There’s a trend in the HR space that employers should invite their workers to “bring your whole self” to work. Yet, this Sunday’s New York Times had an op-ed titled, Do Not Bring Your “Whole Self” to Work.
And, I just finished listening to a podcast where the host talked about the importance of allowing ourselves to be seen.
So what is it? Be seen? Be authentic? Or, leave our “whole” self at home?
In my view, allowing ourselves to be seen, even when the picture isn’t pretty – especially when the picture isn’t pretty – gives us permission to collectively be less than perfect. It helps remove some of the shame around our perceived failures, because so often we learn that we are not alone. Others have also fallen, and they have survived. This is just part of what we learn when we stop trying to keep others at arm’s length so they won’t judge us, or feel burdened by our concerns.
Something else really important happens when we decide to share our difficulties and struggles, our mistakes and our flaws. In doing so, we allow others to help. Helping is a human need and it strengthens the bonds of community. When we pull back the curtain on something difficult we give someone an opportunity to step up and be useful. It’s not a demand that they do so, not at all. It’s simply an invitation they can choose to accept, or not. It can be a mutual gift.
So what’s this about NOT bringing our “whole” selves to work as Pamela Paul suggests in her op-ed? She is longing for a time when we went to the office, got our work done, and knew nothing about our colleagues beyond their resume. She calls this “professionalism.” It feels more like she just doesn’t want to be bothered.
I would say that, depending upon your situation, work may be the only safe space we have. Work friends may be the only friends we have, or perhaps even our “family” of choice. I’ve written about the antiquated notions of “professionalism” and how the word is too often used to discriminate and avoid responding to legitimate individual needs in the workplace (like family leave, time off for illness, etc.).
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have boundaries, or that we should ignore social cues. Instead, here’s where I come down: We should bring our best selves to work, to our families and our friends. When we can’t do that, we should be given some space to be a lesser version of ourselves in an environment that supports us and helps us do better and be better.