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”)


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Just Be

 To be?  That is the question.

Like a baby discovering his hand in front of his face for the first time, sometimes I get these profound revelations that were there all along, but I never really grasped them before.  Yesterday, it hit me: “Be”.  The verb “be”.  While it can be used in so many different ways and instances, it’s a pretty deep word to think of it in its most simple human terms when relating to one’s self.

To be is to exist. 

Take away any adjective or noun that could follow “be”.  To not “be” anything.  Just to be.  What does it mean to just simple be?  To simply exist. 

Is it all the day to day tasks we do each day?  Driving, working, eating, resting?

Is it simply being alive?  Having a heartbeat?  Breathing?

It’s too deep for me.  I don’t know how to “be”.  How exactly do you “be”?

At least, I don’t know how to “be” myself- though I know how to be myself, by not being someone else.  But I can’t “be” alone.  I can sleep in a house by myself but that’s being alone, not “being” alone.  Where this is going is this: “Being” makes a lot more sense when someone else is “being” too. 

It helps to observe the lyrics of a legendary rock song like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2:  “I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields…  I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, these city walls… only to be with you”. 

This is sort of song that stops people in their tracks when they hear it.  So full of passion.  A song everyone can relate to, even if they can’t relate to the major spiritual undertones.  If a person simply just hears this song they will most likely walk away subconsciously agreeing that they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.  And, that they would go through extreme measures, only to “be” with another person.

Whatever “being” is, it’s something that is accomplished with other human being who is also “being.  And that’s what “being together” is.  “Being”.  Together.

I am constantly trying to corner down in my mind what it is to “be”, so that I can “be” with everyone important to me in my life.  There’s that annoying balance of figuring out what are truly life’s distractions (worrying about money, getting stressed over uncontrollable things like future plans, etc.) and still doing the things it takes to be a responsible person (working, providing, supporting, listening, teaching, etc.). 

Sometimes deliberately focusing on something so simple can be the hardest thing to do.

“Now an ambulance screams, while the silliest things are flopping around in my brain.  And I try not to dream up impossible schemes that swim around, wanna drown me insane.  And don’t know how to slow it down.  Oh, my mind’s racing from chasing pirates.”

-“Chasing Pirates” by Norah Jones