I am the kinky, natural hair adorning my head, and brightly colored polish drawing attention to my ring-embellished fingers. The deep purple lipstick shading my smile and diamonds (well, almost diamonds) sparkling from the four piercings in my left ear and the three in the right. The tiny tattoo inside of my left wrist. The gold eye shadow just shiny enough to distinguish it from my brown skin.
I am the person who got a perfect score on her high school state writing exam. Who started college at 16 before graduating from high school. Who was honored during her undergraduate years for strengths in “academics, leadership, and practical experience.” Who has held roles at multiple publications as contributing writer, section editor, and communications coordinator. Who coupled the hours necessary to be a great student with hours driving buses well before the sun rose and for hours after it set. Who would rather work for accomplishments than seek handouts. Who is regularly the first person to the office. Who won’t leave until the job is done.
And I want to be successful without compromising who I am. I want a job, but I want to be me.
Like a runner poised awaiting the firing of a gun, I’m anticipating launching my career and trekking toward success, but the superficial, appearance-based roadblocks along the way leave me wondering “why.” Prior to graduation, at the start of my ongoing job search, I met with career counselors for advice on interviews, first “real” jobs, and easing the transition from student to employee. Their comments regarding appearance echo in my mind to this day. “It would be best if you wore a black suit, white shirt, and modest heels,” one said. “You’ll definitely have to take out all of those earrings,” another quipped. “Your hair is so cool like that, but you’ll have to smooth it back for an interview,” yet another added. Accepting each statement was like a dagger to the heart.
Does my appearance negate my intelligence? No. Should what you see outshine my accomplishments? No. Does my desire to have a thriving career weigh heavier than my desire to have a thriving sense of self? No. Does my level of professionalism equate to assimilation? No. Is boring and basic better than bold and brilliant? No. Does my penchant for vivid blouses and eclectic jewelry affect my productivity? No.
I recognize that at such an early stage in my professional development I’m in no place to make demands or have qualms regarding longstanding practices, but I can’t be the only person questioning the senseless stipulations. At what point will the world accept that intelligence, talent and creativity don’t have a visual standard, but are paramount traits in consummate professionals, world-changing personalities and future success stories.
You wouldn’t turn down the cure for cancer if it came from a doctor who’d rather not wear a suit.
As children, we were advised to be ourselves in hopes of making new playground pals. During puberty, we’re coached to be ourselves unapologetically without regard to the sentiment of others. In undergrad, we’re open minded to accepting others as they are while giving ourselves unchanged. But once you turn your tassel and the job search is underway, professionalism takes precedence over personality and “be yourself” is no longer touted as a mantra for success.
And again I ask, why?
My resume is no less impressive when coupled with my acceptance of my unchanged, unabashed self; my essence no less professional.