The New Cheese: Ballad of a wardrobe moron

I am accessory idiot. I admit this freely, but not without shame. I am a mature, educated, professional woman. I should be able to dress myself to impress (or at least not embarrass). However, I am severely deficient in any fashion sense or style. I can stare at a rack of accessories like a monkey doing a math problem and bring myself to near tears knowing that I will never appear to the advantage and picture of professional confidence that I see in so many of my colleagues in the world. I watch videos of remarkably clever ways to use scarves (that have nothing to do with 50 shades of anything). Even with all the tutorials in the world, I still manage to look like a homeless person who is a cross between the hangman’s victim and an overflowing laundry hamper.

I have gazed with envious eyes at my peers, friends, and (yes) rivals who seem to have that gift for putting together just the right outfit and look that says “See the confident, competent, professional/social, attractive individual… ME!” Instead, I always feel like my appearance say, “Look at me… I just got back from a lynching by Claire’s Boutique!”

It is not that I’m completely tasteless. I hope not, anyhow. I have picked out and assisted in wardrobe choices of others for their important event appearances to very positive outcome, but when I focus my skills upon my own person… Oh the humanity! It is a train wreck, truly. I’ve watched longingly the shows on various networks where fashion experts take some poor unfortunate soul and make them over to maximize their assets and camouflage the less than optimal facets of their figures with, of course, a few thousand dollars as a shopping budget.

Hell, they can keep their money if they would just take me and my aged, hoarder-like wardrobe in hand. Actually they could take the majority of it in hand and quickly transfer it to the trash or donation bin. In fact, if I remove the outdated, holey, and worn through, I’m left with the outfit in which I came into this world … not a pretty picture. Certainly, it is not suitable for business meetings… well, at least not my chosen field of business and none of the meetings I’ve been attending.

In addition to this, I’ve never had the gift that some women (and men) have of looking professional with long hair. You know what I am talking about… untidy bun of hair (not artistically messy), untamed wildness that looks like I just crawled out of bed no matter what I do, or hastily pulled back into a ponytail. My hair will defy any apparatus and all products. It will insist on expressing itself in what appears to be a collection of overgrown vines in the wilderness or a feral human analog. Mainly due to this unsightly and inconvenient characteristic, I keep my hair short. Very short. While there have been other contributing factors to the choice of my boyish hairdo (see The Breakfast Club), I find that I have a much better chance of appearing professional if my hair requires little to no effort on my part. As my hair does not currently lend itself to ornamentation and combined with my stature could appear a bit masculine, I try to enhance my femininity with appropriate jewelry and facial adornment (of the cosmetic variety, not piercings). My makeup tends to be subdued and natural, because the 80’s are over and were not particularly flattering when I was actually living through them. I try to enhance what I was given without appearing to be auditioning for Ringling Brothers. Jewelry is another of those strange issues for me, however. I cannot seem to become proficient in utilizing the various accoutrement of the bling bling.

I am of a rather large framework. I have been told that means that I should scale my accessories accordingly, but I honestly cannot seem to look at the outcome and not see a gypsy fortune teller in the sideshow. Everything looks too big, too gaudy… just too. I have, over the years picked up some beautiful pieces, but I’ve never been able to use them successfully in an ensemble. I get a brilliant idea for a look and assemble it with all the appropriate pieces. Upon looking in the mirror, I generally dismantle the whole caboodle in horror because I cannot bring myself to be seen in public. Another drawback of my stature is that I have to take particular care not to appear too massive or intimidating. Power suits that look phenomenal and so elegant on my more petite sisters in the business world can make me appear like an amazon warrior in a badly staged version of Victor/Victoria. Seriously, I have to be very cautious in the use of too much black or other intense colors. I want to get appropriate attention, not make everyone scurry in terror or hide under their desks.

Never are all my deficiencies so evident to me as when I must prepare for a meeting where there may be a lot of eyes on me, where I may be held in representation for my program and staff as a whole, or when I am trying to make an outstanding first impression. I agonize over the right choices and generally the night before any such event, it will appear to all intents and purposes that my closet has vomited… repeatedly… all over my bedroom. My strategy over the years has been to choose at least three different outfits. Why? You ask. Well, that would be because in the light of the day, the fashion statement decided upon before retiring may not feel like the right statement. So, I give myself three options. I have been, if not thoroughly successful at least not a complete failure.

So, I continue to agonize over my lack of savvy dress sense, but at least I’ve not been naked without my homework anywhere but my nightmares. In the meantime, if any of the hosts of those makeover shows happen to stumble on my blog, please feel free to save me from myself.

