Could dressing for success be as simple as being yourself?
Do you see the lady in the photo? I barely recognize her, yet she was me. Well, me in disguise. This picture is from my early career in television, when I was the Medical Director and News Anchor for Discovery Health Channel.
I wanted this job so much, but initially the producers thought I was too young to be taken seriously by their viewers. So the expertly polished ‘TV Doc in a box’ you see here was dressed by a stylist to look older and more ‘serious’. Of course image is important, but after a while I began to feel like an imposter. This lady wasn’t the real me, and I started to wonder where the real me was.
When my career seemed to be at an all-time high and I had everything that one would consider worthwhile, I was utterly miserable. It was painful because I didn’t like who I had become. My media image was that of a prudish know-it-all who wasn’t following her own advice: “Honor your dreams, for they are the treasures of your soul.”
Today I have truly understood and taken my own advice. I blend my media and medical career with my soul’s passion to help Lightworkers build their global platforms. My work spans the spiritual, emotional, and creative realms, as well as being rooted in business and science. You could also say that my work wardrobe is equally flexible these days.
I can still rock a pair of Louboutin heels and a smart dress when I present on stage. But today I’m not afraid to show my tattoos or even to shave the side of my head, which my daughter recently helped me to do. On most days now, whether working or not, I’m happiest in a T-shirt and jeans. As I share in my latest book, I Love You, Me!, I’m totally comfortable with my relaxed sporty style and even becoming more of a yogi as I go.
Interestingly, the clients that I see now don’t bat an eyelid at my casual style. It goes to show that finding the right career for yourself goes hand in hand with being your authentic self. After all, we do spend a great chunk of our time on earth in our working roles.
With that said, I think the topic of how we dress for success at work is really just a piece of a bigger picture. More than just clothing, I think we need to consider how we show up as a whole; in the way we behave, the types of media that we use, and how honest we are about who we are deep down.
I do understand that the idea of being ‘the real you’ in the workplace might seem scary, so I’m not going to try to persuade you to do anything that you feel might damage your career. I just want you to take a moment to consider how happy you are holding real parts of yourself back, if that’s the way you have been showing up in the world. Let me give you a real example from my career.
I took a risk in my first TEDx presentation as I shared with the world how I struggled with depression and anxiety for years without anyone knowing it. To share that kind of story on stage was a healing step for me. And it has continued to bring me wonderful benefits personally and professionally. The overall message is: Become Who You Really Are.
This was quite exposing. Add to that how I had decided to go on in short sleeves, showing the big Buddha tattoo on my upper arm. I got my first tattoo when I was 19, then spent my medical and TV careers hiding it under my ‘sensible Dr costume’.
Nevertheless, I went onto that stage with my message, “Become who you really are.” So of course I wanted to walk the talk.
I went on stage, I shared my most personal story, and I did it dressed as Andrea. The sense of connection I felt with the audience was incredible. I wasn’t hiding; I was being my authentic self, and the audience felt that – the connection went both ways.
This authenticity, vulnerability and openness is something I teach in my speaker training workshop, Speak From The Heart. TED is such a powerful platform, and I love helping to get more Lightworkers, healers and soul-led entrepreneurs to get their message out to the world, in the most honest way possible.
But this sort of work wasn’t always something I could shout about. As a medical doctor trained in America I didn’t quite fit into the “normal” medical establishment when I began incorporating acupuncture, qigong and meditation into my medical practice 14 years ago. So I spent countless hours researching these ancient practices to “justify” their inclusion in my medical treatment programs.
As “America’s Empowerment Doctor” I was known for setting people free from disease, depression and dead-end careers. I had people coming to see me from far and wide to help them heal and have a fabulous life, like mine. I regularly appeared in magazines and TV talk shows, including The Dr. Oz Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Even with these accolades, it felt like a step too far to speak openly about my love of Eastern medicine, spirituality and meditation. I was afraid of losing my professional standing and being judged as too ‘woo woo’.
Thankfully today I see and feel shifts in the world; both out there in society, and also within myself…. I’m braver and more willing to be open, to show my whole self, to dress as me, and even to get more tattoos! Society is far more accepting today, and we no perhaps don’t judge a book by its cover in quite the way that we used to.
If I achieve one thing by sharing this, I really want to encourage you to shine your unique light in the world. There is nobody else quite like you, and that is more than okay!
So let me leave you with this question. What does dressing for success look and feel like for you? I’d love it if you would let me know in the comments.
Dr. Andrea Pennington (@DrAndrea) is an integrative physician, acupuncturist, meditation teacher and conscious communication specialist. She is the Founder of In8Vitality, a #1 international bestselling author, highly acclaimed 2x TEDx speaker, visionary brand strategist for Light workers, and Co-founder of the #RealSelfLove Movement.