I did it! I wore pajamas to all 3 days of the Lady and the Champs speakers’ conference. They did not throw me out. I was not (completely) rejected. And I was not assimilated. Rest assured that if I use any corporate jargon, it’s only to make fun of it.
What happened? Here are the “pajama experiment” results.
Friday morning, first day of the conference, I was scared to death. Here’s a quote from my journal that morning:
T minus 7 minutes: I am *so* wanting to run home right now. Just to skip the whole thing.
Instead, I took a valium deep breath and walked into the hallway in my pajamas.
First, there is indifference
The hotel I’m staying at is a series of different buildings. So I have to walk outside, along the sidewalk and through the lobby to get to the conference room. No one says anything (although I notice a few of them checking out my duds).
I arrive at the conference and chit chat with a couple of people standing outside the doors. No one mentions the pajamas. It’s almost like they didn’t even notice. I relax a bit because it’s obvious I will neither be thrown out nor completely rejected.
I grab a seat and chat with the gentleman seated beside me. He’s friendly and doesn’t mention the pajamas. I wonder whether I need to find a pair with a louder pattern.
Now they’re starting to notice
By the first break, I start to get comments like “Nice outfit” and “Those look comfortable.”
I notice some people smiling at me or winking at me. Others avoid eye contact.
I also get the first approaches: “I just had to come and talk to you because of how you’re dressed.”
Interestingly enough, these conversations “go deeper” faster.
Within seconds of meeting me, people are telling me about their insecurities and sharing secrets.
At least 15 people told me that they sleep naked. Several admitted being nervous about attending this event (and these people are *public speakers* – think about the implications here)
A number of people said something along the lines of: “I never know what to wear for these things.”
Almost everyone admitted to dressing like this at home: stripping off the business clothes immediately and changing into something comfortable. I told them that I changed when I got home too. Into pantyhose and a suit.
A few expressed admiration for my courage: “I wish I was brave enough to wear my pajamas.”
One woman approached me with concern. She asked if I was dressing this way by choice…or if I needed some help. She thought maybe the airline lost my luggage or something.
I’m comfortable, I’m accepted, I don’t have to eat alone
By the end of the first break, I felt completely at home. More comfortable, relaxed and confident than I’d *ever* been at an event like this – especially attending on my own and without knowing *any* of the other attendees.
I did not have to eat alone. In fact, I was specifically invited to lunch on Days One and Three. (On Day Two, I snuck out quickly to retreat to my room for some introvert cave time).
I even got repeat visits: people I met the day before coming up to say hi again because I was “Pajama Patty.” (Just one letter away from a Party.) And bringing people to introduce to me.
Hey! The Pajama Lady is from Canada
On Day Two we did an ice-breaker game, with “meeting new people” scavenger hunt questions. One of the items was “find someone who lives outside the US.”
Word spread quickly that “the Pajama Lady” is from Canada. All sorts of people showed up to get me to sign their forms. (Someone even asked if “all Canadians dress this way.”)
A couple people even added “find someone wearing pajamas” to their questionnaires and got me to sign them. I cannot begin to describe how wonderful it felt to bask in this warm, welcoming acceptance.
It was not all love and sunshine
Some people avoided me like the plague. They would cross the room if they saw me, wouldn’t make eye contact. For one semi-uncomfortable session I sat in between 2 of these people. Not only would they not speak to me, they subtly turned their bodies away from me. I was officially shunned.
This was the blatant rejection I feared.
Here’s the funny thing: it didn’t feel nearly as bad as I imagined it might. In fact, it turned out to be a good thing.
The answer to limited bandwidth
People who shun others because of what they’re wearing are clearly not my right people.
There were about 150 people at that conference. There was no way I could interact with all of them. I didn’t have adequate time to connect really well with the people who were downright enthusiastic about me and my pajamas.
Allowing people to “self select” out of meeting me meant I did not waste a lot of precious time or energy talking with people who would ultimately reject me. AND I avoided uncomfortable conversations. With a few exceptions.
Who is this inappropriately dressed intruder who dares sully our convention?
By the end of Day Three, I started being approached by people who didn’t approve, and were unable to contain their curiosity.
Two sample conversations. Both women, both immaculately dressed with the whole perfect hair and makeup thing going on. If you assume an imperious, snooty attitude…maybe even a British accent, it makes the dialogue funnier. (And in case you’re wondering: No! I am definitely *not* referring to Patricia Fripp, she was way cool – we even boogied on stage together.)
Woman 1: I just need to ask. Why are you dressed that way?
Me: I speak on authenticity, showing up as yourself, overcoming fear and non-conformity.
Other person who overheard: That’s a good answer.
Woman 1: I don’t care what her answer was, I just needed to know.
Woman 2: (approaches me, long pause, looks me up and down) I have a question about your pajamas
(another long pause, long enough for me to guess what she might want to ask)
Me: I bought them at Sears
Those conversations were transformational for me. These were the “dragons” I had worried about, the human incarnation of my fears (to borrow a concept from Irene, one of the participant speakers).
Yet the actual experience was not scary at all. I found it funny. The dragons I had feared turned out to be a joke.
Conclusion: I’m keeping the pajama shtick
Wearing pajamas polarized people. Out of 150 people, maybe 15 or 20 were really drawn to me. And perhaps an equal number were repelled. The rest fell somewhere along the continuum between the two poles.
In the past, I would try to select something “appropriate” to wear to an event like this. And I would still repel the same people; the people who judge on appearance alone. The ones who would know my suit was cheap, my accessories were wrong and well, let’s just not talk about my hair.
And I wouldn’t *attract* anyone. I’d just be indistinguished in the muddy middle. I’d spend the whole event worrying about how I was dressed. Afraid I might say the wrong thing. Self conscious. So wrapped up in myself that I was afraid to approach anyone. And not interesting enough for others to approach me.
While it was scary (at first) to wear the pajamas, in the end, it made everything easier. The people who rejected me kept a wide berth. The people who were drawn to me either approached me or smiled at me. Which made it much easier for me to walk up and say “Hi.”
And I felt comfortable. Not just physically. (Although…trust me on this…3 long days at a conference is much better experienced in cozy flannel). I felt completely free to show up as myself.
I highly recommend it. Showing up as yourself, that is.