Is It Unprofessional to “Open Up”?
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):
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.