Why Jason Collins matters for your career

Jason Collins is a professional basketball player who just announced that he’s gay. It’s rare enough for a professional athlete to be openly gay that President Obama called him up to offer support, and former President Clinton tweeted his support, adding that he’s known Jason Collins since he was friends with Chelsea Clinton at Stanford.

Collins is a 12-year NBA veteran who has played for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards and chose to come out in the new edition of Sports Illustrated . He says, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

It’s a great conversation to have, because we all do better in our careers if we are honest about who we are.

The research about the benefits of coming out at work is solid. Gay people get higher pay and have more stable careers if they come out at work. Because so much of career success is connecting with people, and secretive people are not likable. This is one of the reasons that I was so upset when I was coaching Cassie Boorn and she didn’t tell me she was gay: because the best career advice I could give anyone who is gay is to find a place for themselves in the workworld where they can be themselves.

You would not believe how many people I coach who are gay but don’t tell me until the last ten minutes of the call. It would be fine if being gay is irrelevant to their career, but it almost always comes up, in passing, because we have to talk about your personal life to build a career plan that supports your personal life.

So if you are systematically hiding that you’re gay, then it is highly probable that the core of your career problem is that you’re hiding. Because people who hide something that big from the world are usually hiding lots of other things as well. And the more you hide, the harder it is to find a job that’s right for you.

The story of Jason Collins is not just a story about being gay. It’s a story about how, to some degree, each and every one of us is scared to be ourself at work. Each of us has something we are scared to own about ourselves because we are scared people won’t like us. We’re scared the top people in our field won’t respect or like us. We each hide something that we think is particularly bad. And we all think, “Other people might not need to hide this, but for me, it’s different.”

But really, if there’s anyone who could say they have a special situation, it’s Collins. He’s in a field where he has to touch other men all the time. He’s in a profession that’s notoriously homophobic. And he is a national figure but he’s not used to dealing with the press in a personal way, so talking about all this publicly is out of his comfort zone.

I have been working in the tech industry for most of my career. As a serial entrepreneur I’ve had to figure out, each time, how much of myself to reveal to my co-founders, to my investors, to my employees. At one point, during my last startup, I was crying in the lobby of Chase Bank because we ran out of money and none of my employees would get paid and it was the week before Christmas.

Earlier in my career, I never would have written about that, because it’s very hard to get funding when you are crying and weak and desperate for money. No one wants to fund that kind of entrepreneur. But I wrote about it anyway, on my blog, and literally hundreds of entrepreneurs told me they had been there before, and they offered great ideas for getting through such a tough time. And my investors came through as well. Because what investors need, more than anything, is a founder who is dedicated and driven and genuine and honest.

That’s what the NBA needs from Collins: dedicated, driven, genuine, and honest.

And that’s what people need from you.

Some of you are still thinking you’re not going to really be who you are. You want to keep the parts of you that are fun and enchanting and easy, while making the other, worse parts of you go away. But the truth is that no one is enchanting if they are not whole. I realized, late in my career, that one of the biggest reasons that I looked scary to some people was that I was hiding some fundamental things about me: like that I was taken away from my parents for abuse. I wanted it to not matter. I wanted to be past that.

But everything matters. Everything is our lives is who we are. Jason Collins being gay will matter so little in two years. We’ll be past the hoopla. And so will he. It’ll just be a part of who he is.

Here’s how I know: I was coaching a guy. And we were talking about how he and his wife were going to move to the East coast, and he needed a career transition strategy. At the end of the call, he told me, “Hey, I have something to tell you.”

I said, “At the end of the call? You have something new to tell me now?”

He said, “Yeah. Well, I read how you said that so many people wait until the end of the call to tell you they’re gay.”

“Oh no. You’re gay? You’re going to tell me you’re gay?”

“No. I’m not gay. I’m a transexual.”

Silence. I was shocked.

Then I said, “Are you done? Like, is it that you were born a woman and now you’re a man?”

“Yeah. I went through all the operations and everything. No one would guess I’m a transexual. I just wanted to tell you.”

And we both laughed. Because it’s a funny riff on the constant problem of people being closeted and not telling me. But that’s all it is – funny. Because he’s fine with who he is, and he’s integrated his whole self into his life, and so it’s not possible for it to be a problem for his career.

I wish that peace for Jason Collins and I wish it for all of us. Let’s start today, being a little more honest about who we are. And bonus: We’ll make more money doing that. Really.


76 replies
  1. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I was having a really hard day @ work where everyone was blaming me for dropping the ball and I wanted to cry and then I read:

    “I was crying in the lobby of Chase Bank because we ran out of money and none of my employees would get paid and it was the week before Christmas”

    THAT’s a reason to cry, not the bs I’m going thru…..thanks…I needed a reality check…..

