Whilst paying for some shopping in H&M on Friday, I told the guy on the till that I thought he had some incredible tattoos. They were a bit old school in topic (ships, birds, mermaids) but really beautifully done and as he could see I was staring at them it would have been rude of me not to explain why.
What with those and the ear stretcher and facial piercings he was giving a very visible statement about who he is and in a way that would be difficult to conceal unless he took to wearing boiler suits and balaclavas.
This led to a conversation on Friday night with friends about how much we are our 'true' selves at work, which leads me to this blog...
When I worked for a corporate business I concealed parts of my character in the belief that it would help me to be more successful. I thought that you needed to act in a certain way and took to emulating the traits of people I perceived to be successful in the hope it would help to further my career. This meant toning down my sense of the absurd and hiding the emotional side of my personality - basically I stopped having, and being, fun.
Not surprisingly it didn't take long to get found out and there were a couple of instances where I learned that forcing yourself to fit an ideal that is very different to who you are is never going to work. During an office move I tripped over a packing crate and hurt my leg so badly that it made me cry (justified - there was blood and everything). Whilst apologising for crying to a colleague she said: "Don't be silly, it just shows that you're human". Had I not appeared human up until then?!
The second incident was as a manager when I asked a member of the team why she was so emotional about a change in the business. Her response was: "What would you know? You're like a robot!" I was shocked by her opinion but in hindsight she wasn't far off the mark. What I hid at work though would come out at home where I would end up in hysterics for the smallest thing like dropping a plate or stubbing my toe. I realised this was not a healthy place to be.
At that point I made some changes and became an account manager where I worked with external businesses rather than focusing on internal tasks. There is nothing like spending time with people who have run their own company for 25 years and know more than a thing or two about life to help you get over yourself and realise that life in the real world is very different to that in the ivory tower.
Their input (and saying things like - Toni, you're still a bit of a robot) set me on a path to being more honest with myself and others about who I am. The most interesting thing I discovered was the more I am myself, the more I enjoy myself, and the more successful I am at work and at home too. The children couldn't give a monkeys about my knowledge of scorecarding, running a 'Quarterly Business Review' and 'IT Transformation' but they do love my passion for music, art and language, and my ability to impersonate the Cookie Monster and Yoda (but not at the same time).
Of course this does not mean that I am no longer professional or courteous at work, and I don't turn up with a thong sticking up out of the back of my trousers but now that I work for myself I am committed to embrace even more of what makes me who I am, and I will kick my own arse if I don't stick to it!