Is It Time to Upgrade Your Work-from-Home Clothes?

This week’s blog post is by Janet Valenza, Founder, President, and Designer of GOGOgracious™, the women’s clothing brand and direct selling company. 

Janet and I have had a couple of virtual “get acquainted” coffees recently, and I appreciated her suggestions for dressing in a way that’s both comfortable and professional while working from home. Your appearance is part of your brand, so getting this right really matters. Enjoy her article on a challenge many of us are facing during these Zoom-centric days.

And please remember to join my colleague Ivy Slater and me on December 17 for Implementing Your 2021 Vision for a Profitable Practice, the next webinar in our series Building a Profitable Practice in Uncertain Times. Learn more and register HERE.


Is It Time to Upgrade Your Work-from-Home Clothes? 

by Janet Valenza

A couple of my clients said to me lately “I don’t need to buy clothes anymore; I’m not going anywhere.”

For me, “not going anywhere” isn’t the issue.  I’ve learned that looking my best means feeling my best.  Getting dressed fully in the morning gets me jazzed for the happiest, most productive day.  This attitude was in place long before the pandemic, and it held true regardless of whether I was spending the day working at home or in the office, running errands, lounging, playing, going to dinner, or some combination of the above. And, of course, if you’re working with clients, being well-dressed for working from home is non-negotiable.

There’s scientific evidence to back this up.  A recent article for the Wall Street Journal cites a study by Dr. Adam Galinsky of Columbia University in which he concludes,  “An elevated cohesive casual look signals the brain for higher productivity.”  He goes on to elaborate that when we have dressed appropriately for the day’s work, we think at a higher, more creative level.

Yes, we all have a lot of Zoom calls right now.  And granted, looking good on Zoom is important, whether you’re meeting with clients or colleagues.  But as Dr. Galinsky discovered, it’s not just about how we appear to others on Zoom calls.  And it’s certainly not about dressing from the waist up.

The goal. I believe. is getting dressed every day for work so that we feel comfortable and also look like a leader, inside and outside the home, on and off Zoom.

Here are some simple suggestions to accomplish that goal, beginning with what’s likely already in your closet.

  1. Start with the first layer. For women, that means a comfortable sports bra and some leggings. For men, it’s a tapered stretchy activewear pant.
  2. Add a fitted (can be loose around the middle but not boxy or baggy) tank top, or racerback top. For men, choose a nice T-shirt.
  3. Take a look in your closet and pull out any shirts or tops with a collar.  Why a collar, you ask?  Because a collar highlights the face on Zoom calls and, more importantly, lends leadership presence.
  4. Evaluate each shirt to determine if it’s knit or woven. Wovens are often stiffer and more formal.  Think cotton shirt.  Knits are generally softer, stretchy, and more casual.
  5. Eliminate the wovens. They’re simply too formal for work-at-home wear.
  6. Layer the collared knit shirt over your initial layer.

Presto! You’re comfortable, Zoom ready, and proud to go outside! See the example below of client Sharon looking smart in the GOGOgracious™ black and white knit shirt.  She is comfortable, yet she looks like a leader. You can find even more examples in this widely-shared Facebook Live.

Janet Valenza is the President of the women’s clothing brand GOGOgracious™.  She helps dynamic women, who are frustrated with shopping, look great in less time.  Find more examples of how to dress well and comfortably (plus opportunities to ask questions) by following Janet’s Facebook page and find her on LinkedIn and Instagram or email her at

What the Tough Mudder can teach you about biz dev.

I recently talked with a friend who completed a Tough Mudder. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a Tough Mudder is a 10-12 miles obstacle race through a variety of obstacles (such as sprinting through a field of live wires) and, you guessed it, lots of mud. Aside from the obstacles, two aspects of Tough Mudder are legendary: the focus on teamwork (“no mudder left behind”) and on overcoming fears through the obstacles.  And it’s definitely tough—or so I hear since it isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

Here’s what my friend told me that made me think of the business development journey: “I came to appreciate the obstacles because every time I made it through one, I knew I was that much closer to the end. When I was in the middle of it, I couldn’t really tell how far I’d gone or how much I had left to the finish line, but the obstacles helped me know that I was actually making progress.” It’s a useful lesson.

