Every time I change jobs (which has been quite a lot) I joke with my friend Mark that I’m going to change my entire look. None of my new co-workers would know that I’ve never worn a headscarf, false eyelashes and a fake tan. His first question is always “Who do you want to be?”
Somewhere I know I’ve seen Jennifer Lopez with a Pucci silk headscarf and huge gold hoops. THAT’S who I want to be–the epicenter of “boho-gypsy chic.” She’s got a perfect radiant dewiness to her cheekbones that I’ve attempted to replicate about a million times. Forget the abs and ass (for now)–I just want to look like her from the neck up, because, well, she wears a cross and that wouldn’t go over very well with my father.
Not only would I never be able to figure out how to put on a headscarf let alone glue on false eyelashes, I wouldn’t have the patience required for spraying or rubbing self-tanner in just the right way. The most I’ve managed is tying gauzy patterned scarves around my neck, so self-conscious that I haven’t done it right in that way that says I didn’t have to even try, that I end up taking them off halfway through the day. On some days I’ve managed to achieve part of my desired look, but fall short in one detail or another making me look more like a wannabe than a natural. I envy those people who just pick things out of overflowing accessory drawers and jewelry boxes, slap on some lipstick, all in under a minute and just become “them.” I want to be one of “them.”
Recently, I’ve re-branded myself in an entirely different way. I’ve decided that “who I want to be” is a writer while holding down a “day job” working directly with at-risk populations. I’ve decided that who I DON’T want to be is a fundraiser accountable to an often ungrateful board or boss. Just because I was good at it for a while, possess the skill set that made me successful at it, I wanted to become “unstuck” from the 18-yr career pigeonhole that I found myself. At 47, I was really scared about making this definitive choice, mostly for financial reasons but more for the rejection that I thought I would experience by hiring managers who skimmed my resume and couldn’t see the logic in how my overall professional experience would transfer into work as a counselor or advisor to former gang members, women in prison and everyone in-between. I put it out there, sold myself in great cover letters, and I have gotten three interviews for jobs that I see as my ultimate dream. I’ve successfully re-branded myself in the course of about 3 months. How cool is that?
My husband and I have recently starting watching a show called “Lockup” which gives a pretty thorough look into our nation’s prisons. Because of my ongoing volunteer work with female inmates, it has become added insight into our country’s really warped justice system. The shows that are particularly heartbreaking are those that focus on juvenile detention centers. These are kids who are absolutely on the cusp of going in either direction. You can just see in their eyes the ones who have completely given up and will undoubtedly spend their lives behind bars. You can almost see an immediate time-lapse in their faces, project the image of what they will age into and how they will look 20, 30, 50 years from now.
The other night there was a young man who was about to turn 18, the age when you get booted over to the adult prison system. He had made a couple of stupid choices but was absolutely determined to make it, never see the inside of a cell again. He was expecting his second child (that’s an entirely different subject) and wanted to be part of his kid’s lives. He had been in a gang, what I have learned in my work is an alternate family that you NEVER betray. Kind of like the Mafia where if you snitch, you either up dead or in the Witness Protection Program.
In an act of what I think is total bravery, he had his gang tattoos professionally removed. He no longer wanted to be identified with that world, no matter what the consequences. At his hearing, his probation officer and court-appointed attorney held this up as his absolute commitment to changing his life and it’s what convinced the judge to release him. He re-branded himself.
I really don’t want to be anyone but who I am at the core. I like myself and have a tremendous amount of self-confidence. That being said, when a woman in my prison group described me as a “hippie” and another said I was “funky” I knew, at least for that day, that I had done an awesome job of the re-brand. In that same class when they asked what I did for a living, on a day when my first piece was picked-up by one of the most reputable on-line magazines, I stuttered and stammered as I answered, “I’m a writer.”