  2. Pocono Charlie
    Pocono Charlie says:

    Kudos to Jason Collins; if that works for him, good.

    And if it works for you, to, that’s good. I am 49 and have found that keeping certain things private is better. I have 2 children with special needs, of whom I’ve never spoken specifically about their physical dependencies in my work place for over 9 years.

    The job I had prior knew of their issues, which led to seemingly never ending inquiries from people with good intentions. Those constant inquiries made it harder to focus on the tasks at hand, and often led to people going over board with their concerns (but not mine), even when I told them I’d rather not discuss it at work. People believed that since they knew ABC, they were entitled to ask about DEF, too.

    In my case, I think having life compartmentalized is better for the individual. Once you speak about something private, the genie is out of the bottle, and it can never be private again. For the last 9 years, that has suited me well.

  3. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I really like how you position your support. I’m glad Jason has the courage to be who he is and hope more people can find this courage. It is so much better to be able to be yourself.

  4. Jen
    Jen says:

    I love this….and I love this…”…The story of Jason Collins is not just a story about being gay. It’s a story about how, to some degree, each and every one of us is scared to be ourself at work. Each of us has something we are scared to own about ourselves because we are scared people won’t like us. We’re scared the top people in our field won’t respect or like us.”

    You’re so right and today was just the right day for you to publish this and for me to read it.
    Thank you.

  5. Teresa Madeline
    Teresa Madeline says:

    I can’t emphasise how much i relate to this post. For so many years I have been hiding behind a shield, showing only the smiley happy me and when I didn’t feel like that person I’m withdrawn and I isolate myself. Too many people do this and don’t realise that showing your weakness is in fact the strongest thing you could possibly do, and people will respect you for

  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    Such a great and important post. So liberating. Wow.

    Thank you.

    You keep getting better and better, Penelope.

  7. Ellen Pitts
    Ellen Pitts says:

    This is also very true for family life and friendships and not necessarily intuitive. I am a Jewish woman who married a Christian man. Not just any Christian but a Southern Baptist, Virginian (i.e. southern) man. His family was a huge culture shock for me and I spent years pretending I was a “nice” girl to get them to accept me. I do have a high level of integrity and strong moral values, but these things do not matter to their culture if you’re not “nice” as they define it. For years, I tried to speak their language and fit in with them. I struggled even to make friends after I got married. (I had relocated to Virginia.) A couple years ago I decided I was done being “nice.” I didn’t even know who I was any more. I had been a strong, spunky, tell-it-like-it-is kind of person and I had turned into a mousy house wife. I didn’t like myself any more. I had also developed severe anxiety, I think from hiding for all those years and trying to be liked. But two years ago I put an end to it. And after years of struggling with anxiety, it’s gone. I have a social life again and I am pursuing many new opportunities that were impossible before. All the energy I had was being sucked up by pretending I was someone I wasn’t.

        • Allison
          Allison says:

          If you have to leave your marriage to be who you are, it’s a high price to pay but the only one that leads to anything good in the long run. It’s a pet peeve of mine that marital commitment is often expected to override everything else.

      • Ellen
        Ellen says:

        Yes, I’m still married. Therapy was very helpful and both my husband and I realized we needed to cut ties with his family. We live almost 2000 miles from his family now and it’s very good.

  8. VooDoo
    VooDoo says:

    Penelope – you always make me think and I like that.

    On this issue, I take a “who cares?” attitude in general, but I do find it interesting how the media likes to make a big deal of it. If you look at Jason Collins performance, he has only averaged 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 20 minutes per game in his career. By that standard, he’s a low performer. He’s also at the end of his career – kind of makes you wonder why he came out now.

    It’s funny, another pro athlete has been very outspoken about his faith in Christianity, yet the media response, by and large, has painted a very negative view of him and he was just released by his employer.

    What’s the lesson here? Put yourself out there at your own risk.

    • Pocono Charlie
      Pocono Charlie says:

      Good point…. had he been a high-scoring player, this would have been very different.

      One wonder whether coming out now is a strategic device to ensure a contract extension.

    • victoria
      victoria says:

      1.) He’s a center, not a forward or a shooting guard. He’s by no means an elite player — not by a longshot — but there are only 9 centers in the NBA that averaged double digits in PPG, and his career PPG is around the average or a starting NBA center this year. (His rebound numbers compare less favorably to the average center’s, in fairness). My personal sense is that he chose now to come out because he didn’t have much to lose; if he were to get blackballed, he’d just retire.

