44R jacket. Matching 34/32 slacks. Complimentary 17 dress shirt. Vibrant, yet professional, tie. I’m a time bomb? Okay, not exactly, but considering I put it together in under an hour at Value Village while retaining current-century fashion sensibilities is worthy of a little fist bump.
Such was my Friday afternoon last. An unforeseen, panicked shopping trip for a reluctant shopper prompted by my first job interview in fourteen years. What else is a man to do when he has an important appointment and nothing to wear.
To say I was unprepared for this interview is an understatement. I’d been applying to jobs for several months and received zero interest from any of them. Even rejection emails were rare. My latest application was a bit of a flyer, okay maybe a prayer, but I thought it was clever if nothing else. I still didn’t expect a call and yet call they did.
That call left me with a dilemma. Sometime in the years since my departure from my oil patch geology career, I had capitulated to this new reality I was living and rid my closet of all work clothes. I swapped my buttoned shirts and pressed khakis for worn blue jeans and t-shirts, a symbolic pair of sweats completing my transformation to stay-at-home dad. With vomit and feces replacing computer screens and team meetings, getting all gussied up in fine linens was longer wise.
The token suit I’d kept for weddings and funerals, and before that my staple getup for staff Christmas parties and, yes, interviews, was also looking decidedly dated, not to mention baggy. The banker in suspenders look that (cough) suited me so well in the past, felt too last century and the bagginess of the pants on my recently slimmed frame looked more Talking Heads video than serious employment candidate. So I ditched my beloved orange for a modern, metrosexual-esque purple shirt and tie combination that screams “almost hip”.
That was bloody hard for me to do. There was a time when I wore orange before orange was cool, a none too common instance of trendsetting for this style pauper. But a certain someone’s complexion has tarnished this once great colour and anyway, my interview was on the same day as the national election and showing up to a Calgary office tower adorned in the official hue of the NDP would not have gone over well.
The night before my interview, I busied myself with restless preparations and was reminded of the absolute worst part of job interviews … ironing. As I struggled to de-wrinkle my spiffy new outfit, I wondered if this job was worth it, particularly if I was successful and had to do this damned chore for five separate outfits week in and week out. That, in turn, reminded me I would have to do more shopping since I couldn’t wear this same purple number ever day lest I be confused for a Barney fetishist.
The next morning, I prettied myself up, kissed the wife goodbye, grabbed my briefcase … okay, satchel … FINE! … man-purse and headed down the sidewalk towards the c-train station. I was the epitome of 50s family man perfection. And nervous.
The concept of Imposter Syndrome was unknown to me until I started following various writers I fancy on Twitter. Many in the creative arts, from the obscure to the famous, have struggled with this persistent self-doubt at some point during their careers. I didn’t give Imposter Syndrome much thought, to be honest. It sounded like a fancy way of describing anxiety and who doesn’t experience that? I sure as hell did.
But sitting on that train as it shuttled towards the downtown core filled with masses of already employed Calgarians, I started to feel obvious. Obvious and out of place. This had been my commute twice a day for years, but I now felt like I did not belong here. Not on the train. Not downtown.
When I stepped from the train at my stop and descended the platform, I fought an intense desire to turn around and go back home. Glass office towers loomed over me in every direction, casting judgment. Smartly dressed men and women scurried every which way, pausing only when traffic signals demanded as much. I felt like a fraud; an impersonator in a cheap suit and bubblegum tie.
Forcing myself onward, I found my destination and took a seat in the lobby to swap my discoloured Canadian Tire hiking boots for twenty-year-old dress shoes with all the brand cachet of a Kraft Dinner box. I asked the security concierge which floor I needed to go to, entered the appropriate elevator bank, and spent fourteen floors of ascent vowing not to remove my jacket lest I expose my now sweat-drenched shirt pits.
My last job interview would have been in late August of 2005. I was 33 years old, then. Married, but childless. Not exactly young but not exactly old either. Odds were still favourable that those interviewing me, including the HR rep, would be older than I. Or at the very least close to my age. I always took solace in being the youngest person in the room during an interview.
Fourteen years later, I’m a 47 year old married father of two with greying hair and a whopping decade long void in my resume. The receptionist and HR rep could easily be my offspring and only one of the three men interviewing me was unquestionable beyond my years.
Sitting there listening to their friendly introductions, my clammy fingers clumsily interlaced to keep them from fidgeting, cursing myself for forgetting the lip balm I desperately needed to soothe my suddenly dry lips, I became an Imposter Syndrome believer.
The interview itself was thankfully little different than I’d remembered them. By this point I needed some familiarity. Interviews will never be easy, but this one proceeding in a manner recognizable to me from the olden times, was welcome.
Nonetheless, I struggled, each answer sounding increasingly phony. Every hint of dissatisfied body language in my counterparts a further discrediting of my false credentials. By the time we finished, I couldn’t escape that room fast enough.
My return home was direct and joyless. Where once I would obsess over each moment of an interview, deciphering which questions I nailed and which I’d blown, I instead sat alone, despondent, wondering why I’d even bothered to venture out of my lonely but safe life at home.
This is the part of being a stay-at-home parent that doesn’t get enough attention. The part at the end, when the kids are no longer a full-time job and you begin rebuilding a former you. Or trying to. It’s only then you realize your parts are dated, or obsolete, and the assembly instructions have changed since you left.
I remember the anxiety I felt when making that decision to leave my job and become an at-home parent. It was an overwhelming life change but it was also exciting. I had no idea where the journey would end or how long it would take. And despite it being a path less taken in our society, I never felt inadequate or fraudulent for choosing it. There is no imposter syndrome in becoming a more engaged parent.
Now I’m trying to reverse that change and I’m finding it far more difficult than I ever imagined. Fear of change. Bruised ego. Outdated skills. Crushed confidence. Unable to pick up where I left off. Hesitant of starting over. My mind is a muddle of emotion and self-judgment. I even manage to toss in a guilt trip for leaving my kids.
I knew I had made a sacrifice to be a stay-at-home father. I didn’t fully understand the sacrifice until now. Never once in those eleven years have I felt like an imposter. Never like I did going to that job interview. Never like I did during that job interview. Never like I did returning home from that job interview.
I should have stuck with orange.