“Andra Lewis was so loud at lunch today!”
Depending on who you say this to, you’re most likely to be met with stares of confusion or praised for your comedic gold. The reason is quite simple. I am not the greatest conversationalist nor very loud. Though it is something I am working on, in most cases, I’m pretty reserved. But, there is one area where I don’t mind standing out—my style choices.
No matter if I decide to go subtle or bold, I am always looking for something that adds a new twist to something familiar. Because of this need to be unique, I have developed the shopping habits of an oil tycoon. I drill and drill into every store, hoping to strike fabric gold and elevate my chances of appearing on the cover of GQ. A few weeks ago, I found the item that I believed could do just that—a pair of spectacular red shoes.
Even though I was excited and confident in my new purchase, I hesitated to wear them to work for a couple of weeks. Every day when I selected my outfit, I would create these scenarios: What if I get stares? What if there are laughs? Even worse, what if I am asked to go home and change?
No matter what excuse I used, I convinced myself that going with the safer option was the best route, especially as an intern. So, I kept the shoes at home but I felt like I was putting a cap on my individuality. Then one day it hit me, I remembered what helped me land this position in the first place. It was the little glimpse of my personality that came through in my interview.
I also remembered that one of the main reasons I accepted the offer was the importance HORNE puts on a sense of belonging and joining the team as you are instead of trying to fit in. So I told myself, this is not a scene from Rudolph. No one will see my shoes and not let me join in any reindeer games. I had to wear them. Not just because they are super awesome, but because they help showcase who I am. After all, if I couldn't be myself during the internship, when would I start?
So, I finally wore the shoes. Honestly, I was supremely nervous. I wore my most bland colors to compensate. Scared to leave my workspace at first, I reasoned that no one would see me if I made a quick water run to the break room. As I filled my bottle, my worst fear—the door opened and now someone would see my shoes. The person who entered the room looked down immediately, “Red shoes,” he said. “I like it!”
Although I couldn’t see it, I am certain that the biggest smile came across my face. The smile was more than a response to the compliment. I was smiling because I realized not only did the firm want me for me, but I did belong. By understanding that belonging and individuality weren’t mutually exclusive, I was able to navigate my internship with a level of freedom and confidence that improved my productivity, as well as my joy. “Thank you,” I responded. “They make me feel happy.” For now—I’m sticking with the red shoes.
Are you keeping your red shoes hidden? I encourage you to be yourself and let others learn more about who you are. Having a sense of belonging means being a bit vulnerable, but when you take that first step, you’re helping create that sense of belonging for others around you too.
About the Author
Andra is an intern at HORNE LLP focused on tax services for public and middle market clients. He is only one of the passionate team members helping to build the Wise Firm—a culture where we create a sense of belonging for ourselves and for others.