      2.) Assuming you’re talking about Tebow……no. Just no. He’s not the first player to be outspokenly Christian. Kurt Warner, Troy Polamalu, Phillip Rivers, etc. It doesn’t hurt them, and it doesn’t hurt Tebow either. What does hurt him is being one of the worst quarterbacks in the league statistically.

  9. Jean
    Jean says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I am a military spouse and have recently moved to Oahu. I graduated with my BA 4 years ago and have been floating around as a waitress, and then as an intern in different areas. Needless to say, when I first came across your blog several months ago, I was really lost. I just wanted to take the time to thank you for being you and saying all the things you say. I bet you touch many more lives than you know. I’m still struggling to start a career, but your posts help me to keep my chin up and most importantly to look at things from a completely different point of view. Thank you.

    • Dana Kelly
      Dana Kelly says:

      Hi Jean – I’m a military spouse on Oahu too! I know how difficult it is to carve out a career when you’re moving around every few years. Just wanted to say best of luck! :)

  10. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    I came out at work as an incest survivor. Mixed results in terms of the job. Not having to lie and protect the lie made a huge positive difference to me personally.

    At 65, retired, I am still working on my PTSD. I recommend a book by Belleruth Naperstek Invisible Heroes to all dealing with and trying to understand someone with PTSD or living with trauma.

    What a wonderful blog post!

    Thank you for your good writing and courageous honesty!

    Hugs and kisses.

  11. Angie
    Angie says:

    I love this post and yet … I feel like following this advice can really only help certain people. I’m an extremely private person, and I’m simply not comfortable sharing too much personal information in the workplace.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Deciding to be private at work has a lot of related costs. In salary, to be sure. Because people get promoted when they are well liked, and it’s difficult to like someone who doesn’t share themseves.

      But, more than that, privacy at work costs you friendship. If you do not want to share yourself with people at work, they cannot share back, and you make it impossible to have friends. There is great research from Gallup that shows that it’s almost impossible to hate your job if you have two good friends at work. Here’s the research:


      So, you could think of it this way: opening up at work in order to make friends is probably the key to job happiness.


  12. Jessie's Money
    Jessie's Money says:

    That sounds like a pretty good bonus to me!

    I think the lesson goes beyond sexual orientation – you must always be truthful to who you are. I recently transitioned from one group to another, within the same company – and after a year and a half, I finally feel like I can be me. My real personality. I don’t have to pretend to be what my old boss was looking for, because my new boss just wants me to be my most excellent self.

  13. Paris
    Paris says:

    You also gave this advice in your “15 things overachievers do” blog post and as a lesbian it really got me thinking. I’m a really bold and honest person. I’m almost incapable of lying and I want to live an honest life. I do want to be out to my future co-workers because at my previous work places my communication with my coworkers and bosses were really weird since they could openly talk about their lives and I kept my silence all the time. If I was able to open up to them my work place relations and overall psychology would have been so much better. It is nearly impossible to avoid talking about your private life at work because people ask about your marital status, what you do in the weekends etc. It is also necessary to create a bond with your co-workers. I decided to start out small, recently I started tweeting about gay related topics and articles. I think if someone sees my thoughts on gay issues and get turned off then those people are not suitable to enter my network. To me networking is about connecting with people with similar interests and common things. I’m also scared of being turned down for many jobs because of my sexual orientation but at the same time I feel like it is a risk I should take. Since I’m already planning to move to a city with a sizeable gay population, I’m more open to coming out of the closet. I just wish there was a way to figure out whether a certain employer/firm is tolerant to gays..It would be really painful to figure out you had a homophobic boss way after you started a job. Like someone said above “put yourself out there at your own risk”.

    Thanks for writing this article. It is nice to see you support different sexual orientations.

  14. Jill
    Jill says:

    I spent the greater portion of my life (so far) hiding nearly everything about me, and being afraid that no one would like me. It held me back from so many things…and then I spent many years working on not hiding, on being free from that anxiety, on learning to accept myself for who I am and realizing that not everyone will like me…and I’m okay with that. And while life is far from perfect, it has been ridiculously better since I let me be me (and got comfortable with that). Too bad it took 44 years, but hey! all the oncoming years will be better lived because of it. Thank you for this post, Penelope. You are 100% correct and I hope your message gets spread far and wide.

  15. zan
    zan says:

    thank you for this post, penelope. tomorrow, i will celebrate 20 years of sobriety. i worked in a high-profile position at a television network when i got sober, and i never once chose anonymity — though i have always honored others’ wishes to remain anonymous. that full measure of honesty and authenticity has helped keep me accountable, to help others through their own life challenges, and has made me a better, more empathetic, more accessible, writer, producer, woman and person.