Physical Fit: Scathing Rant Commencing in 3…2…


So, I have tried not to become one of those people when it comes to my physical activity and fitness regimen, but today truly tested my metal.

I’ve recently changed up my routine workout schedule. A few different circumstances contributed to the adjustments. The primary reason was my move to a telecommute status for my job that put me within five minutes of my gym. Whereas previously my workout waited until the end of the workday when I stopped on the way home (because my office was inconveniently far from the gym to go during the day), I now have the ability to run to the gym for a mid-day workout break during my lunch hour. Another reason for the schedule shift was that my former choice of the after-work-workout was popular with a lot of people. The gym was crowded starting at around 5:00 P.M. If I didn’t get to the gym before that time, it was very unlikely that I would find any of the cardio machinery (elliptical, treadmill, stationary bicycles, or stair climber) free. The same could be said for the various resistance and strength training machines, and don’t get me started on the circuit training area. Needless to say, with my late in the day meetings, project, and door-knob questions from staff, I rarely got to my gym in time to get my turn at the necessary activities. It was frustrating, to say the least, and a recipe for fitness failure if I allowed it to be. Therefore, my change to a mid-day workout was an unexpected blessing. It is glorious. I practically have the whole place to myself, and I get in a full workout in the time most people get through lunch.

I fear that even this brief period of blessed freedom and isolation in my fitness has led me to a sense of complacency. I’ve become accustomed to my privacy and freedom of the unpopulated daytime gym. I have taken for granted that I have the run of the place. I mistakenly assumed that my frustrations of the gym-etiquette-deficient were behind me. Today, that cherished feeling has been decimated … decisively.

First, I got rather a later start than normal, but I was still at the gym shortly after the normal lunch hour. As usual, my chosen temple to physical fitness was practically empty. I was immediately able to get an elliptical machine for my run (yes, this is how I run because I’m old, and I have knees that still haven’t forgiven me for the mistreatment of my youth). So far, so good. After my usual three miles, I moved to the circuit training area.

  1. I just heard the groans from some of my more dedicated fitness experts among my readers, but here is my defense:
  2. I don’t do the circuit training every day or even every workout.
  3. I do practice “muscle confusion” and switch things up between leg day, torso, abs, etc.
  4. When it comes to a lunch hour workout, circuit training is a great way for me to get in a full body workout to start my week.

Back to my tale… I went to my blessedly empty circuit training area. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than trying to do circuit training during the busy times of the day. Sadly the circuit training area is the one place in a gym where, for some reason, people tend to congregate and socialize after work (which was one of my frustrations with the after-work-workout). This is a serious problem for someone who is trying to stay in their groove (“Beware the groove… beware the groove…”).

For those that are unfamiliar with the circuit training, it consists of a fenced-in area with a series of resistance/weight machines interspersed with steps or other cardio activity that are laid out in a particular order allegedly to maximize the muscle isometrics (the science jury is still out on that one). The point of this is to work on strength and tone while keeping the heart rate in a target zone. There are arguments in the fitness community about the value of this, but for me, it seems to be a good option (especially, again, when pressed for time). My approach to circuit training, and why it is the perfect solution to a lunchtime workout for me, is to do the resistance machines in order (as one is supposed to do). I generally do three sets of 12-15 repetitions on each one, but I don’t do the steps in between every machine. I usually just monitor my pulse and use the cardio to boost it if it drops out of the target range. The exception to this would be when the circuit training area is totally hoppin’. I then follow the prescribed routine to keep from disrupting the flow for others… or I just avoid the circuit training all together and opt for the other machines or free weights available outside the area.

There I was, in the circuit training and starting to work my way around the area from machine to machine, checking my pulse and using the interspersed steps in between… I had worked my way around to the military press machine and just finished it. I took my pulse and found that I was still in the target range. Completely in my groove, I moved with determination to the next machine. That’s when it happened…

He walked into the circuit training area with loose, saggy (and probably more-expensive-than-they-should-have-been) basketball shorts. Ball cap on backwards and sporting a t-shirt with the sleeves cut out. Before I realized what had happened, he stepped between me an my next machine. That’s right, he skipped the rest of the circuit completely, just cut me off in traffic and sat down to do some bicep curls accompanied by impressive huffing and grunting. At this point, I had the option of skipping past this machine to the next in line or use the cardio step. As I paused to reflect, another of the species came over to stand next to the first and slid into place at the machine as the first finished his set.

