Dress for Success

Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg told me one of the best stories I’ve ever heard about being “ready-to-go.”

Shortly after 9 a.m. on the spring Wednesday morning of April 19, 1995, Bragg got a call from the New York Times, his employer at the time. How fast could he be on a plane to Oklahoma City, his editor asked, to cover the aftermath of the smoldering ruins of the Murrah Federal Building, which had been blown up a few minutes earlier?

Bragg dropped everything and drove to the Atlanta airport, where he caught a flight almost immediately — back when you could still buy a ticket and walk right onto a plane. He was in Oklahoma City for one of the biggest stories of his career, bringing his wondrous way with words to describe the terrible human tragedy.

The point is that Bragg had a plan to be able to do such a thing. He grabbed what he could in a couple of minutes and planned to buy anything he forgot after he got to Oklahoma City.

He wasn’t freelancing at that time, but his story brings up the point of being a full-time freelancer who is ready to go when needed.

I’m a firm believer that you can wear sweat pants and a T-shirt while you’re writing in your home office or writing spot. But you need to be able to drop what you’re doing, have clean, professional clothes you can change into at a moment’s notice and enough gas in your car to get you at least an hour’s drive away.

And I shouldn’t have to say this, but you need to be well enough groomed while wearing aforesaid sweat pants and T-shirt to not have to get in the shower and do everything, like wash hair, shave, do makeup — you get the picture.

Even better, you’re ahead on your current assignments, so you have the ability to drop everything for a rush job or a breaking news story.

It’s a frame of mind. You’re ready for that call, e-mail or text.

And I firmly believe readiness translates to being more businesslike on telephone interviews and treating yourself more like a business.

Probably my best example was about a year ago, when I got a call from an editor at Agence France Presse, an international wire service based in Paris.

How fast could I be at the federal court building in Oklahoma City to cover a hearing for AFP on a lawsuit regarding Sharia Law? And even though I live about 20 miles from that building, I was able to change quickly, get there in about 45 minutes and I got the AFP story moved to the wire minutes after a decision was announced. My work clothes were cleaned and pressed (so was I for that matter,) my car had gas in it and my laptop was charged. It helped that I already knew my way around the federal court building, but I would have been fine regardless. I have no problem getting help from anyone who looks remotely helpful, including the friendly guards up front, who usually know where the action is.

I subscribe to the FlyLady e-newsletter that focuses on how to have a clean, uncluttered house and that definitely translates to having a more focused mind. Here’s her Flying Lesson on why she wants her followers to get completely dressed in the morning including lace-up shoes:

“Since starting this group, I have continually harped on putting your shoes on your feet each morning. I want you to do this, and you are not the exception to the rule. Here is why.

“Several years ago, I worked for a direct sales cosmetics company. One main rule for that company was that you could not make a single phone call in the morning unless you were totally dressed, and I mean really dressed! All the way to dress shoes. The reason behind this duty was that you act differently when you have clothes and shoes on.You are more professional. The customer can tell when you don’t feel good about the way you look, even when you think you do. So if getting dressed makes that big of an impression on someone that can’t even see you, what is going to happen to those that can see you? Mainly yourself.

“Putting shoes on your feet that lace up are better than slip-ons or sandals, because they are harder to take off. Instead of kicking your shoes off for a quick snooze on the couch, you actually have to go through a bit more trouble to get them off. Maybe in that short instant you will realize that there is something more that you can do. With shoes on those feet of yours, your mind says, “OK, it’s time to go to work.” You have no excuse for not taking the trash out or putting that box of give-away stuff into the car. You are literally ready for anything. Believe me, when you get that call from school that your child needs you or that dear friend calls up and says that she needs to talk … you are ready! Including shoes.”

Her complete Flying Lesson on the subject is here. The other tip — if you need help excavating your office or workspace, check out the rest of the FlyLady site.

And when you get that call to cover breaking news or do a rush project … you’ll be ready to go.

Carol Cole-Frowe is a freelance journalist, who splits her time between Oklahoma and Texas. Her website is carolcolefrowe.com.

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