“People really don’t know who I am. They’re always surprised when they get to know me,” I overheard from a colleague, who went on to illustrate with a story. She needed to say this, no doubt, because she felt her present audience didn’t know her either. Authenticity bubbled up.
Her statement, that I’ve heard often before from other coworkers throughout my work life, was followed with the typical explanation about how lighthearted they are outside of work. They have sense of humor. At work, they say, people don’t realize how fun they can be. “I’m not always this way. This is not the real me,” their words insinuate. “Don’t judge me for how I am here.” Sometimes they tell us about the movies they like and the music they listen to. Sometimes, if it’s been a bad day, they tell us their aspirations.
I’m often surprised to hear their aspirations are in the same field as they’re presently in. It’s not the work they want to get away from. Their burden of inauthenticity doesn’t have anything to do with being stuck in accounting when they really want to lead Venezuelan rainforest tours, but everything to do with their environment. The bureaucracy, the egos, the stagnation. It’s the system and people who compose it they want to get away from. The same people who they must confess to in the hope someone will really hear, “People don’t really know who I am” and forgive.