My career is built on branding. The first time I tried it was in beach volleyball. Like many professional sports, the way to make a living is from sponsors. While other people changed partners every week trying to trade up for someone better, I picked someone shorter than I was, so she’d stick with me. Then I focused more energy on branding us as a team to sponsors than I did on winning tournaments. We stood out because other people marketed themselves as individuals, not a team. So let me give a shout out to Dance France, for all the logos they had me splash across my butt: Victory for brand management.

Today, of course, I’m all about brand. I am constantly trying to figure out how to make the Brazen Careerist brand stand for the network instead of for me. It’s sort of a game. And the game feels really fun when I read about other companies playing with their brand, like Under Armour marketing cross-trainers: Fascinating to me.

I also go ballistic about my brand. Like when my volleyball partner dumped me because I didn’t have a killer instinct. I ranted about how winning one more match would not change her life, but having the sponsors that I got her was a big deal. We were in the top five teams in the country when it came to the number of sponsors we had. (She didn’t care.)

And I went ballistic this week when the social media guru we hired used the Brazen Careerist brand name for twitter without considering that I am completely enthralled with twitter and without considering that there would be brand confusion if there is a Brazen Careerist twitter that is not me. I left threatening messages to Ryan on his cell phone during long layovers in faraway airports, trying to regain control of my twitter brand before it imploded.

So, this is all to say that I love a good corporate branding moment. There are lots of ways to enhance your brand. I did a beach volleyball commercial for Budweiser, for example. But I didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy. So I really appreciate times when people manage their brand by being warm and fuzzy, like these:

1. Google’s art contest for kids. The kids riff on the theme “What if?” There are a lot of what if Google made world peace? But there are really cool ones like, “What if everything I drew came to life?”

2.  The Westin Spa in Scottsdale has everyone wear a name tag that has not only their name, but also their passion. I love that this is a nod to the fact that people are not defined completely by their job, but by what excites them in their life.

Each name tag reminded me to see the person, not just the job, by revealing something about them that went beyond the work I saw them doing. Passions I remember: Piano, computers, learning. Passions that people probably edited: Sex, drugs, money. But still, just that there is something else there besides the name, even if it’s G-rated and maybe not true, serves a purpose and makes me like Westin more.

When people ask me to explain what the Brazen Careerist company does, I always have a hard time answering. Bad, right? What CEO doesn’t have a pitch? The answer I usually give is that we help companies connect with young talent. But the pitch I believe most is the one that makes me feel warm and fuzzy: we help amplify the voice of young people online.

I wish I could say that more often without feeling like a cheese ball. In corporate life, it’s always safer to talk about the bottom line, and then, far away from the boardroom, when no one’s looking, you sneak in a nice touch that allows everyone to feel good about what they are doing.

I wish it were the other way around. But someone’s gotta fund those name tags, right?

That’s right. Me on CNN today. On the show Open House. I know that often times I have posted about me being on TV have not been moments of genius. Like, me mispronouncing Kucinich’s name. Or me not knowing how to put makeup on for TV.

So I haven’t said anything about TV for a while. But when I was complaining to a Fox News camera guy in Chicago, he told me that every single person who walks in the studio hates how they look on TV. That makes me happy. And brave.

But also, I’m raising a round of funding for my company this week. Lots of investors are looking at the blog. And if I don’t put a post about CNN on top, then the last post I ran, about my divorce, will be on top.

And, by the way, I bet there will be lots of comments today, in the divorce post, saying: “Why is divorce a topic for a career blog?” But if you could see how much the divorce impacts the terms of cashing out of my company, you would wonder why divorce is ever categorized as something other than career.

A lot of times when I’m pitching my company to investors, I tell them about how the blogosphere is great because the conversation is so authentic. And the investors always want examples. Now they have one: Me admitting that I put a post up about CNN not because I really want people to watch, but because I don’t want investors sidetracked by my divorce.

Update: Here’s a video clip of the CNN show, provided by TVEyes.

