Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have brightly colored hair and a nose piercing. I know my image is not always seen as professional, and I find that to be a reason why I get turned down for jobs. However, my image is an expression of myself, and I am not willing to change. I honestly feel that times are changing with my generation starting to move into the workplace. People should not judge each other based on how they look, but by what they can do. I am well-qualified in my field, and I feel that should speak for itself. What do you think about the professional world evolving? -- Self-Expression and Work

DEAR SELF-EXPRESSION AND WORK: It is true that at this time in history, the workplace offers much broader opportunity for potential employees to express themselves freely. Yet it is still largely true that for many, if not most, jobs, dressing in some version of professional attire and styling is preferable. Many employers look to hire people with the necessary skills and worldview to match or at least fit in to the culture of their company.

The good news is that in many creative fields, there is a lot of flexibility around piercings, tattoos and hair color as well as style of dress. If you look hard enough, you are bound to find a company in a creative field that may welcome you if you have the skill set required. This may require you to move. Bigger urban centers tend to be more welcoming of diversity of all types.

Since you have experienced rejection firsthand that you attribute to your appearance, you may also want to reconsider how you present yourself in a job interview. Without compromising your integrity, what choices could you make that define you more professionally without denying the core of who you are? A mistake that people sometimes make is not understanding that it is possible to “be yourself” while also being respectful of what is expected of you where you are going. When you learn how to balance your personal desires with the requirements before you, you will likely find your life much more effective and fulfilling.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am so sad for my daughter. She has an on-again, off-again boyfriend who is stringing her along and killing her self-esteem. She is such a sweet young woman, but it’s almost like this man has occupied her heart and mind. Regardless of what he says or does to her -- nothing violent -- she keeps going back for more. I don’t know how to help her. I have pulled out all the stories I can recall about my friends and me with bad-news boyfriends when we were growing up, but she doesn’t hear anything. She needs to walk away. How can I help her make that choice? -- Bad-News Boyfriend

DEAR BAD-NEWS BOYFRIEND: This may be the perfect time for professional support. When a person’s self-esteem is dashed, it can seem impossible to climb out of a bad situation. I know people in similar relationships -- or worse -- who have shared that they feel like their boyfriend had control of their mind and soul. When that is happening, no matter how much you love your daughter, you may not be able to help her. Find her a therapist with whom she can discuss her life and talk through her challenges. That professional may be able to help her find a bridge back to herself.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)