When I talk to people about their personal image I usually ask them the following question: what three words do you want to come to mind when others encounter you? The replies vary based on the values of the person who is doing the answering, but it usually doesn’t take too much thinking for them to come up with a few words. While the words differ, their importance is the same to whoever spoke them —whether they realize it or not. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying that “one should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” I agree with the former. I believe we are each unique and should strive each and every day to put ourselves together in a way that authentically represents who we are. Unfortunately, many people find it easier to wear a work of art and end up looking like a victim of a fad, an overzealous salesperson or a victimof being woefully out of touch. Either way, the outcome isn’t good and others are assessing the person on an outward appearance that isn’t likely an accurate reflection of who they really are inside. Here are some ways to correct that. KNOW YOURSELF The first step to authenticity is to know yourself. This sounds silly — don’t we all know ourselves? I mean really know who you are. What do you like? I often tell people to think about the clothes they wear that make them feel fabulous each and every time they put them on. Next is to think about something they own, but don’t enjoy wearing. Lay them side-by-side — what are the differences between the two? Is it the cut? Is it the color? Is it the length? Figure it out and make a commitment to build your wardrobe around garments that you feel fabulous in. You also want to know your “words.” Those three things that you want to come to mind when others see you. Mine are polished, relaxed and put-together. Whatever yours are, you want to make sure that you are emulating them each and every time you leave the house. KNOW THE PURPOSE Where are you going and what is the purpose? This is as important to know as knowing yourself. While you always want to project the same personal image, you want to make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the occasion. It demonstrates your knowledge of situations to others and it poises you for acceptance. It is always better to be remembered for your conversation, knowledge and presence than it is to be remembered for the way you stood out so starkly from others. You can still look unique; just make sure you understand what type of an environment you’re in and aim to look like you belong there. Personal image is immensely important, regardless of who you are and what your status in life. People will always compare the way you care for yourself to the way that you will care for them. In the work environment this is easy to understand. If a person looks sloppy or like they don’t care, then the assumption is going to be that their quality of work will be sloppy or done without any care to the outcome. Of course if someone is always polished and professional, then the assumption is that their work will be the same. If you want to achieve professional success it is important to demonstrate through your personal image that you are the right person for the job and then make sure you back it up with your stellar skills. Socially it is sometimes harder to quantify, but personal image is still incredibly important. First and foremost, consistency is key. If you dress one way at the office and another way in your “real life,” people who will inevitably see you in both, will quietly question your honesty and trustworthiness. Are you the person who shows up polished at the office or the one who wears their pajamas to the grocery store? Yes, those are extremes, but the point is that as human beings we use visual cues as our primary method to form conclusions — it’s just the way we are hardwired. When we get mixed signals, it shoots off a warning in our head and that causes doubt to arise. Taking control of your image is perhaps one of the easiest things you can do to move you toward your personal and professional goals. It all starts with a little self-introspection and a lot of commitment. If you pledge to do this you will see first hand how it can open doors for you. It is then that the hard work starts — but I’m confident that you’ll be dressed for the challenge.
Shelley Davis Mielock
Shelley Davis Mielock is a certified business image coach and the founder of Mieshel Image Consulting, a Lansing-based firm that specializes in image development for individuals and businesses. She is also a co-host of In Her Shoes, a a weekly women’s talk radio show. To ask Shelley an image question, please e-mail her.