In our personal lives, most of us have someone to whom we turn for advice, comfort, or simply who provide our much needed comic relief from the stress of life. For some, this a sibling, a parent, or a best friend who knows us better than anyone else….who can provide perspective and a necessary “kick in the pants” when warranted.
It’s tougher in our professional lives, though. The “vulnerability” most are willing to demonstrate in their private lives is more challenging for most of us in the workplace (some are better at this than others….I’m certainly NOT one who even in my private life has been particular adept at showing vulnerability). Issues of confidence (or the projection of confidence and competence) are heightened in the office. Fewer positions as one climbs the career ladder can make a willingness to show “weakness” a competitive disadvantage in many organizations.
For many of us, the “invulnerability” screen we project is fairly well solidified in our workplace psyches. Even those of us whose career paths could be described as circuitous at best (disjointed, frenetic, or unfocused….some of the non-constructive comments I’ve received over the years), have stumbled and been burned by putting ourselves out there in front of professional peers.
So, do we simply give up and fortify ourselves as perceived stalwarts of professional success, downplaying or actually hiding our professional liabilities? Nope, that’s to allow personal dysfunction to restrict our ability to grow professionally and contribute to the betterment of ourselves, our organizations, and our society. Instead, we must force ourselves beyond our comfort zones. Here’s some ideas to make this easier to embrace:
- First of all, admit your fears about expressing vulnerability in your professional life – Self-awareness and acceptance is key to making any progress.
- Second, find someone who is NOT in your particular specialty and/or organization – By finding a trustworthy person with whom you will likely NOT be in competition, you reduce some of the instinctive reluctance to open up about the challenges and failures you experience professionally.
- Third, insist on openness and transparency in interactions – Establishing racceptance between the two of you and articulating the expectation that you will each seek out advice, support, and understanding when faced with professional adversity is important.
- Finally, actively blend professional with personal – Find times to meet with your professional confidante outside of regular work hours. Grab dinner or drinks with this person. Invite them to a sporting event or just an evening hanging out with you and your spouse. Go for a hike together. The point is to avoid the “stuffiness” of the professional world.
You may think this sounds very much like a mentor, but I would suggest this blended personal/professional relationship moves beyond the typical role of a typical mentor. After all, without understanding the “whole you,” both the personal and the professional sides of your complex being, its difficult to really get the type of feedback and advice needed. So, take a “systems perspective” – find yourself a professional confidante.