This is one of those funny quotes that’s attributed to a thousand different people, ranging from ancient spiritual gurus to the 5am ice bath LinkedInfluencers of today. But it’s a good one. When you think about it, ‘the ‘should you bring your whole self to work’ debate is a funny one. What are ‘businesses’, other than a bunch of people trying to make things for other people? Humans connecting with humans for commercial gain. So, why then, is the ‘normal’ approach to de-humanise ourselves with a corporate mask, making simply being ourselves the ‘controversial’ approach?
Without a doubt, there are many risks that come with ‘being yourself’ at work
Your thoughts and opinions might distress the managerially acquiescent. Your new ideas might upset the beneficiaries of the status quo. Your ambitions might be seen as a threat by the criminally insecure. And these are more than hypotheticals. They’re actualities. I know because I’ve lived through all of them.
That being said, in my experience, there’s a risk far greater than any of the aforementioned. And that’s complete and total loss of self to the corporate vacuum. In my early 20s I worked for a large corporation. I came across middle managers that used the language of ‘hats’ and ‘masks’ that they, and suggestively we, should put on to essentially ‘fake’ our way to the top. I learnt and took a lot from that environment, mostly disillusionment and depression. Growing up, I was always branded as ‘disruptive’ and ‘lacking in focus’ and told to knuckle down and toe the line. For a long time I believed it, so I tried to ‘fit in’. I tried to speak endless jargonistic nothings in meetings. I pretended to agree with clearly dysfunctional systems and structures. Eventually, every bone in my body began telling me I needed to get the hell out of there.
Where it all changed for me was in AWARD School, Australia’s version of a creative folio school. It was the first time in my life that I was sitting in a room speaking my mind, sharing my brain with the world, releasing my weird ideas into the atmosphere, and being actively encouraged to do so. Applauded even. It was the first time in my life I’d been in a formal/professional environment and felt I could be myself. It was a glimpse into a working life I never knew existed.
Of course, once you’re in the advertising industry, you soon discover some of those machinations you sought to escape exist there as well. But, as a creative, it’s your job to push against them. (In a good agency environment, anyway.)
For the last seven or eight years, I’ve leant harder into just doing things my way and speaking my mind
Being yourself in a working environment is hard. It’s traumatic at times, and you’ll make enemies along the way, but more importantly — you’ll attract your people. Just in the same way that all great advertising is divisive, so are great creatives. (And CMOs, to be fair…) In that time period, I’ve become an equity partner in an agency, then run my own one-man show, appointed State Head of AWARD School, lectured at Copy School, racked up 7k followers on LinkedIn and another 1k subscribers on my Death To Shit Ads newsletter. As my career has unfolded, the more I just ‘be myself’, the more the right people seem to gravitate towards it.
There’s still times that emotions need to be tempered. Tongues need to be bitten. Approaches need to be strategic. But, as a general philosophy, if you’re unsure about how much of yourself to bring to — I’d take a step back and consider re-framing what you actually consider to be the real ‘risk’. Is the risk of putting insecure people offside, limiting your progression, or even losing your job, at an organisation that clearly doesn’t value you for who you are, the real risk? Or is it losing yourself in the process of corporate conformity?
For me, the question isn’t should you bring your whole self to work, it’s about finding where and how you can put as much of yourself into your work as possible. In whatever guise that may take.
Featured image: Tahiro Achoub / Unsplash