Here’s what the Tough Mudder can teach you about business development:

  • Approach the race as a marathon, not as a sprint. Although the Tough Mudder is “just” 10-12 miles long, expecting to whip through it would be a huge mistake even if you run that distance every weekend. Likewise, business development will last for the rest of your private practice career, and you’ll run ragged if you behave as if it’s a goal to be conquered in the short term. Keep your eye on the long-term view even while working to overcome each immediate obstacle.
  • Overcome your fears. I have yet to meet a lawyer who built a book without having to face difficult and uncomfortable situations. You need grit and consistency to power through those situations just as you do during the Tough Mudder to jump from a tall platform into ice-cold water and then run to climb a scaffold and slide down a pole through a ring of fire.
  • Realize that you can’t do it alone. To succeed in building a successful practice, you’ll need help from mentors and colleagues who can give you suggestions and feedback, professional friends who can make introductions and open doors for you, and referral partners who can help you meet the right contacts and potential clients. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to succeed alone—and you’d be wise to be invested in your teammates’ success as they are in yours.
  • Take the steps necessary to prepare. Training for the Tough Mudder might include cardio, weight lifting, and bodyweight exercises, along with finding out the best clothes to wear during the race and other “real life” tips. Preparing for business development may include designing your strategy and laying your business development plan, improving certain skills (networking skills, for example), learning about general principles of marketing, studying your target client’s likely concerns and goals, learning more about business principles, and so on. Whether it’s a Tough Mudder or business development, you can’t expect to go from zero to win without significant preparatory work.
  • Have a clear objective in mind. In most races, your time is your measure of success; in Tough Mudder, success might be measured in terms of your teamwork or even by overcoming the one obstacle that terrified you. Your personal definition of success should govern your business development efforts as well. You’ll likely approach business development differently if you want to become an equity partner at a large firm than you would if you want a more lifestyle-oriented practice. Knowing your “why” will let you be sure that you’re working to create the kind of success that matters to you.
  • Decide that you will succeed. Whether it’s the Tough Mudder or building a clientele to support your practice, you will hit obstacles—literal and metaphorical. It won’t be easy. At times you’ll wonder why you started this journey and you’ll consider abandoning it. Only your decision to persevere will keep you from giving up. Decide early and don’t look back.

Whether you’re training for a Tough Mudder or (like me) can’t imagine taking on that challenge, absorbing these lessons will help you build a successful practice. What else would you add?

Project Your Power

Leadership presence, which includes the ability to project power, is critical in any kind of interaction, whether you’re speaking with one person or to a crowd of 1000.  Failing to exhibit the kind of power that demonstrates self-confidence may leave your audience uncertain about your skill, but overdoing a display of power may come across as arrogance, which is a turnoff for almost everyone.

Amy Cuddy’s presented her research on “power poses,” which demonstrates that adopting or even just visualizing a confident pose delivers self-assurance in one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.  One of the fascinating aspects of that research is that taking a “power pose” can affect levels of testosterone and cortisol. In other words, this is not just a “fake it til you make it” shortcut: taking a powerful stand causes physiological effects that can change how you present yourself and thus how others perceive you.

Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld, who spent years studying the psychology of power, discovered that simply understanding the research is not enough to reap its rewards. She eventually teamed up with a theatre instructor to teach a Stanford Business School class called Acting With Power. Watch her micro lecture Playing High, Playing Low and Playing It Straight on YouTube, and you’ll pick up tips on how to project authority and approachability. It’s a worthy investment of time if you’ve ever felt a lack of confidence if you’ve ever received feedback that you come across as tentative, or if you’ve ever worried that you’re coming on too strong.

What does this have to do with business development? Simple: no one wants to hire or refer business to someone who may not be able to handle it. While leadership presence isn’t necessarily indicative of actual professional skill, it’s the stand-in that others will evaluate (consciously or not) as they decide whether you’re trustworthy.

Take a few minutes to check out these resources, and if you’re uncertain about how you come across (especially in situations that are uncomfortable to you), ask a trusted colleague. Your presence will have a significant impact on your career, so don’t delay.

P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Mastering Your Time for Greatest Profit: Blending Year-End Billable Responsibilities and Holiday Relationship Development to Build Your 2021 Foundation. 

The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 19 at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT. 

Click here to register.

Under pressure? Don’t get rattled.

