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.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend and I have been dating for four years now. We get along great and feel like we will be together forever. We both just finished college and are working hard to get on our feet. Though we talk about the future, we have not specifically talked about marriage.
A few of our friends are engaged now, and I'm feeling a little anxious. I know we need to get good jobs and earn enough money to get a real home and all, but I don't know why we can't do those things together as a married couple. I don't want to push my boyfriend, but I do want to get married. What should I say to him? -- Ready to Tie the Knot, Wilmington, Delaware
DEAR READY TO TIE THE KNOT: Without pressuring your boyfriend, you should talk about the future and how you envision it. If you want to have children, let him know that and give a sense of when you would want to have a child. Go through your list of questions and thoughts about building a life together, and ask him to share his thoughts. You can ask him if he wants to get married, and, if so, when he thinks would be a good time. You deserve to know if the two of you are on the same page as you plan for the future. Talk it out, and you will have a better sense of whether the two of you should remain on this journey together.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My company is taking the leadership team on a retreat soon, and I have been invited. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity. The only thing is, I have never been out of the country, and I don't have a passport. I heard that it takes a long time to get a passport. I don't want to miss out on this trip. I also don't want everybody to know that I have never been anywhere. Most of my co-workers who are on the fast track spent a semester abroad while they were in college. Quite a few of them go to the Caribbean every year. Me, I just work and go home. I work a gazillion hours, which is why I have been promoted. I worry that I'm not going to measure up. -- Going Abroad, Cincinnati
DEAR GOING ABROAD: You are likely not alone. Many people get passports when they are adults. Do not be ashamed about that. Get proactive. You can get an expedited passport -- for a premium price -- in a matter of days. You may need proof of travel, which would be a copy of your airline ticket. Then you should get your passport photos taken and choose an expediter to process your passport. Depending on how much time you have, you can also process it normally. Without extra fees, you need four to six weeks. Expedited is two to three weeks, and expedited through an agency is about eight days. For more information, visit travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/processing-times.html.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106