How To Stay Your Own Man
In just about every aspect of your life there is pressure to change, to conform, and to go along to get along. To be sure, it is necessary to make minor adjustments to others if you are in a new job or relationship. But you should never feel compelled to fundamentally alter the man you have become.
This, of course, is easier said than done. The desire to advance in your career can be a particularly strong inducement to go against yourself. After all of the money spent in getting your education and the time already invested in the job, presenting yourself as someone you’re not may seem like a reasonable thing to do; and it may help you achieve your professional goal. But ultimately, you’ll be unhappy. You are unlikely to be able to sustain the façade for very long; and the pressure of trying to do may, in the end, make you unwell.
So, what is to be done? How can you stay your own man while at the same time stay on track to advance your career? The best way to answer this question is to ask more questions:
We do not choose who we are by fiat. This happens over a number of years; it is the result of interests, temperament, and a range of personal choices made during that time. When I was in prep school, I decided one day I was going to be an engineer. Everyone around me seemed to be interested in the subject, and the opportunities for career advancement seemed boundless. However, I found it hard work to master the mathematical fluency needed for that course of study. And I was more inclined and discovered a natural ease with literature and the humanities. I was twenty at the time, but I had already made decisions such as taking advanced courses in English and History and general classes in math and science when I was in High School. The overexposure to the former and underexposure to the latter had tremendous influence on the interests I would have later in life. This example can be made into a maxim: you are your interests and your choices. If you want a clear understanding of the man you’ve become, then you must look at the range of decisions you’ve made and the things you’ve been inclined towards.
It is possible to become so wrapped up in advancing in your career that you forget why you took the job in the first place. Aside from practical considerations such as money and keeping up a certain lifestyle, which can be done in a variety of ways, it is important to remember the importance that your profession has to you. Does your fulfillment come from being exceptionally good at what you do? Does the job test your character and intellect in a way that pleases you? Does it allow you to provide or be part of providing some service to the public? Whatever the answer, you must keep asking this question if you are to stay true to yourself.
This question is closely related to the last one. You should have some sense of what you ultimately want from your profession and in your life in general. Knowing what you want to achieve before you leave this earth is a good way of concentrating the mind. The goal does not have to be grand. Even the most modest goals can give you focus—that is, something to which you can direct your energies. This can provide the inspiration you need to keep a clear picture in your mind of who you are and what you believe in.
You may sometimes feel that you are the only one who feels the way you do about your boss or the way your organization is run. You may sometimes wonder: is it me or is it them? I felt like this a number of times when I worked in the corporate world. It seemed as though I was the only one who was constantly making trouble. What I discovered later was that I was the only one willing to speak out against the incompetence of the boss. Although I ended up being thrown off the team, the person who I constantly locked horns with was fired shortly after my departure—for the reasons I tried to raise with the higher ups. The point is you should always question whether you are being unreasonable in the position you’ve taken. But if you are convinced that doing something or not doing something goes against everything you believe in, then you should act as reason, experience, and your own sense of self dictate.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.