Knock, knock… Who’s there?
How do you answer that question?
How often does that answer change?
If we shake hands at the office, I get to know you under a professional pretense. But if we meet at a neighborhood barbecue in our summer shorts with a beer in hand, am I meeting the same person? Or do you bring different personas to your personal and professional life? And perhaps yet a third person to the gym or to a charity board of directors’ meeting?
Certainly, there are aspects of who we are and how we share that are more appropriate at work versus the backyard barbecue. I might share stories at work about past projects and former bosses, whereas at the barbecue, I’ll probably blather on for hours about my kids or obstacle course racing. In either case, I might modify the content of my message but I am not really changing me… I am the same geeky but self-assured bookworm always ready to laugh at a joke.
But have you ever met someone at work who presented herself a particular way and then later, at a cocktail reception or chance grocery store run-in, you felt like you were meeting a whole new person? I don’t mean someone having an ‘off day’ – I mean someone who regularly brings different personalities into different situations. Perhaps it’s a more secretive nature that likes to keep things mysterious. But I have to wonder: how much work is it to stretch yourself into a different role to fit a different scenario? And what is the purpose of contorting into those roles anyway?
One acquaintance of mine explained that her job required her to bring a different personality to the table – that she worked in the very constrictive world of investment banking and therefore was required to behave a certain way or risk being ‘frozen out’. I hear from other women that there are plenty of organizations with a similar culture where one feels she must conform or risk being ostracized and ignored. It’s not always a male dominated culture issue, but sometimes it is.
It’s very popular to talk about being “authentic” and true to yourself. And on that journey, it can be challenging to figure out who we are if we’re maintaining a veneer of someone else in order to just get along. You have to be clear on where the ‘real you’ begins and the alter ego ends. And for those who are in this type of work scenario, is it possible to exist in those restrictive environments and yet still feel you’re being true to yourself? How much of our perception that we must conform is our own assumption?
The real question for you, however, is how do you show up? Try this exercise – I did it last month and with a few text messages, got a wave of results within an hour. It feels awkward when you first reach out, but it’s well worth pushing past that. First, everyone you touch is happy to participate. Second, what you receive back will be both loving and enlightening. So here you:
- On a piece of paper, draw three columns. At the top of the first column, write “Family/Intimates.” At the top of the second column, write “Friends & Associates” and at the top of the third column, write “Acquaintances.”
- Contact 3-5 people in your life who fit into each one of those categories for you and ask them to describe you in just three words. That’s it.
- Write the words ascribed to you under the appropriate column.
And now consider what you see: how the people in your world see you. Which one of those columns is closest to the “real” you? Which one is the person you wish most to be? Lucky for you, you already are that person. You have the power to love that person. You have the power to change that person. Really, you have power.
So, how do you show up?