Suddenly, I had a completely overwhelming urge to be an ass… or kick one. I pictured myself delivering a champion, thermonuclear wedgie accompanied by a firm flip of the reversed baseball cap perched on the head of the original douchebag. I also pictured walking over and just standing there without saying anything. If either of the Neanderthals asked what I was doing, I would calmly explain the purpose of the circuit training area and excuse their ignorant rudeness as “I am certain that your egos have cut off the blood supply to the part of your brain that governs your ability to read or think or have manners.” My final fantasy option was to go over to one of the empty bicep machines that were just outside the circuit training area and visible to the pair of them proclaiming loudly as I did so, “I wish there was a bicep curl machine somewhere outside the circuit training area!!!”

I, of course, did none of these things, satisfying though they might have been.  Instead, I heaved a great sigh, gave them a patented Ginsu-knife-eye-of-the-basilisk-witch-whammy glare, walked to the abdominal area to do some oblique work, and then finished up with another mile on the elliptical. Somehow, while much more righteous and mature, I’m pretty sure the imagined actions would have been a good deal more fun. BUT I would like to be able to continue using my gym, and taking the high road probably was the wiser option. However, for any of you out there reading this, be aware of the people around you and have some bloody manners!

Here endeth the rant… As you were.

Telecommuting: The Good, The Bad… The Yoga Pants

In the modern marketplace, technology has allowed for a less traditional approach to workspace. Thanks to internet speeds, mobile technology, webmeeting applications, and virtual conference areas, we are no longer bound by boardrooms and cubicles. Telecommuting is the perk… and yes, the curse… of the modern professional.

For those who have known me the whole of my professional life, it comes as no surprise that I have seen the opportunities and trials of non-traditional workspace. In days gone by, I actually field tested some of the earliest incarnations of smart phone technology at remote access sites for internet providers and mobile communication services. I am an unashamed and unabashed geek. At the time, I was totally excited by the prospect of being untethered to office walls and windowless workspaces to access servers from wherever I could catch a decent signal. It felt like Star Trek, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be part of that away team.

As my career path shifted, I entered my current field and as an emergency service worker, my office was mobile. It was often my vehicle. The ethical considerations of confidentiality and security for privileged health information were forever in the forefront of my mind. The technology was improving, but I still spent a good deal of my efforts and time safeguarding actual paperwork and worrying about what I would do if the worst should occur, and I happened to be in an accident that would leave my work unguarded. Other downside of my previous roles involved the definition of “business hours.” Being on call, sometimes 24 hours per day and without recognition of holidays or paid time off led to a little something I call “boundary blurring.” Yes, my job was my life. Part of it was just the nature of the beast. Pagers that went off at all hours and employers that called me whether I was scheduled for a shift or not were just part and parcel of the gig. Crisis intervention, intensive inpatient residential, and critical incident work do not know a 9 to 5 schedule. Besides that, another part of problem was my own work ethic and difficulty establishing a personal life boundary as well as hesitancy in being assertive with bosses that tended to lack respect for life outside the office and the need for personal time.

Sadly, this resulted in what usually happens when the work-life balance is ignored. I became completely crispy. I developed burnout and compassion fatigue accompanied by some not terribly healthy relationship neglect issues. It actually got so bad that for a time, I considered leaving my chosen career all together. This is a common risk for people in the helping professions and for those who work in the first responder fields. However, it has also become a risk for anyone who has a telecommute position.

When I took a position with my current employer, one of the “perks” of the job (according to my colleagues and supervisor) was being able to work from home anywhere from a couple of days per week to full time telecommuting. For many of my coworkers, this was a blessing and a treat. They saved gas, and did not have to brave traffic and weather to sit in a somewhat colorless office space 40 or more hours per week. I was the holdout. I staunchly refused to use my opportunity to WAH (work at home). They thought I was nuts, but I knew myself better. I needed the physical, geographic boundary between office and home. I knew the dangers of the workplace invading my home space. I didn’t trust myself to impose the psychological barrier if the physical wasn’t there as a reminder. So, I continued to leave my office at the office, and my home was free from the work influence and accoutrements of the office life.

Over time, I started feeling braver about my ability to separate myself from the job at the end of the workday. That, and some health issues that presented themselves, resulted in a choice to take advantage of my opportunity to WAH on occasion. I was not telecommuting full time, and I would be found frequently on the couch with my laptop and one or more phones to take clinical reviews, conference calls, and trainings. It wasn’t particularly professional, nor was it very healthy from an entirely orthopedic standpoint. My back and neck would ache after trying to work in that configuration for a day. The additional downside was that my old boundary issues started creeping back into my approach. It was too easy to sign onto my laptop early and get in some work before traditional business hours, or worse, the end of day would come and go and I would always find “just one more thing” that I could do.

