Good Tuesday morning to you. Today I want to present to you a guest post from a very important person in my life. Gwynne she is my business partner, life partner, and most recently we started planning or her to become my wife. The great thing is I’m going to become her husband too. Enjoy her ideas about Professionalism.
Yesterday’s topic was about maintaining a professional demeanor, especially in the social media. When I read that post, I wanted to delve further into the idea of how and when to keep your personal self separate from your professional life.
Whether you own a business or work for someone else, you will most likely find many times that you must hold back parts of your personal self when you are in the professional or business world. I know we all want to be true to ourselves and we don’t want to lie about who we are, but there is a time to reveal details about your personal life and a time to keep things to yourself.
Let me give you an example. Like Tim, I am a motorcycle rider. I’m passionate about it – so much so that I don’t even own a car. That means rain or shine, I’m on the bike to get myself to work and some days I come in looking the worse for wear. It also means that I have to work out how to get into my professional dress after arriving at my destination on those occasions when I must dress up.
I work as a Director of New Business for a national specialty retailer and am often on the road, in meetings with potential customers. My industry is a very conservative one: healthcare (my company operates gift shops in hospitals). The last thing in the world I can do is show up for a meeting in jeans, leather chaps, hair soaking wet from rain. But I also don’t want to sacrifice who I am – a Lady Biker – for a job, no matter how much I enjoy the job and how important it is to my family. That means sometimes I can be myself completely (regular office days) and sometimes I have to do a quick change into someone who makes customers more comfortable. And I have to be OK with it, not grumpy or unhappy.
Even if you are self-employed, you will find there are times that you need to tone things down and put on a professional veneer. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. It doesn’t mean you’ve sold out and it doesn’t mean you’re lying about yourself. It means you understand how important your customer is and are willing to do certain things (including changing your appearance and demeanor) to make that customer or potential customer comfortable.
There are lines we all must draw about how far we’re willing to go to succeed in a job. For example, I worked in the oil field for many years and saw women all around me advance because they were willing to sleep their way to a better position (if you can call it that). I wasn’t willing to do that and, in the end, I came out just as well by working hard and giving my best effort every day.
When it comes to how you dress and how you behave, only you can decide how far you’re willing to go and what you are willing to do in order to keep your customers comfortable. Tim made a decision many years ago that if he couldn’t conduct his business wearing jeans, it wasn’t business he was interested in. That may seem pretty limiting but that is his choice and it is one that hasn’t hurt him. Now, he’ll work to make sure he has a dress shirt that’s ironed and ready for special events, as well as a suit jacket, but he always wears his jeans.
It may seem like a very fine line, a tough distinction when deciding how much of yourself to reveal and how to present yourself in a business or professional setting so I’m going to give you a few pointers that have been helpful to me:
1. When you work for someone else, their rules trump yours. I know it doesn’t sound fair, but if someone else is writing your paychecks, they have the right to ask you to dress a certain way. If you don’t like it, you have the right to look for another job. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Ross Perot’s company was known as one in which you had to wear a suit every day along with a tie. In the computer industry, where dress codes were more and more relaxed, this may have been a sore spot for some people but if they wanted the prestige and the paychecks, they conformed.
2. When you work for yourself and need customers, you must decide what is more important – their rules or yours. When you need customers, like when you’re starting out, it is important to make yourself as non-threatening as possible to potential customers, meaning you want to be at least somewhat generic in the things that don’t matter and, I hate to tell you, but for your customers, in most cases, your politics and your religious beliefs don’t matter.
3. It’s good to keep part of yourself just to yourself (and your family and friends). If you reveal too much, you lose your private life and it’s important to have a private part of you so you don’t get completely sucked into business. It’s not healthy to be all business, all the time, even if it’s your own business. You will burn out that much faster and if you reveal too much personal information, you will never be able to pull away. You will also have trouble separating your friends from business because there won’t be anything that distinguishes the two relationships. And, you can never un-say something once you’ve said it…or posted it. Better to say less than too much.
Ultimately, only you can decide what is so important to you (wearing jeans all the time) and what is flexible (riding a motorcycle every day without anyone else having to know it). If you’re smart enough to create your own business or succeed at your job, you’re smart enough to know what to keep to yourself and what to publicize.
If you like to read more of great things Gwynne posts about try reading Lady Biker Travel. She tell stories of her travels as a female motorcyclist who only rides bike, she is just as unique of a person in life as me but she is better looking. So take her advice today to live your dreams, love what you do and become a rockstar in your world.