I was looking forward to my coaching session this morning to explore how I can be more myself in the workplace. I’m aware that so often I pitch myself as ‘happy Amy’, ‘helpful Amy’, ‘glass-half-full Amy’ when that’s not what is truly going on for me. And while I don’t want to leave myself unfiltered at work to berate the lack of sleep I have, how I feel frustrated by X, Y & Z or be unconsciously careless about what I do share, I’m questioning the lack of realness in the workplace and am feeling uncomfortable with how little I show up authentically in order to feel safe.
This thinking started since I’ve been running a training session for managers in the workplace. It’s the one thing at work that I’ve actively disliked doing, because I feel like I’m constantly questioning myself about whether I’m enough, what people think, how I can get people to like what we’re teaching. Being like this, whilst pretending that everything is ok, keeps me safe, but it’s arduous and I’m not myself as I teach it. I’m an overstretched, overwhelmed, overcompensating version of myself and as a result, for the two weeks that this course runs every month I am exhausted to my bones. It’s been a struggle because I’ve not let myself be truly myself.
It’s not just me going through this too. I think people don’t feel able to show up fully in the workplace. For example, I was really saddened by a colleague of mine saying she wouldn’t sing in the work choir because the group is going to do a Christmas carolling session at each of our work hubs and it wouldn’t be professional to do this around colleague who she might be taking through a disciplinary or performance management process as an HR professional. I understand the tension but surely she’s allowed to be herself whilst also having a serious role to play at work?
I found myself sense-checking a blog post I wrote for work in which I shared that I’ve struggled with eating disorders and suffer to this day with anxiety. It felt uncomfortable to share this on a public blog read by a number of my work colleagues because I associate any mental ill health in myself (and others , if I’m honest) as weakness. This perception of weakness makes it hard to feel comfortable being real at work and, in the same way, it also feels weak to be vulnerable at work; to show anything of myself which isn’t 100% positive or professional.
So what have I done in the past? I’ve shied away from being vulnerable and in doing so have sacrificed showing up as my true self. And while I didn’t talk with my coach about how I’m going to make changes to be more vulnerable at work, one thing came out for sure – I’m no longer comfortable living behind a mask.
It no longer feels right.
Staying safe at the cost of my authenticity and vulnerability feels too restrictive, almost like I’m in clothes that are too tight for me. I want to take them off…but I also know that I can’t strip myself of these clothes in one go. Change this deep doesn’t work like that.
Instead I’ll need to summon the courage (along with a bucketload of patience for myself) to take off these ‘clothes’ bit-by-bit, experience-by-experience. I’ll need to remove being seen as bulletproof, always right, constantly competent, unable to be bruised and step into conversations that talk more about people than processes, more about hearts than heads, more about feelings than facts. I’ll need to be enquiring; to question assumptions about how we’re unable to be our full selves at work.
I’ll also need to hold this desired way of being with humour and grace. Knowing that I’ll fall down more times that I’d like to admit. Knowing that there’s no fixed end point to this way of being – there’s just more experiences of sharing fully of myself.
I feel excited about the potential of bringing my full self, being vulnerable and authentic, to the workplace. And while I feel like I end more posts than I’d like with the words ‘I can’t wait to see where this takes me’ they are true. I can’t wait to see where things go from here!