Is it OK to be different at work than you are at home?

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A couple of days ago, Louise Fletcher, a professional resume writer, blogged about my ability to say whatever I want and not kill my career. That same day, Kathy Williams wrote this comment on my blog:

My son introduced me to your blog which I appreciate. I am your polar opposite. You have complete freedom to say whatever you want … for whatever reason is not important. We can all use a little more honesty.

In general, I think people can say much more than they think they can. It used to be that no one blogged about unemployment, bad bosses or screaming at their kids. Now these are all pretty common posts. This should tell you that topics that you think will change what people think about you don’t actually do that. Consider what you’re doing — if it’s within the realm of normal, people don’t care that you’re doing it—it’s not interesting.

Of course, things that I think are totally normal, like, having a miscarriage at work, turn out to be very controversial. But really, I am still not sure why. I mean, just thinking logically, hundreds of thousands of women have miscarriages every year, and most of those women have not had a kid so they are working, so hundreds of thousands of women each year have a miscarriage at work.

I think my inability to understand why this is controversial might be a blessing.

I also am not sure I understand privacy. I don’t understand why people use it. I have had a lot of talks with the farmer about this. He told me that we cannot be intimate if we don’t have some things that are private. So I told him I would not write about sex.

But then I wrote sort of about sex. I wrote about when he wouldn’t go down on me. I told him it was me writing about not sex. And sex is off limits but not sex is not off limits.

He was not happy. I’m sure most of you will agree with him. That I should not have written about that.

But then I think, he has known, since before he even met me, that I write about everything. And then, when he met me, he read my novel, which is not a novel but really a memoir that the publisher made me call a novel because no one would believe it was true.  But it is not really a novel either, but a hypertext wishing it were a novel, which is what Publisher’s Weekly wrote when they said it was great writing with incompetent structure.

The problem of me not understanding intimacy is maybe because I don’t understand why we separate ourselves to be different people at different times.

I don’t think I am able to manage being different versions of myself depending on the social context. So everyone gets the same version of me. I have found, for example, that venture capitalists like my blog. After all, they have invested in my company. But it’s not just the investment. They tell me they like my blog and they like the blog posts that say things we’re not supposed to say. Like, I can’t handle my insane travel schedule, and my company is running out of money and I want to fucking kill the investor who is sailing in Bermuda without a phone to hear me panicking. Investors like that. Because they like honesty.

People like honesty. They might wince, but they don’t generally hold honesty against you.

What people do hold against me, I think, is that I don’t seem to be able to create intimacy with the farmer. It’s a downfall, I think.

But I also think that that’s why he picked me.

He read my writing, about sex with every other guy, when he first started dating me. (That’s probably why he dumped me. Well, one of the fifty reasons he dumped me fifty times. And, by the way, he hates that I always have a different number for the number of times he dumped me. But I tell him you don’t care. Whatever number it is, you get the point.

Fifty million.)

He knew I had never really been able to be intimate because I was too fascinated with writing about my inability to be intimate which requires writing about what should be intimate moments.

I want to tell you about this costume he bought for me. Well, actually, I bought it. He chose it. It’s a costume called €œAlice€ like, Alice in Wonderland. But it’s a different Wonderland.

We bought it when we were costume shopping with the kids.

I told him I couldn’t stand all the sword fighting in the Star Wars section.

Then I came back to the Star Wars section and told him I found a section for grown-ups. €œLet’s get one,€ I said.

€œYou said you wouldn’t wear one of those.€

€œWell, I will. Which do you like?€

€œAll of them.€

There were about 50 costumes. I picked one. I called him over to look. The dressing room was in the middle of the room, so I opened the curtain just a peek.

The kids came running over and said, €œMommy! I love your costume!€

The farmer said, €œNo. That’s terrible.€

He said that the key to a costume like this is to have a lot of space between the bottom of the skirt and the top of the tights. They are garter belt tights.

Okay. So I try on the other costume, and it’s the Alice costume, and we get it. And the boys spend the next month asking me if I’m going to wear it trick or treating.

I wear it to bed.

It is intimate, but it feels intimate because I’m doing something I’ve never done before. It doesn’t feel any more intimate to me than founding a company feels.

I know my Brazen Careerist co-founders, Ryan and Ryan, are going to freak out when they read that line. But they don’t have to worry because what I really mean is that nothing feels truly intimate to me.

