This is 100% how I feel about cardigans:
I’m a little joking, but honestly? Only a little. For a long time, I wasn’t comfortable sharing my nerdy side at work. I was so sure that I had to be someone else to be taken seriously, and I covered my fanfiction-writing, DragonCon-attending other self in business-y clothes and nonprofit-speak.
It worked ok for my career, but I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it was when I just…didn’t do that anymore. It was a combination of events -- I built some confidence in myself and my skills, there was so much geekery happening in pop culture it didn’t matter anymore, one of my teammates knew the truth and called me on it (she would legit say “dragons” if she thought I was drifting out of a conversation, and she happily passed that tip on to other folks I worked with over the years. She’s actually the best. Hi KJ!).
Being my whole-heartedly nerd self in work spaces wasn’t a sea-change moment that affected how people thought of or treated me, but it did make me realize I was better – happier, more settled, just…better – for being more of myself. A small thing that helped me dive into tougher and tougher conversations and situations over the years – the more me I was, the more genuinely, vulnerably, authentically myself I allowed myself to be, and the deeper the conversations I had. The realer my relationships with folks became.
I mean, to be clear, it wasn’t all rainbows. When people reject your performed persona of professionalism, it’s crappy but easy to shrug off. When people reject you – your values, what you hold deeply to be true, what matters to you – that…sucks.
I got laid off last year, right around the time I had my first-ever surgery, and it felt like a full on rejection of the genuine-me I’d brought to the work and organization. Whether that was the case or not didn’t matter, because I had to work through those feelings regardless (covid: not about me! Still, being laid off sucks, and brings a lot of feeeeeelings with it).
Before long, I got to the point where I decided that if it was a rejection of me, that wasn’t a reason not to be myself. It was a reason to find my people.
The more fractured our society shows itself to be, the more I’m doubling down on connection. Some people will never be ok with being vulnerable, or just won’t like me, and that’s what it is. I believe that most people are genuinely doing the best they can. I wish we could talk about that more – what our best is. What we value. What we want. What we’re trying to accomplish. It seems like the only people proclaiming those things are among the worst of us, with extremists taking up all the air in the room. The more folks are doubling down on the rhetoric of their political “team,” the more extreme it feels.
I wish we could talk about what someone means when they say they value freedom over safety and vice versa, rather than it being a handy rhetoric tool used to bludgeon a conversation. "Obviously people who value safety over freedom are sheep." And: "Obviously people who value freedom over safety are selfish assholes who want to kill grandma." The bludgeons are…unhelpful, to vastly understate it. I mean, they're not known for being tools of precision.
I’ve wandered a ways from cardigans as camouflage for dragons here, but not too far. Our teams and rhetoric and bludgeons may serve a similar purpose – you can reject my outer performative shell, but I’ll never have to explain the fear/needs/wants/drives underneath them, so you can’t reject that.
I wish we could have the actual real conversations that would help us remember most people are out there, trying their best. And until that happens, maybe we can at least chill on the rapid fire team-shouting and condescending that makes me uplift Men In Black’s wisdom of the ages more often than not: