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5 Ways to Be Your Best and Whole Self at Work

A group of office colleagues working together on a board.

Your whole self is the intersection of your past experiences, present interests and future goals. It encompasses your friends and family, strengths and weaknesses, values, beliefs and dreams.

Being your whole self means allowing what makes you “you” to shine through. In the workplace, however, that’s not always so simple.

Often people compartmentalize who they are — tucking away part of their identity during working hours, which only reappears once the work day ends; however, bringing your whole self to work may make it easier to feel at home in your work surroundings.

If that’s something you struggle with, these tips may help you get more comfortable with being yourself on the clock.

1. Acknowledge and embrace who you are.

Think about the people, places and experiences that have shaped your life and personality. Ask yourself:

  • What’s at the heart of your story?

  • Where did it begin and where do you hope your story will take you next?

  • What good or bad choices have shaped your story?

  • What do you most want people to know about you?

All of this makes up what Northwestern University psychology professor Dan McAdams calls your “narrative identity.” Getting to know the person it’s molded you into, he says, is a critical step in recognizing your whole self and living a more meaningful life. The better you know yourself, the better equipped you are to share it with your coworkers.

2. Pursue meaningful connections.

Part of being your whole self at work involves engaging on a more personal level. To do that, you need to cultivate an interest in who your coworkers are. That includes things like:

  • Their personal and professional goals

  • Their hobbies

  • Their family backgrounds

At the same time, you should be open to sharing these same facets of your own personality. According to a 2018 Gallup survey, building friendships at work can make you more engaged and productive, which can also help you perform at a higher level.

3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is scary because it means being honest about the best — and sometimes worst — aspects of yourself. Author and professor Dr. Brene Brown equates vulnerability with bravery. In a work setting, being vulnerable means accepting the risk of not being “right” or “perfect” in order to have more authentic conversations with the people around you.

So how do you allow yourself to be vulnerable and still be your best self at work? These tips may help:

  • Allow yourself to be emotionally invested in what you’re working on.

  • Own your mistakes and be honest if you don’t know something.

  • Offer criticism objectively, without judgment.

  • Don’t shy away from difficult conversations.

  • Set boundaries and be respectful of the boundaries of others.

Vulnerability doesn’t equate with weakness, Brown says. It can actually be a strength if it allows your best self to show up to work every day.

4. Develop your passions.

What are you passionate about? If you’re in touch with your whole self, the answer to that question may come easily. But if it doesn’t, it’s time to do some digging to learn what you’re really interested in, both in and out of the workplace.

Think about:

  • What initially attracted you to your current employer and what do you like most about your job?

  • What do you hope to achieve in your current role?

  • Is there another role you’d like to pursue, or a skill you’re interested in learning?

Also, consider how you spend your free time away from work. Is there anything you really love to do? Any interests you’ve been putting off trying?

Numerous research studies have shown that having a creative hobby can reduce stress, improve health and help foster a more positive attitude at work. The more vibrant your personal life is, the more energy and enthusiasm you can bring to your desk on Monday morning.

5. Be mindful of your perceptions.

How you view your work may dictate how successful you are in being your whole self day in and day out. Do you wake up excited to go to work each day, or do you dread the thought of another long week? If you find yourself slipping into negativity, a quick mental reset may help get you back on track. One University of Waterloo study found that meditating for just 10 minutes can sometimes be enough to ease anxiety and help you refocus.

Being your best and whole self at work may not be easy at first. Once you get past the initial growing pains, however, you can reap the rewards of being fully engaged on the job.