The value of integrating our work and personal lives
Updated: Jan 20, 2019
No matter our life stage or circumstances, we all wear many different hats.
Many people assume that they have to project different personas in their various life roles — that the behaviors and skills that work for them in one setting or context (e.g., parenting, friendships, online, at work) won’t work in or apply to another (e.g., management, leadership, their career).
It can be really challenging to feel like you have to ACT and BE a certain way to fit into a mold or box for all of your different roles. Have you ever felt like you had to shed your “work skin” before heading home to be with family or hide your life challenges in order to be perceived in a certain way within your career?
If your answer is no, you’re quite lucky (and also, share your secrets with us please!).
If your answer is yes, then you’re in good company.
Been there, done that.
And I’ll tell you right now — I’m not going back. It feels fake. It’s emotionally taxing. And whatever persona you think you’re projecting? It won’t last.
I vividly remember one of my siblings once asking me: “why are you talking in your work voice?” My WORK voice? What the hell does that mean?
Though that question put my defenses up, in reality, I knew exactly what it meant — it was the more tightly controlled and dare I say, censored, version of myself. It was the voice that didn’t get too high or too low, didn’t get too emotional or too excited, and didn’t dare get too frustrated, angry, or upset.
It was level and it was professional, and it was the voice I thought would help me reach my goals.
But it wasn’t the FULL me.
I recently took a series of personality and leadership tests (one of many within my career — as a org psychologist and leadership assessor, I very frequently take my own medicine) and one combination of scores stuck with me.
In the temperament section, I scored low on "emotional stability" which does not mean I’m emotionally unstable (not fully so anyway, ha), but rather indicates that I experience a range of emotions — happy, sad, irritated, excited, angry, etc.
And I scored high on “calm” and “even-tempered.”
This immediately piqued my interest — what does it mean?
The person giving me feedback keenly explained that this means I will often appear, externally, to be "cool as a cucumber” whereas internally, I may be experiencing a more intense set of emotions.
I just don’t show it.
This clicked for me, almost immediately.
This was it. The thing I knew about myself but couldn’t quite pinpoint or put into words.
I feel all the feels but I’m often told I’m even-keeled, calm under pressure, and even the dreaded: COLD. <— describing people as cold grinds my gears because it’s highly gendered and rarely, if ever, are men called cold. BUT, let me continue...
Maybe this is natural, maybe this is intentional, maybe this is conditioned — but my key takeaway was that there’s a discrepancy between how I feel and what I project. And to me, that was a problem.
Now, I’m not saying I should take this to the extreme and run around expressing every single emotion that’s running through me, BUT, there was clearly an opportunity for me to be more open and transparent about how I feel. Especially when it matters. If I strongly disagree with what someone is saying, I should have the courage to express that disagreement WHILE maintaining my even-keeled approach. Or, if I'm upset/distracted by something going on in my personal life, I don't have to grin and bear it. I can share it. I can express it. And that doesn't make me less of a professional.
And that's been a key area of focus for me ever since I received that feedback -- I seek to operate with courage even with it's really uncomfortable and against my natural tendency.
This brings me to my reasoning for this post, and what I hope you glean from this:
I think in today’s world, ever-connected and more intertwined than ever, we have the power to bring our full selves to all of our life roles — meaning our full, messy, bold, learning, growing, and imperfect selves.
Sure, you can separate your work and personal lives if you choose, but more often than not, they’re connected. And I’d argue that, more often than not, they can serve each other in a positive way.
If you've ever had a really refreshingly open session with a colleague about something going on in your personal life, you recognize the positive outcomes here. It leaves you feeling lighter, less emotionally drained, and ultimately, more connected to that person who served as a listener/confidante. Win, win.
Let me be crystal clear: without a doubt, I believe that it can be difficult to pull back the veil and allow others to see the real, WHOLE us.
For me, this was particularly evident for a few core reasons — reasons which I started to lay out here and will write about more in a future post. There were parts of my life that I didn’t quite realize were bringing me unnecessary feelings of shame. I wasn’t ashamed of them (there’s a difference), but when they came up in a conversation, I felt defensive. My back got a little straighter, my voice a little cooler, and I would quickly shift gears.
Interestingly, until recently, as I started to truly understand the different pieces of my unique life story — and what brought me to where I am and who I am NOW, I did not even realize this. It was buried. I reacted, I pushed the feeling(s) down, and I moved on.
Ignored feelings don’t stay down for long, and if they do, it does not lead to a healthy outcome.
If you’re jiving with this, I wonder: have you stopped yourself from sharing your full range of feelings and uniqueness or hidden a side of yourself for fear of being judged?
Have you wondered:
What if people don’t like what they see?
What if I overshare and embarrass myself?
What if I piss someone off?
What if I say the wrong thing, step on toes, or offend?
What if others know I’m not perfect and that I have some serious flaws?
What if people, gasp, don’t LIKE me?
These worries and mindsets are detrimental to our growth and they’re VERY common for women.
First, let’s just agree on a few things: we must stop trying to please everyone. It’s okay to piss people off. You won’t be liked by everyone, and hell, you also won’t like everyone either.
It’s okay to say the wrong thing or make a mistake (we all do it — the truly important part is what you do/say afterward).
And it’s ABSOLUTELY OKAY not to be perfect.
Our personal and professional lives can not only be connected, but they can result in positive spillover for one another — creating synergies and helping us get stronger and better in the multiple roles we play.
To wrap things up, let me tell you a story about someone else. She would likely have a different set of scores on the tests I mentioned above, but the outcome and perception was similar.
She is a highly successful leader in the manufacturing industry, who is well-respected and viewed as highly competent — in her career, she had turned around struggling teams and business units, and driven financial success for her company, time and time again.
However, many of her colleagues, and direct reports, found her intimidating and unapproachable.
They were afraid to speak up in meetings or approach her with questions and ideas because she was quick to assert her perspective, could be critical and was a shrewd appraiser of ideas, and at times, could be overly direct or brusque. These characteristics had supported her success in many endeavors, but they negatively impacted her ability to build relationships.
Interestingly, as her coach, he saw a completely different side of this leader. She was a mother to 4 children and grandmother to 2, she volunteered her time at a local not-for-profit supporting kids with disabilities, and she loved murder-mystery novels. They once met for coffee over the holidays and she expressed her excitement over being able to have her family over and spoiling them rotten with gifts.
In other words, he got to see the WHOLE person — the leader, the grandma, the giver — whereas her team and colleagues only saw the person she allowed them to see. She didn’t let her veil down at work for fear of losing some of her edge, and it was starting to hurt her.
It took lots of hard work and tough conversations, but eventually she started to let her guard down — and allowing her colleagues a glimpse into her as a person outside of work helped them see her in a different light.
The ways in which we integrate (or separate) our multiple roles and what we allow others to see from us can have a far-reaching impact.
It’s scary, but it’s worth it.
How will you bring your full self to your roles?