Like many young adults, I was enthusiastic, energetic, and naive. So I went to my new job at the local public television station, all of 20 years old, in a bright orange, double-knit, bell-bottomed pantsuit. I was looking fly (sometimes you just know this about yourself).
Mr. D, a plain-spoken, kind man from another town in the Midwest was my boss. He also became my mentor. He reminded me of the late actor Wally Cox
We clicked immediately in the interview. We both enjoyed reading and connected immediately as kindred spirits, so much so that I never took the typing test. If I had, he would have discovered that I knew the keyboard, having taken typing in high school, but only typed about 30 wpm for a job that required 55. (I also knew note hand – a version of shorthand that came in handy for taking notes in college and at this job.)
That orange pantsuit day, Mr. D called me into his office. “That’s a lovely pantsuit,” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied and smiled. (Who doesn’t like compliments?)
“I want you to look out the window.” (His office had a door with a window that looked onto the office floor with its cluster of desks.) “Tell me what people are wearing.”
“Gray suit, navy suit, black skirt with white blouse…:
“Do you see any orange?”
“No, Sir, I do not.”
“Do you see any bell-bottoms?”
“No, Sir, I do not.” By this time my face was turning red from embarrassment.
“We have a dress code and this lovely orange outfit doesn’t fit it. Look, “ he continued, “What you’re wearing is perfectly fine for your non-work activities but we are business professional.”
“Should I go home and change?” (It was a long but not impossible walk to my house.)
“No. Finish the day.”
I did finish the day, self-conscious now about my clothes. Looking back, my Angela Davis round Afro and my youthful voluptuousness was why I garnered so much attention that and other days. I went home and scoured my closet and my mother’s for more suitable clothes. I had quite a few to choose from – a collection of navy and black skirts for when I sang in the choir at church and other church outfits.
My late Uncle Richard gave me another bit of mentoring when he counseled me to keep the job when I wanted to quit. Mr. D had already spoken to me about my lack of typing speed.
“You’re a good note taker and pretty accurate typist, Miss Silva.” (He couldn’t quite pronounce my first name.) “But you’re slow. It’s my fault that I didn’t have you take the typing test. So, I’ll give you a month to get up to speed.”
I went home that evening all in a tizzy and told my Mom I wanted to quit.
“No, you won’t be quitting that job,” she told me in a tone that let me know in no uncertain terms that I definitely wouldn’t be quitting. Later, my Uncle Richard stopped by our house. He told me that I would have to go in early and stay late to make sure I got all of the work done. A typewriter was produced – it must have been from him. Tape was put over the keys, like my typing teacher at high school had done.
I practiced typing night after night. Within a month, I was typing about 60 wpm. I then went on to become a very fast and accurate typist. My typing skills have come in handy although I did have to slow down a bit when I first started using computers and learn a lighter touch. (Sometimes, I actually type with my eyes closed to see how much I can do before I make mistakes. I know, that sounds a bit weird.)
I have to thank Mr. D and Uncle Richard (RIP) for their kindness, direction, and patience helped me immensely as did my Mom’s tough love. “You will not quit!” Young people need caring and principled adults in their lives and I am lucky and blessed to have had that.
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Candelaria, thank you for reminding me of the vital lessons and self-accountability in Life! Success smells sweeter when fairly and rightfully earned.
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. We do get vital lessons as we work toward our achievements.
Yes, I have had days when I know I’m fly but people might still give me the eye, or make a comment that sows seeds of my doubt. It’s most disappointing from a mentor, who are few and far between. I hope orange is your favorite color–I’ll be looking for an orange something next time I am adding to my wardrobe, and thinking of your story.
I am going to share this on linked in; I think it addresses an aspect of the work environment that affects people, especially? women.
Thanks so much for reading and leaving a thoughtful comment. Believe it or not, I don’t have a favorite color. I like them all in their own way. I so appreciated Mr. D speaking to me privately and thoughtfully. Especially during those times, men were awfully chauvinistic and I had more than my share of inappropriate looks and comments. Never from him. As women, we always have to consider how we dress and it’s impact. We have less rules now but still there can and should be standards especially in work environments.
