Becoming a Different Person at Work: Does It Truly Always Pay to Be Yourself?

I wish the “real world” would just stop hassling me.

In theory, I am an actor for a living.  Given the generation I am a part of, I am overaware that I should never be ashamed of who I really am.  That it’s basically a sin to pretend to be someone I’m not.  And while I’ve done a pretty good job of living my life that way, there is one facet of life where I’ve learned it’s not really smart to be yourself- instead, you’re rewarded by being a different person- I’m referring to the work place.

I’ve explained my theory before that we all have a handful of different personalities that we share with different people in our lives.  But recently I realized that the personality I use at work is drastically different than any other of my personalities.  Here are just a few observances about me at work and how that’s not the real me:

-More aggressive and confrontational with people I don’t personally know

-Cautious to speak my mind or let my emotions show

-Don’t stand up for myself, even against co-workers

-Do my best to hide my true personality

-Constantly act as if I know all the answers

-Pretend I don’t have a life outside work

-Wear glasses, since I’m in front of a computer all day

-Tuck shirt into pants

"Work Chandler" is a prime example.

 

It’s sad for me to play this part of someone I’m not- but here’s the thing: By playing my “work role”, I am able to make a living.  Literally, it pays to be someone I’m not.  What is the real world?  To me, it’s my life outside of work.  But to many, it represents work, along with a lifestyle of chasing things that don’t actually matter- and that’s when I throw the phrase into sarcastic quotation marks like this: the “real world”.

When I go to work everyday, I enter an imaginary Avatar world where I care about policies, technicalities, the constant appearance of busyness, and being a guy who is not willing to rock the boat.  For me, that’s not the real world at all (though typically work and responsibility equals the “real world”) – but it pays the bills for the actual real world (my personal life), so I don’t complain.  Even now, I am simply making an observation that I’m sure many of us subconsciously know, but keep tucked away in the back of our minds, as to not seem ungrateful for our jobs.  I am extremely grateful for my employment, but the bottom line is, the version of me that people from work know is not me at all- and I’ve worked with them for years now.


Every place of employment has their own culture; their own unspoken rules.  Your first couple of weeks, you keep your head down and observe the code.  What matters there?  What doesn’t matter there?  Then once you get a good feel for it, you become the necessary person for that version of reality.  This is normal procedure.  The norm is not to be yourself- because if you did, you wouldn’t fit into the culture and would endanger yourself of… being voted off the island.

I work from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, with two 15 minute breaks and an hour lunch.  That’s 42.5 hours a week, which translates to ¼ of my life, and that’s including sleep.  By the time I factor in travel time (an hour a day), and time to cook dinner and then clean up, I only see my wife for a couple of hours before it’s time to time for bed.  And the weekends are obviously full of errands and chores we didn’t have time for during the weekdays.  Put into perspective, the time allotted for the actual real world (life outside of work) translates to crumbs from a huge meal.  I spend more waking hours with coworkers (who know a false version of me) than I do my own wife (who knows the real me).

The term “the real world” typically represents the hustle-and-bustle part of life.  But the irony is that for most of us (I hope), we recognize the real world and as the reality where we can truly be ourselves.  Because unless I worked at home as a full time writer, I will continue spending one quarter of my life acting as an aggressive, nerdy, robotic, no complaints yes-man.

Granted, the work place isn’t the only situation where it doesn’t pay to be yourself.  Anytime you have to “be on your best behavior”, you’re not really being yourself.  Like a first date.  You may be taking certain hidden traits of and qualities of yours and amplifying them for the right occasion, but still, in general, it’s a major stretch from your normal self.  It pays to be yourself most of the time, but to ignore the inevitable exceptions is a set up for failure.

“I find sometimes it’s easy to be myself. Sometimes I find it’s better to be somebody else.” -Dave Matthews Band (“So Much to Say”)


The First Steps on the Earth

I like to be where no man has gone before.



Ten years ago during the summer of 2000, I travelled to California for the first time in my life.  The plane landed in Sacramento (which ended up being the hometown of my wife, whom I would meet six years later), then I took a 3 hour bus ride north to Redding.  It was the token instance in my life where the airline sent my luggage to the wrong city.

Meaning that I, along with the group of ten or so others I was with, had to wait until the next day until our clothes and toiletries arrived.  Since that flight, I have always made a point not to bring on any luggage onto a plane other than my carry-on.  (I even spent an entire week in New Zealand in 2007 with just one bookbag of my belongings, which I was able to stuff into the overhead compartment for the flights.)

That summer, age 19, I was part of college singing group that got to spend two weeks out in the mountains of northern California as we performed songs at a summer camp and were the actual camp counselors as well.  Best I can remember, we thought we were pretty cool at the time.

Christi Soderberg, one of my friends from the group, always called me Peter Brady, because in an attempt to mock the college’s dress code, I “permed” my long shaggy hair, so that it would appear that my hair was short enough to be deemed acceptable (above the eyebrows, off the ears and collar).  And even after my hair eventually grew back straight, I was still Peter Brady.

During the weekend between the two weeks of work we were rewarded with a hiking trip to the top of Mount Lassen, which is an active volcano that’s peak is 2,000 ft high.  Because the volcano is so steep, the only safe way to climb it is to hike around and up it, which takes a good two hours minimum.  We started at the bottom in the hot summer sun, but by the time we reached the top, we were marching in snow.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Lassen

Mount Lassen

It was definitely my kinda thing.  Spending a Saturday morning hiking a volcano, shimmying up and over to the most dangerous and scenic spot once I reached the top, finding some weird satellite-type device in the process and wondering how few people in the world have been at that exact spot. That’s something I often think about.

How many people have stepped on the exact spots of the Earth I am standing on right now?  How often (seldom is the better word) do I step on “unstepped” spots?  I try to visualize all the ground around me covered in blue footprints, seeing random spots that have never been stepped on.

I realize the Earth is really old and that billions of people have lived here during its lifetime, but surely sometimes I take the first step on certain corners of the world.

The Winter Olympics is coming to an end.  These athletes (and ice skaters, whom I watch mainly to see fall after they do a Triple Axel jump and also to make fun of their sequin-infused outfits) live for the opportunity to break the current record.  I’ll never know the high that Shaun White gets to experience as he flies through the air on his snowboard.  My only experience snowboarding was in Maggie Valley, NC back in 2001 and involved me constantly falling over every 4.3 seconds.

I’m not an athlete who finds freedom and thrills in breaking records of Olympic history.  Instead, I am an explorer who finds freedom and thrills in discovering new niches of the world.  I may not be able to discover something new, but I can discover something rare.  It’s nothing impressive, really, to the rest of most of the world.  But for me, I thrive on those places and those moments.  Then I can take snapshots of the scenic route.

Related Posts by the Same Author:

The Scenic Route http://wp.me/pxqBU-pL

Parks and Rec http://wp.me/pxqBU-jw

WOLBI Florida Ensemble 1999-2000

My friend Christi Mack and I at the top of Mount Lassen in 2000 and 2001