By Stacy Kildal
Almost 2 years ago, I decided to dye my hair. Not a major decision, really. I’ve bounced back and forth from a blonde to a flamingly bright red head since I was about 17. It’s never been that big of a deal, you know? One of my sisters hates my hair red, one of them loves it, and another prefers when I do red AND blonde highlights. I’ve sort of loved each iteration over the years in it’s own way.
For the record, my natural color is, well… it’s not quite blonde, but not quite brown. It’s just kind of… there.
You’re probably thinking: “Uh, Stacy? What does this have to do with accounting or QuickBooks? Isn’t that what RFQ is all about?”
My answer is YES. And I promise: it has quite a bit to do with accounting, and what I learned doing live training in 2013. I taught QuickBooks Online training and how to move accounting practices online at 7 different conferences and in 27 different cities, and this post is about what I learned from attendees.
Back to the hair. In the summer of 2012, I decided, for whatever reason, that I wanted pink in my hair. I had no idea what I wanted it to look like, but I let my hairdresser work that out. All I knew is that I was going to do what David Crosby did; what I’ve been doing since high school. I was just gonna let my freak flag fly in my own little way, except this time the flag was going to be a different color.
The initial reactions were mixed. My husband and kids loved it. My mom and one of my sisters made fun of me for it (“Stacy Irene! You’re 38 years old, that’s ridiculous!”). One of my best friends absolutely hated it and found it “unprofessional”. I had someone at Intuit tell me it was cool, but that I would probably have to work a harder to get people to take me seriously. Little did I know that the pink hair would have such unexpected effects on myself and the people around me.
Some of them were small, and slightly wonderful, like people thinking I was younger than my actual age. Some of them were a little bigger, like the fact that the pink hair became my “brand”.
The most surprising one, and the one that really touched me, didn’t happen until Intuit’s “Find Freedom in the Cloud…Your Way” training tour. I was asked to develop the training content, and I presented it live in 27 of 50+ cities scheduled from July-December 2013.
In every city I presented in – and I repeat, every single city – I was approached by at least one woman that came up to me to comment on my hair. They weren’t complimenting me. They weren’t telling me I was crazy. They were THANKING ME. These women were thanking me for getting up on stage and talking to groups of accountants while dressed professionally – and with pink hair. They were thanking me for being “a breath of fresh air” to the accounting industry. For “letting loose” and showing that accountants can be fun. They were thanking me for “proving not every accountant is stuffy”.
To a person, all of these women that came up to comment on my hair said something such as: “I’ve been wanting to do something like that for years” or “I wanted to add some blue (or purple, or teal) to my hair but never had the guts” or “I never thought I could get away with that, I’m a CPA”.
One conversation sticks out in my mind more than the others. The woman asked if I’d ever had clients decide not to work with me because of my hair color. Up to that point, I hadn’t even considered that to be a possibility, and told her as much. I also added that if that were to ever happen, I could guarantee that would be a client with whom I wouldn’t want to work. She stood up a little straighter, gave me a big hug and told me: “I am calling for my hair appointment tomorrow morning. I’ve wanted a purple streak for YEARS, and I’m totally going to do it. If you can stand here in front of 150 accountants, teaching us all of this with a head of pink hair, I can certainly do one little highlight.”
At the time, I thought to myself, one of my typical, socially naïve thoughts: “What would my hair color have to do with how well I do my job??”
A few days later, I read an article about Hilary Clinton, and a quote from a speech to a graduating class at Yale in 2001: “The most important thing I have to say today is that hair matters. Pay attention to your hair. Because everyone else will.”
That’s when it hit me: they were also thanking me for giving them permission.
Permission to do express themselves outwardly, in a way they felt they weren’t “allowed” to before; permission to give the world a glimpse into their personality. Permission to have a little bit of fun in an unconventional way. Permission to not worry about what other people think about their appearance.
That’s the reality, isn’t it? Regardless of whether we like it, we admit it, or if we even realize it; we all make assumptions based on appearances. Studies have shown that attractive people get better grades, better jobs and higher salaries. We assume things about people based on the way they look. One question I’ve NEVER been asked, until I had pink hair, is how many tattoos I have. Not do I have any, but how many. Some people now just assume that I must have them, because of the hair.
Added to this is the fact that hair is so strongly related to identity. It’s an outward display of our personalities, and sometimes the first thing someone sees about us. It can be symbolic, a personal preference, a method of defiance, or a way to identify with a group or culture. For some people, hair is identity, and many times people forego expressing themselves with it because of overt or implied rules of conduct. These women were, in a way, thanking me for giving them permission to NOT “look like an accountant”.
I totally understand the unspoken rules in the accounting industry. When I first started presenting at events as a member of Intuit’s Trainer and Writer Network, I also felt the need to dress like an accountant – even though no one had ever told me that I had to, or what that entailed, exactly. To me, it meant putting on a suit. With, you know, a button down shirt that had a proper collar. Eventually I realized that I would be a much better speaker if I dressed like I normally do, in what makes me comfortable and feel more like myself; generally a dress and fabulous heels 🙂 If I’m dressed nicely, and know what I’m talking about, but some people can’t get past the fact that I don’t “look like an accountant” in order to hear what I’m trying to teach them? Well, there’s not really anything I can do about that, is there?
I would like to see some of those “rules” fade away. Who cares if your doctor has blue tips in his hair? Does it matter that your banker has a fire engine red streak in hers? My answer: No, because it’s just hair. While I do agree that it is part of our identity, it’s just one part. Much like our clothes, it can be changed. Much like our clothes – or tattoos – it is an outward expression of our selves.
The last thing I want to do here is say here is thank you. Thank you to each and every person that I had the privilege of teaching in 2013, and all the people I hope to teach in 2014 and the coming years. I learned something new with each group I taught. Not just about accounting, or QuickBooks, but about… stuff in general. You were a part of the epiphany that became my motto in 2013: “We’re not saving lives, it’s just software.” Thank you for letting me spend the day with you, for letting me share my experiences with you, and mostly for being a tiny part in the decision that some of you have made to say “Hellz yes. I am going to get that blue highlight.”
Maybe the motto for 2014 should be: “Hey man, it’s just hair.”