I like to look nice at work, but sometimes I know that I put too much energy into all of it. Sometimes it causes me anxiety that I don’t have more shirts, that I don’t have time to iron my pants, that I only have one pair of dress shoes. I’ll think about the other young analyst in the cubicle next to me who always looks fly and I’ll feel inferior compared to him. “Dammit,” I’ll say to myself. “Time to go to work, anyway.”
Then, I’ll hit something out of the park at work because of the actual work I did, not because I looked a certain way doing it. I’ll realize that no one cares whether I have a $10,000 wardrobe. I’ll admit to myself that money is better spent somewhere else or nowhere at all. I’ll feel like the bigger person for focusing on the quality of my work, not the quality of my look. I’ll feel sexy as hell for being a good person, a hard worker, a dedicated employee.
Then, someone will tell me, “Cee, that’s a nice shirt.”
The truth is that I have little insight into how others perceive me unless I hear directly from them. Oftentimes, I am totally wrong. And even more often, it doesn’t fucking matter.
No one should care about how someone dresses, or about how someone works for that matter. Did he do the job? Did she make the deadline? Were they nice that morning when they walked by you in the hall?
In a year from now, it won’t matter. Regardless of whether it was something you did or didn’t do, or if it was something someone else did or didn’t do, no one will care in 12 short months. You won’t care either. But really, it’ll be sooner than that. Most things aren’t as consequential as they might feel in the moment. Regardless of whether you did something great, or you did something not-so-great, who will remember? And what difference does it make whether someone remembers or not?
I could be alone on this, but I’m personally most grateful for the times when I fucked up at something — when something I did wrong mattered. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. In recent years, I’ve had times when I came up against slight ethical dilemmas.
“Do I tell the whole truth?”
“Can I get away with it?
At times, I’ve taken this further than I should and I’ll have to backtrack. In the last year, I’ve had to apologize for some minor things. I’ve had to go back and correct things that I did wrong, or that I did imprecisely. Why did I go back at all if it wouldn’t matter in a year? Because to me, I knew it would matter.
But you know what? I learned from this. I learned that integrity is one of the most important things for me. I learned that I need to be honest in all of my affairs, not just where it’s easy or convenient.
I learned that some things do matter.
I know that I can get away with certain stuff. I can shoulder some shame. I can allow a few people to have a semi-negative opinion of me. But there is a point when it’s not worth it. There’s a point when I have to correct the record. I do this because authenticity and honesty are some of the most important principles in my life, and in some cases not being true to myself or true to others will come back to bite me later.
It will matter in a year.
Other times, we will be building something that doesn’t mature on a short time horizon. We’ll be in school, we’ll be training in some way, we’ll be working on a long-term project. Those things will also matter in a year, at least on the whole.
Do individual test scores matter? Does an individual teacher’s assessment of us matter? Does it matter whether we’re well-liked by the cool clique, by a single advisor, or whether people smile when they hear our name? To me, it doesn’t usually matter.
What matters is what matters to you. What matters is what matters to me. And sometimes, there might be some overlap on these things.
In an organization like at my work, the vast majority of topics are things that we all care about, that we all work hard toward, and that we want to succeed. That’s part of how I know I am in the right career. But does it matter whether Carrie thinks I used the right gender pronoun? Does it matter what Archibald thinks about me not joining the board of the employee association? No, it actually doesn’t matter one fucking bit. Unless, perhaps, Carrie and Archibald are my bosses or the only two other people in my workplace. But if this was the case, maybe I should find another job.
Some things do matter, other things do not. Individual peoples’ opinion of us does not matter one bit, at least on the whole. In my short time on this earth, I have moved around enough, lived in enough cities, had enough jobs, met enough different people that I know a single person’s view of me does not matter. It does not define me.
I define who I am. I decide what’s important to me. I choose what matters.
I care what I think of me.
And if I’m wrong, that’s okay too. As I mentioned before, my greatest learning opportunities are when I fucked up at something, when I misjudged something, or when something came back to bite me in the ass. This mistake probably allowed me to grow. And it is probably something I am grateful for.
It mattered because it mattered later on. It matter because it mattered in a year. And I did something about it because the resolution also mattered.
But some things don’t fucking matter.
So, getting ready for work this morning, I have to consider, does it matter that I wore this shirt last week? Does it matter that I didn’t get a haircut this weekend? Does it matter that I’m not perfectly prepared for some meeting, or that I’m going to have to ask for help, or that I’m going to have to offload some work to someone else because it’s honestly too much for me?
The answer is a resounding no. Why? Because I know it doesn’t matter.