Your authentic self at work

Something I learned later than I should have about bringing your whole self to work.

Photo of a guy doing an ollie at a skate park with a crowd of people in the background.
Photo by Kirk Morales on Unsplash

If you’ve worked for large-ish companies before, you probably heard the phrase “bring your authentic self to work.” It’s usually wrapped into this emoji: 🤗, and can be found in the employee manual right about where the diversity and inclusion policies lie.

Except there’s a massive caveat to that; the second half of the sentence is missing. And that is: “as long as your authentic self aligns with company values and doesn’t cause headaches to your managers.”

There’s a tweet (modernly known as X) that I love:

Remember this - the moral of the story of Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer is; "Deviation from the norm will not be tolerated, unless it can be exploited to serve your masters."

Or there’s this Instagram reel by Julian Cole:

The gist of that is stop bringing your authentic self, because your managers only care about whether you can get stuff done when shit hits the fan. They don’t care or want to know when you get nervous or scared. You will get those feelings, but keep them to yourself.

You should play a role. Have a worksona. It’s like a separate persona, but for work!

See this tweet:

writing a cover letter is just like: here is my worksona she has no mental illnesses and hates breaks! i would like to larp her for 40 hours a week with full pay and benefits

Of course your experience may vary. I have multiple really bad events where I brought my authentic self to work, and then got fired for it. Turns out calling out the CEO for repeatedly saying “I don’t see race” on an internal safe space focus group discussion on how to fix the company’s diveristy and inclusion issues was a bad move. Who knew?

Now if your authentic self IS actually something positive, quirky in a safe for work context that makes you likeable and won’t rub people the wrong way, then sure, bring that! Does your company have a woodworking channel in their Slack? Or one for makers, folks with 3D printers, LEGO, perhaps a dance group, language exchange, arts, cooking, coffee? Those are examples of what I would call permissible quirky authentic self traits that make others feel interested, and feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

If only the human experience were made up of those entirely.