Building My Skill Set For The Career I Want

My job is not going to get better. It’s not just the weekend work, though there is that. It’s that I’m not doing the type of work I want. And that’s something I either have to stick out or actively change.

The type of work I want to do has this common thread. Writer, tinkerer, editor, data journalist, director. I want to tell stories. Whether it be through words or visual images or podcasts or objects. Whether real or fiction. A good story makes me feel whole.

To get there, though, I need two things: (1) financial stability to do the work on my terms and (2) the skills to actually be able to tell a story. Become a better writer, learn how to spec out designs, get those audio engineering skills, etc. Whatever it is, I don’t want to find myself eight years from now at financial independence starting from zero. I want to have ideas and the capacity to execute on those ideas. And in order to do that, I need to be putting in the work not just in my finances.

I asked my fiancé where he thought I should start: create a podcast, start writing short stories again, or work on data visualization projects? I need to focus only on one thing at a time. He said I should try the dataviz. It’d be easier on my introversion than an interview podcast. Besides, it’d be pretty.

Honestly, I have the biggest mental block with regard to the dataviz path. Looking up libraries to use, learning a new set of frameworks, etc. It all feels way too much like work. Those initial steps before getting into the flow of coding are always a big on pain and low on pleasure. I’ve also failed at getting myself to focus on this before.

There are benefits going down the dataviz path though. For one, it would be a legitimate career transition. I’d be closer to doing something I like and make good money. For another, I have some skill already. Even if it’s not at the level I want it to be, I’ll be able to see results and level up quicker than through other creative pursuits. Plus I already have a project in mind.

The only question now is how much time I’m going to dedicate. I need to block off chunks of time. Otherwise, mid-task, I know I’m going to feel like things are too hard and get distracted by blogs or YouTube or whatever else. For now, I’m going to schedule two four-hour sessions a week, using Freedom to kick me out of my distraction. Taking it one step at a time.

What is the career you want to have? How do you plan to get there?

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Does What You Wear To Work Matter?

I’ve been a bit of a fashion vlog binge lately. I’m mostly distracting myself from other stressors. It’s been interesting, though, to see how they talk about fashion. There’s a lot of good advice I’ve seen about clothing care and selection. But I keep seeing some concepts played out over and over and that have been bugging me. One such mantra goes something like this:

An investment in your wardrobe is an investment in your career.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Build your personal brand to get ahead at work. The first stop is in your appearance.

Translation: Our sponsors would really like you to spend more money on clothes.

When I first graduated college, I had no idea how to dress myself. As opposed to now, of course, when I have at least a half baked idea.

I always technically stayed in the realm of “business casual.” But, at the same time, I made some truly embarrassing clothing choices. Pants rippled atop my shoes and dragged at the heels. Cheap polyester button ups puckered at the bust and quickly discolored in the armpits since I apparently wasn’t aware of the concept of undershirts. I wore tons of unlined itchy wool, not realizing until a year later that I was incredibly allergic (“Oh, that’s why I’ve been getting all these rashes during the winter…”). There were many cheesy asymmetrical collared faux turtle neck tops. It was all kind of a mess.

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My workwear style circa 2012. Model pose included.

Flash forward to my first review, though, and you would never have guessed I was a fashion train wreck. I ended up getting a 15% raise, was on track to get a promotion (which happened a year later), and was generally on the good side of the people I was working with. All in my only-scraping-off-at-the-toe faux-leather loafers.

Nowadays, I have things slightly little more together in the clothes department. I plan my wardrobe around simple, quality, and comfortable basics. Silk shirts and slacks are my go-to. I finally have a suit. And I make sure everything fits. On the overall clothing scale I’d rate myself a solid 7/10. Good, but nothing flashy. But between then and now, I’ve noticed no real difference in how I am perceived based on my clothes. Looking at my own style changes and those of my colleagues over the years, I don’t think what we wear has made much of a difference at all.

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My workwear style circa 2017. 

When I look around at my office, folks usually do the strictly business/business casual thing. Everyone is professional, but nobody stands out as a particularly sharp dresser. It’s not like when I walk downtown, seeing all the finance guys in their custom made skinny-fit grey-blue suits, carrying their empty patent leather briefcases for show. The company wunderkinds, the young directors and rocketship-type upstarts wear the same slightly-too-large trousers as everyone else. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few folks who are a bit more fashion forward, but from the new interns to the CEO, sartorially I’d say we’re probably closer to The Office than Suits.

