“Bring Your Whole Self to Work” by Ellen Herion

This is my very first blog.  Those who know me know my resistance to joining the 21st Century with some technological trends.  It’s not that I have some irrational hatred or aversion to it; I just enjoy my digital life where it stands and feel no need to “upgrade” certain things.  I love my slider cell phone with no internet access.  I love that I don’t have a twitter account.  I love that I have never Skyped.  With that being said, I do know a couple things about blogging.  Write about what matters to you & keep the reader in mind.

According to my quick and unscientific research, most readers of blogs skim and most of them are looking for answers.  But what is the question?  And what is the (short) answer?  I keep these rules in mind and hope I somehow create something women can resonate with in an avenue that can be considered fairly impersonal. 

For me, the big questions always seem to be about who we want to show up as at work.  These existential questions about vocation, identity and making meaning.  Although confidence & comfort comes with experience, it can take a long time and with much trepidation to discern who you want to be at work for most women.  How much of my personal life should I share with others?  How do I want to represent myself?  How will I be perceived by others?  How am I going to fit in here?

It is amazing how your personal and professional life can be enriched when you can really be yourself.  It can be so exhausting to create separate identities for the various aspects of our lives.  However, sometimes the ability to be yourself isn’t always supported (or perceived to be supported).  Some of the best moments where I learned the most about who I am is when I was able recognize when I was doing something that I thought people wanted & expected versus what I felt was really important.   

I used to think that I couldn’t show people when work got to be too stressful or I couldn’t manage.  I never wanted people to think I couldn’t handle the task ahead and would rarely ask for help thinking it would reveal some sort of weakness.  On the contrary, I was really careful to celebrate my successes.  When I would receive compliments or congrats, I would find a way to minimize the work that I really did.  At the end of the day, not only are you doing a disservice to yourself but to your colleagues and the students you serve. 

There are no quick fixes or prescriptions to finding affinity with your work environment, but it starts with knowledge and confidence in self.  To clearly articulate your values & philosophy takes some time.  It also takes working through some really tough situations.  For what it’s worth, here are a few tidbits of advice I’d give about finding your place at work. 

1.  Don’t build relationships with people by talking about others:  Turns out H1N1 isn’t the most “toxic” thing to hit student affairs.  Having a negative attitude and creating a culture of gossip spreads quickly and is usually attributed to low work satisfaction.  It can be easy to get sucked in because you want to be well liked.   Be smart about how you play politics.    

2.  Ultimately, you have to choose how you want to spend your time:  This goes for work and for personal time.  Our field is very good at rewarding people for horrible work life balance.  I’ve seen people get multiple awards, completed a variety of publications & presentations, etc. and are actually pretty terrible at their daily job functions.  You have to decide for yourself what is important to you & what your priorities are.  These should change as you navigate your career while still taking care of yourself.  You can’t have it all because something or someone isn’t getting the best you.      

3.  If the fit is off, quietly leave:  Only you can decide if the job is right for you.  Give it some time and make sure you are being really honest with yourself about how you are contributing to change.  Have you given direct feedback?  Have you asked for new or different responsibilities?  You have to take responsibility for your experience and development because it won’t always be handed to you.  Be open to climbing the career lattice instead of the career ladder.  Sometimes you have to move around in order to move up or move on.  In the end, only you can decide what you are willing to put up with.  Maybe the not so great job allows you to spend more time at home?  Maybe the really stressful, fast paced job affords you great opportunities?  What is the tipping point for you?       

4.  Be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table:  I have seen so many women doubt themselves for a position, a project, an opportunity, etc. because of the risk and fear of them not appearing successful or already projecting making mistakes.  Trust that you are capable.  Even when it doesn’t work out, it shouldn’t prevent you from thinking about taking a shot at the next opportunity.     

The ability to bring my authentic self to work, make difficult decisions with integrity and do what I can to help students grow is what I value most.  I decided very early on in my career that I want to be transformative, not transactional.  And I would be a fool to think that all intersections of my identity don’t inform who I am in the workplace.  So bring your whole self to work.  Nobody else can do you.  





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6 responses to ““Bring Your Whole Self to Work” by Ellen Herion

  1. Thank you Ellen, for sharing this. It’s such an important reminder to all of us. Your third point really hit home for me, especially this: “Even when it doesn’t work out, it shouldn’t prevent you from thinking about taking a shot at the next opportunity.” Thank you!

  2. laurie berry

    Ellen, thank you for sharing this with us. My favorite part of Wednesday is when I can steal some time to read these posts. Your topic today is perfect for me to consider. Your questions hit home and your point in #3 on your list is what I need to figure out. Every sentence is something I have to consider as I figure out what is next for me.

    Hope our paths cross in person sometime soon. I am confident that they will whether “in real life” or cyberly.

  3. Julie

    Ellen, great post and very timely in my own life. Thank you for sharing, and I hope you keep blogging!

  4. Great stuff Ellen. I look forward to more blogs from you! Thank you for sharing – All 4 of your major points hit home with me to varying degrees. Thank you! I will be sharing this blog with the pros/grads in my department.

  5. Thank you Ellen. I needed a little boost and that was perfect.

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