How different is the Weekday You from Weekend You? If you’ve crafted a unique persona for the office to deal with the demands of work or to better fit in with your company’s culture, you’re not alone.
I once worked with a young woman who confided in me about having created two very distinct identities – a professional and polite weekday persona, and a political and social activist weekend persona – which she went to great extents not to mix.
I asked her why she kept her lives so separate, and was struck by the conviction she expressed in explaining why cultivating and maintaining a weekday character – one that was extremely subdued, smiling and compliant – was essential to her survival in Corporate America. I understand why she felt the need to make microscopic adjustments to how she ‘showed up’ at work in order to survive her different professional experiences, but couldn’t relate to some of the more extreme measures she had chosen to take to conceal her true personality.
So I talked to more people who felt similarly to better understand why they felt that they had no choice but to hide from office-view, the versions of themselves that only family and friends had the joy of experiencing – their Weekend selves. The reasons given were extremely nuanced and complicated, so I’ve tried to extract from their stories the most common themes:
- There are right and wrong ways to present yourself – or at least this is how you feel when you are given subtle messages every day that suggest this to be true, depending on the culture of the company or team that you’ve found yourself in. Everything from the way the majority dresses to the topics of conversation at the lunch table, cue what is acceptable and unacceptable in implicit ways.
- It pays to change because non-conformity can affect your pocket. Sometimes the retaliation you fear will come to you when you share anything personal about yourself, is financial in nature. It may manifest as the absence of, or reduction in, some monetary incentive that you were expecting, and your gut tells you that this did not result from poor performance (although you don’t have any tangible proof). Unfortunately, for many of us, this is too much of a risk to take.
- Fear of being judged. This is one of the more prevalent underlying reasons for not revealing our Weekend personas to our co-workers. Oftentimes, ‘being yourself’ or being ‘authentic’ sound more like cute catchphrases – nice to utter, but few understand what the terms really mean or how to approach it… and even fewer actually put authenticity into daily practice. So we end up being starved for real-life examples of people (above and around us) who bring their whole selves to work while still being successful. And so we’re left with a lingering question – if no one else is shedding their superhero mask at the office, then why should I?
- You were taught that concealing your true self is a prerequisite for success. And this is the toughest one because as adults, the hardest beliefs and attitudes to undo, are the ones that were handed down to us by our elders when we were children.
But being yourself at work doesn’t have to be a binary concept.
Although going all the way to having split personalities doesn’t seem like the right way to go because of all the emotional energy that one has to use to maintain two distinct personas (think about how stressful it is to keep a secret about yourself from someone you see every day), I recognize that if you haven’t been practicing being fully yourself at work for a long time, then making an abrupt change can seem like an enormous task. So why not start slowly and take some baby steps?
- Reveal something about yourself to a co-worker you trust. …nothing too personal if you’re not comfortable or a solid and trust-worthy working relationship has not yet been established. It could be as simple as sharing a little insight into what you like to do when you’re not working. Start there and see where it goes.
- Try dressing a wee bit more like your weekend self at work. …nothing drastic if you’re not into this or are already feeling very much like yourself in your work attire. But if you feel like you have to put on a straight jacket every day of the week, and that translates into an outside-in transformation that you’d like to revert, then (within reason) try literally loosening up a bit if you can. Lose the tie! Add some color! Wear those comfy flats! (Ladies, check out Corporette for some fashion ideas that straddle the worlds of uber corporate and weekend chic.)
- Find an office inspiration. Be on the lookout for someone at work who looks like they’ve already got things figured out. Well not ALL things, but at least this tricky idea of bringing your whole self to work … and invite them out to tea/coffee to ask them how they managed to pull it off.
If you have more tips to share based on your own experience, I would love for you to share them here. [Please comment below.]
Also, I’m so FAR from being an expert on the topic and am only seeking to help by sharing my own thoughts and experiences. So please check out Brené Brown‘s inspiring TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability to learn more about why it’s better to bring your true ‘Weekend Self’ to work every day from an expert who has studied the topic and spoken prolifically about it over the years.
I love this post! I see so many psychometric assessments that showcase how many people adjust/change their natural self to fit in the organization. Introducing this concept would go a long way in promoting and strengthening diversity and inclusion!!!!
Thanks for the comment, Terri! Would love to see any research that you have access to and can share on the topic. I’m especially interested in understanding how the data and insights vary across cultures as I imagine the the issue is exacerbated in more hierarchical and conservative cultures. Keep the comments coming! 🙂
Luv it! I’ve always been fascinated by what seems to be people’s ‘secret selves’ outside of work…like they have so much more to offer outside of the four walls of the office environment…you know me, I wear my heart on my sleeve and find it hard conforming to the rules of the corporate environment…PREACH!
I love this post as I have had numerous mentees ask me this over the years.
I can’t say I personally relate however as I’m actually one of those people whose never had to do this. I never felt the need to separate my identity between situations and it’s worked for me.
Having said that I think it has to do with being your “authentic self” from the onset and being true to that? If one can accomplish this I don’t feel you need to create a separation.
I have been fortunate however in that I “grew up” in a Corporate environment that was more easy going and allowed me to be my authentic self. Even when I worked for a Bank I would wear jeans and sneakers to work. It was never questioned as unprofessional as my attire didn’t affect my brain capacity or output. BUT once again my country corporate culture was more easy going versus when I worked in the States for instance:-)
If for whatever reason one feels the need to hide your true personality then maybe you need to question the culture you are in ? Your career can’t be smoke and mirrors right:-)
Love this, Jess. I especially love the last statement “If for whatever reason one feels the need to hide your true personality then maybe you need to question the culture you are in ? Your career can’t be smoke and mirrors right:-) ” because it introduces the challenging question of “fit” – how long should a person “stick it out” and try to make small adjustments to be able to work well with the team? When do you know it’s not YOU, and the time to move on has come? Appreciate the support! 🙂
This is a great post!
I’ve been lucky to always work in companies where I can dress as I like, having worked in theatre for a decade and now in the tech startup world.
I think the corporate world and fashion are becoming more friendly in that it’s not just lame pants suits anymore and great prints are also a way to express yourself. Lots of high street brands are doing great office friendly fashion, a shirt dress is my go to if I need to get more business like.
When it comes to people – I separate work and personal, I don’t mix partners or friends. Work friends may become friend-friends but my work friends won’t meet my partner. That is my business.
As for my personality, it’s a very specific one so I’ve definitely had to simmer that a little and it was a difficult transition from the flamboyant be whoever you are environment of theatre to tech startup. I have found that when you do share tiny snippets it goes a long way and well it’s still a struggle being a black woman with opinions, but we’re workinf on that globally.
To have to maintain 2 personas and deal with all the other things life throws at you is real hard work – so I think any one who has to do that should really look at the company culture and if it’s right for them.
Keep on the great sharing!
Love this, Z. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful to hear your unique voice on the topic since you can relate to the experience of having to transition from one very specific type of work environment to another. Would love for you to write a post about that as a guest writer on the blog! I just added an “Other Dancers” section just for that purpose. May be the inspiration you need to get the writing thing going again?