Is It Unprofessional to “Open Up”?

Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Getting Personal | 12 comments

I’ll be the first to say this whole “public figure/professional” thing throws my head for a loop. How do I balance being sincerely me and being the face of my “brand”? Well, to be honest, I probably suck at it. The answer is probably that I am supposed to be sincerely me, and that sincerely me is supposed to be a whole lot of AWESOME.

What if it isn’t?

What if I smile and say happy things when really I’m hurt or terrified or under a lot of pressure?

What if going on vacation really meant going to see a specialist?

What if the real reason I don’t have a lot of time to talk isn’t because I’m getting heaps of work done, but because I’m sleeping too much or not feeling well or have appointments with the doctor?

What if you are hiding something because you think people only like you when you are being chipper and fun, and now you are constantly at war within yourself?

Look, I’m an open book a lot of the time and about some things that aren’t too easy to deal with. I obviously suck at being professional and excel at putting my foot in my mouth. There are some things though that you learn not to talk about.

Like when someone says, “How is your day?” Do they really want to know? Or do they want you to say, “Great, how was yours?” Wouldn’t it just be negative and depressing to hear anything else?

I’m sure some people think not. They think you should talk about how you feel and what you are going through. And I have to an extent. I’ve opened up about my son’s autism, about homeschooling my kids, about my history with depression. I say so when I’ve had a bad day. I vent about things. I try to keep the negative to a minimum, though, because there are some things people don’t want to know.

There are some things that I don’t want to talk about. There’s this idea that talking about things makes everything better. But you know what? That’s not always true. Sometimes talking about certain things makes you a depressing person to be around, when you want to be fun and make other people feel happy. Sometimes talking about certain things results in empty responses, and you feel like you put your heart on the line for nothing, and now it’s just bleeding on the floor and people are nonchalantly stepping around it to get to the coffee machine and pick up a copy of today’s newspaper to read the latest sports results.

If I say something, I have to face that some people will be insensitive and other people will treat me differently. At the same time, you wonder if it might make people understand a little better. Like if they know, they might understand why you haven’t been around as much or why you’re so tired all the time or why you’ve been kind of snappy.

Instead you let everyone buy into your smile. Even my closest friends have said I seem “unaffected” by things that would bother them. That’s only because I feel like I HAVE to act unaffected, even in private. Sure, I’ve told them it’s not really easy, that I’m just getting through it with a smile on my face because I have to–and that is true…but is it a cop out to give them a generic response when the real response should be, “Actually, I’m going through xyz right now and I’m a mess, but I’m just faking happiness because despite you always being there for me, I still feel like I would just be a burden to tell you what’s really going on.”

Now, here’s the other thing. Even if it was professional to open up, would I really want to? Would I want to talk about these negative things? Maybe part of the reason I don’t open up is to protect myself. Because when I have to think about these things, it makes me sad, and I don’t want to spend my life being sad.

How do I know this? Because I HAVE opened up before. I’ve opened up and been ripped apart for it. I’ve opened up and been pitied. I’ve opened up and spent the rest of the day dealing with the headache I always get after I cry too much. I’ve opened up and just felt UGLY afterward. Maybe part of the problem is that I ask my friends to help me with the shallowest of things instead of the things that really matter; it’s my (probably unhealthy) way of coping. Of hey, I’m sick here, but instead of talking to you about how that is making me feel, I’m gonna whine about something petty and stupid and maybe you can help me fix that!

Why do I do that? I am not really sure, but I think it helps me deal with the REAL stuff. Like it gives me something positive to surround myself with. Maybe it’s just a way of lying to myself about the quality of my life. Kind of like how some people might deal with being unhappy with their weight by buying a fancy car and a big screen TV instead of exercising more.

At the same time, are “shallow” acts of kindness and support so wrong? If I smile at someone I pass by on the street and it makes them feel better, is that okay? If I buy someone flowers when what they really need is a kidney transplant, is it wrong if that makes them feel a little better? I guess I know I need things people can’t give me, but I also know that I need friends and support. So I ask them for what they can give me. The shallow stupid stuff that makes me feel better but makes me feel stupid at the same time. But it’s “safe” and I need that.

Sometimes, though, I think people get mad at me for not opening up. It’s nothing personal. I feel fine being there for my friends but guilty every time I ask them to be there for me. Again, maybe it’s because I’m asking them to be there for the “safe” things and not the things that matter. I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place because I need my friends, I love my friends, my friends are amazing–but for the sake of my own emotional well-being, I just can’t talk about the things that matter. It’s distanced me, over time. I’ve probably even lost some friends because of it. But I guess it’s that fight or flight syndrome. I fight for survival all the time. When I’m here, though, in “internet land” or hanging out with my friends, I just want to FORGET all that for a while and just enjoy life and have fun and be silly.

But then I run out of silly and happy things, and I think THAT is where the distance really takes it’s toll. It’s one thing to keep it light, it’s another when you aren’t really saying anything at all. Like if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Well,what a boring person that makes for. But it’s not that I don’t WANT nice things to say. Sometimes though, you an focus on the positive in your life, but there’s ONLY SO MUCH to focus on. I don’t mind. I’m happy with those things. But I don’t think other people want to hear me talk about the same 2 or 3 things all the time, like I have been.

