#SWAAYthenarrative

Please Don’t Ask Me When I Last Washed My Hair

5 Min Read
Lifestyle

Please don't ask me when I last washed my hair.

Because when I told my mother over FaceTime last week. She gave me a look that I had never seen before — a mix of horror and disgust sprinkled with a dash of disappointment.

So please don't ask me when I last washed my hair.

Because in the greatest forced social experiment of a lifetime — being in front of our cameras all day long — my hair is constantly forced into a long ponytail, my eyelashes are bare, and my feet haven't felt the inside of a pair of heels since this new pandemic normal began.

COVID-19 has been teaching me the value of a lot of things. Including the obscene amount of value I had placed on a great blowout and manicure, the right height of a heel, and a closet full of thoughtfully assembled timeless, striking, and chic dresses. Not one of which had escaped from my closet in the past six weeks and counting.

Early on in my first corporate gig, I was assigned coach and she schooled me on everything I needed to know about my appearance.

"First, make sure you always wear a good amount of makeup, so even from a distance you can see the makeup," the coach said, stretching her arms far out in front of herself.

"Second, wear a jacket when presenting to give yourself more presence," the coach said, touching her own boxy jacket, standing up very straight.

"And finally, never, ever go without heels," she said, as she wrinkled her nose and tightened her lips, while her eyes burnt a hole into my Nine West black flats.

"You are too short to not wear heels. Heels are a must."

There's no shortage of advice on what women should show up to work wearing. Dress to the level you want to. Focus on business casual, smart business attire, and business formal. Make sure nothing is too short, too tight, too low, too sheer, too revealing. The little black dress, the crisp white button-down shirt, the wrap dress, the black pants, and don't forget those versatile ankle boots.

And in the words of the fashion guru Rachel Zoe: "Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak." And in the case of most women, judgment on "our style" is cemented within seconds of entering a room even before we shake hands, pull up a chair, and voice our opinions.

Because if I am wearing little or no foundation, eye shadow, or blush, they ask why I look so tired. Followed by the "Is everything okay?" Because If I am dressed down, they ask if I went to the gym that morning. Because if I dress up too much, they ask if I have plans that evening. Because if I wear a jacket, they ask if I am presenting. Because if I wear jeans, they say taken aback momentarily, "Wait, you own jeans?"

And for the record, I when I do wear jeans, it's with the nice crisp white button-down shirt and the versatile ankle boots. Because I can't recall the last woman leader who was spotted wearing jeans and a hoodie and sneakers. We simply aren't afforded that privilege. Maybe COVID-19 is here to prove us wrong.

Because remote working has become the great equalizer when it comes to my appearance.

I haven't worn makeup in five weeks. I place the camera far enough away so you can see me and not my pores or have a closeup of my bare lips or fuzzy eyebrows. I haven't worn heels or dresses or real trousers in five weeks. (I feel like a real adult when I use the word trousers.) I angle the camera so you can only see waist up and not my ripped jeans and bare feet. I haven't painted my nails or had a manicure in five weeks. Even if I talk with my hands no one can really see them on camera. My rings, stacks of bracelets, and watch are tucked away for now.

Sitting and working with leaders on video conference calls. Running in between meetings to home school my kids, as my husband and I take shifts. Making lunch with the kids, throwing in a load of laundry, and back to more meetings and emails. Getting shit done. Tons of shit done. All wearing ripped jeans and a gray turtleneck sweater, sockless. My toes unpainted. And not shoved into pretty heels so I could dash around faster than ever before.

Nobody on these video calls cares what I am wearing. And when we are back in our offices. Maybe (just maybe) others will stop caring what I am wearing. And I will stop caring if they care what I am wearing. And this could be one of the many ways COVID-19 starts to transform the way we, particularly women, work.

After my mother's reaction to my hair not being washed, I promptly hung up. Then I sprinted to the bathroom and washed my hair. Because really, even COVID-19 wasn't a good enough excuse not to have clean hair. Washing my hair took some time, but when it was done, I felt proud.

