The Emperor’s New Jeans

Stack of jeans

I recently replaced all of my jeans. That’s no small expense considering I wear jeans 98% of the time. I even wear them to most of my “business meetings”. Jeans are just who I am at my core.

Why did I replace them?

My jeans were seriously out of style. They were way too loose. Ok, baggy might be the better word. The problem was I didn’t know it. My jeans fit. They were comfortable. They were what I was used to seeing when I looked in the mirror. They seemed normal to me.

One day while I was shopping with my wife, I decided to try on some new jeans. It was either that or be trapped in the purse section and forced to say “Yes, honey, I like that one” a hundred times. In the dressing room I experimented with various styles, from the style I typically wear to some quite a bit skinnier in cut.

I quickly decided that the skinniest ones only look appropriate on teenage boy bands, not on manly men like myself. However, the next step up from “skinny” actually looked pretty good…and considerably more stylish than the jeans that filled my closet. So I bought a few pair to try out.

What happened next shocked me. The very first time I wore my new, skinner jeans, several women told me, in a manner of speaking, “It’s about time you got rid of your baggy jeans.” Yes, it was only women who told me. Guys neither critique nor compliment another man’s jeans. It’s part of the unwritten guy code.

It’s hard to describe how I felt. It was a combination of confusion, hurt, embarrassment, and even a little betrayal.

My gut reaction was “WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?????”

Here’s why: most people are afraid to speak the truth. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. They avoid confrontation. They don’t want to look like the bad guy. They don’t want you to get mad at them. So they don’t even tell you things you need to hear.

I couldn’t help but think of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Nobody told him right away, either. And that dude was NAKED. I do suspect that someone would have told me if I wasn’t wearing any pants at all. At least I hope so.

What’s the point of my fashion faux pas turned fashion victory?

Look in the mirror once in a while. Try on new things. Notice what’s current and compare. I’m speaking both literally and metaphorically here. I could be talking about your clothes, but I could just as easily be talking about your attitude, your skill set, or your knowledge of the industry you compete in.

Outside of an annual review, I’m betting that you don’t get honest, external feedback very often. To make matters worse, most of us lack horribly in the self awareness department. It’s not that we can’t see it if we look, it’s that we never look. We get comfortable so we assume everything is ok. Our old ways still work, so why change?

If you don’t change, life, jobs, competitors, and more might just pass you by. And by the time you figure it out, it can be difficult, time consuming, or expensive to catch up. 

If you knew how much I’ve spent on new jeans you’d totally understand what I’m saying.


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