For a long time, people were encouraged to adopt a workplace persona. If you wanted to be seen as “professional,” we were told, you needed to button up, watch what you say, keep your private life private and never admit error. Most of all, don’t be a weirdo.
The result was that a lot of us ended up feeling like outsiders looking in. Behaviors or interests considered beyond the norm had to be concealed. Failure was to be feared. Feelings were ignored, even denied.
But here’s good news for anyone who’s ever felt like a very square peg in a very round workplace hole. Your special mix of quirks, knacks, foibles and whims can be exactly what an employer needs. In fact, today many businesses are actively looking for what they call “disruptors,” original and often eccentric types who aren’t afraid to think outside the box. They’ve learned that’s where innovation comes from.
So what does it mean to embrace your inner weirdo? Basically, it’s being true to your essential self. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability, because we all feel vulnerable sometimes. Keep self-censoring to a minimum. Ask for help when you need it. You’ll save all that energy you were spending on acting as if you were more knowledgeable and experienced than you really are and be able to use it for your actual work.
Dare to share ideas that might seem strange or even crazy. Business models like Airbnb and Lyft were considered really out there 10 years ago. Today, these companies are industry leaders.
From time to time, have the courage to reveal a few of those little weirdnesses. Your obsession with fantasy fiction or purple socks is part of what makes you lovable, human and — most of all — memorable.
Once you’ve found the confidence to be authentic in an emotionally intelligent way, others will do the same. The result is a more honest, productive, relaxed and fun workplace.
A final thought: Keep in mind that adherence to basic standards of good behavior is always a smart idea and is never going to hurt you. Being your authentic self is not license to act like a jerk. Integrity, kindness, loyalty, respectfulness, generosity and compassion are important traits to cultivate.
Don’t worry. Within that framework is still plenty of wiggle room.