I recently joined a new team, after having run my own business for three years. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I was so used to creating my own rhythms and charting a course moment to moment (which I don’t recommend even if you do run the company), that there was a bit of an adjustment period for me. Though the job itself was new, the company had been a client of mine, so I already knew the team and they knew me. However, they knew me as a consultant, as opposed to a peer. I was like a Disneyland Dad, swooping in to play and then leaving before Monday morning tantrums.
As a consultant, I came in oozing professional, and on my terms – visualize lots of blazers and button-down shirts. We chose mutually convenient times for meetings, and I never ever spoke about personal matters. I was all business, and wanted to be perceived as a driver in the boardroom, since I was running a company and helping this team fill a big gap. I arrived early always, with my hair curled perfectly, holding my strategy and printed agendas in a manila folder. I got everyone inspired with my fully formed ideas and then went home and did the nitty gritty alone in the privacy of my dining room, where only the candlesticks can see me stress-eating.
When I shifted into being a full-time employee, I started coming into an office regularly, and living my work in real time. I had to deal with last minute meetings, broken printers, my kid getting sick and my having to cancel on people, or having a plain old bad day, all around my coworkers now. I started taking on other responsibilities, and letting everyone get to know me better. I had to be reactive, and no longer controlled all the conversations.
My business woman façade quickly fell away to reveal my true personality.
While I can be very professional and am always polite and gracious, I tend to err on the site of sweet and loving. Which let me tell you, does not say “driver in the boardroom”. I can’t help it. I’m a hugger, I over-compliment people, and I will start most conversations with a personal question like, “How did your kid’s softball game go?” I can’t help but gush about my son and talk endlessly about my garden. When you’re around people all day they start to see the interactions with you as your dominant personality, as opposed to your controlled business woman personality. They get a sense for who you really are, if you let them in.
If there is anything that I’ve learned from my time in the workforce, from being an intern, to a director, to running my own business and back again, it’s this: let them in. Of course this doesn’t mean come to work and cry about your breakup or vent about your mother-in-law, but it means don’t hide the essence of who you actually are.
When fully expressing yourself, you’ll do superior work - more genuine work. And that will take you far better places.
I was hired to help build community programming, which means connecting with charities and helping the company do good. I liked that a lot, and was good at it, but had a hidden talent that I loved. Gardening. Now, I help with all the plant projects at our hotels. I source and stage plants for photo shoots, and am in the process of building an herb garden that overlooks the ocean at one hotel, and a sustainable greenhouse at another.
This is a dream for me, and it fills me up creatively. I come home in a fantastic mood, and get to dote on plants all day! It’s a dream I didn’t even know I had, but could surface since I was being true with myself and my interests.
Additionally, the team learned that while I can be a serious and dynamic businesswoman, I really shine when I’m nurturing and building relationships, as opposed to being in a role that challenges and critiques them. I get lovingly teased as being “the nice one” who “likes everyone”, and that’s okay! I’m not your girl when it comes to evaluating performance, because I like to see the best in people and go with that.
My husband calls it “walking crooked” when you aren’t being yourself.
In past roles I’ve tried to be who they wanted me to be, and it leaked into my personal life every time.
It weighs heavy and causes me to be more negative. It clouds my judgment on whether I’m moving in the right direction professionally, and it steals joy. Overall, if you can’t be yourself at work, (which is more than half the hours you’re awake!) then you’re stifling your own potential to live the life of your real dreams.
The final and most damaging side-effect of not being yourself at work is that it depletes trust. People can tell when you’re not being authentic, and it plants a seed of doubt in them. It creates distrust, ever so slightly, until people come to expect that you are not fully there. This is a huge part of turnover in jobs, as well as a lack of upward mobility. If you can’t be trusted to show up as your true self, a job that no one else can do, then what else can’t we trust you with?
In today’s society of social media, oversharing, and following your dreams at all costs, it’s more than appropriate to let your light shine at work. Be true to who you are always, and watch your story unfold even more beautifully than you imagined.
Photos by Eun Creative