Dimming the switch

Do you find that you frequently separate your “work” self from your “real” self? A blog post I saw recently (and the accompanying comments) led me to do a little thinking on the subject.

When I was new to the workforce, I “flipped the switch” between my personal self (which, in my 20s, was, well, like someone in her 20s) and my professional self (which was someone trying to act like she knew what she was doing, even when she didn’t). The trouble was, I’d meet great people through my job, we’d click, and before you know it, my switch would flip back. Let’s just say going out for beers isn’t such a great idea when you’re a newbie.

Then I hit upon what one of the post’s commenters called “the dimmer switch.” Some people at my workplace required the full-on brightness of my professional self while with others, I could dim that down a bit and let a little of the real me shine through. The trick is recognizing the right people and the right circumstances for dimming the switch.

Generally speaking, while you’re at work the switch should ALWAYS be “on.” But dimming your professional demeanor a bit can help you forge real connections with people and result in real growth in your job and your knowledge. Keep an eye on those who hold leadership positions in your company. How do they approach people they know well? People they don’t? How do they work a room? What types of personal experiences do they share with groups and in individual conversations (and by omission, what types of stories are they likely leaving out)?

One final bit of advice: If you’re new to a job or company, the best approach may be to keep your head down, be respectful, work hard and observe, observe, observe. Learn the culture and get to know your co-workers in a professional capacity. Then, and only then, should you dim the switch and look around for those deeper connections.

Finding mentors and friends at work is one of the best things about work. After all, when we retire, most of us won’t miss the meetings, we’ll miss that daily interaction with interesting, engaged people. Just be sure you’ll be remembered for your admirable personal qualities and not for that unfortunate incident at the Christmas party.

**Sue is an HR service experience specialist who has a background in journalism, public relations and HR customer experience. Sue’s been with American Family for 12 years and spends her spare time chasing two children and keeping track of all the great movies she’s missed since she became a mom. In two years, you’re all invited to a very long film festival.


  1. Scott Stanley
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    This is a really fascinating topic, Sue. Excellent post! It’s interesting how many “switches” we tend to use in our various capacities in life.

    I really like the idea of the dimmer. My dimmer tends to get stuck in either the “on” or the “off” positions too often! You’ve given me good food for thought.

    And don’t get me started on the Christmas party incident of 1987….!!

  2. Laura Parrino Byxbe
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Dimming is a word that I wouldn’t use when it comes to advancing your career. If you have to dim yourself in order to fit in, you are in the wrong place, and you are doing a disservice to yourself and your employer. I want to be at full wattage when I show up, and I hope my employer wants me that way too. That means finding a culture where my values and style are a good match.

  3. Erica
    Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed this well-written post on a perpetually interesting subject. I like how you put quotes around “real”; I would like to underscore that adopting a professional demeanor is not any less “real” than any other way of expressing one’s personality. We all have many opportunities to let our hair down, so it’s good to also have opportunities to engage professionally with colleagues in the workplace. For me, being called upon to be my most professional self is an integral part of a full life.

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