Drawing out the real you

Sometimes an outfit can help you bring your alter ego to the workplace to give you that little bit of extra courage you might need for an important meeting or event. By Jackie O’Fee. 

I attended a great webinar where high-performance expert and author Todd Herman talked about secret identities and creating an alter ego. 

He posited that we can use an alter ego to show up for the parts of our lives that we felt we were falling short. He gave the example of a salesperson thinking, “I really want this guy’s business,” but being unable to actually say that. That’s a time where you could bring out your alter ego – the part of you that can say that to a prospect. 

Herman talked about how we can step into our alter ego by simply choosing something to wear. 

He wears glasses that serve no optical purpose because he feels he steps into his alter ego when he puts them on. Martin Luther King also wore fake glasses for added gravitas, while Winston Churchill would stand in front of his wall of hats to choose the appropriate one for whatever task he had to complete that day. Beyoncé apparently created her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, to cope with the overly sexualised dance moves and dress her industry demanded, but at a time she wasn’t comfortable with them. 

While a pair of fake glasses might seem a bit too much for you, perhaps it’s time to think about what you have in your wardrobe that you could choose to wear to bring your best game to the office. 

This may seem slightly disingenuous and fake, but as Herman explained, you are simply drawing out the real you – bringing the necessary part of yourself to the table when you do this. 

He cites a well-known study done by Dr Adam Galinsky at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University where subjects were given white coats and told that they were either painters, doctors or lab technicians and put to a series of tests. The painters reported feeling more creative, the doctors more serious and the lab technicians more conservative and thoughtful. This (and supporting data) was used to define enclothed cognition – the knowledge that what we wear has an impact on how we behave.  

All sound a bit woo-woo? Think about a time where you’ve really had to step up. Perhaps it’s when you’ve given a report to the board or met a new client whose business you really wanted to secure. Maybe it was even simply a job interview for a bigger role – I have no doubt that you took what you were going to wear into account that day, and you felt that by choosing a more powerful outfit you presented better. 

What about a time where you arrived at an event or party and felt underdressed? I imagine that impacted on how many people you interacted with or how outgoing you were. I know of clients in corporate-casual roles who tell me that they will wear their suit and a tie on a day where they have a very important meeting scheduled. In short, they are calling on a stronger part of themselves and the clothing they chose helped them do that. 

I loved that Herman also talked about the different alter egos needed for different roles. He says that when he arrives home each evening he takes his glasses off and puts on a bracelet his four-year old daughter gave him and steps into the alter ego of “best dad in the world”. I think that is something all of us in this ‘never unplugged’ world could learn from.  

Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations.  signaturestyle.co.nz. 

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