• Vanessa Anstee

Is identifying as “professional” at work holding back your growth?

Being described as “professional” carries weight with many of my clients. Just last week a client was saying that their regular team meetings were professional but that no-one really said it how it was. When I enquired about the impact of this, they replied that everyone was keeping up a polite front. When we went deeper, we discovered that this lack of vulnerability was feeding a narrative in my client that “everyone else must be on top of everything.” This was driving a feeling of loneliness and disconnection.

Another client expressed it differently, yet it was a similar issue. Having been emotional when we were talking, they expressed a fear was that they were coming across as unprofessional.

In that same week during a team meeting I was facilitating, the desire to stay professional was holding some team members back from really expressing how team toxins showed up in their team.

Being someone that looks at flirts and patterns it seemed curious to me that three different clients in one week had referred to the need to be professional. I decided to look at the dictionary definition of the word professional.

The Oxford dictionary defines professional as, “Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person; competent, skilful, or assured. This definition made me wonder, if as human beings we need to be competent, skilful or assured, how can we allow the vulnerability to ask for help or admit that we’re struggling with something? Furthermore, if our workplaces are breeding grounds for the assumptions that in order to have an identity of professional, we cannot show our grief, incompetence or vulnerability, the aspects of our humanity that drive connection are unconsciously being marginalised.

I have been reminded in lessons of humanity throughout the ORSC (Organisational Relationship Systems Coaching) certification programme I’ve been doing. One of the biggest challenges I faced having held the identity of “coach” for 8 years was having to be with the shame and humility that came up when I was faced with my own privileges and assumptions.

Many of us we have a strong desire to be perceived as strong and professional at work but what we’re facing more than ever is the need to be better humans together. To be better together begins with our relationship with ourselves. Arnie Mindell says, “

the world you want by the way you work with yourself.” He suggests that the world is what’s happening in you and your relationships and he reminds us that world work is about how you and I get along with ourselves and how we deal with teamwork.

There have been many times in my life where I’ve felt the need to keep it together and act professional. Those times may have served me on one level yet what I now know to be true is that they also left me feeling disconnected from my truth. Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose, the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

If being professional is one of those lines that you use on yourself to keep you a safe distance from exposing any potential vulnerability, I invite you to take a moment and reflect. What would be possible if you risked the vulnerability to share the truth of your experience?

Remember you are made up of successes and mistakes, fears and shortcomings. Few diamonds are perfect. Acknowledging and owning our truth is what will help us to continue to learn and grow. It’s that state of continually learning and growth mindset that whilst painful at first, with practice, opens the door to a whole new land and home within ourselves.