You’ve no doubt been told to “just be yourself” at work. Perhaps by the very same people who also advise you to “fake it until you make it.”
So which is it? Being able to bring our authentic selves to work, as the jargon goes, sounds very nice. But being too open about our true thoughts and past experiences has its risks too.
A good way to cut through all this is to ask yourself what is the behavior that best serves you. If you have or seek a position of responsibility and trust, the stories you tell about yourself should make you look responsible and trustworthy. If your goal is to become the boss someday, it’s not too soon to start walking, talking and even dressing in ways that make you look like a leader. And so on.
Keep in mind that this is not the same thing as creating a false persona. Being one person in your private life and somebody completely different at work is stressful and tiring, not to mention really difficult to keep up over the long term.
Fortunately, most of us are made up of a wide range of behaviors, experiences and traits. All you need to do is to be thoughtful about which aspects of your personality and background you wish to display on the job.
In case you’re wondering, yes, you can share things that make you look vulnerable. Revealing a hitherto private part of yourself — everything from an illness to an ill-conceived tattoo — oftentimes creates empathy and trust, and can be a powerful relationship-building tool. But first take a moment to envision how your self-disclosure might look to others. It’s never a great idea to step too far outside the cultural norms of an organization or to make co-workers feel uncomfortable. (Of course, if the “real you” is miles outside your company’s norms, you need to seriously ask yourself if this is the right place for you to be.)
Whatever you decide to say or not say, never forget that work isn’t only about striving and achievement. Our jobs also fulfill emotional needs. Work, where we spend so much of our time, can be the source of much satisfaction, joy and community. So, absolutely, be yourself. Just set and maintain some wise boundaries too.