  16. Rich
    Rich says:

    As long as these annoucements make big headlines, there will continue to be bias in our workplace and society. I remeber watching Collins play at Stanford and in the NBA.
    I never once thought about his, or any other player’s sexuality. Now, that is a variable that he has intentionally brought to his career and the game, but I don’t understand why. In a legal environment where a man cannot tell a female co-worker she looks ‘nice today’ (see you just got creeped out) it seems crazy that ‘i like dudes’ is somehow refeshing and empowering.

    • Amy
      Amy says:

      Rich, you have it backwards. It makes big headlines BECAUSE there is still bias. Once the bias is gone, the big headlines will go away.

      Collins is big news because he is the first. But he won’t be the last. By the time the 15th big sports star comes out, it will not be news anymore. I’m pretty sure Collins and other LGBT folks would prefer it that way – that it not be a big news story, but rather just a fact that happens to come up when it comes up.

  17. erinn
    erinn says:

    i am selectively out at work. if i was in a serious long term relationship, maybe then i would feel more compelled to share my gayness with my colleagues. however, as an invisible minority, i am hyper aware of who is homophobic in the office, and even if they managed to pretend to be ok with my gayness, i don’t want to feel like i’m under a microscope and that it suddenly becomes my master status.

    further, i do not believe that my decision to choose not to share my sexuality with my workplace is indicative of being a secretive or sneaky person. if the coming out process was guaranteed to be safe and supportive, that would be one thing, but i’m not going to put myself in an uncomfortable position just because a colleague thinks i owe them that ‘truth’.

  18. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    Wow, I have to say I’m shocked your clients are hesitant to come out to you! First of all, you are pretty transparent about your life, and second of all, who wants to spend money on a coach but not tell them the whole story?

    Pretty fascinating. Homophobia is definitely alive and well.

  19. anyonewilldo
    anyonewilldo says:

    I was very disappointed in this post. Yet another straight person telling the LGBT community how to live their lives. It conveniently ignores the fact that you can be fired in many states because of your sexual orientation & there’s nothing you can do about it. I agree that being able to be upfront about who you are is healthy, but there’s also a time & place for everything. Not every gay person wants to fight continuously or be a role model. Congrats to Mr. Collins for coming out & thank you for your support. But please don’t tell gays how to live their lives.

    • cortney
      cortney says:

      i agree with you that you can’t just come out willy-nilly. ie, if you know your family is almost violently homophobic, maybe don’t come out about your gay relationship to them. (i made this mistake!) i just thought she was saying your might be happier if you could find a place to work where you could be out.

  20. cortney
    cortney says:

    when is the right time to tell your employers that you were abused as a child? it’s affected me quite a bit, but i can’t imagine them caring. it seems disruptive to bring up more than anything.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a good question. It is really not necessary to tell your employer that. But it’s necessary to explain odd behaviors. So, for example, when I was in my 20s I was very jumpy from loud noises. To the point that people thought I was just doing it to get attention.

      I would have done better to say, “I’m jumpy from loud noises because of post-traumatic stress from an abusive childhood, and I’m working in therapy to be more calm.”

      The point is not to tell the whole world your life story. The point is to explain odd behaviors or other things that are affecting work. And the point is to reveal enough of your feelings, on any given day, so that someone can connect with you.

      So, you don’t have to walk up to your cube-mate and tell them you were abused. But if you go on new anti-depressants that make you feel loopy, you could say to your cube-mate, I’m on new anti-depressants and they’re making me feel loopy and I am not getting any work done today. Do you want to go to Starbucks?”

      The office mate will say something like “Why are you on anti-depressants?”

      And that is another time to say you were abused.

      The goal is to show emotions and explain odd behavior so that people can get close to you. The goal is not to tell people your life story – people don’t want a lecture, they want a friend.


      • Pocono Charlie
        Pocono Charlie says:

        “The goal is to show emotions and explain odd behavior so that people can get close to you. The goal is not to tell people your life story – people don’t want a lecture, they want a friend.”

        The problem I have is that in my experience too many people WANT the whole life story, and don’t understand why I’d rather not share.

        I express interest in all of my colleagues background by having casual conversation, but never reveal the details of my own. As I show interest in their lives, but find reasons to excuse myself from discussions about me, no one in nearly 10 years has apparently been troubled by my lack of detail.

        My point: I would not say being open is perfect in all occasions; there is a lot to be gained being silent.

