separate personality at work at home hurt career happiness

Living a Double Life: Do You Have a Separate Work Personality and Home Personality?

Two Personalities: One at Work, One at Home


In my last post, I wrote about bad career advice I had received. In that post, I touched upon the concept of covering up your true personality at work, and how this can be detrimental not only to your day-to-day life and happiness, but also to your career goals and ultimate success at work.

My advice at the end of that story was to bake the cupcakes. By this, I meant if there is something about you that makes you “you,” don’t cover it up or hide it away at the office just because you think it will be bad for your career. More likely than not, it will only help you in your career and life.

Today, I’m going to expand on this concept a little bit and talk about having two personalities – a “work” personality and a “home” personality, and how this is not a good thing. Many people entering the work force think they need to “be professional” (which of course you do!) but they interpret this as being boring, as showing no personality and even as stifling any and all creativity you have. Especially if you are in an industry like law or finance, you might think that being professional means you have to be boring, but that’s just not true.

What Does “Being Professional” Really Mean?


Being professional means showing up on time, being respectful to your co-workers and clients, not missing deadlines and producing excellent work product.

No matter where you work, being professional does not mean that you have to wear only navy and black and pretend that you don’t have any interests outside the walls of your office. Because many people interpret “being professional” to mean this, they stifle themselves at work. In doing so, they essentially create a second personality for when they are in the office and never show their true selves at work.

The Downside of Having Two Personalities


Keeping a distinction between your work life and your personal life, to an extent, can be a good thing. There are of course some things that you probably want to keep private and out of the office. Your boss can know that you spent the weekend at your brother’s bachelor party in Atlantic City, but he doesn’t need to know the details. Just let him know you had a great time, had some beers, saw a fun “show” and leave it at that.

If my argument is to keep some things separate (like your bachelor party details), doesn’t that mean I am arguing that you really should have two personalities? Absolutely not. Having the discretion to keep some details of your life private is one thing. Walling off and keeping everything private is another.

Take my Atlantic City bachelor party for example. If you leave the office on Friday at 6pm en route to Atlantic City, but never tell anyone where you are going, this could hurt you in a couple of ways.

First, your boss might have had his bachelor party there too, or your coworker on your project could have been there recently. Telling them where you are going gives your boss the opportunity to bond with you over the shared experience and your coworker the ability to give you the heads-up on all the places you should check out and what you absolutely should avoid (if you’ve been to AC, you know what I mean by this). By sharing your plans and a piece of your life, you’ve bonded with your coworkers who you might not have had much to talk about with before.

Second, by sharing your plans, your colleagues will know that you are doing something important that weekend. While work will always come first at a job like Biglaw, once you have built a relationship with your colleagues, you will naturally begin to cover for each other. But this can only happen when they know you are doing something important to you. Otherwise, people will assume you’re sitting at home watching Netflix all day, not that you have to run back to your hotel room during a dinner just to send a document that someone else could easily have sent, knowing that you’ll cover for them when the time comes.

How Can You Start to Show Your One True Personality at Work?


Below are my top tips and suggestions on letting the true you shine through at work. By following this advice, it’ll be guaranteed that your one true personality shows up 24/7, not just in the evenings or on the weekends.

1. Make Your Office Your Own


Do you love bright colors or a clean, minimalist look? Either way, if you have your own office or cubicle, make it a place that feels distinctly “you.” For me, this meant having lots of colorful things in my office – from a gold desk lamp to bright watercolor paintings to colorful flowers and plants.

During the first few years of my career at the law firm, I kept my office very plain. It was no different from any other stop along the endless corridor of offices. But over time, I let my true colors come through and began decorating it in a way that made me feel happy to be there. Not only did it make me happy to be there, I think it made me better able to focus, too, because I was surrounded by things that made me comfortable and put me at ease. If I was on an anxiety inducing call, at least I was on the call from a comforting place.

For you, making your office your own could mean hanging photos of your family and friends, or putting up pictures of scenery from beautiful places you’ve vacationed to or where you are dreaming of going. Maybe it means hanging artwork that your kids drew, artwork from a favorite museum or even something you painted yourself.

Everything you bring to your office is an opportunity to show people who you are. And it is an opportunity for you to (a) not lose touch with what is important to you (if you never see those kids you have photos of or you can’t seem to squeeze in the time for that dream vacation, maybe it’s time to reconsider the job), (b) remember why you are working so hard (probably those kids again), (c) give your coworkers an easy way to get to know more about you and (d) make you more comfortable in your office and therefore better able to do your job.

2. Dress How You Want (Within the Guidelines)


Just like you are showing your personality with your office decoration, you can show it with your clothes, too. Obviously you need to keep within the guidelines that HR sets forth for what is appropriate at your office, but those guidelines are almost never going to mean you need to wear only navy and black (unless that’s your thing).

Are you a huge college sports fan? Show your school pride in your ties or your socks. Do you love color? Wear that really colorful dress. It might feel weird at first to “stand out” in a sea of navy, black and grey, but as long as it isn’t affecting your performance or distracting others, feel free to wear it.

The main advantage of this is what it does for you and your confidence. Your “power suit” might not look like a traditional power suit, but it can still bring you the same confidence and motivation that a more conventional look is proven to bring.

3. Share Personal Details


This is the most important piece of advice of all. If you are following my tip #1, sharing some details will come naturally – whether you put up photos of your family, places you’ve vacationed to or memorabilia from your favorite baseball team, these items will all be jumping off points for conversations with your coworkers. But you will still need to make an effort to bring up some details about yourself, or at the very least make an effort not to hide them away.

Do you leave in the afternoon to pick your kids up at school? Is it your nephew’s birthday on Saturday? Maybe your favorite sports team is playing that evening. Casually mention these things to your coworkers whenever they are happening. This means mention them all of the time. Because one day, something at work is going to come up and if you never mention that you have plans outside of the office, you either are not going to be comfortable enough to mention it in the moment, or you won’t feel authentic mentioning it if you’ve never brought it up before.

The result? You’ll miss out on important things in your life when someone else would happily have covered for you. (Obviously there will be times where you have to miss these things – but by never mentioning your plans, you are guaranteeing you will almost always miss them – not just during work crises).

And it’s not just about getting to go to an event or an appointment. If everyone knows you are a huge NY Jets’ fan, that of course doesn’t mean you get a free pass whenever the Jets are playing. But maybe it means that a co-worker will cover for you once in a while when they know an important playoff game is on, and it will definitely give you something to talk about with your coworkers. Another layer of your true personality will be shown to those you work with every day.

The End Result: Your One True Personality Shines Through, at Work and at Home


If you follow the advice in this post (decorate your office or cubicle with things that are important to you and that reflect your personal interests and family, dress how you want and how you feel most confident and share details of what you do after you leave the office), I guarantee you will be happier at work. It takes way less mental energy to manage just one persona. You’ll feel more complete and you won’t lose yourself in your job. And you’ll be able to identify when you are starting to slip and starting to lose yourself.

What I cannot guarantee is that your increased happiness will be enough to make you stay at your job. But, you will definitely be able to figure out if “you” – the real you, should be there or not. You’ll also discover what projects you really enjoy working on, what people you work best with, and how to structure your day to best fit your personality and life.

Do you have a separate work personality and home personality? Do you agree that this is not actually a good thing, for either your happiness or for your career? Have you figured out any ways (either the same ones I used or new ones) that have helped you merge your lives? Let us know in the comments!

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