Since we're now well into the part of the year where work Christmas parties are at full swing, I thought I'd veer from my normal style of blog post and share a funny story from a Christmas party in the early part of my career. The idea being that no matter what reckless misdemeanour you get up to, while under the influence of mulled wine, at your own Christmas party, this story should give you comfort that things could be much worse!
The year was 2007 and I was an HR graduate for the Royal Bank of Scotland. Each year, the bank held an elaborate Christmas party on the first Friday of December, where around 200 of the the high-rollers form across Human Resources would get together and celebrate the festivities. It was traditional that, alongside those executives and senior managers, the graduates were also invited. I'd been in the bank for about 14 months by this point, and as I've alluded to in previous blogs, the early months of my corporate career were not a roaring success, so by this point I was just starting to find my feet and develop my reputation as someone who could become a credible and valuable member of the workforce.
While I was attempting to develop into a model professional, I was still known by those who had encountered me as being someone who didn't take myself too seriously and was happy to get involved in things which generated fun and made for a more enjoyable working environment. HR in RBS at that time was a pretty stiff, stereotypically corporate environment and so I stood out like a sore thumb already, but I felt (and still do) that it's possible to work hard, do meaningful work, achieve great things and still have fun along the way.
With all this in mind, one of the organisers of the event approached me about six weeks before the party with a request. The event itself, held in a beautiful old hall in the centre of Edinburgh, was to have a Medieval Banquet theme, so the organisers had decided that to add to the atmosphere, they wanted some of the attendees to dress up in costumes appropriate to the theme, for some party games and high jinks. There was to be a Knight, a jester and so on, and they requested that I dress up as a Monk. By pure coincidence, my flatmates and I had held a party only a few months previously, in conjunction with the other two flats in our building, where the three floors were decorated as Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, and the dress code had been aligned with that decor, so I already had a Monks outfit in the wardrobe ready to go! Of course, I was happy to be involved!
The night of the event arrived and I got all dressed up in my garb. Monk's robe, wig with the bald spot, large wooden crucifix on a string round my neck, I even went for sandals on my feet, despite my cold - committed to the cause! I love a Christmas party and was very much in the spirit of the season as I got in a taxi and headed into town. My black cab pulled up at The Assembly Hall on the Mound, a building famous for housing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland each May and the place where the document to claim the right for Scotland to have an independent parliament was signed back in 1989. A lovely venue for a party!
I climbed out of the taxi alongside other revellers arriving for the event and began to climb the stairs, when I looked up and saw the organiser who had approached me about my involvement in the evening, standing at the top of with a look of abject horror on her face...
She rushed down to meet me and grabbed my arm. "Oh my god!!!! Did nobody tell you?....We changed our minds on the party games and so nobody else is dressed up!!"
No, nobody did tell me. That's why I've turned up for a black tie event, surrounded by 200 of the people most influential in the trajectory of my career, dresses as a fucking Monk.
By this point, it was too late. The event was due to start any minute and my flat was far enough away that taking a taxi home, changing and coming back to get involved would only result in my being horrendously late and missing part of the meal. Plus, standing on the stairs as reams of ballgown, kilt and tuxedo-clad attendees passed me by, meant that I'd already been seen in the getup and so it was too late to salvage. I decided it better to style it out, enjoy my meal and a few drinks and then head off to an event that I was hosting in Glasgow in the early hours of the following morning.
Needless to say, I was asked repeatedly throughout the night why I was dressed like that and I just laughed it off, but there would have been countless people in that room with no idea about the story behind my ridiculous outfit who were looking on thinking that I had chosen to dress like that at a formal event. To those people, I became the class clown, looking for a cheap laugh or trying to separate myself from the crowd through outlandish behaviour. It's fair to say it likely did nothing to improve my career prospects!
What started out with me being willing to step outside the norm and have some fun for the enjoyment of the department ended up with me singled out and looking ridiculous and while I made the most of the evening, it certainly took the shine right off what should have been a fantastic night. In the years that have followed, as I've recounted that tale, many people have suggested that rather than a simple mistake, there was some malice involved and that perhaps I'd been set up. I choose not to accept that narrative because I try to see the best in people, but whether that's true or not, the result was the same.
So if you accidentally overdo it this Christmas, and find yourself saying or doing something you later regret, at least you can console yourself with the fact that whatever you did, you didn't do it dressed as a Monk!
Thanks for reading and have lovely Christmas parties, wherever you are!