Finding my work persona
March 26, 2021 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm in my early 30's in a career that I fell into, at a large pharmaceutical company. I've been in the field for almost 10 years now, and I still feel incredibly immature as a professional. I've always gotten good reviews, and I'm a really hard worker, but somehow I still feel like I don't fit in. I still haven't found what I call my "work persona". Who am I?!

It seems like all of my colleagues squarely fall into one category or another. For example, there's the Type B, fun, well-liked, flexible type who might let things slide and speaks in a casual way, or the Type A more rigid, fast paced, uber polished, thorough, driven type who is not always liked but produces good results. Everyone I know who falls into one of those types seems to be super comfortable in their skin and doesn't seem to question themselves or stray much from that persona. People say, "be yourself" but I don't know what my true self is since I've been so carefully managing my image for years. I'm also still not 100% sure what boundaries are appropriate. Like, I know to not say the f word or get drunk and make out with coworkers at a business party, but how much can I talk about my personal life? Or how much can I vent to coworkers? Stuff like that... I'm never sure what is going too far.

This is my current "self" - I think:
I tend to be an oversharer but over time I think I've toned that down. I tend naturally towards being a perfectionist... I think I overthink but I produce high quality results, I'm very conscientious, even a bit rigid. When I'm relaxed enough (which isn't often), I can be silly and fun and charming. I'm always self conscious, unconfident, and at least moderately anxious, which is all probably obvious from this post.

Basically I just want to be comfortable in my own skin at work.

Curious if anyone else struggles with this level of overthinking and how I can get closer to refining my work image to be more successful/consistent while not going crazy trying to be something that I'm not.
posted by koolaidnovel to Work & Money (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Question for you, and this is not meant to be flippant or dismissive: Are you comfortable with yourself, and do you have a well-defined identity outside of work?

I ask this because I found that, after a year of therapy (overarching theme: Who am I?), I suddenly found that I was way more comfortable "being myself" at work. I still have bouts of perfectionism and overthinking and anxiety, but getting to know and accepting my general self made it easier to say, "You know what, I am that person who has a "boring" or uncool hobby, or talks about my cats too much, or doesn't wear makeup, or puts up the pride flag in my cube. And I will do all those things with a smile, not with an apology."

This is all based on the assumption that you have already proven at this workplace that you are a competent employee, and you're just thinking about what non-work parts of you are safe to also show to colleagues.

Also above advice is assuming you're not in a toxic workplace that will sideline or harrass you if you show more of the real you (if you're queer, struggle with mental health issues, etc etc). If the discomfort is because of that, then there is a legit reason to hide certain parts of yourself for the safety of your job, and this becomes a different question all together!
posted by tinydancer at 7:27 PM on March 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

This could be about. work, but it could also be that you're in a field/environment that doesn't have anything to bring to your unique way of being in the world. How did you get into this field? Do you recognize the people that surround you as your "tribe"? Are you motivated by the work? Is there something you love about being there?

If nothing resonates when you go to answer this, it might be that you're just not in the field or workplace that is the best fit for who you really are.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

For what it’s worth I know multiple people who are like how you describe yourself at work and it seems fine. I mean, it would be sad if being conscientious and self-analytical made them unhappy, but I enjoy working with them and what they uniquely contribute that your types A and B don’t.

I also think A and B types are also tuning their approach over time.
posted by michaelh at 10:35 PM on March 26, 2021

You are humble. You have lasted a pretty good stretch. Maybe it seems like you are new because you still ask questions but it is a set of good qualities you have in your backbone. You only have to have a desire to be there in you mind and body to be who you are wanting to present. If you cant say that you are fully committed to the job you do or the place you work build on that. Find out what about it you dont like then try and find ways to fix that problem or find what you need to make you satisfied. I think you have a good goal but just dont feel confident.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 7:48 AM on March 27, 2021

Response by poster: Tinydancer, that's a good point. To answer your question, yes it has been a struggle for me accepting who I am outside of work -- but I am in a much better place with that over the last few years and I think it shows. I'm kind of a weirdo and I'm actually proud of it, these days.
posted by koolaidnovel at 8:01 AM on March 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

seems to be super comfortable in their skin and doesn't seem to question themselves or stray much from that persona

I think it bears pointing out the the keyword here is 'seems'. I caution you against comparing your inside (your thoughts/feeling) to other people's outside external presentation).
posted by ananci at 8:23 AM on March 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

I am a lot like you describe -- still feel like a total kid even at mid-40s, self-conscious and anxious about anything that I worry people might disapprove of, worry that my "weird" outside-of-work interests are too weird to share with people at work so I err on the side of never talking about them, conscientious and have extremely high standards for myself which I never quite meet (but if I slacked off I wouldn't be happy about it and I don't know what would happen because I see it as a slippery slope), pretty rigid, and unable to read the social cues that would allow me to know what boundaries are appropriate.

I found out about a year ago that I'm autistic and now all of the above makes more sense to me. I don't know yet if this will help me feel more comfortable at work in my natural persona because I've been working from home due to the pandemic since around that same time.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:40 AM on March 27, 2021

If it helps, I know that everyone at my work considers me type A. But I don’t think of myself that way. The first time someone at work described me to someone else, I was startled. So, don’t assume your As and Bs really are that way - or that everyone else thinks of you as a perfect type B or whatever.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're trying to fit yourself into a persona. Personas are meant to reflect people, not the other way around. So I'm gonna echo what you've heard already. Just be who you're comfortable being and don't worry about what Type that is. Make them adjust their personas to fit you.
posted by booth at 5:50 AM on April 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

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