And I kind of like it that way because I don’t have to have lots of different versions of myself. I don’t have to separate being a mom from being a blogger. I don’t have to separate being Alice from being a startup founder. It’s all the same me.

A lot of commenters accuse me of being a nutcase because one day I am breaking a lamp over my head and the next day I am dispensing advice about effective elevator pitches.

To me though, someone is a nutcase for pretending to not be both those people. Each of us can give good advice on something. And each of us has a messed up personal life sometimes. One person can do both those things. The only thing weird is that we don’t admit it. Why can’t career advisors also talk about the things going wrong in their lives? Why can’t startup founders also be sex kittens?

What I know is that I am really really grateful for not having to hide who I am at work. It is true, what Louise said, that I can say whatever I want, as long as I’m interesting. I can still make a living, and I can still have friends. (Well, I’m not that great at friends, but hypothetically I can have friends because there are people who have told me they want to be my friend.)

So I think the farmer picked me because I’m bad at intimacy. He is bad at it, too. He is comfortable with that—not being close to me.

So we are comfortable with our non-intimacy.

I mean, I say that, but I know there is more to life. I just can’t seem to find it.

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  1. alan
    alan says:

    I help facilitate a social group for adults with aspergers syndrome issues. Many persons in the group struggle with anxiety; few struggle with shame, guilt, embarrassment or humiliation, maybe because they don’t notice all the rules that neuro-typicals are struggling to deal with, or maybe they don’t feel so vulnerable about not following all those rules. Don’t let anyone convince you that your different emotional experiences are somehow bad or wrong – they’re just different. To me, bad or wrong matters only in situations affecting safety, security, honesty, and justice. I never met the person who said being/feeling vulnerable is easy…but it can enhance intimacy with someone you trust!

  2. Jamie Beckland
    Jamie Beckland says:

    Just FYI, the farmer would like you to stop being you when you are wearing the Alice costume. And pretend to be someone else. That’s what will make it fun for him.

  3. Sonia Winland
    Sonia Winland says:

    I think working in the corporate world, you have to separate the too. Business don’t want to hear someone walking in their office speaking slang or saying something they can’t even understand. People should always be themselves, but in the work place, I feel being professional is important. Leave the slang for home and your homies! The corporate world just don’t get it, don’t want to get it and it doesn’t belong.

    Now, if you own your own business, then do what you want, but be cautious because your words might get taken out of context.

  4. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I don’t think you should have separate personalities. But I also don’t think you should write about your marital sex life if you promised your husband you wouldn’t.

  5. Lea
    Lea says:

    This! This! This!!!!! Everything you say in this post is awesome, especially this:

    I don't think I am able to manage being different versions of myself depending on the social context. So everyone gets the same version of me.

    What you write about here is what I’ve been struggling with since I stopped being a journalist. In a newsroom, no one expects you to be a completely different person depending on where you find yourself. When you’re a reporter out in the community, you listen to everyone around you, but you don’t share your opinions – which means you are still yourself. The newsroom is an appropriate place to share your opinions, on everything, and in fact that’s what we were all being paid for. So I could speak off the top of my head and always give my genuine reaction to everything. I didn’t have to worry about who was listening and whether they would be offended.

    I now work for a nonprofit that has a very corporate culture. This is my fourth job since leaving newspapers five years ago – which has something to do with personal circumstances (my Mom had terminal cancer, so I messed around with my career a bit) but also has to do with finding myself working for companies where I just didn’t get the culture. It made absolutely no sense to me when I was told that I was still the same person even if I had to behave differently and conform to their cultural norms. I think that’s crap.

    I totally believe in honesty, and I have never understood why people are afraid to speak the truth in their workplaces. Like you, I’m often surprised when I say something that everyone else is completely shocked by. (Example from college: I announced my freshman roommate’s virginity to our entire floor. Example from work: When I call someone on their contradictory behavior.) It’s kinda like telling the emperor that he has no clothes.

    I am still holding out hope that I will find a non-newsroom workplace where I can be all parts of myself at all times. I suspect that I will have to create this workplace myself – aka become a freelancer – and that will be a long time coming. I need the income and the health insurance from my day job for the forseeable future. (Or at least until gay marriage is approved at the federal level and I can get health insurance through my wife’s job.) While I might be bad in the workplace, I’m brilliant with anyone outside of it. Maybe because like your venture capitalists, clients outside the workplace appreciate honesty, and that wins their business.

