The Young Professional’s Closet

My first job out of college was one of those elusive Real Jobs, the kind that required me to be somewhere from 9-to-5, with a one-hour lunch break, and paperwork and clunky computers with outdated operating systems. I interviewed for the role in my one and only suit: a houndstooth Michael Kors skirt suit purchased on deep discount at a Loehmann’s in San Francisco. The skirt had a slit in the back that came uncomfortably close to my butt, and the jacket was double-breasted, equipped with a fierce pair of shoulder pads. The shoes were suede, low-heeled, pinchy in the toes, leaving blisters on the back of my heels that hurt for days after the fact. Looking in the mirror, I told myself that this was what a professional wore. I It remains the most uncomfortable item of clothing I’ve worn to date.

On the Scourge of ‘Office Speak’

The way we speak in offices now is a result of a movement to humanize the worker. Emma Green, writes about the history of office speak at The Atlantic and notes that the original reason for office speak was a shift in the thinking. Employees were no longer cogs in the machine, but individual human beings who excelled at work when they felt valued. By cloaking simple concepts in theoretical self-actualization, these phrases were meant to empower the employee and prime them for success.

For the Love of Books

I was raised in a reading family, by a father who showed his love for us in many ways, but none better than through books. As kids, my sister and I were never chided to go outside and get "fresh air"; if we were reading on the couch, then that was just fine. Weekends found me sitting on a tiny chair at the local bookstore, nose deep in the latest installation of The Baby-sitters Club or Sweet Valley High, tearing through them as fast as I could.

The Haves and the Have-nots

I was raised in a family where talking about money was not taboo. My father did a good job of raising two girls on a variety of incomes—money, was tight, and because of this, I was always aware of what we did and didn’t have.

What It Means to Be Professional

College does a fantastic job of teaching you how to properly roll a joint while sitting on a curb outside a frat house, and how to get more time to turn in your term paper. It teaches you valuable lessons about the impermanence of friendships, and how to negotiate yourself in social situations that make you intensely uncomfortable. Depending on what you studied, you learned how to talk about your feelings, to dissect other people’s work, and to take criticism in a manner that is cool, calm and collected. Where it fails is in giving you any reasonable skills that prepare you for an environment where you have to be professional.

Here are some things I have been told are professional. Blazers. Pants that are not jeans. Wearing pants while you work. Having an email signature, even on your personal email. Knowing how to dial in on a conference call. Org charts. Not panicking every time your boss asks you to step into her office. Hearing the words “Can I see you for a sec?” and not asking immediately if you’re about to be fired.

Being professional is really just maturity in a setting where you don’t know anyone else, like going to someone else’s family reunion, and being unfailingly polite. It’s having an innate understanding of how to run a business, and knowing how to treat your employees with the kindness they deserve. As an employee, being professional is just showing up and doing your job, and doing it well. It’s less about knowing the “right” things to say, and more about doing what you came to do—your work. The stilted social interactions that pepper most offices aren’t necessary anymore, but understanding the boundaries in an office where everyone seems equal is hard at first.

Vacations I’ve Taken And What They’ve Cost Me

The week before we left for Hawaii, someone stole my debit card and spent what little I had in my checking account at a Target somewhere in the middle of the country. I spent hours on the phone to the bank, trying to figure out if I would have money before getting on a plane and zipping off to an island where I presumed I’d need to spend money.

A Chat With the Women Who Started ‘Rice Paper Scissors,’ A Vietnamese Restaurant in San Francisco

We're Valerie and Katie, the founders of Rice Paper Scissors, a Vietnamese restaurant based in San Francisco.

“Welcome to the paradise of the modern artist.” – An Interview With Tom Toro, ‘New Yorker’ Cartoonist

I met Tom in English class during my sophomore year of high school, and we became acquaintances and occasional friends. Mostly, I had a crush on him. After high school, I moved out of the Bay Area and to the East Coast, where I received sporadic updates on high school friends from my good friend Julia. She mentioned something about Tom drawing for the New Yorker, a piece of information I filed away until I saw this cartoon posted on Facebook.

Risk Is Healthy, Risk Is Fine, Risk Is Natural

Risk scares me because I view the squirmy unknown as a thing to be tamed, to be tamped down and placed neatly in a box. If I do the same things every single day, in the same way, the outcome is most likely something that I can predict.

Hometown Stories: Rhinebeck, New York

I have left Rhinebeck many times in my life. The first time I left I was in the ninth grade, fed up with the small town and its lack of diversity, aghast at my freshmen English curriculum that trafficked solely in dead white men tempered with a dose of Pearl S. Buck. I moved to California and lived with my mother for the rest of high school and gained the kind of cultural education I never would have gotten in my hometown.

Bosses I Have Had

The Salesman The Salesman was an older gentleman with a smoker’s cough and a bad gossip-site habit. He read Perez Hilton every day at 4 p.m., for one hour, while cackling and reading tidbits out loud over my cubicle wall. He left the office promptly at five, often with his manager, a brusque but nice woman with a penchant for pantsuits, usually off to a bar around the corner to have a cocktail and dish before getting on the BART and heading back to San Francisco’s East Bay. As bosses go, he was one of the best I’ve had: low maintenance, trusting, out of my hair. His teeth were the worst I’ve seen, jagged and brown, but he had a nice smile, a quick laugh and shared my passion for sotto voce gossip, shared in quick bursts every hour. Usually, our subject was the head of sales, a pompous jackass who spent the entire year I worked there calling me Heather. The Salesman used to joke that he came with the building, and for a while, I believed him.

Grateful for the Opportunity

I took my first job like many people do, fresh out of college and sick of working in a coffee shop, fetishizing the trappings of a 9-to-5 lifestyle, the desk, business cards, the quiet self-satisfaction that comes with having a cubicle and health insurance. Mostly, I was scared, and grateful that someone wanted to hire a 23-year-old with no relevant experience to do a job that was salaried and not hourly.