I noticed another lesson in the Olympics last night.  I watched the 400m relays and saw the U.S. men’s and women’s teams disqualified for dropping the baton.  The men quit running after the drop, but the women’s team anchor Lauryn Williams picked up the baton and ran the rest of the race.  It was hard to watch the drops and the runners’ responses, knowing how hard the athletes had trained and that one slip terminated any hope of winning.  I wondered if the women knew that the men had dropped the baton and, if so, if they were shaken by their teammates’ error.

Coverage cut next to the women’s 10m platform diving.  Although the Chinese divers were considered almost a lock for gold and silver, the story behind the competition was about Laura Wilkinson, the 30-year old diver hoping to wrest a medal from competitors about half her age in this, her last competition.  She’d injured her wrist and right tricep, and her dives were sufficient only to put her in 9th place.  What I noticed (as an ignorant viewer, not even a diving enthusiast) was her spirit and composure.  Although she was clearly disappointed that her dives earned such low scores, each time she mounted the platform, she smiled genuinely and gave each dive her all.

What do these sketches have to do with lawyers?  As I watched the competitions last night, I started thinking about one of my former clients — let’s call her Jane.  When we began working together, she was second-guessing herself at every turn.  Jane had a rocky start in practice and had made some mistakes.  She perceived that everyone was waiting for her to fail, and she was determined not to fail.  (Did you catch that?  She was determined not to fail, not determined to succeed.)  Her hours were being sliced because she spent so much time trying to avoid making mistakes, and yet she made them anyway.  She was discouraged, frustrated, and fearful.  And yet, Jane knew she’d performed well in the past and wanted to do so again.

Before we began working together, Jane had already come to recognize what she called “the clutch,” the sense of fear and inadequacy that paralyzed her.  When in the grips of “the clutch,” Jane found it difficult to write for fear of saying the wrong thing.  She found it difficult to edit, for fear of missing mistakes.  And even though she’s articulate and well-spoken, she found herself stuttering and talking in circles.  The harder she tried not to make these mistakes, the worse things seemed to get.  I suggested to Jane that trying to perform well while in the clutch was unlikely to work, because the clutch is simply too strong.  Our work focused on learning how to get out of the clutch.  Here are a few ideas Jane implemented:

1.  Stop and recognize the clutch.  Name it.  There is innate power in recognizing what’s happening.

2.  Breathe.  It sounds simple, but taking a few deep breaths kicks off a string of positive physiological changes that work to counteract the effects of the clutch.

3.  Figure out what exactly is going on in the moment.  What needs to be done?  What is in incoming data?  What is the next right step?

4.  Select and take an action.  The next right step can be as small as going to get a cup of coffee or stretching.  It could be choosing to edit a brief by reading it out loud, which draws on a different part of the brain and increases the chances of catching typos and errors of grammar and logic.  Or it might be taking another deep breath, adjusting to assume a more powerful stance, and moving forward with an oral presentation.

When Jane learned to take these steps, she found that she was usually able to meet the demands of the moment.  Within a couple of months she was performing on a higher level, feeling much better about herself and her work, and sufficiently confident to make a move just a few months later to a better-fitting practice.  She tells me that “the clutch” still shows up sometimes, but that she is now able to recognize it and deal with it, and it’s no longer the paralyzer that it once was for her.

Returning to the Olympics, I’m not suggesting, of course, the the relay runners “just” got rattled, and the results show that grace under pressure won’t necessarily lead to a gold medal, either literally or figuratively.  Training, physical conditioning, and skill play huge roles.  However, knowing how to escape “the clutch” increases the opportunity for training, conditioning, and skill to shine through.

Are you playing to win?

Last night, I was watching the men’s gymnastics Olympic competition.  I was struck with the approaches, at least as described by the know-it-all knowledgeable commentators.  (I admit to some impatience with the Olympic commentators, who magnify every misstep and cluck over the athletes’ failings, but that’s another story.)  Some gymnasts played all out, trying their most difficult moves and performing brilliantly — or not.  Others seemed to play it safe, preferring to execute flawlessly what they knew they could do well rather than to stretch for a more difficult series of moves.

Recently, I asked this question: Are you playing to win, or are you playing not to lose?  One astute commentor asked whether I intended the question to be answered with regard to litigation or personal life.  One reason I like asking this question is because it can apply in professional life (in general or in some particular aspect) or in personal life (again, broadly or narrowly).   Let’s look at some examples.

