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”)


Leaving a Voicemail Vs. Text Messaging

It’s never been easier to communicate with people on the phone,  but it’s still as complicated as it’s always been when the person doesn’t pick up the phone.  Though it really doesn’t have to be…

Something I’m pretty horrible at is listening to and erasing voicemails.  At work, about once every week I get a message from Nick Burns, my company’s computer guy, saying I need to erase my messages- the average of my unlistened to and unerased messages is typically around 88.  And currently on my personal cell phone there are about four voicemails waiting to be listened to and erased.  I just don’t know when I’ll get around to it.  It’s homework.

Maybe I can blame it on my generation; I’m stuck in the middle of two of them.  I was born in April of 1981, the final year for Generation X (1961-1981).  Generation Y began nine months later (1982-1995).  I’m sure I inherited a shared amount of traits from both generations, but the tendency to put off what is irrelevant is linked to both generations.

This is how my mind processes communication regarding a cell phone: “If it’s important, they’ll text me.”  Which is different than what is typical with Baby Boomers (1946-1964) who think, “If it’s important, they will call and leave a voicemail if I’m not available”.

The easiest way to communicate with me is via text message.  I respond within 60 seconds because my phone is always right next to me.  As for a voicemail, I may not ever respond.  I strongly don’t believe in having a landline phone because it encourages people to leave voicemails and if a person really needed to talk to me they would reach me through my cell phone.  By texting.

Of course, there are times for actual conversations.  But when I see a missed call, I’m going to return the call anway.

Just as a reminder to those who haven’t yet realized why voicemails are so awful:

1)     To check them, you have to call your voicemail box.

2)     You have to punch in your password.

3)     You have to listen to the voicemail which is essentially someone telling you to call them back.

When I call someone and they don’t pick up, I just hang up.  Because obviously they will see on their phone that I tried to call.  Then I’ll instantly text them in abbreviated form what I needed to talk to them about.

There are so many minutes of our time that we’ll never get back, having been wasted on listening to not only the person I am calling explain to me on a recorded message that they’re unavailable right now but to leave a message and they’ll call me back, but then have to listen to the Verizon lady go through all the options, including  hearing her talk about leaving a “callback number”.

For the times we must endure having to leave someone a voicemail, there should be a new official sound we hear that would soon become as universally recognizable as Mario dying when he falls in a hole in Super Mario Bros.  Just a two-second blip that we all know means “leave a message beginning right now”.

That’s the world that I want to live in.

For a related post by the same author, read TMTT (Too Much Trouble to Talk).