Whatever You Do, Don’t Bring In Cupcakes!
I have been fortunate enough never to have received any objectively terrible career advice. Looking back, however, there is one piece of advice I received in law school that influenced a lot of my years in Biglaw that I wish I hadn’t followed. I’m going to share this one small piece of advice here. It is advice that people receive all of the time and never do anything about. I, however, took it to heart and in doing so, I think I left out a large piece of my personality during my time working as a corporate lawyer.
I don’t remember exactly how, but in law school I heard about Lois P. Frankel and her book titled “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers.” Having never had a corporate job, I was intrigued (but I guess not intrigued enough because I didn’t actually read the book then and haven’t read it since).
In hearing about the book, there was one tidbit of advice from it that I caught onto and that I took with me into my Biglaw career. I might be incorrect in restating the advice or in how I interpreted what the author meant by it (since I didn’t read the book), but this is the advice I remembered and was determined to follow: whatever you do, do not bake cupcakes for the office.
To an extent, I understand and agree with this advice. Women are often warned against falling into the trap of always being the one to do the office “housework” – scheduling meetings, cleaning up or organizing the supply closet, remembering people’s birthdays and baking cupcakes for holidays. I definitely believe there is truth to this and if you’re interested in reading more about the issue, check out this Harvard Business Review article called “Why Women Volunteer for Tasks That Don’t Lead to Promotions.”
If you are seen as the office housewife, the argument goes, it makes it difficult to be seen as a leader or as an equal to the men in the office. All of this makes sense to me now and made sense to me then, so I decided when I landed my law firm job that I would never bake cupcakes or cookies for my office.
Hiding Your Personality
The problem was, I really love to bake! And it makes me really happy to bake for stressed-out co-workers or for someone’s birthday. Making a whole batch of cookies for one person to eat in her apartment (I’ve done it and wouldn’t recommend it – even if you tell yourself you’re going to freeze the dough and bake more later, you won’t) is a little much. The perfect solution is to bring them in to work, so you get to bake, don’t eat them all yourself and brighten up the office with some delicious cookies all at the same time.
During my first few years in Biglaw, not only did I not bake, for fear of being seen as the “office housewife,” but I extrapolated on this concept and I held back in other ways too. I thought the corporate world required me to hide my true personality, so as much as one is able to do that (ultimately it all shines through, for better or for worse) I tried my very best to not be “too much.”
I toned down anything I deemed to be too girly about me. I kept my office decorations to a minimum, didn’t use colored pens to take notes with, even though I had used them in law school and they were super helpful in coding what I was working on, and I didn’t bake.
Back to Baking
Eventually, after being at my law firm for a few years, I let my guard down and let my personality creep back into what I was doing. I opened up a little more to my coworkers and realized that you bond better and develop a better team when you aren’t shut down and have walls up. I started to wear things that I wanted to wear more than I had before. (Maybe I took this too far at the end of my career by dressing for the job I wanted and not the job I had.
And guess what? I was doing better in my job and my career than I ever had. And those things that made me “me” also made me happier and more content at work. You might not realize it while you are doing it, but it takes a ton of effort to keep up a wall and hide your personality. When a wall goes up, you are blocking not only what you deem to be the bad things, but the good things too. Only when you allow yourself to break the wall down a bit do you begin to realize your true potential.
Breaking down my walls, realizing my true potential and letting my true personality peak through while I was still in Biglaw also made me wake up to the fact that I shouldn’t be there anymore. Maybe this would have happened a bit earlier if I hadn’t been so stubborn and had so much blockage (of my own doing) in my way, or maybe not. But what I am confident in, is that if I had never let my walls down and started opening up, I wouldn’t have left when I did.
Let Your True Colors Shine Through
My piece of career advice to you is this: bake the cupcakes. Bring them to the office, celebrate your co-workers’ birthdays, throw some office parties, have as much fun as you can at work while still being professional and let as much of your personality shine through as possible. Otherwise you are never going to fulfill your true potential at work.
If you put up a wall or a mask and stifle yourself at work, you’ll never know if the true you is supposed to be where you are or if you are supposed to be moving on to bigger and better things. Only once you break down the wall or take off the mask can you begin to figure out what to do with your life. Maybe that begins with something as simple as baking a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and leaving them in the pantry at work.
What walls do you put up at work? What aspect of your personality do you try to hide at work? Or are you an open book? Have you ever gotten bad career advice that you took to heart and only later realized it was terrible advice for you? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it!