    • PD
      PD says:

      That’s what’s a bit disingenuous about this post. Sure, it’s easy to be “who you are” if you live and work in an open or tolerate locale. But if your belief system / heritage / orientation / kink doesn’t match the accepted norms in a non-tolerant place, being “who you are” can result in getting fired, ostracized, harassed, or worse. In addition, the impact it can have on other family members must be considered, particularly kids. How can kids understand that they are getting targeted because a parent decided to be “who they are”?

    • Angela DuBois
      Angela DuBois says:

      Ok, maybe part of the announcing the roommate’s virginity is that who made you the moderator of her life? I only get to tell MY story. I’m not good with social cues much of the time, so I rely on others to tell me when I have misspoke. It’s not about SECRETS, per se. It’s about who is in control of telling my story.

  6. Kat
    Kat says:

    Everyone who is a nice good person should have no problems being the same in work as they are out of work (regardless of if they are a bit odd, loud, honest etc.). Those who can’t be themselves in work as they are out of work should look at becoming better people.

  7. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I suck at intimacy too. Whenever I get intimate with someone eventually I get to the point where I start to shut down. Like I’ve reached an intimacy threshold or something. My ex always used to say, something’s up, tell me what it is! Which of course would make me shut down even further and things would get worse. I think I’m on the verge of going through it again. And I suck at making friends too, not because really making friends is a form of intimacy, but because I find it hard to get anywhere close to that point with anyone without flirting. Flirting I can do. And my boyfriend thought originally that I was bisexual so maybe I do flirt with everyone and don’t even realize it, I’m not sure. I also seriously compartmentalize myself, so everyone gets a different version of me. Every version is me, it’s not as if I invent characters for show, but it’s very rare that someone sees everything. Maybe, too, that’s part of why I suck at intimacy: because that’s when I show all of myself to someone, and I don’t like all of the elements that make up who I am.

  8. Ann
    Ann says:

    I think there is both a trust issue and respect issue. Part of being intimate involves feeling safe with the person you are being intimate with. By that I mean trusting that they will accept, understand and still value you as you reveal your deeper self. I agree with the person who wrote that intimacy is created or built over time. You don’t just say to someone “Let’s be intimate”. It’s a process of getting to know eachother and demonstrating over time that as you get to know more and more about eachother’s deeper selves, it won’t cause either of you to say “Oh no, I can’t accept that. I don’t like you anymore.” That is the fear that is behind fear of intimacy. It’s the fear that if they REALLY knew me, all of me, they wouldn’t like me, respect me, value me.

    There is also the idea of respecting others’ boundaries and ownership of their own deep selves. It’s not appropriate to announce another person’s private details without their permission. You can talk about your own private details as much as you want with whoever you want and as publically as you want, because they are yours and you “own” them and only you accept the consequences of that revelation whatever those consequences may be. But when you announce another person’s private details you are depriving them of their ownership of their own private stuff. Like the commenter who said they once announced their roommate’s virginity to the entire floor in college. This was a violation of that person. Those were the other person’s details to share, not the commenters. When you share something private/intimate with someone, it’s like giving them a gift and you are trusting that they will see the value of the gift and hold it dear. It’s also them saying to you that they trust you — they believe you can know these very deep parts of them and you will not reject them. Flinging it out to the world or to strangers is like you threw it away and it’s like you’re saying because I know this about you and still value you, everyone else will too. That is not your decision to make, it’s the person who owns the details. This may relate to why your husband doesn’t want you talking about sex with him in your blog. Because that is something the two of you mutually “own” and something he holds dear, but you’re acting like you are the only owner so to speak. You’re dismissing his right to have a say about what parts of his own private details will be revealed and in what forums and you’re throwing away his attempt to give you a part of him that was meant for you alone; and you are assuming that, because you know his deeper self and still value him, that everyone else will too. He would like for you to stop assuming that and let him make that decision for himself — and that would show that you respect him.

  9. seashell
    seashell says:

    I am an open, honest person that wears my heart on my sleeve. In life outside of work, it’s me. But working in a conservative office, with people that I can’t describe other than using the phrase “teacher’s pet”, who can also be vindictive, makes me curb who I really am. I don’t like feeling like I’m two different people, but in today’s economy, finding a different job has been impossible. A steady paycheck is needed.

    I can only hope the job market opens up in my field and I again can be one.

