It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m standing in front of the mirror, minutes away from walking out the door to an informational with the most prominent figure in publishing I’ve had the opportunity to get in a room with since I started this whole escapade. And what’s on my mind? I’m wondering whether or not I should tuck in my shirt.
I kid you not. This seemed to be the most pressing issue to deal with at the time. Not reviewing her career history (long and distinguished), not reviewing the company’s accolades and breakthroughs (many), not even looking at their careers page. I’m staring at my shirt. Even in that moment as I’m alternately tucking and untucking, I know it; this is one of the dumbest fucking issues I’ve had so far.
For those of you who don’t know the unemployed-job changing-career shifting lingo, an “informational” is an informational meeting. In essence, it’s where you sit down with someone in the industry and pick their brain about their work, how they got to where they are, and see what kind of insights they have for someone in your position. You’re basically hoping they see intelligence behind the inquisitiveness and don’t see all the way through to the fact that you’re really hoping that they or anyone they know might have work for you. Essentially it’s like sitting down with a girl you meet in the bar and asking her for tips on how to sleep with her friend. You’re not asking her to take you home, you’re just, you know, wondering how you might get someone like her to take you home. Of course, in order for this to come off right, you’re supposed to be “dressed for the part”.
And now we’re back in front of the mirror. In. Out. Tucked. Untucked. It’s going on for longer than I’d care to admit. Why am I so uncharacteristically worried about this sartorial conundrum? Me, who hasn’t tucked in a shirt since…since…well, you can come up with your own hyperbolic phrasing but rest assured it’s been a long time. I’ll tell you why. It’s because when you’re hungry for a shot, when you’re trying to find your way into any open door (even the back door), when you’ve had so many of these that you start to wonder if you’re somehow impaired and don’t actually realize it (you’re that impaired), you start to think that your chances of someone letting you in might actually depend on something as ridiculous as whether or not your shirt is tucked in. You see, right? It’s not that different from the bar.
Standing in front of the mirror, furiously debating this hot topic with myself, I’m considering the woman’s position in the company (she runs it), her age (not polite to ask), the period in which she got into publishing (when it wasn’t “dying”), what was expected then versus now in regard to appropriate informational wear (this could be a thing…anyone out there a fashion designer?), considering the fact that this was a digital publisher and people in digital tend to be a little looser when it comes to this sort of thing (you know what they say about digital), that we’re meeting in her office and not for coffee (does this mean it’s serious?), that it’s Wednesday (hump day), that it’s cloudy (things could get wet?), that the sun rose five minutes earlier today (getting a jump on things), that it’s cold (that can’t be good), that it’s the 333rd day in the year (symmetry? palindrome? midget devil?). All of this over my shirttails and what to do with them. It’s madness I tell you, all the variables and the uncertainty of what lay ahead seemed to come down to this one insane issue. And I’m feeling pretty damn crazy. In. Out. Tucked. Untucked. Fuck.
But the uncertainty of life is what makes it worth getting up in the morning. It’s the beauty and the madness with which we’re gifted.
I was stuck in the manic madness of that moment. Thinking that anyone at that office, especially a woman who has built a hugely successful and diverse career in publishing, gave a rat’s ass whether my shirt was conservatively confined in my pants or casually hanging out was mental masturbation. While I worried whether the choice might convey respect or lack thereof, what really mattered was what I did to get in the room with her and what I did once I was there.
The notion that we need to “dress for the part” is a little ridiculous. Sure, I know not to wear my speedo and bowtie to the informational (that’s for the job interview) or show up looking like Travis Bickle (that’s for the last day at work, when you’re talking to me), but this nagging feeling that what I wear is an approximation of who I am or what I’m capable of is absurd.
It’s about as absurd as the fact that I proceed to tuck in my shirt even though I feel like a banker—yes, when I tuck in my shirt I feel like I banker; you should hear how I feel when I put on a tie—and leave for my meeting. I walk uncomfortably to the office building, rise awkwardly in the elevator, and stand stiffly at the giant grey office door.
Then, at the last minute, I remember something: I’m just not a shirt tucker (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Not today, anyway. And if I’m going to walk into that office and meet a woman I very much respect and want her respect in return, I was going in as me, not playing some “part”. So I untuck that shirt, turn the handle, and stride into the office.
And it was a good thing I did. I realized later my fly was down.