Saturday, February 14, 2009

Perception is Reality

We live in a world where we are judged by how we look. Is it fair? Is it just? Doesn't matter. How you look on the outside is how you are perceived by those around you, period. The better or more put together you look the more seriously you are taken.

My 5-year-old and I have this discussion frequently. He wants to know why he can't go to school or piano practice wearing his sweatpants or his jeans with holes in them. I explain to him that sweatpants are for playing at home, not for school. What difference does it make, he wonders? Other kids do it, why can’t he?

I tell him simply that it’s important to feel good about yourself and what you wear is a central part of that feeling. We are in charge of how we are viewed. When you dress nicely and make an effort to look presentable, people notice. People notice that you think highly enough of yourself to take a shower and brush your hair, put on a nice shirt (unwrinkled) and a nice pair of pants. If you feel good about yourself you will have and project more confidence. Projecting more confidence means you are taken more seriously. Being taken more seriously means people listen to what you have to say. And so on, and so on, and so on…

I made a promise to myself when Nicholas was born that I would not be one of those moms who walked around the grocery store in pajama pants or wore my hair in a perpetual ponytail because I didn't make the effort to take a shower and wash my hair. I have made it a priority to take a shower and put on a coordinated outfit every single day. I hear so many women saying, "I just didn't have time to take a shower today." I find that odd. I live a pretty busy lifestyle too, but I have always managed to find time to take a shower. Granted, I allow for that time in my schedule even if it means setting my alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier than usual. The thought of walking out my door without washing my hair is as foreign to me as poking a stick in my eye. It's just not going to happen. That doesn’t mean I’m vain; it simply means that I make an effort.

If you look at the people in the sweatpants or messy clothes, do you notice anything about them? Are they disheveled? Most likely. Are they dirty? Not necessarily. But, the perception of them looking unkempt is the reality regardless of whether or not they actually bathed. Do you generally take someone seriously who looks disheveled or unkempt? If you were debating the merits of, say, nuclear energy, chances are you wouldn't think too highly of that person's opinion. Now, put that same person in a nice, coordinated outfit and the whole perception changes. The reality becomes different. The bottom-line question is: do you want to be taken seriously?

I drive Nicholas to Kindergarten and we park the car and walk together into the school each morning. We have been doing this for the last several months and we see the same parents everyday out walking with their kids. The other morning, the mother of another Kindergartner in Nicholas's class asked me if I work. I answered that, no, I don't work and she remarked that I looked so nice every morning she was convinced that I must be going off to a job somewhere. In her mind, why else would I bother to comb my hair and put on a nice outfit if I wasn't employed?

I put on a nice outfit every day to provide an example to my kids that it's important to be confident. It's important to be taken seriously. And, most of all, it’s important to feel good about yourself. I want my kids to be conscious of how they present themselves because presentation matters. The sooner they learn this valuable lesson, the better. It might seem awkward to talk to a 5-year-old about the importance of proper dress, but if I don’t tell him how else will he learn? And, if he doesn’t learn by example how can I convince him of the importance?

Perception is reality. Get used to it. Believe it. I have defined what my appearance means to me and what image I choose to project. Have you?

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