For a while, I was a visual artist. Well, sort of. I mean, I made money from it. But as you may know, I am a big advocate of specializing, and I realized that I had a better chance of being outstanding in my field by focusing on writing instead of visual art.

But I did learn some lessons from my visual art mentors, and one really cool thing someone taught me is that the color I choose is most interesting where it intersects with another color. Just knowing the right color to use is not the clever, interesting thing. Rather, interesting is when I am unsure what the two colors will do when they interact. (Here’s a great set of paintings that illustrate this idea.)

The same is true for writing. The interesting part of writing is not the part of the piece where you know exactly where it’s going. The interesting part is when you get to an unplanned moment in a paragraph and you surprise yourself by what you write next. It’s the moment of uncertainty, when you have to look inside yourself to keep going, and pull out something you didn’t know you had before.

When I taught writing at Boston University, it took most of the semester to get students to get to that moment. Most people are scared to get there.

That’s why most people do not appear to be as interesting as they really are.

We each have spots in our lives where two colors are coming together and we’re not sure what will happen. That’s the part we should talk about when we talk about ourselves. If you limit the conversation, discussing only what you are certain about, then there’s no chance to stand on equal footing with your conversation partner. You stand on equal footing when you both reveal your struggles with what you don’t know yet, and the conversation can contribute to the answer.

A while back I wrote about Moira Gunn, and how she is good at interviewing people because she can find what’s interesting about them. She interviews scientists, and she is a pro at finding the quirky, unexpected moment within the topic of their science.

You can do this with any subject. I do it with careers. Every week, for my column in the Boston Globe, I interview someone about their career. The beginning of the conversation is always the part they expect—where they tell me what they know about themselves and their career. There is not room for a real conversation. I just take notes.

And then I don’t use them. Because then I try to ask questions to get to what they don’t know. What are they trying to figure out? And we have a conversation about how people do that. And that is the part I use. Because that is the part that is interesting.

So look, interesting does not come from greatness. Interesting comes from conflict. Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with the line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is true of everything—not just families. So talk with people about the issues and problems you’re struggling with. That is how to be interesting. You don’t have to describe your life as if it were all struggle, with all the drama of Russian literature. But find that small moment when two of your own colors collide, and point it out to make interesting conversation.

You know that people make snap judgments about you based on your appearance. But it turns out that most of those judgments are right. In a study where people viewed photos of CEOs, the people were able to guess the personalities of the CEOs accurately just by looking at their photo. (Hat tip: Recruiting Animal)

Sometimes it’s about body language, and sometimes it’s about tone of voice (the Economist reports that men with appealing voices are better looking, and better looking men are smarter). One of the easiest ways to change peoples’ perceptions of you is with your clothes. I have hired a consultant to help me with this (recommended) and I have managed my wardrobe myself, on camera (not recommended).

So I’m not great at telling you how to make your voice more attractive, but I know a bit about dressing to manage your image, and here are some ideas:

Best way to choose an interview suit
Spend more time choosing the tailor than the suit. A bad suit makes people think you look bad and a good suit makes people think you deserve a chance. So, since a good suit won’t get you a job, don’t break the bank. Buy a just-barely-okay suit and take it to a good tailor. The thing you pay for in an expensive suit is fabric that doesn’t wrinkle and that lays well on your body.

Since you are having your cheap fabric tailored, it will lay well on your body. And if you don’t sit a lot before the interview, it won’t wrinkle: Voila, an expensive suit that wasn’t expensive.

Best way to feign an expensive wardrobe
The first three months on the job, buy shoes. If you think people don’t notice shoes, remember that managers in Google all wear the same shoes. It’s not an accident. Good shoes can make bad clothes look good. And don’t forget polish. Polishing silverware is outdated. Polishing shoes is not.

Most overlooked aspect of clothing
You can wear the same great glasses every day, so you get the most bang for your buck when you splurge on them. If you are wondering if your glasses are out of fashion, they are. If you don’t have enough money for a nice pair of glasses, wear contacts. Note to penny pinchers: When I have been short on money, I have never suffered from keeping disposable contacts in much longer than recommended.