  21. Jen
    Jen says:

    I love the idea of this, but realistically it only works if the whole you that you are sharing is likeable. And really, not very many of us are all that likeable.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Yes, but a huge part of being likable is being the first one to open up and be vulnerable–which gives the other person the relational green-light to open up. If you open up in such an invitational way, what you have to share will be likable.

  22. Razwana
    Razwana says:

    I totally support the idea of being yourself and being open about who you are – in the office or otherwise. But we all know how much ‘feedback’ on the honesty we can take.

    I, for one, am pretty tough. Recently I shared with my colleagues the fact that I have a blog, who I’ve guest posted for, and what I’ve written about (my parents are Pakistani, I’m English, had an arranged marriage, got a divorce, haven’t remarried, blah blah blah) and the biggest surprise when I reveal all? The reactions are of fascination and reciprocity.

    There is relief on the faces of my colleagues – they can share their story with me too. They are at ease with being honest about themselves.

    If we just stop thinking of work as a place we go to after we put on an identity, we could just relax!

    – Razwana

  23. Mary
    Mary says:

    I am a writer, but I moonlight as a Dominatrix. I am in the process of showing my writing (which is all about the real world of fetish, not the ’50 Shades’ version) and when it comes time to pitch I don’t know if I should reveal that I really do work as a Domme. On one hand, it adds credibility and honesty to my work. On the other hand, I fear I will be dismissed with judgement. But if I want to sell my true story over someone else’s S&M bullshit story, I think the experience my best asset. Am I on the right path? Is coming out worth it?

      • Sadya
        Sadya says:

        It’s not like Belle De Jour. or maybe it is. Will they judge you is hardly going to be an issue for you when you pitch your book to them. But since book publishing is more about marketing, they will push you to market your real life experiences.
        To you, you are a writer with a Dominatrix side. To the publishers, you are a Dominatrix who can write.

  24. Inge
    Inge says:

    This post and some of the comments make me think: what is the difference between being secretive about an aspect of your life (i.e. actively hiding something) and just not sharing much, in terms of helping / harming your career? I am in the last category (INTJ) – I have no secrets but I also don’t offer personal information unless someone asks about it specifically or it comes up naturally in conversation. Does it have any positive effect on your career to actively share more about your personal life?

    The other day, I was having drinks with colleagues and some found out that I was single – and not looking to change that anytime soon. All the time I had been their colleague, they just assumed I was in a relationship like almost everyone else. Nothing has really changed between us since then, I just found it amusing that people asume so many things without checking.

  25. katie
    katie says:

    i like the points you make in the post but i would be interested to read your followup because of all the objections i see in the comments… also in your recent dream job seminar you were counseling all of us to leave anything “religious” off our resumes… but i guess the larger question is HOW transparent to be and about what, and that is something that you experiment with in your life and have succeeded at. do you have any counter stories about what shouldn’t be shared and when you shared something that you would now choose not to???

    • Gwen
      Gwen says:

      I think there’s difference between not concealing something, and making it clear on your resume.

      I might wear a symbol of my faith during work, and I might answer about my services if I’m asked what I’ll be doing on the weekend, but that’s a very different contact from providing pertinent information to a prospective employer.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s an interesting distinction. You make choices on your resume – and everywhere – with what to lead with. So Jason first lead with basketball, and academics (Stanford). You have to figure out what your goals are and what to lead with. That’s different from hiding.

      You don’t need to put gay or Muslim or whatever on your resume. It’s not relevant for hiring you. But you need to talk about stuff like this at work if you want to have friends. Knowing when it’s appropriate to talk about your personal life is part of the process of learning how to make friends.

      You can see that on my blog as well. You have to dig pretty deep on this site to find the extra personal stuff of mine. If I lead with it, people won’t come back. They’ll think I’m crazy. I have to lead with career stuff.

      So think about what you want to lead with. And then think about how you want to connect.


  26. Miss Britt
    Miss Britt says:

    “The story of Jason Collins is not just a story about being gay. It’s a story about how, to some degree, each and every one of us is scared to be ourself at work.”

    You nailed it right there.

  27. Meaghan W
    Meaghan W says:

    What you have to say here definitely speaks to me because of where in the country I live and the industry I work in. However, it should be mentioned that there are still parts of this country where people can be fired for being gay and industries where homophobia/ignorant behavior is tolerated.

  28. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    The big thing for me is… I’m poly. I definitely wish I could talk about it at work. But there’s no good way to do it unless you’re in an *incredibly* liberal workplace. It’s just not even known as an issue, much less accepted – so if someone doesn’t like it, you’re not a person who they have a grudge against but know they’re supposed to be PC towards, you’re a freak they feel completely safe in treating as a freak.

