Neck Tattoo Journey vs. Professional Environment
I'm come to tattooing perhaps way too early in life. In the years between my 14th and 18th birthdays I acquired between 10-12 (depending on how you look at it) tattoos with my parent's approval. At that time I took tattoos to be a fashion statement rather then the form of personal express I now view them as many years later. Impulsive as a teen I made a few bad tattooing mistakes (Actually I just made a lot of mistakes in general). But one tattoo in particular was an experience that has affected me throughout my adult life.
After high school I intended to (and indeed did) enter a professional work environment. That basically means I sit in an office and shuffle paper. Sounds horrible, but it was what I wanted to do and have made my career doing. When I was a teen I kind of realized that any tattoos I had had to be coverable with a long-sleeve button-up shirt. Nobody likes their paper-pushers looking like punk rockers. My view at the time was that neck and hand tattoos were out and would be things that I could only admire on other people. Indeed my dad who had several tattoos of his own strongly advised me that I might regret something on the neck.
But right before my graduation from Grade 12 I was faced with a decision that would change that. I attended a rural Canadian high school of about 800 students at the time where tattooing was very popular (due to there being a couple tattoo artists who would work on anyone at parties). Several friends of mine had decided that they would get matching tattoos as a sort of sentimental reminder of being there and they encouraged me to do likewise. Ever the wuss I waffled worrying about the impact it might have later on me. I was pretty stupid as a kid, but I did know tattoos were forever and that getting one based on peer pressure was probably a bad idea.
But then it started to bug me. The image they all got versions of was something very Canadian and very close to my heart. I really wanted it and I wanted to display it very prominently. As much as I had reservations about it, it sort of came to me that I should get this tattoo. I was on a journey of self discovery at this time in my life and making some decisions about how I viewed life. Through some pretty deep soul searching I basically concluded that one only lives once and tattoos should be memories of the places one had been. A sort of visual scrapbook of the good, bad and ugly times. So when my graduation day rolled around I went to a friend who did tattooing out of his house and made an appointment to get him to do it on the side of my neck below the ear. I could have gotten it somewhere coverable, but to me putting it there was stepping outside my comfort zone. One of those things where you push yourself to do something that scares you so that you can know you had the courage later. The impact on my future career I would just have to live with.
It was partly a thing I felt I needed to do for myself. Growing up I was always cautious (except with drunk...) and caution had kept me back from doing many things that I later regretted not doing. Faced with this tattoo I was afraid that it would become any time that I took the easy way out and fled a difficult decision. I was determined that as an adult I wouldn't do that anymore and this would be the starting point of that. I wouldn't be ruled by self-doubt or second guessing.
Also it was a final mark of rebellion. I was scared when I was younger that becoming a professional would transform me from an "alternative punk" to a "mainstream sheep". I thought maybe if I had a neck tattoo I would remain edgy and counter-culturally aware forever. Again I was stupid at the time. I was only later to discover things like "alternative" and "mainstream" were just jokes that really have no relation to actually living your life. But at the time I thought a neck tattoo would mean I'd always love to party, play music and listen to Black Flag and Slayer (turns out only the last one has stayed with me).
As it turns out a neck tattoo had a mixed blessing on my career. At times I've had to wear a high collar to conceal it or resort to cover-up make-up. Certainly there have been dirty looks and times when my various bosses have expressed displeasure about it. But at other times it's been a subject of pleasant conversations with clients. I've made lots of friends through comparing tattoos (everything from teen punks to senior veterans). At professional conferences I swear people have started talking to me just to see what the guy with the maple leaf on his neck has to say. Being a partner at my firm and learning to use movie make-up have really helped as well. But mostly the secret has been to know in what situations visible tattooing is appropriate and when it isn't.
From my experience I believe that the time of the tattoo being taboo in the white collar work place is passing. As tattooing becomes a mark of the current generation attitudes toward it will change from interest/alarm to apathy. This for me is a preferred attitude. My tattoos are for me, not for public display, nor should they be used to interpreter my professional competence. I am really encouraged that people seem to be judged more for who they are then how they look these days.
I'm still in love with tattoos and still get them once and a while (I've covered my arms and torso, but never got up the courage to do the legs). My tattoos are a lot better thought out then they were in high school, but my neck tattoo is the one I definitely don't regret. It's stuck with my through my transformation from a punk kid to a soccer dad, loving husband and career man. Though I would never encourage anyone to get a tattoo, since it is and should be an entirely personal journey. I will say that you only live once and life is meant to be lived to the fullest and for me that's been through body modification. It's enriched me and has given me a permanent reminder of where I've been. And sometimes I run into the other guys who have the matching tattoos and catch up with them, and know it was worth it.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 08 Dec. 2009