Best long-term strategy
The world is not tracking the number of outfits you have and when you wear them. So if you can afford it, buy a few well-made outfits instead of a lot of cheap outfits. Low rotation is your best long-term strategy. Build a wardrobe of good clothes that fit well and you look like you’ve got your act together. Note to penny pinchers: Don’t forget to include the return on investment you get when you buy nice work clothes and you wear them on a date.

Best ways to look older
Red lipstick for girls. And conservative earrings—like diamond studs or plain pearls. (You can buy both as fakes. The only way anyone will ever know is if you lose an earring at work and show no apparent concern.)

Guys, look more mature by ditching accouterments like a baseball cap or an iPod hanging from your ear. Also, buy glasses. They make you look older.

Best ways to look younger
Botox, of course. But for starters, get your eyebrows professionally tweezed and your hair professionally colored. And smell like a grapefruit.

I have been auditioning to host a reality show about work, and I’m supposed to fly out to Los Angeles for a test run in front of a camera. My friend Sharon, hair stylist to the LA jet set, told me that I have to get my teeth whitened.

I am a big fan of taking advice from experts instead of arguing. And this seems like a good time to tell you that if you think you can tweeze your own eyebrows or color your own hair, it’s because you have no idea what an expert could do. Once you see the difference between great and not great, you would see you do not have great and you would not want that.

But I was not happy to hear that I needed to whiten my teeth. First, I didn’t think they were that yellow. And second, it’s expensive. Maybe my teeth were really yellow compared to people on TV, but if I don’t dislike my teeth, then I don’t get that good feeling like I’m getting something for my money. And of course, I just got fired from Yahoo, so money is not exactly flowing over here.

But I have always felt that when you are struggling with money, it’s really important to not let that derail your career. Your career is your own small business, and like any small business, if you don’t reinvest profits back into your career then you can’t grow.

In the past, this philosophy has led me to an expensive haircut before a job interview even though I had to use my food money to pay for it. In a higher salary bracket this philosophy looked like me paying to get expensive coaching for public speaking before I had any income from speaking.

Please, don’t send me emails about how you got a great job and you cut your hair yourself. I don’t care. What I’m telling you is that you better have taken the money you saved on that haircut and reinvested it in your career some other way.

So, this is how I come to tell you that I decided to spend the money even though I am technically in not-spending money mode until I replace the income I lost from Yahoo.

So I say to Sharon, “Fine. I’ll whiten my teeth.”

Sharon says, “Don’t do it in Madison. Do it in LA.”

She says this about everything. I thought she was being a snob, so I did a little test, with my bikini wax. I figured, how difficult is that? Why can’t I just do it in Madison? But you know what? It’s difficult. You don’t appreciate all the little hairs that are gone til they are not gone.

So I made an appointment to do the whitening in LA.

But then a TV station called.

The producer said he googled something like Obama generation y business and my blog came up, so he called to interview me about politics. I bungled a bunch of questions, like I mispronounced Kucinich’s name. Twice. And I predicted the New Hampshire primary to go to Obama after that had already not happened.

I know you’re thinking that I’m an idiot. But it’s very hard to be on top of all things workplace. I can’t also be on top of all things politics. But apparently it doesn’t matter, because they scheduled me to go on-air anyway, with four political pundits on a pretty big TV show.

And then I thought, well, I should just have my teeth whitened for this show. Because maybe all four of the pundits have really white teeth and I won’t and it’ll kill my chances of getting invited back to the show.

So I got my teeth whitened in Madison. I am not going to tell you where because the place sucked. Sucked as in they made a mistake applying the bleach and they burned my lips and I looked like I got hit in the face.

But you know what? With a little Benadryl, my lips deflated enough to give me a hot little Angelina Jolie pout. And with my new lips and my white teeth, maybe no one noticed that I had no idea what to say on the show when they asked me how the elections will come out for the Democrats.

