It might feel as though you’ve been conditioned to be professional, but that doesn’t mean you can't be yourself.
Showing vulnerability in a business or corporate environment can be terrifying, I speak from experience. You dread being judged by others, so you split yourself into a work-version and an outside-of-work version, keeping the vulnerable aspects of you protected and safe. You put on a tailored superhero outfit and go to work; ready to be strong, impressive, and worthy of praise but this is not the answer. Over time, the aspects of yourself that you keep hidden start to crave acknowledgment too, and as you move further and further out of alignment with your true self, you start to feel unhappy, unfulfilled and quite frankly, exhausted.
Being the same person in and outside of work will transform the way that people see you, connect with you and do business with you but like any other situation you need to adapt to fit the environment.
The global pandemic that we unwittingly find ourselves in has done much to break this toxic pattern and propel us forward as we invite our colleagues, clients, and customers into our homes. Introducing them to our children, pets, and partners as they accidentally stroll into shot, demanding a share of our attention or simply forgetting that we had everyone over for a meeting from 10 - 11 am.
I am not recommending that you take every aspect of yourself to work but exploring why you feel that you can't, may lead you to a place of 'I can'.
Does the thought of being on the receiving end of direct criticism about your own opinions trigger uncomfortable levels of anxiety?
If this sounds familiar, think about a time when you expressed your opinion or put an idea forward only to have it shot down, squashed, or laughed out of the room. It could be that this happened years ago; at school, with friends or at work but whenever it occurred, it's likely that someone else's reaction created this fear in your mind, and you've been rolling with it ever since. It could be that you criticise the opinions of others and therefore know that people can do the same to you. Wherever the fear and anxiety are coming from, recognise that ideas, options, and thoughts need to be aired to move us all forward. The diversity of our collective life experiences will always result in us seeing the same thing in multiple ways and what if by showing up, speaking up and sharing openly you were able to open the door to something much better?
Building an authentic personal career brand can help you to form deeper connections at work
If the thought of being seen still scares you, is it because you are worried about what others may think?
Aspects of yourself that you kept hidden from corporate life are often the aspects that people connect to. Most of my work happens in the corporate world and I'll often challenge women who don't mention that they are mothers at work. I am not one myself, but I talk about my dogs as if I were and I certainly recognise that it is a life-changer for people. "Why are you withholding such a huge part of your identity?" is often met with answers like, work is my escape from parenthood, I don't want it to be seen as a weakness, what if I miss out on the next promotion and they give it to someone who doesn't have kids. All these concerns, especially in, out-dated, male dominated environments may well be valid but if you don’t own your identity, how are you going to change the story for the next generation that you're lovingly raising? When you share that you are a parent, other parents can relate and build rapport that is not available to those of us who are childfree.
The same goes for any other shared interest. I am not saying that you should lead with it, but it is a huge aspect of who you are, and it certainly isn't something you should hide. If your place of work is not ready to accept that there is more to you than your job title, maybe it's time to move on.
What if the person you are at work is in complete conflict with the real you?
Unless you are pursuing a career in acting, and auditioning for a character role, why are you doing this to yourself?! Whatever your answer is, is it worth it? Is there not another way? Life is so much more than work but work is a huge part of our lives, and perhaps the reason that you're so tired all the time is not because you've done too much or worked too hard, perhaps it's because you've done too little of what sparks happiness in you. You may not be able to move straight away but by putting a personal brand strategy in place that moves you closer towards an aligned role, by integrating more of what lights you up and actively acquiring new skills and experiences, you’ll start to reduce that exhausting feeling of conflict
Your reason for staying hidden at work, no matter how professional or safe it feels, is causing you (and others) to miss out. It is time to integrate human and professional, own who you are and share the things that really matter to you both on and offline. It probably won’t feel comfortable but take however long you need. Think back to when you joined the workforce and remember that the more vulnerable parts of you are about to have their first day at work! Your confidence will grow with every practice run you do and small steps are always going to outweigh no steps but they are steps you're going to have to start taking because your contribution is critical in the evolution of our ‘professional’ lives and the future of work.
Author: Sallee Poinsette-Nash -Founder of Brandable & Co. and on a mission to make the world of business more human. Sallee has spent 20+ years navigating the world of high-level business and brand building, holding CEO / COO positions, heading up international projects and delivering brand strategy and advisory board roles to a high-profile client list.