emily's directions exactly (no pantsuits nor flannel here - it's summer!), I did incorporate my observations of how her style has evolved - looser pants, no dresses, flat shoes, and minimal jewelry - mixed with a dash of my own taste. A couple years ago, one British colleague got too drunk and too in-my-face and declared, "Look at your outfit, Julie! Those boots! That bracelet! You're a bit of a tomboy, aren't you?"

Perhaps this challenge isn't too far afield for me, afterall...

 

I'm nervous to ask... how did I do?

 

If you have other "constraints" you'd like to see worked into the Fall edition of Dressing 3 Ways, please share them below!

 

Posted on July 20, 2017 and filed under Tips & Tools.

My Biggest Lesson from the 2008 Financial Crash

Can you believe that the 2008 Financial Crash, Housing Crisis, Great Recession, whatever you want to call it... was nearly nine years ago? I cannot. Americans lost around $16 trillion of net worth.

It feels so far away now, as we've regained most of the wealth, and the crises du jour have moved into the social arena: climate, politics, etc.

In 2008 I worked for AIG in New York City. It was the beginning of my love affair with work: I reveled being in the city, producing revenue, and working alongside the people I did. This was my first post-college job, and it was a huge part of my identity. While many damn the idea of working for a huge corporation, that was my ambition. I loved this identity and the imagery of being a business woman in a huge company filled with powerful people.

Even if you're totally uninterested in finance, you probably remember what living in late 2008 felt like. People were panicking; unknowing citizens suddenly understood that they couldn't afford their houses; and news headlines flashed over and over again negative press about Lehman, Bear Stearns, and AIG. I couldn't go anywhere - not professionally nor personally, without experiencing some effect of Jim Cramer's advice to the public:

“We should hound them [AIG employees] in the supermarket, we should hound them in the ball park, we should hound them everywhere they are.”

(Ugh, this guy still makes my stomach turn).

Besides the fact that friends, family, and strangers constantly bringing up "AIG... the crash... your company's fault..." was just plain annoying, their remarks were objectively untrue, which was the part that actually bothered me. 

This came at a point in my life when I was much more serious, especially at work (AKA low fun factor). Also, I saw things in a fairly black and white way, operating on facts alone. And the facts were: the AIG crash did not come from problems in my division. I later learned that it didn't even come from the company's problems in my own country.

However, a business partner said something to me that opened my eyes. I've thought this phrase and repeated to others, countless times over the past nine years. 

 

Perception is reality.

 

It's an idea that can be frustrating because perception is not necessarily based on hard facts. It's marketinghow the message is communicated, the environment in which it's communicated, and perhaps most importantly, what's going on inside the receiver's world at the moment.

This partner went on to explain, 

 

"When something like this [crisis] is happening, your 'facts' don't matter. All that matters is the other person's reality - what she chooses to believe. Her perception is her reality and what she believes to be true."

 

It's an interesting conundrum for someone like me. I have a marketing background but an engineering-mindset (thanks, Dad!) that always makes me lean to the more cerebral side of things. And if I don't consciously challenge myself on this, I mistakenly assume assume that other people see the world through the same lens (spoiler alert: they don't).

This advice from nine years ago has been a career saver. Heck, it's probably been a life saver. It continuously prompts me to pause and consider,

"What are the optics of my words, decision, or action? How will the other person perceive it, and what will be the effect of her perception?"

 

 Photo from IVN

The Thing about Working in France...

Hôtel de Ville

Hôtel de Ville

 

If you're French, francophone, or a wanna-be frenchie, you probably know that tomorrow is Bastille Day. 

 

History lesson, en bref:

On July 14, 1789 around 1,000 French revolutionaries attacked the Bastille (a fortress, armory, and prison in Paris). The attack was meant to revolt against the disproportionate amount of power that the monarch exercised over the country's commoners. This was a key turning point for the French Revolution, as it forced influential bourgeois to leave Paris and also paved the way for future local municipalities. The point of all of this was to give share power more fairly between the classes.

Class dismissed. 

 

Fast-forward to 2017. Since patriotism and politics are hot on many people's minds, I wanted to share a fun thing about working in France, recounted to me by one of my oldest friends Shannon. She's an American who's lived in Paris for the last 11 years and once said to me,

"After I moved here, I realized, 'This is me. I belong here.'"

 

When Dave and I were back in Paris for graduation last month, we had an evening with Shannon and her husband Guillaume, in their picture-perfect, trendy yet classic Parisian apartment. We cooked, watched their adorable son patter around the apartment, and had important conversations about things like politics, family, and American v. French life. It was the kind of evening that left us asking, "Was moving away from Europe a mistake?" (It wasn't, but you know. #vacationgoggles)

 

Shannon & Julie, Paris 2013

Shannon & Julie, Paris 2013

Shannon has innumerable beautiful qualities, but specifically, I've always tried to emulate her inclusiveness, optimism, and hard work. Contrary to stereotypes, the French are extremely hard workers. They work hard, then relax hard.

But from working alongside many French at HEC, two things I hadn't personally felt in my short history there were inclusiveness, nor optimism. And this was difficult for me. So I was curious to get Shannon's perspective on why she loves Parisian life and work so much... when her qualities, that I think are so exceptional, seem to be at odds with local customs. Here's the eye-opening thing she said:

 

"The thing is, at work in France... Your colleagues will not quickly or eagerly jump on board with your ideas like they might in the US. It takes time and effort to get their support, so it feels like things move slowly. The difference is: it's slow but significant. Once you do win your colleagues support, its deep and unfaltering.

For me, this is how inclusiveness and optimism enter the picture. What may feel like upfront negativity is intended to eliminate risk so that they may stand by you 100%. There is no quick but shallow enthusiasm that fades away like in the US.

The support builds slowly and deeply, and it lasts."

 

Oh. Should've asked two years ago, I suppose.

 

It might seem like you have to storm the proverbial Bastille in France when convincing people that defending an idea is worth the risk. But once the walls are broken down, you have trustworthy camrades fighting for the collective good, no matter the obstacles along the way.

 

Thank you, Shannon! You always make me a little wiser and more worldly.

 

 

PS - You should know that the fantastic, dramatic ending was Shannon's idea. She didn't graduate from UVA with an English and literature degree for nothing ;)