And so, that one day confirms the following career advice:

1. You should tell people you are on TV, but only after the fact because then if you screw up, no one knows.

2. You should spend money on your career even if you don’t have any.

3. You should get your teeth whitened (and your bikini line waxed) in LA.

Bonus: I got the teeth whitening for free since they ruined my lips. But now I’m thinking that maybe I should take the $400 to LA and blow my lips up for real with Botox.

Just kidding. Sort of.

It used to be that authority only came after years of experience. Even then, someone older had to annoint you before you could begin spouting your opinions and advice from a place of authority.

For instance, I climbed the corporate ladder very fast when I was in my 20s, and had a hard time maintaining my authority among people older than me. So my boss became convinced that I needed a coach in order to acquire the trappings of established authority.

The coaching was only moderately successful. But I did learn that authority has a lot to do with having self-confidence in your strengths, and little to do with other peoples’ preconceptions about you.

Today the Internet democratizes authority, and people are judged not by their age or experience but by the quality of what they have to say.

This is great for 20-somethings, especially those who give advice about or discuss their own careers online. As Marci Alboher pointed out in the New York Times, “it’s all about figuring out what you can bring to the table that others cannot.” In the case of young bloggers, their tips and opinions are quirky, fresh, and interesting, even if you don’t always agree with them.

Online, much more so than in print, authority is about voice. Can you tell that a real person is behind the ideas? Do you feel like you know him or her? A strong voice is more engaging, and once you’re engaged with someone you’re more willing to listen to her whether or not you agree. In this way, voice begets authority.

With that in mind, here’s a selection of 20-something bloggers I find irresistible, both in the intelligence of their ideas and the temerity it takes to post them. Most of them write about careers either directly or tangentially, and all of them give people a new way to look at issues we face every day.

Legal Andrew is by Andrew Flusche, the consummate 20-something who focuses on following his passions rather than climbing ladders. He’s got a degree from University of Virginia law school, but is also proficient in the PHP and SQL programming languages. Andrew recognizes that today’s law career isn’t a single slide into long hours for lame partnerships. It’s something bigger, and he’s going to find it.

Kate, who’s between jobs, and her blog, From Boston with Love, have become symbols of the new unemployment as a time for growth. Kate blogs with intelligence and wit about diverse topics, all to show that unemployment actually offers some breathing room to collect ideas, form opinions, and share them in a way that only today’s young people would think of doing.

Nathan Snell takes on tough topics surrounding social media, ranging from which online business models work well to which things you can buy on Second Life if you don’t have any money. He has a distinctive voice, and peppers his blog with I’m-still-in-college reminders, like the post celebrating no homework over Thanksgiving break.

Elysa Rice writes about work and life in her blog GenPink, and even invites boys into the pages “as long as they promise to play nice.” Elysa’s most popular post gives advice to her fellow millennials that they shouldn’t plan their lives based on other peoples’ expectations. Wouldn’t you know, 10 people jumped into the conversation.

This shows, perhaps, the main leadership quality of these young people: They’re great at creating a network of people who want to talk about similar issues, and they’re great at asking the questions that matter right now.

And what is authority but the intelligence and knowledge to ask the best questions? Because no one really has all the answers on subjects like work-life balance and careers. So maybe the people who deserve the most authority are simply those who force us to ask sharper questions.

You can keep talking about old measures of authority, or you can take a cue from these Gen Yers and measure authority by how much someone teaches you about seeing the world in a new and useful way.

The art of public speaking is actually the art of connecting. So the lessons in this field apply to everyone since each of us needs to make connections. If you can connect with a room full of people, then you can also connect with an audience of one. And the people we remember most are not those with the smartest commentary or sharpest wit. We remember people we feel we connected with.

1. Tell stories
A good way to make connections is telling stories. Chip and Dan Heath wrote a whole book – Made to Stick – on the different types of stories we can construct from the pieces of our lives in order to make people remember us. The key is to have a storyline with conflict and resolution, even if it’s very short. This takes practice because you need to know your stories before you start talking, but once you have the stories, your ability to connect with people improves dramatically.

