I was full of energy: I was careless, content, excited, and enthusiastic. Then I was born. From that moment on I began to be shaped and moulded in to what other people wanted me to be.
This might sound dramatic, but take a minute to think about it. As a child, were you ever so angry or upset that all you wanted to do was scream and shout? Did you then learn that this wasn’t appropriate? Why wasn’t it appropriate? Were you told to sit still in restaurants when every atom of your being wanted to run around and play? As we grow older, we start to behave as other people want us to, we listen more to the external cues than what our bodies are telling us on the inside.
When I first entered the workplace, little had changed in this regard. I was still listening to what the outside world was expecting of me. I put on the suit and tie, wore smart shoes, gradually (though unintentionally) diluted my regional accent, and generally behaved as I thought an office-based 9-5 working man should behave.
It didn’t matter that the shoes were uncomfortable and that I couldn’t afford the suits on a junior officer’s wage, I did what I thought the outside world was telling me to do and it paid off. I was rewarded for my efforts, and before I knew it I had landed a management role and now the outside world had something different to say.
'You’re a manager now; time for a nicer suit to match the bigger shoes. Maybe don’t go to the pub for Friday drinks – none of the other managers do.'
I continued listening to this voice and behaving in ways that I felt I was expected to. I wasn’t curious as to why I needed a different suit or why I needed a team to be in the office and at their desks, and I didn’t have the courage to challenge the norm.
I began to feel like Clark Kent. At work I donned the suit and played the role of friendly and productive colleague, but I had a secret – outside of work I laughed and I played. OK I didn’t wear a cape and fight the forces of evil, but I was somebody different to the person I was in the office.
In my early career the effects of this were magnified as I was hiding my identity as a gay man from my colleagues. On a Monday morning when colleagues were discussing their weekend I’d carefully refer to my partner and make a point of knowing the straight bars and clubs that I might have frequented. I wasn’t ready to share my tales of podium dancing at the Le Grand Fromage night in the local gay club.
But should I have? I’m not suggesting that people who identify as LGBTI should come out at work if they’re not ready to. What I am suggesting is that we’d all benefit, as would our organisations, if we brought even a bit more of our true selves in to our places of work. My experience is that it’s tiring hiding. Hiding wastes energy that could be far better spent advancing our cause, and it impacts on our relationships with colleagues.
Trust is instinctual and people have a sense if we’re holding something back. If people are unable to trust us to be honest about who we are, how can they to trust us to lead them? When you head into the office tomorrow, try taking a little bit of yourself in with you – the same you that enjoys life outside of work, and notice if your day is any different.
This blog is part three of a series of blogs Mark wrote as part of his 2016 Clore Social Fellowship Programme. It was originally published on Third Force News.
Mark Kelvin is Programme Director at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland.