I was recently talking to a friend who posed an interesting question: “Are you yourself at work? Or are you a ‘work’ version of yourself?”
“Work version,” I said without hesitation, thinking of the boring yet work-appropriate clothes I usually wear to the office, trading out my Chucks for ballet flats, putting on cardigans in the summer to cover my tattoos. I become Corporate Kim for 8 hours every day, 5 days a week, until I can slip into a blissful weekend of nerdy t-shirts and heavy swearing. Then, I can feel like myself again. A person who only sees me Monday through Friday would never guess what I look like or what I do Friday night through Sunday.
Thinking about this made me start to wonder about the secret lives of office workers. Maybe the woman on the train wearing head-to-toe Ann Taylor Loft is secretly a dominatrix or professional arm wrestler. The guy in khakis on the elevator might write Vampire Diaries fanfiction. The man who wears the same shirt two days in a row, thinking no one will notice, never misses the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The girl who always breaks the copy machine fronts a goth cover band. Like Clark Kent and his glasses, we disguise ourselves in nondescript attire to hide our inner weirdos.
During an orientation session at a former corporate job, the HR representative asked us to each share something interesting about ourselves that no one would have guessed.
“I’ll go first,” the normal-looking, adult, grown-up man said. “I am really, really into Disney. I go to Disneyworld on vacation every year. I have Mickey Mouse figurines all over my house. There are so many I’ve lost count.”
I suddenly wasn’t surprised that he had started off the orientation seminar by purposely telling us that the company didn’t believe in random drug testing.
A friend of mine worked with a guy who set up his stuffed animal collection in his cubicle on his first day on the job. Some people apparently do not feel the need to keep their inner weirdos secret.
I am guessing, however, that most of us tend to bury the weirder parts of our personalities during the work week. My friend who posed the original question is a self-professed comic book movie/cartoon-watching nerd, but he is only one degree removed from reaching the ear of his company’s CEO. I don’t blame him for hiding his Star Wars fanaticism from managers in order to be taken seriously (as should anyone who is a prequel trilogy apologist). Likewise, I cover my tattoos during conferences because I work with professionals in a conservative field, and it seems more appropriate to do so.
I remember when I first started interviewing for “grown-up” jobs in my 20’s and being told by a recruiter to wear an interview suit. I did not own a suit at the time, and began freaking out immediately. “Is ‘interview suit’ just a figure of speech, like ‘party pants’?” I asked my boyfriend, who sighed and offered to help me go suit-shopping. Years later, at the age of 34, I still feel like I’m wearing a costume whenever I put on one of my suits for a work conference. However, I’ve come to appreciate that feeling, which helps differentiate the work mode me from the real, weirdo me. People see me as a professional; they do not see the grown adult obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, My Neighbor Totoro, alpacas, the music of Weird Al Yankovic, and cartoons about gay unicorns. And the jacket really helps cover all the tattoos.