In our modern world, the word ‘professionalism’ has come to represent an ideal of standards and quality in business.
We don’t only expect professional work to be presented to us in the best possible model available, but for it to be presented to us by someone who epitomises, what we consider, a professional image.
Whilst this is great at the level of feeling that the work we’ve paid for has been delivered in the best possible way, it’s not so great when we consider what might be going on for the individual behind the image.
The problem with always being professional
There isn’t a problem with professionalism in relation to the quality of work one produces, or the pride people take in their work. These are both desirable.
The issue is with the invented persona people are expected to present simply because they’re at work.
Imagine that you’ve had an argument with a family member, or you’re dealing with an elderly, ill or dying parent, or simply that a child is sick and home from school. Under the banner of ‘professionalism’, you’re still expected to arrive at work and behave as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
You’re expected to fake it.
As a result, people have become actors in their own lives. They’ve become so used to being expected to act like nothing’s wrong, that they begin to believe their own performance.
Of course, because people spend more time at work than anywhere else, they forget that their professionalism was ever an act and become more and more divorced from what’s really going on inside.
Many people find when they take holidays, it takes them a week to wind down before they’re really able to start to relax and enjoy their time off. No sooner have they just begun to get to know themselves again, than it’s time to return to work.
The true cost of being professional
It’s not uncommon for me to see many people so affected by either professionalism (an imposed act) or political correctness (suppression of speech), that even in the confine of a therapeutic setting, people are still acting or covering up what they truly think and feel.
Sometimes, they’ve become so good at lying to themselves that their denial has begun to cause serious health problems: emotional, mental and physical.
At this point, I can’t help but ask the question:
If you’re not being yourself, who are you being?
Really, the answer is very simple:
Who else is there for you to be, but you?
However, to take this question seriously is not always so easy. It can involve realisations which, once acknowledged, must not be ignored. It can take the enquirer back in time to choices of self-denial which, at worst, may involve trauma or even abuse.
But, if the choice to ignore the truth within is taken, the repercussions can be worse than those of the original state of denial.
Once this question has been asked, and even partially answered, an unravelling has begun. And there is no turning back.
One person, many faces
Of course, work is not the only place we learn to act.
Our families, schools and relationships of all kinds, frequently present us with opportunities to either be honest or deny our deeper truth.
For the most part, people choose to please others rather than to risk even minor conflict in an attempt to keep the peace. And there is nothing wrong with keeping the peace.
Peace is ideal.
But peace can’t exist in an atmosphere which is full of unspoken anger or resentment. If by choosing to keep the peace we have to deny a fundamental part of who we are, we’re betraying not only ourselves, but all those around us.
And peace won’t be the result.
Our role in life is to be true to ourselves
What other role could there possibly be for us, but to be ourselves?
That’s not to say that if we’re someone who has difficulty being kind to others we shouldn’t try to improve ourselves.
But, if to be all that we are means that those around us are challenged, we must remember that that is their opportunity to grow and accept us as we are.
Not to force growth on the other, but to be true to ourselves.
Diplomacy, tact and respect are qualities that, wherever applied, offer us parameters for openness in all our communication. And work is no exception.
Sometimes, all that’s required is for us to lovingly say how we’re feeling. To put aside political correctness so that we communicate fully with all those around us, especially those we love.
By learning how to express ourselves with love, we make ourselves available to grace.
Eventually, with practice, we can use our new skills at work so that we remain true to ourselves in a professional environment.
So if you’re struggling to express your true self, I offer you this blessing:
To know yourself, to be yourself, and to love yourself.
No matter what.
With all my love
Image credit: Jason Hargrove