2. Look deeply at individuals in the audience
Many people say they don’t actually know how well they connect with their audience. Getting audience feedback is an art. TAI Resources, a New York City communications coaching institute, teaches people how to read the audience by searching for a connection.

TAI coaches clients to look at one person until they’ve made one point. You know you are supposed to look at your audience when you talk to them. But in a large room, it’s easy to pick your head up without ever really seeing. That is, you scan the audience constantly and never let your eyes land.

We do this because it’s so hard to talk in an unengaging way and look someone in the eye. And most public speakers are not particularly engaging. You can test yourself – to see if you’re really connected – by forcing yourself to look at one single person while you make a point. Get out the whole idea before you let your eyes move to the next person.

This is a way to know for sure if you are connecting with your audience when you talk. Sticking with one person for each point is painful and nearly impossible if you are not truly connecting your material to that person.

3. Be honest about how you’re doing
But what do you do when you see you aren’t connecting? Some people ignore it, or trick themselves into thinking there is a connection: Think about all the deadly PowerPoint presentations you’ve sat through where the speaker was oblivious to boredom. This tactic alienates an audience, and makes reestablishing a connection very difficult.

Comedian Esther Ku says the best thing to do when you can tell you’re not connected is to acknowledge it. “If a joke fails, I poke fun at myself so I show the audience that I’m aware of what’s going on.” The audience doesn’t need constant genius, the audience needs to know you are clued into how they are reacting. Then you get another try.

4. Smile, even if it’s fake
Your nonverbal body language influences people’s reactions to you more than what you say. For example, Allan and Barbara Pease spend a whole chapter of their book, The Definitive Book of Body Language, dissecting the power of a smile. If you smile at your audience, they are likely to smile back. And a smile engenders good feelings and a true connection — even if the smile is forced, because we are pretty bad at recognizing a fake smile. (This is because when we are forcing a smile, we are still genuinely trying to make a positive connection, so most people will read the nonverbal cue as positive.)

5. Relax
A fake smile is okay. But overwhelming nerves is not. And audience can read uptight pretty clearly, and they don’t like it – it’s not inspiring or trustworthy.

There are lots of ways to get yourself to relax before you connect. One is, of course, to know your material well. But a lot of relaxation is physical, not mental. Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of Paisley found that a reliable way to decrease nerves is to have sex before speaking. There are many physical activities that work to decrease the stress of speaking. For example, Ku prepares for a show by jumping up and down for two minutes before she goes on stage.

But what if you do all this and you still don’t connect? Blame it on the audience and try again somewhere else. Because as Ku says, “Some audiences are just not right for you.”

Being overweight or sloppily dressed is worse for your career than being a poor performer.

I’m not saying this is fair, I’m saying it’s true. So manage your weight, and manage the image you project at work, and you’ll do wonders for your career.

If you doubt that your image can inhibit your career, think about this: According to a 2005 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, good-looking people make more money than average-looking people for doing exactly the same work.

Before you get up in arms over how unfair it is to discriminate against people who are overweight, consider that there may be some rationale behind it. If you’re overweight, you’re probably not exercising every day. But regular exercise increases peoples’ ability to cope with difficult situations in the workplace and, according to University of Illinois kinesiology professor Charles Hillman, might even make people smarter.

And the same self-discipline we use to make ourselves exercise regularly and eat in moderation carries over into other aspects of our lives. This is probably why, in a study from Leeds Metropolitan University, people who exercise regularly were found to be better at time-management and more productive than those who don’t.

So don’t kid yourself that if you do good work it won’t matter if you’re overweight. It’s sort of like people who have messy desks: The perception is that they’re low-performers, poor time-managers, and not clear thinkers. This might not be true at all, but the only thing they can do to overcome the perceptions of their coworkers is clean their desks.

What makes this information particularly troubling is that so many people say they can’t make time to exercise and eat right because they need to work instead. In fact, if you’re overweight, you should probably put aside some of your work, accept that you won’t be performing as well at the office, and manage your image more closely by going to the gym.