This is slightly exacerbated by the fact our office (as opposed to the company’s other locations) works mainly in the tech space. It’s pretty common that I’ll show up to a client meeting and be better dressed than they are in their tees and jeans. Frankly, our managers are lucky that I accidentally shrunk most of my old hoodies.

And so, in my day-to-day life, above a certain level of put-togetherness I see pretty much no correlation between style success and business success. Maybe this is true in more creative fields? Or I’m just not high enough in the corporate echelon for this to be an issue? I’m curious:

Have you found that your clothes have affected your career success? What do you wear to work?

 

Burnout

My manager and I had one of our monthly check-ins. Apparently I’m not putting in enough hours at the company each week. They expect X hours of productive work time per week (a reasonable number, to be fair) and I’ve been doing X-7.5.

Which means I have to some combination of:

  1. Leave for work earlier than I normally do (adding extra to go through rush hour).
  2. Finish work later than I normally do, pushing my dinner deeper into the evening.
  3. Cut my lunch break down.

When I think of how many hours a day I dedicate to my work, I get bummed out. There’s the work itself, the hour and a half commute round trip, the time I spend wallowing about my job in the after hours (unpaid, clearly). Often lately I’ll bring my computer home weekends to try and catch up but even if I don’t open my laptop once, I can feel in the back of my head the stress mounting.

Even putting in X-7.5 hours a week, I’m not capable of being productive the whole time. I’d say I have about 4 hours of productive work time in me per day, max. Especially since I’m constantly interrupted at the office, breaking my flow.

What keeps me here is the pay. Also feelings of: who else would want to hire me? and would I really like any other job better than I like this one? If I’m being honest with myself, the hours are still pretty good. Almost any start-up environment would expect way more time from me than my current employer, the big tech companies probably around the same amount. And in order to switch jobs I would need to spend probably 100+ hours skill-building and putting up portfolio projects on github. I guess I’m choosing the known sub-optimal versus and unknown sub-optimal scenario+high initial cost.

One of the reasons I pursue FI is because I can’t imagine staying in this industry until 65. I’ve met very few people over 55 in this line of work, and even fewer women over 35. I feel I need to squirrel away money while I still have the opportunity.

I used to have a clear sense of what I wanted to do after semi-retirement. Write short stories, go after my PhD, start anew in an entirely different vocation, etc. Right now, though, those ideas feel very hazy and effortful. I’m reaching the stages of burnout where all I really want to do is nothing. Which is entirely unhelpful in digging myself out of my inertia.

For now, I’m hoping my upcoming two week holiday vacation will help me reset. But in a way, I know I’m just biding time. The “right” course of action is probably to figure out what type of work I want to do and resign myself to the associated pay cut. Then again, the numbers say FI is only eight years away…

Working On The Weekend

I planned to write a “real” post (insofar as this blog is ever more than slightly curated stream of consciousness) but then my entire weekend got eaten up by work, procrastinating on work, and this stupidly addictive paperclip factory game. So I’m going to keep it short.

The past few weeks I’ve been falling behind at my job. In part due to factors out of my control, but also partly because I’m in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure what to label it– is it imposter syndrome or anxiety or just I think I’m generally just done with this job. Regardless, it’s meant that my time management has been wanting. That, on top of a busy month, means I’ve been bringing work home on the weekends more than I’d like just to meet deadlines.

On the bright side, I often derive a weird pleasure from working on the weekends. The office is quiet and empty. I have more room to focus and actually get things done. I can even work from the comfort of my own bed if I want.

But on the other hand, working in the off-time also means I can’t recoup after a difficult week. It makes it harder for me to feel refreshed the next Monday. And my poor CSA delivery, which I usually cook Friday evenings, still wallows in its crate, the kale leaves yellowing as we speak!

For now I just need to push about two weeks longer before I get a much-needed break. Here’s hoping I make it through.

Do you ever have to work weekends? How do you keep up during difficult times at your job?

