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Ask L2: Be Your Authentic Self

"People are encouraged to prepare 'walking decks' for themselves that represent their whole self, talking about what's important to them outside of work . . . ElleTwo, I'm afraid to do anything like that.”

Disclaimer: Identities are kept confidential. The advice given here should be taken at your own risk. If you are having true mental or physical issues, please seek professional assistance.

My company talks a lot about authenticity. Be your authentic self. This is a safe place. Do you feel you are empowered to be your true self here? People are encouraged to prepare 'walking decks' for themselves that represent their whole self, talking about what's important to them outside of work: family, friends, hobbies, pets, church, whatever.

L2, I'm afraid to do anything like that.

My authentic self isn't particularly unusual: I'm straight, cis, white, married, a mother, and I have glasses and long blue hair. I have three dogs and a sailing hobby. I can bring all that to work, it'll be great for my career and my professional relationships. I'm well-spoken, even-keeled, articulate, good-natured, and a poster child for diversity and inclusiveness statistics. I have nothing to be afraid of.

And yet. Is that bringing my authentic self to work?

I swear like a sailor. I have a finely-tuned bullshit detector that incites me to say offensive things to people who deserve it. I watch sci-fi far too late at night. I eat more chocolate than is good for me. My hair is dyed blue because it's turning grey. I have blinding migraines and crippling back pain. I have strongly negative opinions about organized religions of all sorts. I value my family and friends more than I value work.

Is that the authentic self that I should bring to the office?

That I'm afraid to do. That person pisses people off. She's not always nice or pleasant. She's sharp and sarcastic and cynical and sometimes bitter or even vicious. She has no respect for deadlines: she will ditch work, skip meetings, or drop deliverables to go sit at the bedside of a friend in heartbreak or hospice.

I fear that if I bring that person to work she will piss off my colleagues, or my boss, his boss, his boss, his boss, his boss, his boss, or his boss. (NB: Yes my chain of command is white men in their 40s and 50s, all the way up. D&I isn't so much a thing.) I can't afford to do that . . . I need this job, this career, this money. Mostly the money.

And so when I sit through our cultural discussions with a knot in my stomach, or when I have my 1:1s with my boss and he says, "Anything else on your mind?” and I shrug and smile and say, "Nah, I'm good." I want to say “Fuck this project, fuck this paper that isn't going to provide any value anyway, I have a headache, I want to go drink with my girlfriends and watch Star Trek all night."

That's what my authentic self would say. But I can't.

Thank you for letting me rant.


Just because you can be your authentic self at work doesn’t mean that it’s required. The point is, you should be able to be whoever you’re most comfortable being at work, and you should not be penalized for whoever that person is. That’s your call, not ours.

If you want to keep those lives totally separate, you’re fully allowed and entitled to that decision. I absolutely, 100 percent believe that you should be able to show up to your workplace and be yourself without repercussions, as long as that person doesn’t harm anyone else. If you’re a racist and a misogynist, keep that to yourself. We don’t need that kind of authenticity.

That said, the invitation to be wholly authentic may be enough, and choosing to be a muted version of who you are outside of work is not bad or dishonest. It’s what you’re comfortable with. That’s fine too.



1 Comment

Tanya Nelson
Tanya Nelson
Feb 23, 2023

I think this is the reality for the majority of us who work. We are a filtered version of who our authentic selves are, because if we were truly 100% authentic we would all be fired. There is a degree of professionalism/ code of conduct necessary in all situations that requires some filtering of our authenticity. As long as you find an environment where you have to filter the least amount you are comfortable with (which is different for everyone) then I say you’re good.

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