    • jo
      jo says:

      laughing….me too, Gwen. and that was the question echoing in my head as i read this. i feel more comfortable talking about my bisexuality than i do about my poly-ness these days. poly is not yet so widely accepted as homosexuality. also: im wondering if theres a distinction to be made re sharing among collegues, vs sharing with clients.

  29. Titi
    Titi says:

    The real reason Jason Collins matters for everyone’s career is that it still speaks heavily to gender differences. Jason Collins is NOT the first openly gay American playing in a major sport. There are others who have come out before him.
    Sheryl Swoops, a WNBA player came out years ago and Brittney Griner (WNBA) publicly addressed her sexuality in the a recent sports illustrated issue.
    The Jason Collins story pegged by the media as the “first openly gay american to play in the a major sport” demonstrates how differently society reacts to being gay as a man and being gay as a woman.
    In the future being gay won’t matter. Today the conversation should be about equality, so that Sheryl Swoops’ announcement about being openly gay is received with the same overwhelming support as Jason Collins’ (who is not the first openly gay athlete).

  30. Greg
    Greg says:

    I like the idea behind this post — being authentic at the workplace — but I think most people either forget or aren’t aware that in many states, there are no legal protections against workplace discrimination because of sexual orientation. You can be harassed or fired for being gay — under the eyes of the law in many states and localities, we are not a protected group.

    The Collins example is a laudable one, but we need to remember that the NBA also has a policy about workers and sexual orientation and had taken a public stance on supporting gay athletes. Yes, he took a risk that fans and other athletes might not support him, but there was a formal structure that he could lean on if he needed to.

    Outside the purely creative fields, there is no guarantee that every workplace will be LGBT-friendly, and you might not discover it until you’ve already begun working there. Even environments full of highly-educated professionals aren’t guaranteed to be accepting. There are also many folks out there who are gay-friendly in their personal lives but who don’t feel discussion about sexual orientation is workplace-appropriate.

    I do agree, though, that the ability to be your authentic self makes a big difference in your work, and things are beginning to change. But coming out in the workplace is more complex than the “just be yourself” mantra.

  31. t
    t says:

    A lot of GLBT people are in positions such that they might get fired or harassed for revealing their sexuality. It’s well and good to say that they should then remove themselves from that position to a more tolerant environment, but sometimes that’s just not an option. Not all GLBT people are Jason Collins or Frank Ocean, high-flying, high-profile, high-paid folks whose coming out brings plaudits from presidents, and whose attackers and critics are publicly shamed. Most are normal people, and many are clinging tenuously to their jobs like so many others in this economy. TELLING someone to say “Here I am, take it or leave it!” is easy from a distance, less so when it could lead to mockery, snickering, outright hostility, and the loss of your livelihood. Many GLBT people are rejected and disowned by their own PARENTS. It’s a brave step coming out, and often risky. I don’t think anyone should be criticized for keeping quiet to keep their livelihood safe, and I think saying things like “if you are systematically hiding that you’re gay, then it is highly probable that the core of your career problem is that you’re hiding. Because people who hide something that big from the world are usually hiding lots of other things as well” is really neglecting to consider the precarious situations of others, and is hurtful. Imagine being a GLBT person barely scraping by at a job with an openly homo/bi/trans-phobic boss, and then reading this blog and being told that they, the GLBT person, are the problem and that they’re likely hiding ‘lots of other things’. The problem isn’t the people that are discriminated against, the problem is the people doing the discriminating.

  32. Ben
    Ben says:

    We will truly see if he does better in his career by speaking up about who he is. Right now his Wizards jerseys are selling much faster than normal. The question is, as a free agent, was this the right time for his career, and not just because of the current spotlight on mens professional athletics due to rumors of a gay football player? Will teams be willing to risk their locker room chemistry or fanbase approval over hiring a guy who is a depth player that plays strong defense? The sad thing of course is that none of this should be a concern, but it is. Whatever front the big name players put out, in basketball and other mens pro sports there is not the same level of acceptance for that lifestyle that current media indicates. I hope very much there is a Branch Rickey for this generation, but I have my concerns….

  33. Holly
    Holly says:

    If you aren’t gay, you don’t know that it isn’t always easy to say and not the first thing you say because of all that has happened to you previously. Sometimes you have to test the waters to see how someone will react. Because ,unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that think they are fine with ‘gays’, but if they actually know one, well, that is different.

    I agree that it doesn’t make sense to hide or work for someone who doesn’t understand, but sometimes you don’t have that choice. The economy comes tumbling down and the firm you’re working lets you go and you need work to pay your mortgage. You take a job so you’re not living in your parents basement and as you start getting to know your work environment you find out that you’re working for a right wing conservative.

