I have this friend. He’s a good guy, great, off-the-wall sense of humor. Zany, even, like a cut-up from an 80s movie, or that guy in the Six Flags commercials. But when you call him at work, he turns into Spock. Or a pod person. Either way, it's suddenly like talking to Leonard Nimoy.
I get it. He’s at work so he tones things down. That’s normal, especially if you’re in a senior position. Can’t be acting like Mahoney when you're running things at a financial firm. Most jobs require a certain level of formality expected, provided you don’t work at a start-up or Google. We all tone it down from 9-5, except, I hope, for Sasha Grey (if she's toning it down at work, then my titillation meter has taken a nose dive towards "legitimately frightened").
Everyone always tells you to “be yourself,” but in the same way it makes sense to not take acid at an Ultimate Fighting match, it's probably prudent to play it safe personality-wise when you're at work. Some situations just demand a little self-suppression: moments when you have to rein in the edgier, potentially objectionable aspects of your personality, and blend. The list includes first dates, job interviews, parole hearings, the entirety of a marriage, etc. None of those situations serves as an appropriate forum in which to announce an interest in collecting Nazi dolls. Just a tip.
Aside from the normal social interaction in the workplace, the primary medium for self-expression is probably the workspace. You can tell a lot about a person by the things they display in their cubicle or office. Most people, when they get their own space, want to personalize it, whether it’s a locker, a dorm room, an apartment, a car or a desk. And that’s where I struggle.
I always have grand visions of self-expression, whether it be sporting a ball cap to showcase my allegiance to my favorite football team, posting a list of favorite books on Facebook, or getting a tattoo that signifies something meaningful to me. But I always waffle too much, spend too much time agonizing over exactly what I might be projecting with those choices and my laziness and indecision win the day. I'm left with no hat, no book list and no tattoo. Which may be a good thing.
The same goes for my cube at work. Which may be a good thing.
At work you can display, and therefore reveal, as much or as little about yourself as you like, provided you don't live in Oceania. And some people go all out, at their own risk.
It's no big deal to declare your love for a favorite sports team, especially in New York City. Being a die-hard fan is fine, practically expected, but maybe outfitting your desk with every possible team-related accessory, from mouse pads and calendars to screen savers and mini-helmets isn't the best idea. Not only is it lacking in professionalism, you're setting yourself up for countless conversations about Cheddar Burress and Doofus Manning. It doesn't matter what else you're into, you've boxed yourself in by showcasing - to the extreme - that one interest. It can be tough to strike the right balance; you shouldn't have to deny your fandom (or other acceptable interests), but there's a fine line between being the boring guy with a bland cube and being the weird guy people avoid the day after the Giants lose.
There are a handful of items I opt not to display on my desk, not the least of which is a picture of my cat. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cat, and she has these incredible bedroom eyes, but they just don't come across well in photos. Similarly, I refrain from positioning my Jesus Christ bobble-head figure atop my computer. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea and think I worship the guy. But neither do I need anyone cluing into the fact that I think He’s hilarious. That conversation would just be awkward, especially since He hasn't been that funny since Vatican II.
I don't want to seem like a boring drone with no interests, but when it comes to my personality and hobbies, there are far too many land mines there to take the risk of truthfully decorating my cube. I couldn't decide how to handle it, until I visited my wife's office.
She has spent a fair amount of time making her desk look as good as possible, which is why her workstation is dominated by no less than eight photos of Yours Truly. Honestly, is there a better accessory than my smiling mug? I think not. So tomorrow I'm going to load up my desk with some pictures of me with my wife, me with my cat, and me with myself.
As a solution, it's a total win-win: no one will think I'm some kind of lunatic obsessed with sports or cats or Nazis, and my desk will be like the new water cooler, but only for hot chicks who are all up on my junk.
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE
more about mike julianelle
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.11.09 @ 8:04a
I have art posters, plants and photographs in my space - very similar to my office at home. I keep knickknacks and paddywhacks to a minimum.
I had some of these once in an office, and then, when I left, they all went into a bag and stayed in my utility room for 4 years. Totally pointless.
"the entirety of a marriage" - sneaky!
9.11.09 @ 11:38a
To be fair, it's an office, not a desk (more space) and I have at least 25 photos, only 8 of which your "smiling mug" made it into.
9.11.09 @ 1:34p
Years ago, I made the mistake of displaying in my office a set of 3 frogs my daughter gave me. Somehow, someone decided I collect frogs. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies. I now have an office full of frogs. Almost all of them are gifts from friends and co-workers. I'm trying to give them away, one-by-one, because I'm retiring in 4.5 months and I really don't have a place for them (but that's another story). I was going to give one to my dentist (who collects frogs) every time I saw him, but (fotunately) I've had little dental work in the last 24 months. So, I'll leave them with co-workers as I depart. Maybe, they too will become frog collectors.
9.11.09 @ 5:52p
As a ReMax Realtor I don't have a particular desk at my office. My actual office is wherever I happen to be. Also, being a Realtor, I'm lucky in that I can dress in business casual, or even shorts and a t-shirt if someone wants to go look at a house on little to no notice. I also can be mostly myself, but I do tone down the sick,deranged, wild and crazy side because I just don't want to be that friendly with my customers and co-workers, although I am good friends with some customers and co-workers who know every aspect of my life. Those are the people I trust most, and would have to kill if I ever decided to go into plitics.
9.12.09 @ 1:26a
I'm in sandals and a t-shirt whenever i may roam. I have been for 10 years in 2 different major cities. My sandal laden feet are up on my desk constantly.
Mike, if you hate the oppressive corporate culture, start-up software is where it is at. Be a tech writer at one of these companies. They will forgive you when you show up shirtless, hungover and begging for Cheetos. They will love you when you spout your irreverent bullshit.
9.12.09 @ 4:53p
I worked as a tech writer for many years, including in games companies. I don't think anyone would have tolerated shirtlessness.
9.13.09 @ 11:05a
To be fair, Lucy, you've never seen Geoff shirtless.
joe redden tigan
9.15.09 @ 3:41p
the only logical reasons for pics of the family at work are to make sure everyone else knows you're normal and to sort of say to your employer "look, i've got a lot riding on this, please don't fire me ever under any circumstances." other than that, seriously, you already see these people ALL THE TIME. plus, these new electronic frames with the revolving photo effect? enough. eNOUGH.