Ha! You investment types probably think I’m thinking about stocks. Nope. Believe it or not, I’m typing about fashion. My clueless approach to clothes has somehow become my definable style. I wear shorts. And I’ve even learned a lesson by doing so.
My island friends may not believe that I wore suits and ties back in my days of corporate battlegrounds, proper posturing before suppliers and partners, and general attention to cultural norms. But the contrarian in me didn’t simply fall into step with everyone else. Like a good engineer, I tested the effects of improving each element of my attire, except of course for socks and underwear. I’d heard that dressing well made a difference, but I didn’t want to jump from that assertion to complete acceptance of a provincial business wardrobe. I wanted proof.
Without any great fashion plan, I started at work in 1980 at Boeing by wearing business casual before the term was invented. I didn’t have the money for anything more than chinos, some button down shirts, and a few ties. My one suit dated back to my high school prom. Shudder. Soon enough I realized that my primary business contact was a computer terminal. It never provided an opinion about how I was dressed. I relaxed.
Several years later I was spending less time programming in dark computer rooms and more time out where the people sat. I’d saved up some money, got my Masters, and started getting more attention. Piece by piece I varied my outfit. Sneakers were replaced by boat shoes, which were at least leather, and then by dress shoes. People noticed. I did the same with belts, slacks, ties, sports jackets, and suits. Ties, shoes, and jackets made the biggest difference.
Keep in mind that I was working with engineers. Getting any response about clothing was a surprise, and the responses usually weren’t verbal critiques. I was treated differently. It was easier to get noticed in a meeting. It seemed that I got more smiles, nods and hellos. I don’t think they were aware of any change on their part.
I didn’t maximize the effect. It was a curiosity to me: one observed personally and in how others were treated. Eventually I settled on a set of informal rules. Ties were good for big internal meetings. Suits were very good on business trips, especially if I was alone in representing the company, even more so if money was involved. The rest of the time I was clean and tidy, but not pricey or fancy.
After I retired, and especially after I became single again, my wardrobe narrowed down to shorts, sweats, and Carhartts unless I was hiking or skiing. I gained just enough weight to not fit back into the long pants and suits. I wonder if that was subconsciously arranged.
Now I am known as the guy who wears shorts all year long. Actually, especially on Whidbey and around Seattle I’m usually not the only one.
That’s my new comfort zone. Wearing long pants is a concession to rare occasions, hypothermic conditions, or laundry day. The Sweetheart’s Dance was semi-formal; so, jacket and tie above the waist, shorts below. Wind, rain, and cold are only enough if at least two of them show up together.
Yesterday I was attended a conference. The world wants our help so we got together. The world, however, was passing through winter, mid-twenties in the morning, maybe above freezing in the afternoon, back down to twenty after dinner. I was in shorts. And I was comfortable.
Folks had fun with my fashion choice. I did too. But I learned something today (a good thing to have happen often). Our comfort zones are broader than we realize. Many people thought I that I must be cold. I wasn’t. I’ve worn shorts enough that my body recognizes this as my new norm. My comfort zone covers a wider temperature range now. The people that told me that I was probably cold were wrapped in layers of down and fleece. They looked cold. They looked somewhat afraid of their environment. Their comfort zones were pulled tight around them. I honestly don’t know, but do wonder, if their bodies would adapt to a broader norm if they let themselves realize that the first chill is maybe only a shiver, that isn’t a threat to health, and that may lead to a wider world.
Our comfort zones are killing us. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but the planet might appreciate our efforts if we didn’t fight it so much. We don’t know if our impact has too great. Maybe the earth can heal itself. Maybe the damage is irreversible. Maybe we’ll find a way through this that works for both of us. Our biggest hurdle seems to be our fear of losing our comforts, or convincing others to shift theirs, or whether life will even be worth living. I think our comfort zones may give us more to work with than we realize.
Change can be coupled with fear. Even in a “normal” life change is inevitable. In addition to that, our ecological, financial, and political worlds are changing. Reacting with fear can result in us wrapping ourselves up tighter within our comfort zones just when we need to open ourselves to other possibilities. Hiding from the cold can work, because eventually spring returns. Unfortunately, most changes aren’t that cyclic and predictable. Many of the changes before us are once in a lifetime, and maybe once in a civilization. Reacting to every challenge will be exhausting, but as long as we test each change to see if it only affects an old familiar comfort zone and doesn’t threaten health or life, then accepting that small nudge may free us up to concentrate on more vital issues.
Our lifestyles will change, and I now realize how much further we have to go. Wearing shorts when it isn’t even snowing? Shouldn’t even be noticed. Living a year without getting into a car? Kurt Hoetling did it, wrote about it, and learned a lot about himself and his world. Very doable. Scared of balancing your checkbook or figuring out your taxes? It’s only numbers, well mostly. Want to topple a regime? Now you’re talking real guts and heroism. With that kind of courageous excursion from comfort we can change the world.
I wonder how many of those men were wearing shorts.