    It just isn’t so easy and so cut and dry. My two cents as a gay professional who has experienced a lot of prejudice and hate, but a lot of love and compassion as well.

  34. Kelly Two
    Kelly Two says:

    Meh, Jason who?? He was a lousy basketball player, his friends include Chelsea Clinton and Joe Kennedy (cousin to Ted), and he went to Stanford University. Wow, he really had it rough, huh? What’s so heroic and noteworthy about him coming out in 2013? He just relaunched his career which was never much of anything and he scored a Nike endorsement. Just because he’s gay. Talk about self-serving, jeez Louise.

  35. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    Thank you for this post! It is relevant to anyone who feels that they have to hide their true selves, not just those who want to come out of the closet. It is at a time when I needed to read it. I have worked in a field for the past 8 years in which I have felt I’ve had to put on my work self at work, and keep my real self to myself. I haven’t been truly happy in my career, even though I’m good at what I do. I’m going through some changes in my life right now, and seeing this post and really reading it closely confirmed that I am on the verge of making the decisions that will make me happy.

  36. kayla
    kayla says:

    The story of Jason collins is an inspring story. It teaches, that everyone should be themselves and not copy others. Everyone has something that they don’t want to own. But they should accept it, not run away from it.
    Thanks for sharing this useful post.

  37. Kate
    Kate says:

    Penelope, I haven’t commented before but I just want you to know that I LOVE your blog. Its one of the few that I check regularly… Thank you for all of the insightful posts!

  38. unplannedlifeblog
    unplannedlifeblog says:

    I’m trying not to hide anymore. I’ve been unemployed for 6 months, but I recently did a job interview where, unlike every single other interview I have ever done, I presented my true face. I didn’t straighten my extremely curly hair, I wore my glasses instead of my contacts, and I didn’t even spend too much time doing background preparation. I tried to let myself be the truest, most honest version of myself and something amazing happened…I relaxed! And I got the job.

  39. Ann Stanley
    Ann Stanley says:

    I’m just sitting here on my couch thinking I’d like to show the people at work the little poetry book I contributed to that’s coming out next week but it’s awkward because inside the book it says Ann Stanley blogs at…
    I’m thinking I don’t want them to see my blog because then they’d know too much about me and they might think I’m weird. But you know, I think I’ll take the risk anyway. Intentional vulnerability is my mission at the moment. I’m sick of keeping bits of myself hidden. It’s disempowering.

  40. kate
    kate says:

    yes – so fantastic that jason took such a leap of honesty. and yet it’s all about timing, don’t you think? what would be happening if he’d done this ten years ago? or even five?

    as i wrote the last part, i kept thinking how it’s so much easier to be fully honest if you have a job, mate, social group that has formed around who you really are, the honesty that you’ve put out there in life.

    but i think the truly tricky part is that as we grow up (if we’re lucky and persistent enough to allow ourselves to truly mature), we begin to see things, understand things, about ourselves, the world, and that this very positive process of growing up often puts us at odds with the people, the culture around us.

    jason could have come out ten years ago. he could have been totally honest and just come out – to his job/teammates, his family, the world. but he would have been kicked off the team, lost his livelihood, lost the chance to do what he loved – play basketball.
    and some part of him had to know that – that he wouldn’t get to play basketball. and so he waited until he felt the timing was right.

    so it’s easy to say something like: Be Honest At Work. but life takes more skill, more intuition, more true acceptance than that. it’s imperative that we’re honest with ourselves, that’s the real message here. because understanding that the world hasn’t grown up enough to accept who you really are, and living with that, having a rich, full vibrant life in spite of this? that’s takes true courage.

  41. Brant Lee
    Brant Lee says:

    He is a well below average basketball player, as commented many times already, “coming out” right now seems pretty suspect…now an NBA team is going to be “forced” to hire an employee based on something other than what the job entails…unless it is completely obvious, only a few people outside your trusted group,friends, and family need to know the details of your personal life. Employers paid you to do a job and do it well and grow…thats it. The more they know gets fogs up the situation and could view you in a negative light….but this is my opinion and it may be a minority one.

  42. Clara C. (@Curcolio)
    Clara C. (@Curcolio) says:

    I tried to find how to link this article to why I post here. And the whole point of it is to be honest about who we are.

    This will not help my career as I’m not from the US. I am not a private person nor shy, actually I’m quite open, but I’m not seeking for attention either (you’ll just have to see my number of followers/following on twitter).