1.  There’s an almost palpable fear among some associates (and some partners), especially given the current economic situation and the layoffs at some law firm.  Some associates take the approach of doing their best work, making suggestions and volunteering to assume responsibility, looking for every opportunity to prove themselves rising stars.  That’s playing to win.  Others do their best work but don’t reach out.  Instead, they play the law firm version of the “Whack a Mole” game: “if I raise my head too high, I may get whacked, so I’ll just stay under the radar and work hard and hope that’s good enough to avoid any problems.”  This is a classic version of playing not to lose.

2.  Or imagine a lawyer who feels the crush of time.  Too much client work, followed by too many business development or networking commitments, followed by too many personal commitments, followed by not enough time for relaxation or renewing personal time.  A lawyer who plays to win might look at her commitments, choose which provide the highest return, and eliminate or delegate the others.  Painful choices, perhaps, but the end result is likely to be less stress and more time available for the high-return activities.

A lawyer who is playing not to lose would likely try to maintain the load, perhaps giving each commitment “just enough” (she hopes) to get by, with every good intention of changing things next week but feeling constrained by others’ expectations (and her own) to keep all the balls in the air.  If you’ve ever lived like that over a long period of time, or if you’ve observed someone who has, you know that all too often, some of those balls go crashing to the ground with consequences that range from inconvenient to catastrophic.

3.  Consider a lawyer who would like to leave the practice.  I had an opportunity a few days ago to spend time with the fabulous Monica Parker, author of the recently-released book The Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law, and we were talking about the challenges that lawyers face when they start thinking about leaving practice.  Money was one of the first ones we hit on: not only has the lawyer often become accustomed to a particular income and lifestyle, but he or she may be facing a family who’s come to rely on that income and lifestyle.

Perhaps for a lawyer in this situation, playing to win would include a hard look at the budget, a searching look at alternatives that might feed both the soul and the bank account, and exploring the relative importance of professional happiness and money.  Playing to win might even include considering what this lawyer likes about the practice and how to get more of that and less or what he or she dislikes.  I suspect that playing not to lose would involve a more fear-based, narrow look at how to avoid giving up (that is, losing) anything.  I also suspect that playing not to lose would result in no career change.

So, with those examples, I’ll ask again: are you playing to win?  Or are you playing not to lose?

What’s in a name?

During my third year of law school, I was a member of the Lamar Inn of Court at Emory Law School.  For those unfamiliar with the American Inns of Court, it’s an organization based on the English Inns of Court and designed to bring together law students (known in the Inn as pupils), junior practitioners (barristers), and senior practitioners (masters) for education and socialization, with an exclusive focus on litigation.  The Inns of Court, during my involvement at least, created opportunities to rub elbows with some of the celebrated litigators in town, rising stars, federal and state judges — it was a big deal.  I was thrilled to be included, and I was especially excited to have my opportunity to take a “stand up” role in the first meeting, which focused on voir dire.

I will never forget “striking” that jury.  My team had planned our strategy, and we knew what kind of person we did and didn’t want on the panel.  The lawyers on my team took the lead, of course, and then permitted me to take a crack at it after they’d given an example of how voir dire should be done.  After I’d asked a few questions, I wanted to follow up with one of the jurors, a middle-aged man with kind eyes and a French surname that ended in “-et.”  But I couldn’t remember how it was pronounced!  Was it the true French “ay” ending, or an Anglicized “ett”?  I took a guess, and what a lesson it turned out to be.

I tried, of course, the split the difference, but committed to the Anglicized version in the end.  And as soon as I pronounced that “T,” I saw his face fall.  He recovered quickly and answered my question, but in that split-second I learned: you don’t massacre someone’s name if at all possible to avoid it.

After we finished the exercise and the participants and observers had a chance to offer feedback, the juror spoke and said that he felt such warmth from me initially, but that my fumbling mispronunciation of his name broke that.  Not fatally — he said he would have listened to me had it been a real trial, but I lost a point there.  And for years, when I’d see him on the TV news (he was a frequent guest because of his work) I would pronounce his name and feel terrible.  Names really do matter.

And now, I understand.  My last name is the unwieldy Fleming-Brown.  I try not to mind when someone refers to me as “Julie Brown,” but the truth is that I do mind.  I know what a pain it is to give my two last names, but my name matters to me, and its disregard does not go unnoticed.