That is the danger of telecommuting. You don’t worry about drive times and do not have coworkers leaving for the day to prompt you to pack up your own kit and go home. Being at home already, telecommuters often find themselves working longer hours than traditional office workers. It is just too easy to keep going in the comfort of your own abode. So… I put myself back on office duty. I tend to be a bit of a workaholic as it is. I might work over at the office, but with the prompts of others packing up to go home and saying their farewells, it was a cue for me to wrap things up for the day and head home myself.

I took a promotion with my company (oh, and believe me, I struggled with that decision). The promotion came with a different office and some new staff to manage. We had our own space and everyone worked from that location. There was camaraderie. The work we was and still is meaningful (most of the time), and our group had a good fit with each other. As a manager, I was required to be in the office where my staff were based the majority of the time. There were, as usual with any new program, a lot of long hours, but having the geographic boundary between work and home was good to keep some level of balance. But things change…

The work we did gained a good deal of attention, and the decision was made to expand the program. With that expansion, there came transition. My staff became full time telecommuters. That’s right. They all went home to work. Again, with the program expansion, there were some long hours put in by myself and my colleagues. I found myself in a darkened office alone until 7:00PM or later many nights. As you might imagine, this was not well received by my family. Aside from the actual lack of time, there were some concerns for my safety being alone at the office after dark. Eventually, I allowed myself to be convinced of the folly of staying at an empty office, and I packed up my cubicle and brought my workspace home.

As it happens, it hasn’t been so bad. In fact, it has been much better and more positive than I had originally experienced or feared. However, the more positive experience has been due to some very conscious decisions on my part.

The first was my home office. While I am by no means the champion of housecleaning, I am pretty obsessive about my workspace. I have been teased by coworkers that I decorate my office with a slide rule, but it is true that my office tends to be a good deal neater and uncluttered than the other parts of my life (yes, take that however you may). Most of my day is filled to the brim with multitasking and a lot of technology. So, my workspace tends to be as organized as I can make it, but I keep some comforts and personal mementos around just to soften what could possibly lead to a depersonalized and cold atmosphere. Instead of working from the couch, which previously led to the boundary deterioration as well as a need for chiropractic services; I set up my home office in the spare bedroom that we had been using as a makeshift library (mainly because we have a book addiction). With the help of my spouse, I set up the network and laid out the design much as I had my cubicle at the office. The benefit of this arrangement is that it is organized, neat, and has appropriate space for locking away information for compliance and ethical consideration. Unlike the old cubicle, this space is warmer in style and more personal to me, and the chair is definitely more comfortable. Lastly, at the end of the workday, I can shut the door on it. That is a very important part of the telecommuting culture. It is absolutely necessary to have a space that I can physically leave (even if it is just departing the room and walk downstairs).

Another decision that I made was to change my schedule. Prior to moving my office home, I chose to run and work out at the end of the work day on the way home from the office. It was a good transition and helped me rid my body of some of the physical components of work related stress. Another reason was that the gym was on the way home and too far from the office to make it convenient to go at any other point during the day. The problem that arose was late in the day meetings that interfered with my usual workout time and time zone differentials for some of my staff who may have end-of-the-day questions. However, it became apparent that with my gym being about 5 minutes from my house, I could actually take my lunch to go to the gym. It was miraculous. Suddenly, I could have my run, workout, come home and shower, and I could be back at work in the time most people take for lunch. It broke up the day. It got me off my derrière. It made me a better employee and (though you’d have to ask my team) a better supervisor.

So, what is the downside? Well, there is the whole fashion issue. I’ve fallen into the habit of wearing workout gear the majority of the time. Yes, you guessed it. I am the queen of yoga pants. Now, I have not yet fallen to the depths of wearing them in public (except to the gym), but I have to maintain a very strict watch that I don’t start slipping. I do get up every day and put on different clothing than I slept in, and I consider that a good sign. Another possible danger: I am an introvert. Without the necessity for getting out of the house to go to the office, it is entirely possible that I would never leave. Between working from home and the prevalence of businesses that will deliver food, I could potentially become a hermit. However, my gym time has come in handy for getting me out of the house every day and regular social activity and off site work functions provide enough opportunity to make sure I do get out now and then.

Do I still tend to be a workaholic and sacrifice personal time to the job? Of course, but the truth is that I would likely do that even if I still had an office space outside my home. I try to be mindful of time and boundaries, though, and for the health and wellbeing of all my friends and family, I promise not to wear my yoga pants out anywhere but the gym.