I once worked at a non-profit that was built near an affluent neighborhood. They had schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and places of worship nearby so you could get everything you needed.
One day after work, I stopped by the grocery story to grab something before I headed home. As I was standing in an aisle, looking at different products, I heard a man ask…
“What are you doing here?”
I looked to find one of my colleagues standing nearby. He was new to the area and the non-profit, and was the newly created Director of Risk Management. We had a lot of worker’s comp claims in our business, and he was hired to make it a safer place to work.
I smiled and said, “I’m just grabbing something for dinner.”
“But why are you here? This isn’t your regular grocery store.”
No, it wasn’t. It was more expensive than my regular store, but they had ingredients my regular place didn’t. I shopped there only when I needed specific things.
None of which was his business. I didn’t like his tone.
“I shop here occasionally,” I said, going back to perusing products.
“Does your husband know you’re wasting his money like this?”
I stared at him.
My husband was a grad student at the time. I was the primary breadwinner. And I could spend my money however I wanted.
“My husband leaves these kinds of decisions to me,” I said, grabbing the product I needed. I managed a smile, but I really felt like punching him. “See you,” I said, heading for the cashier.
As I left and drove home, I was both confused and insulted.
This man had never been anything but kind and professional to me in the few short months we’d worked together. Why was he suddenly being so nasty?
I mentioned the incident to my husband, who called the guy a jerk and told me to forget about it.
I didn’t. I mentioned it to my boss the next day.
She moved in closer and lowered her voice. “He seems very status-y. But I don’t know how he affords his new house, especially since he won’t let his wife work outside the home.”
Curious, I went back to my office in the accounting department and pulled up his payroll records to look at both his income and his home address. He’d bought a home in the nearby affluent neighborhood, and his household income – if his wife wasn’t working – was about the same as mine. Why was he saying I couldn’t afford the grocery store? Especially since his house payment was at least double what mine was. Weird.
I put the incident out of my mind.
A few months later, my husband got his doctorate and started his post-doc. I was still the primary breadwinner in our household, but Robert’s post-doc salary was three times his graduate student stipend and the increase in income allowed us to finally buy him a new car and do a little traveling.
I was mentioning some of these upgrades at lunch one day in the cafeteria when this same guy overheard me and said, “You can’t afford that.”
“Yes, I can.”
“No, you can’t. Not on your salary.”
“Her husband’s a doctor now,” said one of my table mates. “Their finances have changed.”
“He’s a PhD. Not an MD,” said the guy. “Big difference in salary.”
Which is true.
But why was he making a federal case of it? It was really none of his business.
“Why do you care?” I asked, curious.
“I don’t,” he said, taking his tray and stomping off.
It was all very strange.
I learned later that he was used to being the “golden child” at his places of employment. He was young – about two months older than me – and had an important job with a good salary.
So did I.
Apparently he decided that we were in competition somehow, and I’d just moved ahead on the scoreboard. He ignored me the rest of the time I worked there.
It was really very weird.
So what does this have to do with you?
When others treat you like you don’t belong, it’s because of their lack of confidence, not yours.
But it can do a real number on your self esteem, particularly if you’re at a low period in your life. It can really get you down.
Don’t let it.
Even some of the most successful people have had dirt “kicked in their face,” so to speak.
Estee Lauder told the story of when she was first starting out, selling face creams door to door. It was hard work, but she finally started to make some money. To reward herself, she went to an upscale beauty salon. She saw another client there with a beautiful blouse and asked her where she got it.
The woman looked down her nose as Estee Lauder and said, “What does it matter? You’ll never be able to afford it.”
Estee said she was initially insulted by the comment, but later used it to fuel her ambition. She was determined to be so successful one day, no one would ever dare say such a thing again.
And she was.
Which makes for a good story.
But here’s the reality: if you want to mingle with the “A” crowd and look like you belong, you HAVE to look like you belong with your clothing, mannerisms, and speech.
I’m not saying go drop a bundle on clothes to look like a clone of everyone else.
I’m saying craft an image that will take you from where you are now to where you want to go.
You’ll need to adapt your look for each leg of the journey. Each rung of the ladder.
Because what got you to one step won’t necessarily get you to the next one. Or the next. You have to change and grow, just like your skill set.
Create Your Ideal Image can help.
If you’re not sure what image you should be projecting based on where you are now, Create Your Ideal Image can help you lay the groundwork and get you pointed in the right direction.
Confidence + a great image = unstoppable success.
Then, when naysayers appear – and they always do – you’ll wonder what’s wrong with THEM instead of wondering what’s wrong with you.
Diana Pemberton-Sikes helps women dress better and make more money. If you’d like to join her, click here to get started