The Hunt For A Petite Suit

After weeks of searching— hitting up my much-loved Everlane, a dalliance with MM LaFleur, and hours upon hours of scouring ebay, Poshmark, and hitting the shopping district downtown– I finally found a suit that actually fits me! Huzzah! (“huzzah”, by the way, is my triumphant exclamation of choice)

I’m in a conservative industry so I decided to go for a classic black suit. I bought the “Seasonless” two-button blazer and pencil skirt from Ann Taylor.  The low V of one-button blazers make me look like I’m swimming in my mother’s hand-me-downs, so I was psyched to find a two-button option.  The pencil skirt hits right at the knee and is a nice classic look. The quality of the pieces is acceptable for the price point– thick keyhole button holes, fully lined, finished seams, extra buttons sewn in, but made out of poly/rayon a cheaper blend. Between AT’s 50% off sales and my work’s discount shopping portal, I was able to knock down the price of suiting from $258 down to $109.

I bought the Amanda Uprichard Simon blouse at a consignment shop in the fanciest neighborhood in town. Though it is pretty hard to find online in cream/white, the blouse seems to have retailed for $193. I got it for $49 in excellent condition. Not as good as Lily’s finds, I’ll admit, but alright nonetheless.

Therefore, I ended up paying $158 for an three-piece outfit that at full retail would be $451. Around a third of the cost, not too shabby! Or maybe retail mark-ups are just wonky. Probably both.

My big takeaway from this exercise has been that finding clothing as a petite woman is hard. That’s one of the big reasons I so rarely actually buy anything. Constantly feeling dejected, going into clothing store after clothing store because nothing fits, is no fun at all.

But I did come out the other side with some tips in case you’re looking to shop suits anytime soon as a petite woman.

1. Be prepared to compromise on at least one: price, quality, fit.

Define your priorities before going shopping. You don’t want to be at the register with a luscious mohair suit that hits you in all the right places only to realize that the $2000 price tag is more than you really wanted to spend (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything).

Since I was looking for something to wear maybe five or ten times a year in a less fashionable industry, it wasn’t pivotal that my suit be top-of-the-line quality and fit. So I got something cheap, and good enough construction-wise and fit-wise.

2. Figure out what a brand considers “petite”

At a towering 5’1″ (155 cm for my Canadian readers) I am petite enough that even the petite/junior sizes at most stores are too big for me. In the fashion world, 5’4″ and under is considered petite, even though the average height for American women is 5’3.5″.  Talbots targets a woman at 5’3″. Ann Taylor seems to go shorter. Just keep in mind that if you’re 5’2″ or shorter, your petite clothes may still require some additional hemming.

3. Skip the department stores

Hot take: department stores are overrated. They are often laid out by brand, which makes approximately zero sense, and it is impossible to tell whether or not a particular brand is stocked with petite sizing. I’ve heard great things about having a Nordstrom shopper, however, so if you insist on going the department store route, make sure you get help from an associate.

4. Remember to bring your heels

Workwear looks vastly different with and without shoes, and in particular those 3″ heels may make those formerly-too-long pants just right.

5. Know what can be easily tailored versus not

Hemming pants: easy. Shortening sleeves: medium. Taking in a lined blazer: $$$.

6. Keep the tags on

That 50% off sale? That wasn’t happening when I bought my AT suit the first time. I shelled out full freight to start. All $258, just to make sure I had it in hand by the time my business trips rolled around. But those weren’t for a couple weeks and I wasn’t in a hurry to wear my suit in public. So what’d I do? I checked the Ann Taylor website every day to see if there was a sale going. Once it hit 50% off, I bought a second suit, brought my original back for a refund, and never had to risk my size running out. A little inconvenient (many stores will just do price adjustments, but not AT), but totally worth it for the extra savings.

7. Get an Amex card

If you go the online shopping route– because, let’s face it, getting discounts from the comfort of your couch is pretty appealing– make sure you have an Amex card handy. Why? Because Amex cards give you access to ShopRunner for free. That’s 2-day shipping at a lot of the mid-tier brands for $0. Perfect if you want to try out a lot of different suits, but are too lazy to visit the stores in person.

Now that I’ve gotten my suit down, I’m ready to move on to my next personal style project: finding the perfect pair of jeans.

What are your tips for finding petite clothing? Any jean brands you particularly like or recommend?

