Why Being Yourself at Work Starts With Knowing Yourself at Home
Do you feel that you need to wear a professional mask at work? In the past, the divide between ‘work’ and ‘home’ was pretty concrete. You had a ‘work’ self and a ‘private’ self, and rarely should the twain meet. But these days, employers are encouraging us to be ourselves most of the time. The key to this is to choose which PARTS of YOU are most appropriate at any given moment. None of us is two-dimensional. We’re a veritable smorgasbord of goodies that we can offer up at any one time.
It wasn’t always like this though. When I graduated from university in 1999, there was a period where I didn’t quite have the confidence to take the leap into a journalism career. I really wanted to be a journalist, but I had NO experience or training in it, and had only written one article for my university newspaper – shortly before I left.
So, I signed-up with a recruitment agency and spent the summer half-heartedly going for interviews. I had graduated from one of the top five universities in the UK, so I was seen as a ‘desirable candidate’ for graduate recruiters. One interview was with a large banking institution. The interview was going quite well, until the interviewer looked me straight in the eye and painted a picture of what my life would be like if I got the job. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of:
“When you work here you’re expected to meet strict deadlines, and work very long hours. It’s not unusual to be here until 10pm or 11pm at night, in fact you’ll spend most of your time here. But that’s OK, we have a pharmacist here on site, a gym and most things you need in life. How does that sound to you?”
I replied, “I think it sounds awful. That’s not the kind of place I want to work.”
The interviewer looked at me with a mixture of shock and curiosity, and hastily drew the interview to a close. The recruiter was furious. She instructed me never to do anything like that again, to always pretend that everything is fine, and that you’re super happy with whatever a potential employer says.
But that experience never left me, because I always thought – imagine if I had pretended, and I got the job, and thought I could pretend for a bit longer – for the money – and then that turned into days, weeks, months, years of not being myself. Plus, I couldn’t understand why the world of work was one where you had to pretend anyway. Why was everyone faking?
And it wasn’t just that experience where I got that message. In other jobs, and other situations I got the message that who you really are is best left at home. There were times when recruiters would tell me to cut out the bits in my resume where I had done things other than journalism. Where they said that no-one could believe that I could be good at both PR and being a writing tutor, so it was best to leave out everything about my writing tutoring business.
Be Yourself – Not A Robot!
I’ve learned that this is wrong, and the most forward-thinking companies want full, well-rounded people, not robots they can slot into a production line. You’re not a robot – despite an educational system that has trained us to think that we are.
So many people go through life not really being alive and working in jobs where they have to stuff their true feelings inside. I think that’s a problem, and it often stems from fear. It doesn’t have to be like this and it starts by expressing who you are each and every day. And the best way to do this is by journaling.
If you don’t already journal about your feelings, then a good place to start is by freewriting. Simply grab a notebook and write for 10 minutes about whatever you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t censor yourself and keep your hand moving. Even if you end up writing a shopping list, you’re getting in the habit of listening and paying attention to what you’re thinking about.
Get into the habit of never leaving the house without a notebook and pen. Writing by hand accesses a different part of the brain than typing. Even on a busy train, you can whip out a notebook and write down what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. You can also jot down how you feel and the movement around you. Focusing on your senses in this way is very grounding. It stops your mind from racing and it stops you from mindlessly scrolling on social media.
Finally, you can go one step further by actively encouraging more creative self-expression in your writing. A good way to do this is to do activities that tap into your artist-brain (that is, the right side of the brain). So, make the most of the downtime you DO have by doing things such as chopping up vegetables, driving, walking, taking a shower and running. Do these just before you write, and they’ll boost your creativity. This will help your thoughts and feelings to flow onto the page, making it easier to express yourself and write about the things that really matter to YOU. These simple practices can help you figure out what you really want from your life and work.
If you liked this extract, you’ll love Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. It’s full of writing exercises, tips, techniques and food for thought.
This guest post was authored by Greta Solomon
Greta Solomon is a British journalist turned writing coach and the author of two books about writing. Her latest book is Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. Through talks, workshops and online programs, she teaches real-world writing techniques and inspires others to live rich, full lives. Her work has been featured in Forbes.com, Writers Digest, Kindred Spirit and The Numinous. She is a published poet and songwriter, a psychology graduate, and certified life coach. She lives in London with her husband and their daughter. Visit www.gretasolomon.com to find out more.