Anyone who goes to law school is going to learn a lot of things that seem counterintuitive or even wrong. Eventually, most of these things make sense – at least to people who are hoping to pass the bar exam – but there’s one thing that bugged me in law school and still bugs me today: You can’t lie to the police (at least not without consequences), but they can lie to you. Specifically, when interrogating a suspect, the police can be brazenly dishonest, to try to trick the suspect into incriminating himself. Even if everything the police tell the suspect is untrue, the Supreme Court has ruled that whatever the suspect says in response is still admissible evidence. Now, cops have hard enough jobs. On top of all the stress and danger they face, why would the Supreme Court want to encourage them to lie?
There is something pernicious about a job in which you are encouraged to lie. This is especially true if, as many people do, you think of your “work self” as being distinct from your “real self”. If you’re a salesperson, for example, and your boss tells you that you need to exaggerate the quality and capabilities of your products in order to get customers to buy them, you might tell yourself that it’s really more like you’re playing a role – one that customers understand, and make allowances for – and so you excuse yourself for behavior you would not exhibit elsewhere. Or if you’re a politician, and you come to the realization that telling people the truth doesn’t make you popular, you might tell yourself that the ends justify the means, and that the small lies you tell during the campaign are what make it possible for you to wrestle with big truths in office. Deceit isn’t even limited to specific professions. Anyone could work for a boss who expects employees to be “flexible” with the truth, when necessary, for the good of the company. And anyone can tell himself that it’s not his “real self” being flexible, only his “work self”.
But what if fulfillment only comes from being able to be your real self at work? Isn’t spending eight or more hours a day in a different persona so exhausting that it virtually guarantees dissatisfaction? An honest person forced to lie? A social person forced to work alone most of the time? A physical person stuck behind a desk? Necessity might force us to take on a job that requires a work self, or we might choose one as a stepping stone to something better. But if your job – or your profession – keeps you in a situation that you wouldn’t want your real self to be in, it may be time to reimagine your path. And the place to start can be those conditions and expectations that trigger the need for a “work self”. What is it that your work self does that your real self would never do? Can you imagine a job – perhaps one that is otherwise similar to your current job – in which you would not be required to do those specific things? Because if you can seek and find such a position, you can let your real self go to work, and your work self can take a permanent vacation.