What do you keep hidden from your peers and co-workers? What about your friends and family?
The first couple years that I went to Burning Man, I didn’t tell a single soul in my professional network. I told them I was going camping with friends. A safe understatement unless someone was in the know and creative enough to align the dates.
Why did I keep it to myself? I was scared! I was afraid that people would judge me. I feared that I would suddenly become labeled as one of “those [insert judgmental label] people” and be looked at with a questionable eye that had not previously existed. I worried that people would think less of me or that my hard-earned reputation would be tarnished.
Out of fear, I kept my personal life quiet. I have spoken with lots of people over the years who also keep their personal lives hidden from for the same reason. I know a number of top executives who are secret festival goers and burners. I know even more who are quietly studying various levels of spirituality and won’t talk about it because they don’t want to be labeled as crazy or woo woo.
I know that it feels safer to put up the perfect façade then to risk the potential for judgement, criticism or limitation. I also know that we spend more time with our co-workers and peers than we do with our own friends and family.
What do you think it’s doing to our mental health to be spending most of our time hiding who we truly are?
I’ll tell you what it does. It slowly tears you apart inside. It creates confusion, insecurity and frustration. You become disconnected because you have little to talk about when you can’t talk about what you love or how you spend your time. You become exhausted because you’re essentially living a double life. And you’re in a constant state of anxiety because you’re afraid of being seen or having a picture of yourself in a costume show up on Facebook. It’s a heavy weight to carry!
After years of hiding, I made the decision that I was no longer willing to show up in anything less than the fullest version of myself. It doesn’t do me any good and it certainly doesn’t do you any favors. I’ve also learned that there are a number of awesome open-minded people out there who love me for being me. This has not been an easy journey. Reprogramming old habits and practicing vulnerability is hard!
Yes, there are people who don’t understand. Yes, there are people who pass judgment. Yes, there are people who question my decisions and my lifestyle.
Does that really matter? Hell no!!
For each person who doesn’t understand, there is another person who does.
For each person who passes judgment, there is another person sending gratitude.
For each person who questions and doubts, there is another person that is inspired.
I am telling you this because I want you to know that you also have a choice. If it is not safe for you to be your true self in your workplace (or any other aspect of your life), I want you to seriously question whether that is the right place for you. There are plenty of amazing companies and communities out there with open-hearted individuals who will support and love you for who you are. Make it your mission to find your people and surround yourself with them.
I also want to challenge you to begin practicing vulnerability. If you haven’t already been introduced to Brene Brown’s work, let this be your personal invitation. She is researching and talking about all of the things that we have been keeping in hiding. The things that have been plaguing us for years, but no one had the courage to talk about. I was introduced to her through an amazing TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability. And I give the highest recommendation for her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
Change begins with a decision. Make today the day you decide to stop hiding and start living. You are smart, valuable and way more than enough. The world needs you to be the fullest expression of yourself. I know this feels scary, but I also know that you can do this! Be the inspiration that others are looking for by choosing to show up as you're true, authentic self one small step at a time.
On a related note, I want to mention that truly magical (and slightly scary) moment when you do run into a co-worker at an event, experience or community that you’ve kept hidden. You give each other that sideways glance or big bear hug that says, now I see you and realize you are not alone. Don’t let that moment go uncelebrated. Reach out to that person. Have a meaningful conversation and connect. This could be your next BFF, soul sister or adventure buddy.