When I was working, I thought I had a lot more personal choice than I actually did.
The CEO’s of multi-million dollar companies wanted to talk to me! They were rearranging their schedules to meet me in airports and at major conferences. Private drivers were rolling up to my door to whisk me away to London and Melbourne and Vegas (and once to Detroit, but I don’t really like to talk about that one as much). Surely this was the life of a powerful person!
But in actuality, I was extremely powerless. My personal choice when it came to all sorts of purchasing decisions was severely limited. And it took retiring to teach me what I had been missing.
Let me explain through a story about phones.
For my entire adult life, I had owned iPhones. They were the selection of choice in our industry because the phone had to say “professional, but not crazy uptight.” I had owned every iPhone since from the iphone 3 to the iphone 6, including two 3G’s along the way (the first one had an unfortunate run-in with an airport escalator). I went shopping for my very first personal phone and settled on the Nexus 5x. There I was in the online store, ready to order my new Nexus 5x, when the shopping flow presented me these options:
Source: Google Nexus Store
Like a puppet on a string, my hand moved the mouse over to the black option. I had had black phones my whole working career. I was a woman who was in finance. I was often the only female in the room, and I was often the youngest by at least 10 years. Black was the sensible choice. Every once in a while we’d meet a CEO with a white iPhone. They were generally in media or advertising or something hip. But white and black were the only colors I’d seen at work in ages. I LOVED that sea foam color, though. My conditioning was shouting at me that it was too girly, too young-looking, too….wait, what?
Too girly for whom? For my dog to see while he and I were at home? Too young-looking for the cashier to see when I was buying my groceries? I could finally, finally own something that wasn’t black or white. Holy shit!
Another revelation struck me. My closet is right next to my computer desk. So I opened my closet door to stare at my work clothes. They were all beautifully pressed and lined up on hangers, pristine, perfect and… almost entirely black and white. Geometric prints. Tasteful gray chromatic blends.I had a few colored shirts in muted beige, navy, and brown. Jesus Christ. It was like my brain had been snatched by a social jailer, controlling all my actions to ensure that I’d “blend in” all these years. I hadn’t even noticed I’d been gravitating to black and white clothing!
I used to think I could buy whatever I want, wear whatever I want. We live in an age of empowerment, equality, and freedom, right?
But I couldn’t.
Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I wouldn’t let myself, which ended up feeling like the same thing. I didn’t even know this was an aspect of freedom I was missing!
So I did end up buying the sea foam green.
Source: Google Nexus Store
It’s been awesome. It’s also gotten kind of dingy because hey, turns out sea foam shows dirt. That’s fine, though. I’ll take a few minor hiccups if it brings color back into my life.