The Art of Bringing Your Whole Self to Work


By: Sophia Ronga / June 7, 2019

Or, How I Learned to Reject Business Casual Dress, Show Up Everyday in my Sneakers, and Only Be Half Kidding

The best advice I received prior to graduation was from a woman I didn’t know at all. At a panel discussion with recent alumni about what the world is like beyond the confines of your college campus, one of the last pieces of advice was about bringing yourself to the office. Not entirely in the way of letting people know your interests and hobbies - though that is important - but more so in not changing who you are simply because you’re entering the working world.

“You don’t have to business yourself up just because your dress code went from pulling on a hoodie five minutes before class to business casual. You don’t have to change how you think, speak, and respond to situations. There isn’t a work you and an outside of work you. Just be you.”

The advice is sage. After all, the benefits of being yourself in the office include all of the good things: less likely to experience burnout, more likely to report feeling supported by your superiors, more likely to show up to work everyday with enthusiasm. Sounds like all good things.

But how exactly should that be put into practice? If I’m a more casual person, should I show up to all of my interviews by tossing my converse-clad feet on the table, leaning back in my chair, and stating, “if you want me, you’ve got to want all of me”?

Eh, maybe save that for six months in.  

In the Interview

So often, we “business ourselves up” for interviews. We want to - and are expected to - project the most professional version of ourselves. Even though I’m a huge proponent of showing up to the office in my sneakers (casual Friday is everyday if you try hard enough and hide your feet under your desk when partners walk by), you can bet that when I was interviewing for my first post-grad job, I wore a dry cleaned dress, a black blazer, low heels, and sometimes even a pair of Nylons.

But if I was perhaps a more business-ed version of myself with my outfit, I let my authenticity shine through with my first response.

Tell me about yourself and why you’re a good fit for this role.

Most interviewees respond to this question with details of their first work experience and how that led them to apply for the current role, but research suggests that reflecting on your younger you can help bring a more authentic version of yourself to the interview. Prior to your interview, rather than rehearsing an answer that walks the interviewer through your carefully crafted resume, do some soul searching of when work and play were synonymous. What sort of activities were you drawn to? Are you still drawn to those today? How can you relate that to the current position you’re interviewing for? Chances are that if you’ve really thought about why you’re applying for the role, these questions shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

A propensity for summer-induced lemonade stands could mean that you’re a naturally entrepreneurial person. A consistent slew of shows put on for a large audience of just your mom could mean that you’re naturally creative. Thinking back to your younger inclinations can help you learn more about what you gravitated/ still gravitate toward naturally and can say much more about your authentic interests and skills than any cover letter ever could.  

On the Job

So, you’ve landed the job (perhaps thanks to the authenticity you brought to the interview process) and want to keep the whole-self-to-work ball rolling. It’s now about continuing to incorporate your quirks - fun! - and your emotions  - arguably less fun! - into your everyday work life.

Your quirks are fun and your colleagues should know about them

Honestly, I feel like the subheading says it all. You go to work for a large portion of your life and shouldn’t spend that hiding an interest or suppressing an aspect of your identity.

But if I must bring in the science, then here it is: a New Zealand study looked at non-work-to-work spillovers and found that positive spillovers (i.e., when aspects of one’s personal life positively made their way into a person’s work life) were associated with higher wellbeing.

Strike up a conversation at the coffee machine on a fun activity you’ve been working on over the weekend, an interesting article that you’ve recently read, or a hobby that you’re looking to get into (I’ve had some great conversations even after admitting that I’m considering taking an improv comedy class). The more that employers and colleagues know about your personal interests and commitments, the more they can engage with and support you.

Your emotions, though maybe less fun, are part of the package

The fun part is being able to talk about the cool stuff that you like to do outside of work inside of the office walls. The less fun part is figuring out how to acknowledge negative emotions - hello stress, anxiety, frustration - that you feel during working hours, because those negative emotions are part of your “whole self” too.

Research suggests that when a woman gets frustrated at work, her peers are more likely to contribute this to an internal factor, like her temperament, rather than an external factor, like the fact that her team members really messed up pulling sets of data. Reading this might make you want to head for the hills, hide your emotions, and put on a smiling face. Fight this reaction and instead use it as fuel to ensure you are acknowledging your negative emotions at work.

Allowing yourself to feel your true reactions  will give you the opportunity to identify the root cause. Once you’ve identified the source of these emotions, communicate their source - whether internal or external - with your team members so that they can better support you.

By allowing myself to be me - embracing my emotions and communicating what was happening in my head - I was, with the help of my coworkers, better able to address them and hit reset.

Being authentically you around people who are paid to be around you can be daunting and seem almost counterintuitive at times. But the benefits of embracing your quirks and emotions, of not suppressing the things that make you you in every step of the job process far outweigh the scariness of putting yourself out there.

Sophia is the writer behind New Girl at Work, where she documents her attempts to thrive inside and outside of the office. When she’s not writing, Sophia spends her days working in management consulting, her nights glued to watching Bravo, and her weekends scouring her neighborhood for the best fresh pasta.

What did you think? Let’s chat. Comment below!


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