Great story, Candelaria! I can just picture you now. I’m sure you’ve been “Mr. D.” to many a young person starting out since then.
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I have been Mr. D on more than one occasion. I try to be as thoughtful as he was and I try to give feedback privately as he did. I’m sure you’ve mentored people as well.
I love this, gives me some insight into your early years before I came along. It also makes me remember several jobs I accompanied you on once in a while … Boston City Hospital and I was able to practice on the typewriter , Weston , RCC…I learned early on how to do a thorough job from watching you. I also remember in high school my teacher writing a lovely note in my yearbook that also made me feel like I could do anything and that I was prepared for college, ironically I also had a guidance counselor who told me most of the schools I applied to were a reach and that I should look at the local community college. I never did and was accepted everywhere I applied…i also recall signing up for the temp agency down here and they couldn’t believe how fast a 18 year old could type, I attribute it to wanting to type faster than my mother one day, granted I still think you might be faster than me I’m getting close.
Thanks, daughter, for leaving such a thoughtful comment. I did try to consciously mentor you when you worked with me at Boston City Hospital and when you came to other job sites. Some guidance counselors give misguidance because they really believe the hype of tests and grades as indicators of ability when they are just a snapshot in time. Luckily, you had other caring teachers and a fierce Mom and dad who tried to elevate and motivate you. I’m proud of who you be. Hugs & love.
Love this story! I had the experience (sheer lso at 20) when a supervisor made me wear a white lab coat, this was in a hospital, because I wore a very beautiful (and very inappropriate) somewhat sheer dress. It was humbling! I think most young people need someone to guide them, kindly, through the mistakes they make and the experiences they need.
Thanks for leaving this comment letting me know I was not alone in the inappropriate dress. Having a supervisor give you a coat was a lovely gift. We need people to guide us. It’s not just young people. I’ve taught older people who are returning to work and think that dressing up is dressing professionally. Photos, feedback (gentle), and explaining why there’s a dress code – even if it’s unspoken – are helpful to people.
Good story! It brought back painful memories of lessons derived from ignorance, rather than stupidity. The story also brought to mind an ancient question: do we learn better from our own mistakes, or is mentoring the best solution. For the hard-headed among us, I fear that personal mistakes verses sage whisperings from fonts of knowledge is likely the better teacher.
Thanks for leaving this thoughtful comment. I think that we can only learn from our mistakes if we know they are mistakes. There are some things I did (and didn’t do) that I look back and see how helpful it would have been if someone had “pulled my coat” and “Provided guidance” rather than just frowning or scolding. Even when I haven’t been able to handle harsh feedback, I’ve always “unpacked” it later in my quiet time and listened to the truth. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who are merely dismissive of young and/or under-developed people and do not endeavor to help them at all. We have all been helped in life and we all need guidance.
Thanks for the memories, Candelaria. I bet you looked great in the orange pants suit. With your loving family’s support you were able to turn that embarrassment into a challenge. Young people need that combination of encouragement and accountability. I hope we can all reach out to the youth around us and give them a hand.
I didn’t realize you read my posts. Thanks so much for reading and for leaving a thoughtful comment. You are right, “young people need that combination of encouragement and accountability.” Let’s continue to lift as we live.
I loved this blog! I’m sharing this with my youngest son who wants to be a sports journalist & is blessed to have a paid internship at WHDH TV station. He, like most of his peers, don’t understand the dress (and I add, hair) code or a work ethic. He has had contact with Dr. Mallica Marshall and Mr. Steve Burton, director of sports news and I tell him to let them know his interests and show his willingness and appreciation for whatever they share with him.
Congratulations to your son for landing such a prestigious internship. I am sure he will heed your advice. You have to dress for the position you want and to fit in until you get to that point in your career when you can break loose. Thanks for commenting.
What a great compelling story Candelaria.
We are very fortunate when we find mentors to help guide us through different stages of life and being able to do the same for young people that cross our path is rewarding.
Keep shining my friend
You are so right that those of us who find mentors are fortunate. It is also a privilege to be a mentor.
Thanks for reading and commenting.