Because the truth is, I hadn't washed my own hair in almost nine months. After being spoiled with heavily discounted blowouts in our company hair salon, I forgot what it was like to wash my own hair. All I remembered when I closed my eyes in the shower was me sitting in the chair. Click-clacking away at my keyboard. The trifecta of superpowers: that large round brush, a warm hair dryer, and a skilled stylist all working together to deliver hair magic.

So please don't tell my immigrant mother about my great blowouts, and that I actually haven't been washing own hair. Along with a list of other ridiculous privileges that had been a part of my old normal.

About six weeks ago, I remember a seeing a quote on a coffee mug that stuck with me:
"Never underestimate the power of a good outfit on a bad day."

I have always been on that endless search for that good outfit. That power dress wrap, that great structured jacket. Or that stylish jumpsuit. And when it comes to those bad days. We all now have new perspective on what a bad day really means in our new normal.

And so, the quote now holds new meaning and new reflection for me.

Maybe it's about never underestimating the amount of energy and time spent on looking for that elusive good outfit. When instead you can just throw on your gray turtleneck sweater, slip on ripped jeans, pull your hair back into a ponytail, pull up your chair, turn on and adjust your laptop camera, and just get to work.

3 min read
Culture

Please Don't Forget to Say Thank You

"More grapes, please," my daughter asked, as she continued to color her Peppa Pig drawing at the kitchen table.

"What do you say?" I asked her, as I was about to hand her the bowl.

"More grapes?"

I shook my head.

"Please?"

I stood there.

"I want green grapes instead of red grapes?"

I shook my head again. I handed her the bowl of green grapes. "Thank you. Please don't forget to say thank you."

"Thank you, Momma!"

Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children?

Many of us are busy training our young children on manners on the other side of the Zoom camera during this pandemic. Reminding them to say please, excuse me, I tried it and it's not my favorite, I am sorry, and thank you. And yet somehow simple manners continue to be undervalued and underappreciated in our workplaces. Because who has time to say thank you?

"Call me. This needs to be completed in the next hour."

"They didn't like the deck. Needs to be redone."

"When are you planning on sending the proposal?"

"Did you see the questions he asked? Where are the responses?"

"Needs to be done by Monday."

Let me take a look. I didn't see a please. No please. Let me re-read it again. Nope, no thank you either. Sure, I'll get to that right away. Oh yes, you're welcome.

Organizations are under enormous pressure in this pandemic. Therefore, leaders are under enormous pressure. Business models collapsing, budget cuts, layoffs, or scrapping plans… Companies are trying to pivot as quickly as possible—afraid of extinction. With employees and leaders everywhere teaching and parenting at home, taking care of elderly parents, or maybe even living alone with little social interaction, more and more of us are dealing with all forms of grief, including losing loved ones to COVID-19.

So we could argue we just don't have time to say thank you; we don't have time to express gratitude. There's too much happening in the world to be grateful for anything. We are all living day to day, the pendulum for us swinging between surviving and thriving. But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?

If you don't think you have to say thank you; if you don't think they deserve a thank you (it's their job, it's what they get paid to do); or if you think, "Why should I say thank you, no one ever thanks me for anything?" It's time to remember that while we might be living through one of the worst recessions of our lifetimes, the market will turn again. Jobs will open up, and those who don't feel recognized or valued will be the first to go. Those who don't feel appreciated and respected will make the easy decision to work for leaders who show gratitude.

But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?

Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children? Remind them with flashcards? Bribe them with a cookie? Tell them how I proud I am of them when they say those two magical words?

Showing gratitude isn't that difficult. You can send a thoughtful email or a text, send a handwritten card, send something small as a gesture of thank you, or just tell them. Call them and tell them how thankful you are for them and for their contributions. Just say thank you.

A coworker recently mailed me a thank you card, saying how much she appreciated me. It was one of the nicest things anyone from work has sent me during this pandemic. It was another reminder for me of how much we underestimate the power of a thank you card.

Apparently, quarantine gratitude journals are all the rage right now. So it's great if you have a beautiful, leather-bound gratitude journal. You can write down all of the people and the things that you are thankful for in your life. Apparently, it helps you sleep better, helps you stay grounded, and makes you in general happier. Just don't forget to take a moment to stop writing in that journal, and to show thanks and gratitude to those you are working with every single day.