Being Myself At Work Is Both The Best And Scariest Thing I’ve Done

It’s hard to be who you are in a world of uniformity. 

Being a good liar has its ups and downs.

When I was younger, I could see the long-term consequences of lying – the loss of trust, getting tangled up in your own stories, just to name a few. But when you’re just lying so you can go to a friends’ house after school, or to avoid a class assignment, the benefits seem to outweigh those consequences.

And when you’re in the office, being a great liar can almost seem like a necessity.

If you wake up and all but crawl into your office each morning, only the promise of a paycheque and free coffee keeping you glued to your chair for the day, every time you tell an all too cheerful coworker you’re having a great day, you’re lying. Every time you force yourself into work-appropriate clothing that seems chafing, you’re lying. Every time you tell a client or customer you’re happy to help them, you’re lying. Lying is a workplace asset, and it’s one you spread judiciously to curry good will and make your existence there slightly less painful.

Having entered the world of office work at the age of 17, this is a lesson I learned early and well. If you had weird hobbies, you didn’t talk about them. If you weren’t into sports or dieting, you learned to eat lunch alone or simply smile politely at your coworkers as they excitedly chattered about a sport that may or may not have been football.

Unlike those more youthful forms of lying, we’re not doing it so we can get away with something fun – we’re doing it because we feel like we have to. I was fortunate enough to be employed during the recession, and my boss made sure he reminded me of that fact every day. Every time I didn’t want to do something way outside my job description, or take on another position without additional pay, I was reminded that I was lucky to be employed at all. Any time I didn’t put on an extra hat with a smile, I got that subtle passive-aggressive reminder that at least I was getting a paycheque and I should be grateful. It’s a scary thing, being unemployed when no one’s hiring, and it was a very effective tactic.

My first job after that torture-fest is when I just plain gave up. It reminded me of when I was in highschool and was trying desperately to find a group of friends I fit in with by changing the way I acted and presented myself to suit certain groups. The minute I gave up, I found my group of friends. Likewise, as soon as I stopped the pretence of being the perfect office coworker, I found my space.

I let my real personality bleed into my work and my emails. I put up things around my desk that had my coworkers stopping to gape, asking, “What is that alien thing?” as they pointed at the Funko Pop figure of Garrus from Mass Effect sitting on the edge of my cube. After a while I couldn’t remember why I’d ever even tried to fit in before.

I know the answer, of course – fear. Fear of not fitting in, fear of rejection. For me it’s always been easier to lie about important things when there’s the possibility of rejection. If a part of me is rejected that isn’t really me, it acts like padding between me and the hurt; I’m not being rejected, this false version of me is. I also have to acknowledge my privilege. As a white woman who’s educated and able-bodied, along with a host of other experiences that give me a social leg up, I know being myself is something that’s less likely to work to my detriment.

Which leads me to my advice: be as much of yourself as is safe to be in your space. Express as much of yourself as you can get away with. Horrible jobs will come and go, but you have to keep living with yourself. Deciding to be myself in my workplace did a lot of things for me, but the most important one was making me happier with what I’m contributing, and where I’m contributing it.

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Comment: Is being yourself encouraged or frowned upon at your workplace?