I was a finalist for an award naming the graduate from the University of Houston School of Education who was most likely to succeed. The prize was mostly just an honor although there was some form of monetary gift that I would have like to receive. I was excited that my professors had nominated me so I took great care in preparing for the interview. This was many decades ago when dress codes were a really big thing, so I wore a navy blue suit, stockings, and dress pumps. I did what I could with my fine hair that more often than not has a mind of its own and drove to talk with the judging committee at the school campus.
Finding a parking place at the University of Houston has always been a competitive sport. On may occasions I would find myself driving for twenty minutes or more up and down rows of cars hoping to discover an empty spot. I had learned to always anticipate a delay, so I arrived with what I hoped would be plenty of time to begin my hunting expedition for the rare available slot and then make the hike to the building where the interview would take place.
As expected it took me a great deal of time to secure an available place to leave my car. I was rather far away from the building where I needed to go. Ordinarily that would not have been a particularly inconvenient thing because I had built up the stamina to walk long distances on the campus. The problem on this day was that it was unusually windy and my hair flew in every direction as soon as I stepped out of the car. As though I had been cursed in some manner the wind was followed by a light shower when I was halfway to my destination.
By the time I had finally reached the safety of the building I resembled a wet dog and I had little extra time to dry out and do something to enhance my disheveled aspect. Not only was my hair ruined, but somewhere along the way I had snagged my stockings and there was a huge run that went from my heel all the way up to the hem of my skirt. In those days it was still anathema to be bare legged, so I had no choice but to walk to the interview attempting to psych myself into forgetting how I looked. I would just have to wing it and demonstrate confidence in spite of my appearance.
In truth i was totally unnerved and never regained the momentum that I had felt when i was getting ready at home. I sensed that the people interviewing me were wondering why I had not taken more pains to at least look presentable. My efforts to dress to impress had gone up in flames and with that so had my ability to maintain my calm and think on my feet. As I listened to myself answering each question I realized how trite and lame my answers must have sounded. I understood that someone as shaky as I was would not seem to be on the road to great success. To make matters worse I had to admit to them that I had not yet secured a teaching position even though I had been working on doing that for weeks. At the moment I felt like a major failure.
Of course I did not win the award. My fellow classmates were somewhat surprised by my loss, but when the victor was announced at our graduation I had already resigned myself to the outcome. In the long run it had little or no effect on the trajectory of my career and eventually I even realized that any judgements of my success would ultimately come from me, not someone else’s opinions. Over the long haul I felt that I had achieved a very purpose driven life that was filled with wonderful memories of students and teachers whose lives I had affected. None of them had ever remotely cared what I was wearing or how well my hair stayed in place. Dressing for success had even become a matter of comfort and my own taste rather than something that distracted me from my attention to the people that I served.
I had also developed an ability to speak somewhat rationally even in an impromptu situation, mostly because I was no longer so full of myself. My focus had turned from inward anxiety to outward embracing of the people with whom I worked and the children whom I taught. I could have been going bald and wearing jeans and a ratty t-shirt and only how I treated them mattered. I also understood by then I I did not have all the answers and most likely never would. Admitting that made it easier to communicate who I was.
I enjoyed the more casual and less judgmental ways of dressing that evolved over the fifty years that I have worked with students and teachers and parents. I certainly would still differentiate between dressing for a quick run to the grocery store versus donning an outfit for a job interview, but I would put far less importance of attempting to make myself look perfect. I now know how to answer questions about my philosophies and goals without worry because I have learned to speak from my heart.
I did obviously finally find a job after that disastrous interview for the award. I wore the same suit and had a new pair of hosiery. It was neither windy nor rainy on of the day of my interview. I don’t think the principal who spoke to me cared much about how I looked. She seemed far more excited by my willingness to teach six class of mathematics each day requiring six different sets of lesson plans.
That job would begin my love affair with education and I mostly never looked back except to laugh at my silly self. Dressing professionally evolved from having to wear dresses or skirts everyday to being free to wear jeans and a t-shirt if I so wished. The past couple of years as I taught remotely from an upstairs bedroom I even had the pleasure of holding my classes in my bare feet. Now that is success!