My Kingdom For A Suit

Every fall starts with a sudden uptick of work. I don’t know why– maybe people come back from vacation feeling renewed, ready to make some money. The workers fill their mugs with fresh coffee. The sales team starts scheduling dinner meetings. Calls stream in from potential clients who realize, frantic, that projects that “aren’t due until October” have seen little progress in the warm, lazy, summer. Just like clockwork.

Usually, if I’m to travel, it’s in October. Nowhere exciting, always in the lower 48. But when I go I work solo. I talk to few people on-site and am often left alone to do my work as I please. If I happen to meet a client, I may wear an ill-fitting blazer and a sheath dress to a first meeting. My role is to get the project done, not hobnob with the C-suite. Since my client contacts are usually other mid-level employees, our managers already having negotiated our work over thick wooden tables and a few fingers of bourbon (though perhaps that’s only in my imagination), it’s rare either I or they saunter into a meeting in a bespoke suit.

This year, though, things are different. Instead of my usual work, I am edging into a more formal field. My contacts will be senior. Instead of my usual, quiet, peaceful solo work, I’ll be spending a lot of time interviewing folks in my day-to-day. I won’t have a senior manager to rely on to make the good impressions, this time I’ll really be on my own.

Because of this, I find myself reconsidering my wardrobe. Am I due for an upgrade? I have some good pieces, but everything is starting to get tired. After five years of almost weekly wear, my trusty sheath dress is starting to warp, my black slacks have faded, and the chipped buttons on my silk shirts need replacement. Is it time, I think, to invest in a three-piece suit?

Until now, I have gotten away without this wardrobe staple. No little black dress or pair of kitten heels either, for what that’s worth. But as I climb the professional ladder it becomes more apparent to me that sometimes it’s easiest to go back to the classics.

For the most part, I shop almost exclusively by thrifting. Consignment is basically my middle name. But, after months of search, I find very little that meets my criteria trawling the shelves. Everything is either too seasonal, doesn’t match into a cohesive formal outfit, doesn’t fit (nothing fits), or too ragged for use. I finally relent: it’s time to go for new.

With that in mind, I make my way to the MM. LaFleur pop-up in the city. I show up to my appointment in baggy cotton pants, a pair of stained hiking boots on my feet, and my company-logo’d backpack in tow. The stylist who is wonderful and offers me a glass of champagne, throughout the hour pulls for me different outfits that fit my very specific requirements for pieces that are “business formal, machine washable, and maybe look good on me I guess?”

Here’s what I end up getting:

 

The Lagarde shirt is soft and white. While a bit sheer, it has enough heft to it to not feel entirely transparent. The gold buttons and cufflinks are subtle statement details and add an elegant touch. The Eldridge skirt, which falls about two inches below the knee, has a lovely side slit and paneling that gives it shape and makes it a little more interesting than the typical pencil skirt. And the Sant Ambroeus jardigan, oh how have I gotten this far in life without a jardigan? Clean cut, but also substantial enough to take the place of a blazer, it helps finish up the outfit for a nice three-piece look.

Now, for those keeping score at home, I paid $575 for my new suit. To put it in context, that’s more than twice what I usually spend on clothes in a year, just for three pieces! I feel itchy just thinking about it.

But, at the same time, this is also an investment, giving myself new wardrobe staples and making myself presentable for the next stages of my career. Alright, “investment” may be a bit of an overstatement. But, certainly I am not headed down the path of penury with this one purchase, am I?

I wonder how much women generally spend on work clothing. MM. Lafleur has its own guidelines, telling women: “As a general rule, plan to spend 5-10% of your monthly take-home income on clothes.” Which vaguely reminds me of De Beers’ “A Diamond is Forever” campaign that got everyone to spend three month’s pay on diamond engagement rings. According to the BLS, mean clothing spending for the 25-34 age range is $1832, which albeit close to the 5% figure, strikes me as being slightly more reasonable. Not all of that spending is on work clothes, mind you, but enough that I feel more at ease with loosening the purses just this once.

Plus everything is machine washable. So, uh, definitely worth it?

Update: Unfortunately, it seems that the delicately up-tilted mirrors in the shop gave me a different understanding of the outfit than wearing it in my bedroom under less flattering lighting. Oh well, the search for the perfect petite suit continues!

How much do you pay for work clothes? How about for a suit?