Perception Is 9/10's Of The Law

In the past, I have had the pleasure of being guest speaker at group meetings for “Dress for Success”, an organization that outfits women with free clothes for the purpose of job interviewing.  Some of these women have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including spousal abuse, and may be entering the job market for the first time.  “Dress for Success” believes that a new outfit can increase the interviewee’s chance of landing a good job by enhancing the interviewer’s perception of her.  Of course I agree, but during my life, I’ve had a tougher time increasing my own perception of myself, rather than the other way around.


At the start of one meeting in particular I played a game called “Can you guess?”  On a sheet of paper I wrote down the contents of the outfit I was wearing, a dress with jacket, shoes, pantyhose, a watch, earrings, bracelet, necklace and my haircut.   On the bottom of the page I listed eight price tags, from $9.99 to $2,000 one to match each item.  They were then instructed to fill in, next to each item, a price they thought would match what I had paid.  Of course I made it tough and threw in some curve balls, like a fake diamond tennis bracelet, a pair of very expensive French pantyhose I purchased during a weak moment in Italy, and a $250 designer dress that cost $19.99 from Lord and Taylor’s super/super sale.  After five minutes of modeling the clothes and waiting for them to surmise, I walked over to the marker board and filled in the blanks.  Stunned, the group put down their pens, and when I asked for any winners to reveal themselves, not one person was able to respond.  They all got every answer wrong.

The response made by the group to my next question, “So what does all this mean?” was a unanimous, “absolutely nothing!”  I rejoined “how much you pay for your clothes has no bearing on your appearance, “but how you feel in them, and what energy you give off, makes all the difference in the world!”   My point was further made when I asked the ladies to throw out some adjectives about what they thought of my initial appearance before they knew what I paid for my clothes.  Their single-word descriptions included classy, assertive, and confident.   Of course having paid thirty dollars for the bulk of my outfit, the word classy now seemed silly, and I’m not sure how much assertiveness a typical person can derive from a $20 dress and $10 shoes, so the clothes were a significant indicator of my level of confidence.  There was a time in my life that I couldn’t afford a $250 dress, but wearing a $20 one made me feel poor.  Now I can wear whatever I want and feel great because of how I have grown emotionally and that shows through, radiating beyond whatever I wear. 


On my first interview as an independent construction consultant, I donned a new raincoat, shoes and the best briefcase I couldn’t afford.   When I walked into my prospective client’s office, I was beaming self-assurance, but it was produced by a bravado that I had created days before in the luggage store.  Yes, I had the confidence to believe in my abilities to do the work, but deep down I was still suffering from low self-esteem and didn’t believe I was worthy of a great job for great pay.  The designer briefcase represented a new, improved side of me that I was trying to create.  It wasn’t an attempt to mask, but more of an enhanced second skin produced to hide the frightened and despondent person who knew she was learning disabled.  Knowing that side of myself was there, I had to make sure no one else did, so I used my outward appearance as a tool to manipulate a new belief in my mind about what I was worthy of even before I felt worthy.  As I look back, I remember that there was nothing even in the briefcase except for a silver pen from my son and my dad’s old architect’s scale, but for whatever reason, it made me feel great, and I landed that job five minutes after walking in the door.  Did my client notice the briefcase?  Probably not, but he noticed my energy because I felt like the queen of 34th Street in my new outfit.

His perception of me was based on my new perception of myself.  “Other people’s perception of you is the reality YOU have to deal with!”  Great words I have learned from that say zounds about positive manipulation.  What we give off, positive, negative, real or imagined, is going to exhibit itself outwardly and that reflects in the way we are treated by others.  If we feel undermined or undeserving, it will show up in our expressions, the way we dress, how we groom ourselves and more importantly, what we actually say.  Signals that are echoed, even in the less discerning minds we come across in our daily activities, let alone someone who may be investing time, money or their own reputation in us. 

George Clooney

How we come across is important and don’t believe otherwise.  No, we should not be judged for how we look, but we are being judged for how we look!  Case in point:  You are a single women in the subway and a handsome looking man looks over at you flashing a smile that reveals his pearly yellows with white tartar in between.  What is your first thought?  Probably that he doesn’t care enough about himself to brush.  That is a negative and you’re only human.  You only have five seconds to sum this guy up and he just blew it.  Is this your fault that you think negative?  Should you give him the benefit of the doubt and date him if he asks you out even though you would never want to kiss him?  I’m sure you get the point here.  We don’t usually have enough time to ascertain all the goodness inside of someone, but instead have to rely on signals.  How we feel about ourselves will show through and it is up to us to constantly manipulate ourselves into doing what we can to represent the best body, mind and soul that we have at every juncture of our journey.