Career Counseling: How You Are You At Work?
As a follow up post to last week’s career counseling blog about the concept of “managing up” and the fine line between this excellent concept and the unintended behavior of enabling, we go in another direction that has to do with relationships at work that extended beyond the supervisor-employee relationship. Friends, it’s about to get personal.
If it’s not about your manager or colleagues, then the next common career counseling complaint is, though not often stated this bluntly:
I cannot fully show up at work.
Other common ways of sharing this sentiment might sound like the following statements:
“At work, I feel like there are parts of myself that I have to hide.”
“I could NEVER say that at work.”
“If I shared (blank) at work, I might never get promoted.”
“At work, I can’t be who I really am because I think I would get fired.”
“At work, I can’t show my true feelings or reactions because then I am made to feel like I am TOO (name that adjective):
- Too mom-like
- Too black
- Too unstable
- Too emotional
- Too masculine
- Too queer
Or the opposite, which sounds like, “I can’t really show my feelings/emotions/reactions at work or I’ll be seen as…”
(these phrases usually start with “not” and end with “enough”)
- Not smart enough
- Not competent enough
- Not confident enough
- Not hardworking enough
- Not “team player” enough
When our identity at work is either “too” or “not enough,” then what are we?
We are washed out, muted, hyper-censored versions of ourselves and not fully useful to our organization OR to ourselves. And jeez, this sounds like a total drag. But you don’t have to stay in black and white land, my friend, and it sounds like (if any of this resonates with you) that it’s time to arrive in technicolor. Here are a few suggestions from your local career counseling therapist for women.
First, let’s look at individual changes that you can make. For starters, allow yourself to have an authentic reaction to something, either in a meeting (zoom?) or in an email. Here’s an example. When something is shared in a meeting that you feel was an unfair task or ask, allow yourself to call it by saying something to the effect of, “Whoa, I was not expecting that. I’d love to discuss that later on.” Reaction shared, boundary set. You didn’t say, “That’s total bullshit – hell no, I’m not doing that!” and yet your reaction communicated that you’re not rolling over on this. Be you, be authentic, say your piece. I promise that while it might feel awkward, you will feel better knowing that, one – you said something, externalizing it (rather than holding onto it and ruminating about it for hours) and, two – you’ve opened up the opportunity for change. Even if they’re small reactions, allow yourself to have them, hold them, then redirect that energy back out into the world. Especially as women, we’re all too familiar with biting our tongues, holding it in, and “letting it go” when in reality, it’s not really held or gone. Get it out, and as the kids are saying, manifest!
Next, for larger, collective changes, consider your allies. Who else, like you, feels “too” or “not enough”? Many thanks to large scale inclusivity movements that are happening across our country, the workplace is expanding its focus on diversity and inclusivity. But rather than waiting for it to happen on the organization’s terms, find your tribe and consider forming an Employee Resource Group (ERG) of like minded souls so that you can collectively address the concerns that are specific to your population. You’re neither starting a mutiny nor a war; you’re simply gathering people together so that you, at work, can be more you, thereby giving others permission to do the same. From a feminist therapist perspective, this is currently a very hot item as it relates to working mothers during the pandemic. While we were “under it” in many ways before, the weight of the pandemic’s challenges have fallen in an even more jolting way on us. The good news is that we’re seeing women joining together at work through ERG’s that are specific to creating support and proposing solutions – job sharing, paid caregiving leave, increased childcare stipends, and more. A common stress response in women is to “tend and befriend,” (more about that in another blog, coming soon) so lean into that stress and use it to propel you forward, alongside others. Maybe YOU are the woman your organization has been waiting for!
As long as we are “too” or “not enough” in our careers, nothing will change because we are working as shadows of who we really are. Challenge yourself to rock the boat (or the boardroom) with your self-advocacy, and gather your resources to support yourself and your teammates. Show up, be you, and say hello. It’s nice to meet YOU.