  10. Kim Lampe
    Kim Lampe says:

    “Managing” my son’s lack of respect for his mother, while on a business conference call last night, my first instinct was to worry about what my meeting mates were thinking, but that passed quickly.

    I call this concept you are referring to as being a Traveling Sanctuary. I am myself everywhere I go and with everything I do. This creates a space where others feel safe to be themselves and so goes the cycle. Things get a big more fun and creative.

    It’s a mixed passion fruit pie.

  11. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    I think as in writing, in life, we need to edit ourselves in the workplace; why who we work for does not own us, they are renting our talents and we are a reflection of their business.

    Not self-editing and bringing personal drama into a workplace can cost you your job, especially in today’s tough economy. Discussing your sex life with a co-worker within earshot of any other co-workers can be considered sexual harassment. If you tell people you yell at your kids and break lamps over your head you can appear to be emotionally unstable and your colleagues might wonder if you are going to have the same sort of outbursts at a meeting with an important client and choose to not have you present.

    If a boss has to downsize and they have to choose between two equally talented people, one that is professional and one that constantly bring drama into an office, unless they are addicted to the drama, they are going to pick the professional one every time.

    To not edit yourself and just do or say whatever you want without considering the impact on others is akin to behaving like a toddler. Good parents teach their children that your rights end where someone else’s begin.

    I have seen rants in other forums where people have been fired for bad mouthing their employer for something they wrote on Facebook, Myspace or another public forum and whine that it unjust and go on to even bad mouth the former employer even more like a two year old throwing a temper tantrum instead of taking responsibility for not editing themselves. It is not going to make the employer want to hire them back because it was “not fair” – it further justifies their decision and makes any potential employer not want to risk suffering the same fate as the prior employer.

    Your employer or people in your life do not have to just accept you as you are in every situation; they may tolerate you as long as you meet a need in their life, but keep in mind they have the option of terminating the arrangement if it is no longer meets their needs.

    There does need to be boundaries on behavior in the workplace and in all aspects of life.

  12. Kristofer Gray
    Kristofer Gray says:

    I just read the post and it hit me hard on the chin lols.. our home is entirely different from our workplace and our co workers may not be our friends nor our family… so i bet we have to be at one point different in each place. I remember a class i had in psychology that basically says that modern people’s minds are “compartmentalized” .. well, it says that we pick up something from some compartment in our brain whenever the situation calls for it.

  13. anita
    anita says:

    i think you are great at linking to your other posts. i can’t help but follow the links. do you systematically put them in each post or are you naturally gifted at linking.

    ps you are refreshing.

    • seashell
      seashell says:

      I respectably disagree Anita. I am a nice person and have been told that by many people, but I keep to myself at work. When you work with people that are not nice, that are vindictive, you have to watch what you say. When conversing, if you cannot speak honestly because of the repercussions, it’s easier to not speak at all. That is not who I am outside of work. It has nothing to do with ME being nice, it has to do with MANAGEMENT/COWORKERS not being nice. Outside of work, you spend time with others because you choose to. You don’t have that choice when you are at work. Unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to get out of the situation right now. The job market in my field is very tight and I need to put food on the table.

  14. Dan
    Dan says:

    Miscarriages aren’t abnormal, it was your comment whining about not being able to slaughter your baby at will that was controversial. Then again, your parent’s are really f’d up, so it doesn’t surprise me that you don’t see “what’s so controversial” about this. It’s the same reason you are divorced, and will also get divorced from the farmer. Give it a few years.

    • Shell
      Shell says:

      Dan, my momma always taught me if you can’t say something nice then it’s better to say nothing at all. What did your momma teach you? I have no issues with people expressing their opinions, but there is no cause to do it viciously and hurtfully. "Judge NOT, that you be not judged" in Matt 7:1

  15. Jane
    Jane says:

    Privacy and intimacy have very little in common. Privacy evolved because image matters, and people can’t think of a given person in sufficiently different terms. Someone who is smart, capable, moral and responsible can not possibly be having a miscarriage in a business meeting (let alone destroy a lamp).

    From a popular quote by F.Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”, and very few people possess that level of intelligence. Most people will either consider a person a hard-working awe-inspiring CEO, or a sex-kitten – never both, it’s just too hard.

    So privacy is important – CEOs keep quiet about their sex lives, and popular singers and sex bombs work hard to hide their extensive geekiness. You don’t hide either side – and produce a huge controversy.

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