I scanned the clothes in my closet and realized that I had nothing to wear. A friend had invited me to an event she organized for her new employer – one of those corporate breakfasts that purportedly allows you to enjoy the best of two worlds: network with a great group of people and absorb words of wisdom from an esteemed group of panelists, and still get to your desk job at a decent hour.
Which is all well and good when you normally wake up at the crack of dawn to go to work, but challenging when you no longer need to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to work. Happy that my friend thought of me and grateful for the invitation, I convinced myself that the event would be good for me – you never know who might require freelance writing services. The girls were off from school and I enlisted Chloe to babysit Sophie. I rolled out of bed and hustled to get ready because I was already running late. And that’s when I opened my closet doors and froze.
Ever since quitting the corporate rat race 18 months ago, I have not worn or bought anything remotely appropriate for the corporate rat race. And in an attempt to start taking better care of myself after I left my job, I lost a good deal of weight. I donated the majority of my “professional” wardrobe and replaced it all with jeans. And more jeans. And a few more pairs of jeans in stylish colors, just for good measure.
I was in a rush to hit the road – the weather was abominable and the event was a good 30 minutes away on a sunny day. I quickly glanced at the lonely black skirt, still bedecked with tags, hanging in my closet. I compulsively bought it last year after struggling to dress myself for a funeral (thinking, at the time, that I should get a black skirt ASAP so that I’d be equipped for the next funeral). I contemplated the skirt for about 30 seconds before deciding it was too nasty and cold outside to wear it.
Instead, I put on a pair of jeans, which I accessorized with a decent pair of shoes and a blouse. And honestly, I didn’t really give it another thought. Until I arrived at the venue, grabbed my name tag and walked inside the crowded ballroom.
Where I suddenly felt like an extremely self-conscious emperor in new clothes. Given the women-centric theme of the event, I had mistakenly assumed that the majority of guests would be women. And that it would be a more intimate and somewhat casual gathering. Wrong on both counts. The audience was surprisingly heavy on the testosterone. And the large room was packed. Everyone was wearing business attire – i.e., a suit in a shade of black or navy.
I had apparently landed on another planet. One that was once familiar to me but had since become a distant memory. Had I bothered to pay any attention before getting behind the wheel of my car earlier that morning, there were missed clues everywhere. The event took place at a country club. My friend’s new employer is a straight-laced regional professional services firm. Most of the speakers were a decade or two older than me.
What the hell had I been thinking? Had I really forgotten – after only 18 months – what I should wear to this kind of gathering? Or had my subconscious decided to project a big ‘fuck you’ to the world I’d happily left behind?
I arrived late and missed the opportunity to meaningfully network. So I quickly grabbed a seat and hid my lower extremities under the tablecloth. I was able to practice my new “I’m a writer” elevator speech all of two times with a couple of women who sat down at my table. The presentation began shortly afterwards. I left as soon as the Q&A started – the event ran long and I needed to get home.
As I drove away from the country club, I started to laugh. The thing is, I know how to navigate the corporate world. I spent years immersed in it and dressing the part. But I’ve always said that my dream job would be one where I could wear jeans every day. Now that I essentially have my dream job – writer! – my experience last week has led me to conclude that I may need to make a tiny bit of room in my closet for an outfit that will help me attract clients (not those kind of clients, people!) instead of repel them.
Have you ever felt like a fish out of water in a sea you used to know?
P.S. The monkeys are really a propos of nothing, but I took the photos at the Bronx Zoo a couple of weeks ago and I just love how damn expressive they are!