Almost cut my hair.

Every once and a while we have to cross this path. It usually involves the whole employment concept. There have been times when I met with the boss and he offered me a promotion. "This is a much more visible position, however, so you'll need to cut your hair." The most fun is with interviewing for new jobs. I once interviewed and took a position with a company and a month later the woman I reported to, the same woman who interviewed me, walks up to me astounded. "I never noticed the ponytail before."

I am currently in a position where my present company operates on site for a client and our relationship is being dissolved. The client has since offered most of us the opportunity to continue our jobs working directly for them for a fairly substantial pay increase. Doesn't sound too bad, really, just a case of having a new boss and a larger paycheck. There is one problem. The client has this appearance guidelines document that all employees must sign stating that they will agree to follow these standards. One of the standards is a requirement that men keep their hair cut above the collar. Mine runs about six to eight inches below the collar. They just hired three of my female co-workers, two of which have longer hair than I do.

"All of our people say you are very easy to work with, know your stuff, and they don't want to lose you. One said he would try to chain you to your desk if you tried to leave. All of your co-workers say they enjoy working with you, that you never stress or get upset and that you are the one they go to when they have a problem."

So, it enters into negotiations. I told them I would accept less money than was offered to the others if they could get past the hair thing. It isn't about the money. I cannot cut my hair. I explained that it is because of deeply personal reasons and that it is not any kind of a statement or a "I just like it that way" deal.

Ten years ago I committed suicide. I had a very deeply moving experience with death that involved seeing myself, sitting on a chair in the middle of an empty desert. This version of myself told me to turn around and go back and convinced me that I had more to do here. I didn't realize he was me at that time, it took a while to put it together, because he had long hair and a goatee and in those days I kept my hair short and my face clean shaven. He was a teacher and I was a student, and I have since become the teacher. The hair has deeply symbolic meaning to me because of it. The only thing I can compare it to is a devout Christian who wears a cross around his neck every day being told he must stop wearing it in order to be employed.

About five years ago, I did cut my hair off. Because I was unemployed without a car, I felt I needed to reduce the negatives about hiring me and that was the quickest choice. It did something to me. I lost the road. I lost my vision. Instead of living, I was now just surviving. It took a year to grow it back, and that was one of the longest years in recent memory.

Friday night I went out for drinks with a number of people I work with and a few of their friends. This friend of a co-worker seemed compelled to tell me that he has had three death experiences, the first dating back to his service in Vietnam. He also said he somehow felt drawn to Orlando, and that is why he is here now, waiting for something to happen. Then a female co-worker, one who has been hired by the client, asked me to tell her why I cannot cut my hair. So I did.

Her story has always been a curious one to me, and I've never asked her about it before. She's from the Midwest, her daddy runs a corporation and she's on the board of directors and she has an open job there making at least four times what she makes working for our company here in Orlando. Three years ago she moved to Orlando and took the job with us. Nine months later she left. We figured she had played her little "living away from home on my own" fantasy and went back home. Last year she came back after two years, interviewed and got her old job back. "Why?" I asked her. "I've told you mine, now you tell me yours."

"For some reason I am drawn to this place. I've been trying to figure out why, but I think you have something to do with it."

I'm going to the salon today for a haircut. I'm not getting it cut off. I'm just cutting it down to minimal length, which means it will still be about four inches too long to meet the appearance guidelines for the job. It isn't really about the hair, it is about being who I am and who I have become. It is about making a basic choice between what I believe in and taking the easy road of continuity and financial reward. Having met this man who died in Vietnam and finally coming to understand the motivations of my co-worker have convinced me that I must stay on the road. My soul is not for sale.

"Don't cut your hair. You need to follow your path and if it means leaving this job, you'll be fine. I believe that and I know you believe it as well."

Nothing like spending a couple of years working with someone and not realizing they are one of your kind.