That’s right — get rid of that perfectionist streak, do a little less work, and use that time to make yourself look better. People will perceive that you’re doing better work anyway. So instead of rationalizing why you can put work ahead of taking care of your health, start acting like a healthy person. Go to the gym at lunch, or leave work at 5 to hit the gym. Reorganize your schedule to make health a priority and your coworkers will respect you for it.

Here’s something else: Dress like you care. Building a strong brand for yourself is the only way to create a stable career in today’s workplace. You’ll change jobs often, and what influences your ability to get new jobs most is the image you convey. People judge that before they judge one word that comes out of your mouth.

I didn’t have a weight problem when I owned my first company, but I did have an image problem — I was younger than almost everyone, and my mentor told me my age was creating problems. So I hired an image consultant to drag me around town and spend lots of money until I looked more grown up.

I still worry about image issues today — everyone does, no matter where they are in their career. It’s just that today I worry less about looking older and more about what shirt is right for an appearance on CNN. The point is that issues of image are ongoing in a career that matters.

So don’t be overweight and don’t dress carelessly. These are just as detrimental to your career as doing your work poorly. And if my bringing this up makes you angry, consider being more forgiving, because anger is a risk factor for obesity. Besides, forgiveness makes people more resilient to difficulties because it’s about seeing the world in a positive light — which is, of course, also good for your image.

In a world where jobs no longer last forever, the only constant in your career is you. So instead of relying on the brand of your company to define who you are, you have to rely on your own brand.

That’s not easy, though. Think of all the brand managers who have had their hands onNike or Apple. The brands people adore and really connect with are brands that are consciously developed and well cared for every day, even in bad times.

Admit It — You’re Special

That’s how you have to treat yourself. It’s true that you’ll never be as big a brand as Nike or Apple, but your brand is much more important than theirs, because your brand is what will feed you and clothe you and keep your life stable. And just as specialized brands are always the most successful, specialists have the best careers.

Think about it: The people who get the most job offers are the ones known for doing something very well. They have an area of expertise and they have a reputation for being great at it. The stronger your specialty is, the more opportunities you’ll have for career moves; and the more opportunities you have, the less likely that the inevitable bumps in the road will throw you off course. That’s how branding creates stability.

The way to build a brand is to know what your strengths are, why they’re special, and what you like doing with them. If you’re unclear of what personal branding is, here’s a great definition from personal-branding blogger Dan Schawbel. And if you’re unsure of how to build your own brand, here are three steps to follow:

1. Know what you’re very good at.

This isn’t about what you like to do. We all like to do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean we stand out for them. You also don’t need to get paid for what you love to do most. After all, you may love food, but you probably don’t get paid to eat, right?

So pick something you love but that makes sense to get paid for, which means it should pay enough to support you and whoever depends on you. Also, pick something in an area you’ve done work in that people have told you is exceptional.

Each of us can only be fantastic at a few things. One of the big tricks to career success is to find what you do better than almost everyone else, and then let people know that that’s what you do. For most people, the search for what makes them special takes years and years, and includes a few wrong turns.

2. Know what people think of you.

This is hard to do. For example, most people think they’re more well-liked than they are. And most people think they’re more essential to a team than they are. A great way to get an assessment of how people think of you is to ask yourself if you have the five traits of a likable person.

Another approach is to think about traits that likable people have and work on those, because the traits you consciously focus on are ones you can generally improve. Branding blogger Adam Salamon writes that there are some things you should always want to convey, for example that you’re interested in other people and that you have a positive attitude. These are things everyone should think about.

But being likable is only part of brand building. You need to be not just liked, but known for what you’re good at. Do people know what you’re good at, or do they just know that you’re nice? You want both.

3. Meet the right people.

Not every brand is relevant to every person. Understand the kind of people who’ll connect best with you, and surround yourself with them, at least to get started. That way you can focus on presenting the parts of you that are most relevant to your brand.

