To Be Yourself

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This morning a bunch of birds decided to treat me to a concert right before sunrise. Since I’m a light sleeper, there was nothing to do but get up. It was in time to see the line of cars most of them likely containing someone heading off to spend the better part of their day as a small part in some large business machine.

I’ve got something set up on my browser that populates with a series of randomly selected items. I did pick one today that was on emotional agility and the summary was fairly typical stuff. A mix of some good things along with the implied promises of a better work and family life if you just followed the teachings in the book.

Something that is likely never said in management training

It just took me briefly back to my corporate life. Like any big corporation, we went through multiple programs and things designed to get the best out of everyone. One of the last was something about being yourself at work. It was really more about diversity and how people might work better if they didn’t have to wear a mask at work and try to fit in.

As a concept, it isn’t a bad idea. In reality, the corporation didn’t quite mean what they said. I remember going to all hands meetings and the executives that would speak all had similar dress and mannerisms. The outfit of the day towards the end was the suit jacket over a shirt with no tie and jeans. The right mix of formal but casual and relatable. I’m sure it came straight from some executive dress 101 article. And of course, they all spoke basically in a monotone with no real emotion or inflection except for statements about working harder.

Now I either have a good BS detector or I’m overly cynical. Actually, it could be both. I just had a hard time taking them seriously because the last thing they came across as was authentic. You rise in the business world and you probably have to spend more time crafting your image and watching your words carefully so that you come across as mostly bland and safe. Is that really who they are or is it just an act so they don’t get knocked off the corporate ladder.

It is why the dance studio can be an interesting place – especially if you have someone without a lot of filters. There were so many times I would joke about the inappropriate comments that several of the newer instructors actually thought I worked in HR. Don’t get me wrong, there are still masks and filters there but they are just not as strong as you’d find in a big company. It feels more real for that reason.

Over the years, as I better understood who I was, I have a strong need for autonomy and a need to be authentic to my values. This automatically created conflict in a corporation where you needed to follow the policies and procedures. It also made it more difficult to be a manager when you were supposed to “promote the corporate line” even when the decision wasn’t a positive for the employees. It required a lot to walk that line. Not sure I realized how much until I was no longer working.

In the end, I’m just glad I’m no longer one of those who has to join the morning commute to spend my days in meetings or at my desk dealing with email and other issues.

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