The point of this rant is to remind you to be careful when using someone’s name.  Almost everyone likes to hear his or her own name, and even if the hearing isn’t a pleasure, hearing the name butchered is unpleasant.  It’s a small thing and shouldn’t be a strike against the fumbler, but it is.

So, whether you’re meeting a new client, a potential client, someone at a networking function, someone you’re interviewing or by whom you’re being interviewed, be sure you catch the name.  Get it right.  If you don’t hear it well, or if you aren’t sure how to pronounce it, just ask.  Most people will be kind.  Using someone’s name correctly is a sign of respect, and mispronunciation or abbreviation can be taken as a sign of disrespect even if it isn’t so intended.  Pay attention.

Freedom of Expression

While describing an assessment I often use to a lawyer-client, I mentioned that it provides feedback about one’s natural tendencies and those tendencies as adapted to work, explaining that almost everyone wears a “mask” of some sort at work.

“You got that right,” my client chuckled wryly.

We went on to discuss the discomfort this client feels in the workplace.  She chooses not to be herself in the office, to rein in the zany and hilarious side of herself in an effort to show up as the cool, calm professional whose judgment is above reproach.  And, frankly, it’s hard to blame her or any of the others who make a similar decision.  Especially in a competitive world in which reputation may be built on first impressions and damaged in a moment, playing it safe may be an appealing choice.

That said, when there’s too much of a gap between one’s “real” self and one’s “work” self, going to work may become unbearably stressful.  A great deal of energy can be consumed by molding oneself to expectations, and everyone I’ve known to be in such a situation gets worn down by maintaining a false persona.  Even more troublesome, authenticity is generally regarded as a key leadership attribute.  People often sense inauthenticity, and when authenticity is lacking, it’s tough to build or maintain relationships.

I’ve always enjoyed the quote, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  (Attributed, variously, to Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Bernard Baruch.)  Of course, those who employ or retain you do matter.  So, what if you feel required to present yourself as someone you aren’t?  The question is much too big for a single blog post, but I’ll throw out a few ideas.  If it generates sufficient interest, I’ll elaborate on another day.

1.  Change positions.  Sometimes it’s a “fit” issue.  A firm’s “culture” will define what is and isn’t acceptable, and a baseline fit between lawyer and firm is important.  While it’s unlikely that you’ll find a firm that allows you to be exactly who you are at home on a weekend morning among family or close friends, it is possible to find a firm where you can be more or less the same person.  If the “fit” is wrong, you’ll likely have the metaphorical sense of wearing a suit that’s too tight: constriction at work followed by the renewed ability to breathe when you’re elsewhere.  If you’re happy with your professional self, then the suit has to go.  Just be sure to note the areas of constriction so you’ll know what atmosphere would be a better fit.

2.  Practice allowing your personality to show.  Sometimes the issue is one of comfort: personality might be welcome, but you need to develop a certain comfort level to believe that’s true.  Try cracking a few jokes, mentioning your interest in feng shui, or hanging that unusual painting in your office.  And measure the reaction you get.  Assuming a reasonably good fit, you’ll probably begin to relax a bit (when the situation is appropriate for relaxing) and allow your slightly quirky self to show.  Treading slowly is probably a good idea: no one appreciates the colleague who lets the freak flag fly a little too high.  But personality is part of what will draw other lawyers and clients to you.  No one wants to work with an automaton.

3.  Express yourself in covert ways.  One of my good friends (not a lawyer) served as a consultant for several years for one of the big companies that functioned remarkably like a law firm.  She bought a toe ring that reminded her of her “outside” life and the trip to the Bahamas where she bought the ring.  I’ve known lawyers who relished having a navel piercing, living in an unusual part of town, or playing in a rock band on the weekends — none completely secret, really, just private enough to share with a select few.

4.  Act in integrity with your values.  On occasion, I’ve known lawyers who felt they were required to conform in distasteful ways.  Choosing to laugh at jokes that conflict with deeply held beliefs, for instance, puts a higher value on conformity than on the deeply held belief.  Integrity requires finding some way to reconcile belief and action, whether it’s ignoring or challenging the distasteful view.  Sometimes it’s an opportunity to educate, and sometimes it’s a sign that the firm/lawyer fit is wrong.

How closely do your home and work personas match?  Do you want or need to make a change?