By Rex Huppke
WWR Article (tl;dr) Are you holding back who you really are from your co-workers? If you have fears about truly being your authentic self, you may want to consider the advice of Chris Edwards. His new memoir, “Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some,” comes out this October.
I believe it was Rex Huppke (ahem) who once wrote:
“When we lose fundamental aspects of our personalities, like acting tough when we’re innately gentle or keeping a quirky sense of humor at bay, our potential is limited. We are a less good version of ourselves.”
Wise words. (I can now check “start column by quoting self” off my bucket list.)
I return to the subject of letting your true colors show in the workplace after reading about Chris Edwards, a transgender man who used his marketing know-how to win over co-workers while he was transitioning to his authentic self.
Edwards’ story and his transition from female to male, which he announced to co-workers in 1995, a time when few even knew what “transgender” meant, is inspirational and instructional for people who want to show their true gender identity or sexual orientation at work.
But it goes beyond that. What he did is chart a course anyone could follow, a means of overcoming fears that the real you might not be embraced by co-workers.
“It’s like a marketing strategy come to life, only you use it on yourself,” Edwards told me. “Authenticity seems to be the term in corporate America. Everywhere you go, so many companies seem to be promoting this and wanting to bring people in, to encourage their employees to be themselves and look for ways where they can feel comfortable showing who they really are.”
It sounds easy enough, because that’s what many companies claim to want. But if there’s a part of you that you’ve never shared in a work setting, letting that out can be daunting.
“When you get to whatever it is, for me it was my gender, for somebody else it could be overcoming an addiction or being newly divorced or maybe you have physical handicaps of some sort, people are going to look at you differently,” Edwards said. “How can you manage that and control that and get them to see the person you are and the person you want to see?”
Edwards struggled with those questions but then realized the tools he needed were part of his profession. He was an advertising executive and one of the key concepts at the time was “evangelism marketing,” which uses people who like a particular brand to spread their love of a product or company via word of mouth.
In his memoir, “Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some,” coming out in October, Edwards wrote: “So I figured, why not turn my coworkers into brand evangelists for me? … I would tell a core group of coworkers my story personally, coach them on how to pass it on.”
His father ran the company he worked for, so Edwards announced his transition to the company’s board first and then, as soon as that meeting ended, had his “brand evangelists” start talking to other people in the company about what was happening.
From his memoir: “My marketing strategy was working; my ‘brand’ was being promoted and defended from all sides.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, of course. But Edwards’ new brand was embraced with relatively few problems.
“My strategy was to be myself through it all,” Edwards wrote. “Show everyone that while my gender might be changing, the essence of me wasn’t: I was still ‘Me,’ just ‘Me 2.0.'”
The obstacles a transgender person faces are obviously far more complex than someone who simply wants to reveal a different part of his or her personality. You’re not going to call a board meeting to announce that you do stand-up comedy on the side and plan on becoming a lot funnier at work.
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But the principles of Edwards’ approach still apply. Look at yourself as a brand. Think about the people who like your brand. Talk to them, tell them about the part of yourself you’ve kept tucked away and ask them to help support you as you become more … you.
“I think a lot of people are just paralyzed by fear,” Edwards said. “They think, ‘Well, I really want to be this or I want to do this in my life or I want to change my job,’ but they don’t know how. The main message of empowerment that I deliver in the book and when I speak is that we all have the power within us to control how people define us. Instead of sitting there and worrying about what other people are going to think about you or say about you, we can shape the way they think about us and shape they way the view us and define us. By putting yourself in control and realizing that you’re in control, that gives you all the power your need to be your authentic self.”
As a wise me once said, when we leave behind key aspects of our personalities, we become less good versions of ourselves.
Maybe letting the real you out at work isn’t as complicated as you think. Maybe it’s just a matter of taking the time to form a strategy. And making sure you’re not branding yourself short of who you really are.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune.