Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday Feature: Being Yourself

Although it was two decades ago, I still vividly remember going shopping for work clothes before starting a new job in a new district. Even though the move was a lateral one, I suddenly felt as though the clothes I'd been wearing needed an upgrade. I wanted to make a good impression at my new workplace and I wanted to look more professional as well. The clothing I purchased wasn't out of character for me, nor was it out of my budget, but I was consciously aware of dressing to create an impression.

Fast forward almost two decades and I was all-in any time anyone even mentioned  the phrase "casual day." My colleagues were among my closest friends (many still are) and I was pretty much an open book. Sure, I could haul out the primo professional attire if I felt like it (and some days I did), but I worried much less about how I looked and much more about what I actually did at work.

As women, we're taught from a young age to dress and behave "appropriately." It's a loaded word, and one whose meaning varies widely from culture to culture, whether that culture is ethnic-, religious-, gender- or workplace-specific.

But what happens when cultures collide?

In her article for O, The Oprah Magazine, Sara Gaynes Levy explores precisely this question.

Can you really be yourself at work?

Back in college, I had a boyfriend who told me he'd argued with me more than with any other girl he'd dated, but that with me, he always knew where he stood. Whether that's my personality, my upbringing or the fact that I'm a Jersey Girl (most likely a little of each), that is who I am.

And yet, I struggle, because it raises the question at the heart of Levy's article. Is being a straight-shooter an asset or a liability?

As an author, I read a lot about the business/promotion side of the craft, and articles that boil down to "don't offend your audience" abound. While I'd never intentionally do so, what does that mean when what I stand for is different from what they stand for?

Levy points out in her article that trying to fit in with work culture, especially when work culture and personal culture diverge, can not only be exhausting, but it can also take an emotional toll. It's hard sidestepping one's true self on a regular basis and it causes an ongoing internal struggle that can have psychological side effects.

So, is being oneself everywhere an asset or a liability? I suppose it depends on who you ask. But if you want more insight into this question, whether as a manager or an employee, I'd recommend reading Levy's article.

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