Business isn't personal, until it's forced to be

Soon after I graduated college, I got what was considered a big-girl-job; the kind where you say you have a salary and health benefits. It was especially exciting because this role followed suit with my degree in medical illustration. I mean, how many people got to say they landed their dream job directly after college? I enjoyed my time spent there because I had a great boss who taught me so much about Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and gave me countless opportunities to challenge and improve myself further. My coworkers were all kind and helpful and I was eager to help with every new task thrown at me.

It was a perfect mixture for a 22-year old in the workforce. I got to do a job I enjoyed with people I liked, get paid and then go home everyday not thinking of work. Eventually, my role shifted and I started taking on more marketing-based tasks. After a couple years at that company, I decided to change the scenery and pursue a new place to call my work-home. I went from a company that was right up my alley to IT where I knew basically nothing about the field. No matter, I’d just throw myself into it and learn everything I could to do well. All was going swimmingly–or so I thought–until one day, someone at work told me I gave people the impression I was “cold” and “unapproachable.”

“What? But I’m nice to everyone,” I thought. “I say my good mornings and goodbyes each day and greet everyone who comes up to my desk with a smile.” But that’s not what she meant. I came off cold and unapproachable–a thought I wouldn’t give two seconds anymore–because I didn’t share my personal life with coworkers. When we did our weekend recaps during our Monday morning team meetings, I’d typically say, “oh I tried some restaurants and hung out with some friends. Nothing crazy,” and then pass the baton to the next team member to share. So to be told that I’m cold and unapproachable because I don’t mix my personal life with work was an emotionally confusing blow to be delivered.

What I did next was what you’d expect any turbulent 24-year old to do—I started oversharing to these coworkers because that was seemingly the solution to the problem. To no one’s surprise, I actually made things worse for me. Things I kept private and to myself before were now out in the open, and I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t making the best personal decisions when I was 24. Now those reckless decisions I was making in my own time were being brought into work and influencing others into thinking this would somehow be reflective of my time on the job. Questions they would have never had before until my need to convince coworkers I wasn’t cold and unapproachable was put on the table.

Once I left that company for a new role, I was still in a haze on where to draw boundaries for myself, but this new position would be a fresh start. No one here knew anything about me, so I could choose how much or how little I’d share about myself and let them come to their own conclusions. I secretly hoped no one wanted to hear anything about my life because I was emotionally drained after awkwardly sharing too much about my life in the months prior. After a few weeks of quiet observation to see the dynamic, it seemed like most people at that company kept to themselves. This is cool, this is great–no pressure to share either.

Soon enough, this dance I was doing internally of to share or not to share, had a few missteps and I was soon enough looking for a new role. Unbeknownst to me, this would be the role that would blow everything up for me. I thought I had experienced turbulence before, but it was nothing like what was to come.

After what started on a high note, the freshness and excitement of this new job faded quickly. In a weird way, part of being in this role broke me down to shreds where I felt like I was failing in all the ways I found success before, but then it also gave me the strength and courage to no longer accept how people were changing the boundaries I was setting for myself to meet their own comfort zones.

When I left that role to start my own business, I was determined to be successful, but on my terms. For me, I am here to do a job first and build a professional relationship. The liberating part that made this work was no longer having to go into an office and do the day-to-day. My time with clients is solely centered around a beginning and an end to a project until the next project came up.

I get to show up fully and help them tackle problems together, offer solutions and make some pretty cool designs along the way, and this sort of working, professional relationship with people is how I continue to thrive in my work. Especially because in the almost four years since I’ve been working on my own, the words “cold” and “unapproachable” have been non-existent.


© 2020 by S. Duff Media, LLC

Atlanta, GA 30316

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