This shouldn’t seem extreme. The younger the workforce gets, the more mainstream the idea of personal branding becomes. Travis, a blogging entrepreneur at Young Go Getter, describes his community as a place where people write about what they want to be known for and share ideas to connect with people who think like them.

You need a community like that. Because in the new workplace, no one can take care of you but you — not your boss, not your company, not the economy. It’s all up to you, and it’s hard to do alone, so figure out what you’re great at and then let people know. Start with a small community and let it get bigger and bigger. This is where true financial security and job safety come from.


When I was playing professional beach volleyball, running around in a bathing suit every day, you’d think I would have been more conscious than ever about my image. But at the start, I was generally oblivious.

In fact, when I was in my first Bud Light commercial, we were told to bring three bathing suits to the set. So the volleyball players stood in line while the costume person – or whatever her title was – picked out her favorite bathing suit for each of us.

When she got to me, I was sitting in the sand reading a book, and she said my not standing up was slowing everything down. If you have ever done a commercial, you know that things move insanely slowly, and the idea that I could slow down something that already moving at the speed of molasses made me laugh incredulously. She also did not like that.

Then I handed over my three suits and she said, “One-piece suits??!!?? Are you kidding me? You brought one-piece suits for a Bud Light commercial?!?!? Do you ever pick you head out of that book? !!? Do you know what this commercial is about?!??! It is not about your one-piece suits!!!

That moment drove home to me how important it is to think about image: what people are expecting me to look like. I always wore bikinis after that. I understood that that was part of my job.

When I started working in corporate America, I had to learn about image all over again. At first, I had no money for clothes, and I bought stuff at thrift shops. One day, at my Fortune 100 company, I wore a sweatshirt inside out, trying to make it look like a sort of dress-up sweatshirt, and my boss sent me home to change. I’m not kidding. I told her I thought it was absurd. She said, “Trust me. You don’t want to have this debate with human resources. Just go home.” So I did. And since I lived two hours from work, I took the day off. But I threw the sweatshirt out.

As my career progressed, I spent a lot of time on image, mostly because there were so few women doing what I was doing that I had no role models for how to dress. I hired a consultant to overhaul my whole look, and then when I was getting ready for my first meetings with venture capitalists, my partner (fifteen years older than I was) sent me to a coach to give me “polish”.

Image must be an issue for a lot of people because in my post about bed bugs, the most popular outbound link is actually ” great work clothes ” . And the post that has generated the most offers to me for free stuff was one about my shoes.

So it will surprise none of you that when CNN invited me to do an interview last week, I thought a lot about what to wear.

The last time I linked to a TV interview I did, a few of you wrote to me to say that I need to be more dressed up. “People who have authority usually wear a suit on TV,” one person wrote to me.

I’m not into the suit. I see it’s a sign of authority but I think it’s outdated to rely on something besides your ideas to get authority. If authority comes from something besides ideas, then the world becomes rankist. That is, discriminating against people in low rank, not because of what they have to offer, but because of where they are in the pecking order.

One thing blogging has really driven home for me is that today, real authority comes from what you say, not your credentials. I am fascinated by this. It’s the grand democracy in the blogosphere that some of my favorite bloggers are in their early twenties. And some of the worst blogs are from people who are actually in positions of huge authority.

The Economist notes that for CNN-type moments, Mark Zuckerberg wears a signature fleece and sandals, and Steve Jobs wears a black turtleneck and jeans. I like those outfits. They’re authentic to those guys. But I’m sensitive to the fact that women need to follow different guidelines than men do. If I dress like the guys, for example, the guys won’t like me.

So, I brought six shirts to the studio for the CNN interview. At the last minute, I decided that the important thing to me is authenticity so I should wear something I love. I chose my favorite black shirt that is sort of an expensive-flirty-dress-up version of a t-shirt. I think it looked good, though I confess to being unable to find the CNN interview online to link to it.

And yes, I know, you are not supposed to wear black on TV. They even tell this rule to all the volleyball players. But that’s for another post.