DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a social worker, and I work in a poor neighborhood in my city. I don't have any problem with that. I love my work and get along well with my co-workers as well as the folks in the housing projects where I work. Some of these people have been my clients for several years. We know each other pretty well, and they trust me.
The other day, I wore a fur coat to work because it was really cold. Other women have worn fur coats to work before, but somehow I seemed to stand out because a co-worker told me I was being insensitive and flaunting my possessions in front of poor people. I was surprised; even though my clients typically are poor, a lot of these women have furs. Am I wrong to wear my fur coat on this job? -- Keeping Warm, Newark, New Jersey
DEAR KEEPING WARM: Your wearing a fur coat to work is very different from your clients wearing fur coats. Your co-worker was right to point out that it could seem insensitive for you to wear a fur coat when you visit your clients. You may want to reserve your fur for your personal time.
It is smart for you to dress professionally so that whenever your clients see you, they know you are there for business. This can help to draw the line between you without creating distinctions based on budget. But yes, I would leave the fur at home. Err on the side of conservatism and less flash. Don't make a big deal of it, either. Just stop wearing the coat to work.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I go to the gym with a girlfriend almost every day. It's good because it keeps me motivated. The downside is that my friend is much fitter than I am. She can run rings around me in the gym. She doesn't do anything intentionally to show me up, but she's just stronger and fitter. I want to keep going with her, but I need to remind her that we are at different levels. She wants us to go in on a trainer together, but I don't think I should train with her. I need to work at my own level, not try to reach hers. I don't want to offend her, but I don't want to do that with her. What should I say? -- Need Personal Training, Atlanta
DEAR NEED PERSONAL TRAINING: Be upfront with your friend. She has to know that she is fitter than you. Just tell her that you think what is best for you is individualized coaching that is designed to support your level of fitness. You can thank her for going with you to the gym, as it is keeping you engaged. But make it clear that you need to draw the line regarding training. Honestly, it will be better for her to have individual training for herself as well.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)