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Be Unapologetically You

Be Unapologetically You

With the COVID-19 containment, our personal and professional lives have started to get more and more blurred and intertwined.

Suddenly we’ve found ourselves in the living rooms of our colleagues through video conferencing. Sometimes we get embarrassed. Is it that bad to have a life outside of the office?

I very much enjoy the different backgrounds of peers on Zoom calls or reporters on the news. The homey backgrounds warm my heart and make me more interested in that person. My guilty pleasure is trying to see which books they are reading. And when kids or pets jump to the screen, these scenes make the person more relatable and human. This is all part of our lives - nothing to apologize for.

[Related: Overwhelmed Remote Working Parents: I’ve Made All the Mistakes So You Don’t Have To]

How does it serve us to have both a professional persona and a personal persona and pretend the other one doesn’t exist? While this is something that affects both genders, women have this distinction even clearer.

I’ve met many women who apologize at home because they were not there and apologize at work because they were distracted by something that happened at home. They felt guilty in both situations for not being enough.

We’ve become so critical, blaming people for being unprofessional, for showing any signs of being human. For having a life outside the office. How many men in the finance industry have I heard bragging about missing their children’s births because they had a live deal and were stuck in the office?

I remember taking calls for a deal from the hospital when my father was having a difficult heart surgery. I couldn’t tell anyone that this was not the right time for me to take calls. This was what I learned from people around me.

The deal didn’t happen in the end. This was ten years ago, and I didn’t know any better. Surely, I would know that this was not the only way to show my devotion to work.

[Related: Being Busy is Nothing to Brag About: COVID-19 Workaholism is Real]

How did we decide that anything personal comes across "unprofessional?" It is exhausting to pretend that big aspects of our lives don’t exist and to wear a mask. It takes a toll on us in the long-term. While we worry so much about robots taking away our jobs, we’ve become like robots, hiding our emotions, real personalities, and personal lives.

We keep talking about authentic leadership and vulnerability. How can we be authentic if we try to hide aspects of our lives that are so important to us? Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, shows us how to do this in his daily updates.

I don’t watch him because he is an expert in epidemiology, but because I find his stories relatable. He is a human in my eyes. I will never forget the evening he talked about how his little brother, his best friend in life, tested positive for Coronavirus.

The “little” brother turned out to be the tall, big, 49-year-old Chris Cuomo from CNN. They teased each other on live TV and he told him how much he loves him. He was real and authentic. He didn’t pretend that this side of him didn’t exist.

I prefer this style over H.M. the Queen’s address to the British nation. Maybe in an old-fashioned way, she couldn’t say, “My son got Coronavirus and as a mom, I was concerned. I know what you have been going through." I waited and waited for the Queen, one of the most eloquent speakers in the world, to mention something personal, but she didn’t. What an opportunity lost, given how rare she speaks.

“Never waste a good crisis,” said Sir Winston Churchill. Our working life rules are getting rewritten right now. Silos are getting smaller and organizations getting flatter. Let’s use this opportunity to take out our masks and embrace all parts of our lives.

Exposing our living rooms along with kids, pets, and significant others - maybe we finally have a chance to show our human side to the world and not apologize for it. Maybe for the first time, our personal and professional lives can now be aligned to see how they work blended together.

Perhaps this is what this crisis is here to teach us, among other things - to merge our personal lives with our professional lives, accept them together as whole, and live in sync with both at all times.

[Related: COVID-19 Will Fundamentally Shift Office Culture in the Future. And That Might Be a Good Thing.]


Sedef Gunsur is an executive leadership coach and financial wellness coach. She is the Corporate Liaison Lead for Ellevate's Dubai Chapter.

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