I guess there is a lot of reasons why I don’t open up. There’s the feeling like I’m not allowed to, because it’s unprofessional and negative. And then there is the reason I don’t open up with people even in private: I don’t want to be in that sad place when I’m talking to my friends. I don’t want them to feel down either. I don’t like negative. I want to drown the negative and focus on the positive and maybe that is just me trying to create some kind of bubble to live in. They have their own stuff going on and I don’t want to add to it; I want to be there for them, not need them to be there for me. Friendship works both ways, though, right? I know my friends are willing, if I’d give them a chance, but I can’t get past the guilt of needing them and possibly never being able to repay their kindness. I know they aren’t keeping tabs, just as I don’t keep tabs; it’s just this ridiculous BLOCK in my head that I can’t get around, even though I know better.

But then there’s the other side of things. That maybe I come across as shallow or cold because everything in my life with real meaning is so negative that I can’t talk about it and all that is left is conversations about the weather and what I ate for lunch and what’s going on with my books/writing or how cool/funny/smart/talented/AMAZING my kids are.

I guess when it comes to opening up, I’m not sure how professionally or emotionally safe it is to do. One affects me as a writer and one affects me as a friend.

Of course, I’m not sure how “professional” it is for me to even post this to my blog. Maybe I’m sticking my foot in my mouth again. But sometimes I just get tired of analyzing every little thing I do and say. Truth is, there are plenty of people in the world who will do that for me, and I’m not sure how helpful it is to always be doing that to myself. So there it is.

Do you have things you don’t want to talk about or reasons that you fear opening up with  people, even loved ones?

Related Media (a semi-related youtube video that makes some points early on that resonated with me):

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Rebecca Hamilton is a USA Today bestselling Paranormal Fantasy author. Her bestselling Forever Girl Series is available at online retailers and has been optioned for film with Witten Pictures. The Hungarian edition has been published with IPC books and the German edition has been published with Darkiss, a Harlequin imprint.


  1. As Albert Einstein so rightly said, you cannot solve a problem at the same level at which it was created. Thus trying to “fix” ourselves using the same frame of reference and the same thought process that has resulted in the very behaviors that drive us nuts is as unsuccessful as you are experiencing. May I suggest you follow my blog series that is going on right now – The View from Here, if you’d like to consider some uncommon ideas.

  2. (I’m about to be long-winded)

    I seldom like to publicly speak about negative feelings for a partially selfish reason. So many of my years were spent giving into this side of myself, that when it crops up again I like to shoo it away as quickly as possible. As a writer now understanding what it is to build a platform etc, I like being me, the me who can also sit back and chill and be real with family and friends. At the same time, I don’t think because I hold back some elements of that person from the world, I am no longer being me or being real. It’s just another shade of Jackie. Just as your ‘foot in the mouth’ days or ‘professional’ days or ‘right now I don’t care what you think world’ days, are shades of Rebecca :).

    Thank you so much for being open and sharing :).

    • Thanks. I really like your way of looking at this. I think you’re absolutely right :)

      • I love how Jackie put it. I totally agree. I’m glad you shared here. Xo

  3. <3

  4. “Do you have things you don’t want to talk about or reasons that you fear opening up with people, even loved ones?”

    Yes. Absolutely. Very, very big things and reasons. Sadly.

    Becca. I love this post. I love that you write the things you do, and that you write them the way you do. I love that you’re human. :) You need to do what you need to do, I get that. But thank you for this entry. :) A lot.

    • I’m sad to hear you are in the same boat. You know I’m always there for you, but sounds like you are like me–sometimes the whole world could be there for you and you just CAN’T talk about it.I’m glad if this post at the very least made you feel not alone. Thanks for being a great friend.

  5. Yes, yes and yes.
    I have been struggling with depression for years and have just now had the courage to take it head on. You explained why I want to speak up and why I don’t.
    Thank you :)

  6. I wish we lived closer. I’d take you for a coffee & listen. Nno judgement or problem solving. Sometimes that’s where it gets tricky for people I think. If they would go into it just being an ear, then the pressure is off. It’s hard to do that through the internet though. It’s funny. Many of my friends are here because I’m a writer. My local friends don’t really get me like my online writer friends do. Weird? Xoxo

    • Not weird at all! I feel the same way with my online friends :) Friends are friends anyway! I like that you call them local friends, so much more accurate than “real life” friends (which seems to be what people call them, even though that’s not what they really mean). Ah, semantics 😛 I wish we lived closer, too.

      • I was just about to say what Jennifer said about how I too wish we lived closer and how I could take you for a coffee and just listen minus any judgement thingy… cos it indeed is true that it is hard to that through the internet. (Pssttt…. I have been told that I’m a good listener 😉 )

        We all go through stuffs and are very much entitled to how much we want to open up and with who. Sometimes opening up helps but also at times we see how much of our opening up is taken though we are expected to open up,so that makes us open up less. And also for reasons you mentioned of not wanting friends feel down along with us. In my opinion, it’s just a part of we we are – being human. Just being more human than what we are *supposed* to be, I guess. But thats who we are, some will love that in us, some not. <3<3


  7. I understand where you’re coming from in regards to questioning how much you need to open up on a public and professional forum, and whether or not you should even have to.

    But by simply going through the process of writing this post and sharing your thoughts, you didopen up. So… whether you realize it or not, you are already putting yourself out there.

    You don’t have to share anything you aren’t comfortable with. The key is… to just share something. Which you’re doing.

    Humanizing and personalizing your “brand” is always a good thing.

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