“The Skeletons In My Work Closet” by Gretchen Eberhart

Many of us split our “selves” into “work” and “life” pieces, but are never wholly present in either piece. We pressure ourselves into displaying only the identity we think is right for the situation, making everything else the proverbial “skeleton in our closet.” But what I have found is that having multiple identities can enrich both the work and home experience. 

The skeleton in my closet

At CDM Princeton, I was hired to be a scientific expert and, initially, that comprised my entire work self. But I am also a (frustrated) novelist and an (exuberant) vocal musician. At work, this unfulfilled creative part of me wanted to be let out, and as I began to lean into that, I found myself contributing in ways that went beyond my scientific chops. Surprisingly, no one told me to stay in my lane; rather, my contributions were valued, and my role expanded. I now find myself heading our strategic services group, a place I would not have expected to find myself when I joined 10 years ago.

Another part of myself I once kept in the closet at work was that of parent. In my first job, I avoided mentioning my children, worked unstinting hours, and agreed to non-stop travel.  I was afraid that showing my parent self would make me appear less valuable at work. But ‘parent’ was an integral part of me, and suppressing that reality was untenable. I ended up quitting that job, and staying home for a number of years. When I went back to office work, I was determined that my parent self would be front and center. I traded kid stories, set boundaries on my hours, identified my bedrock parental commitments, and declined assignments accordingly. And it worked. My teammates at CDM Princeton respected my boundaries. And when I committed, I was able to be all in, uncluttered by the excessive guilt I experienced when I suppressed my parent self. 

Letting my parent flag fly at work

But what about home? Shouldn’t we keep our work self in the closet at home? Well, I discovered when I didn’t have a work self, I overinvested in my parent self, and over time, began to feel less confident. I started to worry that I was sending my kids the message that I was only important in relation to my ability to care for them. Once I began working outside the home again, the attitude and skills I gained in my work life began informing my home self. Organizer. Writer. Presentation designer. Teammate. Resume reader. All those things were valuable at home; I did not need to hide them.

My takeaway? Being my whole self both at work and at home is empowering, invigorating, and liberating. 

Do you feel you bring your whole self to work? Or at home?

This article from the Harvard Business Review has great advice about how we can connect our various identities for a more fulfilling whole.

by Gretchen Eberhart
Executive Vice President, Director of Strategic Services

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