Are you hiding something important about yourself?

If you didn’t grow up in the country club set where professional and personal lives are blurred, you may still be operating by the old adage of “I keep my business and personal lives separate.” This is a failed strategy that many women, LGBT, and people of color employ. The divide begins early: “We don’t want those people to see how we live. They think they are better than us.” Or, “I work all day; I don’t want to have to work all night being around them.” Or maybe you were just taught to keep your personal life personal. From Haiti and the first in her family to make it, Bea took pride in being direct and, while at work, working.

I am not really a people person. With clients, you have to make small talk but for the most part chit-chatting is a waste of time. I honestly don’t understand why people do it. They look at me like I have three heads.

The explanation for Bea’s behavior can be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers:

Practical intelligence, the savvy to know what to say to whom, doesn’t come easily to poorer children. Children who grow up in poverty are more submissive when addressing adults and authority figures. They aren’t raised to assert themselves. This disadvantage can result in a lifelong struggle with interpersonal communications.

Keeping personal life personal can be especially difficult if you are the success story in your family or if have challenges at home—responsibility for a sick or aging parent, a wife with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a husband who is unemployed, or children with special issues. Perhaps you cope daily with a medical condition or mental illness, or you struggle with the crises and shame caused by a family member’s substance abuse or legal problems.

Few things cause more feelings of isolation than trying to hide something about yourself Don’t imagine that you can wall off an important part of your life. On the contrary, you can be certain that even if your boss or colleagues don’t know exactly what is wrong, they will know something is wrong. Most people are unconsciously sensitive to the cues that others are “hiding” something, and as a result they trust those people less. Ultimately, you will feel even more isolated!

The solution for this kind of isolation is to talk, in a limited way that you define and control, to a select group of people. As risky as this may seem, it is much better for your manager and colleagues to understand that you are dealing with issues at home than for them to think you are dissatisfied in your position.

From Chapter 6:  How Can I Meet the Challenge of Being the Only One Like Me?


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