What My Fondness for Terry Cloth Is Really All About

There are so many things you cannot know about a person purely by reading what they write. Maybe that does not matter because it is all about the words before you, right? People will choose to agree with your premise by the ‘logic’ of the case you make, the standing you have to make it and often by a factor that some might call charisma. This might well show up in the form of confidence and swagger exuded from a lifetime of being ogled from a Brad Pitt type. Most often I think of charisma as someone who is comfortable being their authentic self and creating a space for others to share themselves too. So, a Russ Finkelstein leads with a version of charisma built off of an assured awkwardness gathered from decades of acceptance of being true to myself and being comfortable with my flaws and quirks. 


Now, if a genie came along with a handful of wishes and gave me an option of whether to continue on my path or spend some time in Mr. Pitt’s loafers, I would like to think that I would at least take a moment of quiet contemplation before making that trade. (No doubt Mr. Pitt would similarly leap out of his chair to amble around in my shoes.)  That unlikely genie visit aside, when you do not have Mr. Pitt's star power you embrace the other ways that people have of remembering you. 

How are you remembered?

I believe that those who know us explain us in brief descriptive bursts. For example, when people describe me professionally, they often say something like Russ was one of the founders of Idealist.org and now he does a lot of work with other founders of social enterprises. This is one version of me that is true. Another version includes other words like connector, smart or funny, if they felt they were true, or even the mention of a particular all-too visible passion I have for terry cloth. When you read comments on pieces, I post you will often read some mention of this unusual, but super cool, fashion choice. 

You would not be wrong for asking why the hell would they know about this proclivity and also, why the heck terry cloth. Terry cloth is soft and stretchy and so it feels to me a bit like sleeping in a hammock. I love the fact that terry cloth is comfortable above all else. I aspire to be comfortable in life and work and I want to create spaces and a culture for others to be comfortable too. I have never put much stock in people wearing ‘professional garb’ when working. 

It is also why so many of my colleagues know I wear terry cloth. Some may see it on a video call, or a picture on a social site, or perhaps when I am discussing my latest terry cloth acquisition during small talk at the start of a meeting.  

This is insight into me that does not really matter as it relates to the work product. There is a part of how we build relationships with colleagues or clients that is constructed from these efforts to meaningfully connect, and terry cloth is not a great fit for everyone, but usually there is something else that is real and not typical that is a way to create a real connection and opens the possibility of more genuine communication. I do tend to go a bit further afield than many because so many topics are perfunctory and do not lead to places where people build trust. So, sharing word of terry cloth, discographies, dungeons and dragons, sports movies and romantic comedies is fine with me because they are more likely to take me somewhere interesting and lead to a memorable or at least truer relationship. 

Sharing these quirky pieces of ourselves gives others permission to feel more comfortable sharing who they are more fully and may open them up to being freer with their ideas and edgier concepts about the work too. It does not mean the quality of the work you do together will be worse, nor necessarily better, but it does mean that the process of getting there may be less stilted. 

There are several founders, funders, and coaches I know who love to play role playing games. I agreed to start playing dungeons and dragons several years ago because my partner is a long-time player. The process of playing was exceedingly difficult for me initially. In fact, I do not play characters well. So, I made one exactly like me which I figured would be the easiest approach I could take. Everyone else I played with in this campaign hated this character, which I took rather personally. This is an anecdote that I will share with others. Knowing these kinds of facts about hobbies, interests and quirks allows bridges to quickly be built from out of nowhere. Now, when I engage my fellow players that I work alongside, we start off with a bit of DND talk.  

Why are we so reliant on the team retreat, holiday party or an exercise at the start of meetings to better know how our colleagues find big joy or quiet pleasure? We always have the opportunity to unearth more about them, demonstrate interest in them as humans and grasp more fully how they see the world. You are always just a coffee or lunch away from the beginning of that sort of conversation...   

Hi, I am Russ, a terry cloth aficionado. And what bizarre fashion interests do you have? 

Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.


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