    It is just that I love this blog so much, I think everyone who reads it must be as smart as it is possible to be, because if you’re here, you long for honesty, be a better you, be interesting and read about interesting person.

    And I want to meet you. Really, you, who are reading just now. You -have- to be special if you’re here.

    Please, come say hi, on twitter : http://twitter.com/Curcolio, or here, I’ll answer everyone, (and follow you even if not followed back, I don’t really care about being a star, I just want to know you. )

    And, if you, who are reading, are Penelope, just read one more time how awesome you are, and how I’d love to speak with you someday. About as much as I would want to give a speech on a TED conference, because this would mean I would have made something so extraordinary in my life the most cultivated persons on Earth would want to hear about it.

    So, here, Penelope, and You, you’re amazing. And I love you !

      • Clara C. (@Curcolio)
        Clara C. (@Curcolio) says:

        Hope you don’t choke on it, though.

        Maybe the enthusiasm is overwhelming, but I totally stand by it. :)

  43. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Being authentic is scary. I only open up when I find a friend or mentor whom I really trust. Maybe that’s why I liked my last college and my previous work, but not law school. I have never told anyone at law school why I am studying law. It’s because my parents separated after 28 years of marriage, and I want to help. If I was being authentic, I would have waived my slot or quit law school. But because I’m INFP, I’m still justifying to myself that all my suffering in law school would help me make my world a better place. PS. I’m asexual.

  44. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I recently revealed at work that I have Type 2 Diabetes – a diagnosis that I spent a lot of time feeling irrationally ashamed and embarrassed by. I was so relieved and pleased by how supportive my coworkers were – taking interest in my prognosis and encouraging me to join them for walks/visits to on-site gym during lunch, etc.

    My boss unfortunately was a different story. For instance our 1-1 meetings consistently started running over into lunch. So one day I politely tried to excuse myself, stating that I needed to hit the gym…that it was important to manage my condition and stay healthy. She in turn curtly noted “you’ll be more unhealthy if you join the unemployment line”.

    In this instance, sharing with my boss seems to have created a rift that didn’t exist before. It’s frightened her into thinking that taking control of my health will interfere with her ability to keep me focused on our substantial workload…

  45. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    That was a great post, it really got me thinking.

    I’m bipolar, on the spectrum and attend a weekly 12 step meeting.

    I’ve been working at my current job for 3 years.

    No one knows, and I like it that way.
    I’m happy keeping those things a secret- people don’t understand and are too judgemental.

    What do you think, should I reveal some?

  46. Joe Doaks
    Joe Doaks says:

    The *really* dangerous thing is to come out saying you find homosexuality to be unacceptable. It’s funny how “tolerance” has morphed into “we MUST NOT tolerate anyone who does not agree with us”. Just look at what’s happened to poor Orson Scott Card, simply for the act of speaking his mind. I live in Austin and work in “green energy”, where even hinting that I think homosexuality is wrong would cost me my job in a heartbeat, and get me blacklisted from ever getting another job in the industry. I am forced to “celebrate” and “support” gays coming out of the closet, but it’s quite clear that I must put myself in the closet. Keep in mind, I do not discriminate against or hate homosexuals (I feel sorry for them, they are sick), but I dare not even hint at my true feelings for fear of serious and permanent repercussions from the bigots who would call me a bigot simply for holding a different opinion. In today’s world, gays can come out, but all who don’t agree with them must be put into the closet. This is not a good thing for America or our society…

    • Ann Stanley
      Ann Stanley says:

      Hi Joe,
      How is your suffering about not being able to express an unpopular opinion comparable to not being able to say what your sexual preference is in a world that is potentially violent towards you? I think you should dig deep to find some empathy in yourself. You’ll need to use your imagination.

      • Joe Doaks
        Joe Doaks says:

        So my “lack of empathy” for someone’s confusion about which end of a penis they belong on is now justification for sure and certain *actual harm* to me, my career and my family?

  47. Who cares?
    Who cares? says:

    Just do your job well & you’ll have friends at work. Keep blathering on & on about childhood abuse, your sexual practices or your new diet & your co-workers will be resentful of your wasting work time with these unnecessary topics.

    I had a bad side effect from a new medication at work (got extremely dizzy & had to go home), but I didn’t reveal what condition the medication was prescribed for. No need to reveal personal medical (or mental health) conditions unless you need legally-allowed accommodations. It is just not appropriate to spill your guts at work, as you are suggesting.

    Besides being boring, it makes you less effective at work when you keep talking about personal matters. Get a grip & try making some friends outside of work, too. You won’t be irritating your co-workers like the loud gum chewers.

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