Having a sense of one’s own individuality, and indeed being wholly and uniquely you, is regarded as an admirable and valuable quality. Being an active member of a team and acting for the greater good are likewise noble traits. Some are under the notion however that these are mutually exclusive qualities.
You see this in some of the “hipster” ethic, with a holier than thou attitude and a disdain for “anything mainstream”. If you are a visibly enthusiastic team player, you are looked upon as “square” and your contribution devalued.
At the other end of the spectrum is an attitude that rejects all individualistic and creative thought, where you just do your job and don’t ask any questions. Voicing your opinion equals violating the status quo and you are summarily rejected.
Somewhere between these two extremes is a person who is a distinct individual, capable of free and creative thought – who can also be an effective team player and thrive in a group environment. These qualities are not mutually exclusive and indeed it is vital to be able to operate as both. Our culture needs people who can be both.
Asserting and insisting upon your own “importance” while ignoring others – or worse, denigrating them – is a violation of the basic laws of human interaction. This is known as “bad manners”, being egotistical, rude, arrogant, etc. There are enough people who “don’t like you” simply because you’re YOU – no need to feed into that by being obnoxious.
But do not confuse this with being confident, assertive, and knowing your abilities, nor should you confuse this with being in charge and willing to give orders.
There is a particular sphere of rudeness and obnoxiousness that is a blight to our society at the moment. And that is how some people “communicate” while online. Far too many people feel they can be vicious, snide and antisocial online under the protection of anonymity. While I’m all for free speech, the level of spite and venom just gets out of hand. I ignore almost all of it.
On a more positive note, I do see a more recent trend where antisocial conduct has backfired on some individuals and I believe people are beginning to realize that it is a better idea to treat others as you’d like to be treated.
Expressing your individuality is far easier when you are civil. Show your self-respect by respecting others.
What is a Professional?
A professional pushes through barriers in order to get the intended outcome. A professional doesn’t give up. A professional upholds high standards. You can easily be a professional while also being yourself. When you’re on the job, it is often necessary to be “all business”. When you get off work, you don’t have to be “all business” anymore.
It is interesting that the higher you are in an organization, the less your life belongs to you. I’m afraid that is one of the perks of responsibility. If you are the president of a country, people expect that you are the president ALL THE TIME, 24/7 and 365 days a year. If you’re the CEO of a large company, people assume you’re a 24/7 CEO. I’m afraid it goes with the territory.
That said, you can still be YOU and express your individuality while being highly responsible, but it takes some cleverness, not being overly serious all the time, and the realization that being YOU means being responsible. And it helps immeasurably when you are having a good time and making sure others are as well.
A Company’s Individuality
Some companies are the living embodiment of the personality of their founder or CEO. Apple is a great example of that, as are Ben & Jerry’s, Google, Nike, Virgin Group and many others. That is not to say these companies haven’t gone through seismic shifts over the years, but they were originally born from a unique and individual vision.
There have been many articles and books written on what is called “company culture” and it has been defined various ways. Company culture or organizational culture could be defined as follows:
The values, practices, personality, attitudes, codes, conduct, expectations, environment, vision, purposes and goals of a company or group. It also encompasses the appearance, symbols, aesthetics, and various communication resources used to further the culture both within the company itself and with its customers or the broad public.
Company culture covers a wide swath of endeavor. Even if you’re company has only one person in it, namely you, there should be some sense of company culture brewing or being developed. There is plenty of room for individuality. In a sense, just as an individual has a personality, the personality for a company could be summed up as its company culture. You should work with your partners and associates in order to develop it. When you do so and keep working at it, you’ll probably notice some of your own personality in the mix. It makes for a fascinating exercise.
For example, I am a big sports fan, particularly the Green Bay Packers but I also love the Detroit Lions and the Detroit Tigers. I also used to do a lot of boxing. I’ve incorporated all of the above into what I do. My office is plastered with Green Bay colors and paraphernalia. I meet with sports figures on a regular basis on youth initiatives and to forward drug education and rehabilitation. And I opened Elite Fighting and Fitness, my boxing and martial arts academy for youth so they can pursue sports and healthy competition instead of hanging out on the streets and getting into trouble.
These were programs born out of my own personal interests and experience which I incorporated into the overall purpose of helping people conquer addiction and steer clear of drugs.
Personal vs. Professional
It is certainly necessary to delineate between your personal and professional life. You could go quite batty otherwise. When you get home to your family, be there in the moment. When you’re back at work, be there. It takes the ability to switch on and switch off, to set down one hat and pick up another. You may have to work on it. When you’re working, state in no uncertain terms that you are doing that and nothing else. When you leave the office, state emphatically that you are now an individual, a spouse, a parent, etc.
This gets especially tricky for business owners and people who work from home. When is your life even yours? The answer appears to be never! Overcoming this requires practice and discipline, otherwise you’ll have your job wrapped around your head even while you’re sleeping. When you’re done with your work, for example, close the computer, shut off the light and close the door to your office. Another helpful approach is drafting a precise schedule and following to it. There are also apps you can look into to help you divide up your personal and professional time.
The Right Way
There are right ways to do things. You can be as individual as you want but if you operate a steam locomotive, you’d better do it right – am I right? Any profession has its modus operandi (established ways of doing things). There is a right way to crack an egg, prepare a delicious meal, jumpstart a car, program a computer, frame a house, file your taxes, build a chimney, etc.
Conversely, some fields are entirely lacking any standard practice and need development. And some of the greatest artists ever were completely unorthodox in their approach. But in general there are well-established ways for doing things in virtually any field. Anyone who’s a true professional knows this.
If you’ve ever been to a great restaurant where the kitchen is visible, you’ve seen competence in action. The chef prepares a culinary masterpiece from scratch right before your very eyes. He knows what he’s doing, has a precise way of doing it, and does it with flair and artistry – and it tastes even better than it looks.
When professionalism and competence reach high enough levels, you get something aesthetic and beautiful. You’ve probably seen it before, at a Japanese restaurant, at a hair salon, or in the work of a seasoned mechanic. These are people that are consummate professionals while also being unique and compelling individuals. Anyone can aspire to this and reach it on some level.
Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
In a professional sense, you could be the most interesting individual in the world, but if you don’t put the customer first, it won’t matter. Always put the customer before yourself. If you have a difficult customer, you the individual may wish to react one way, but you as a professional are prompted to act another way. Just ask yourself how you’d like to be treated and if you’re delivering exceptional service. And act accordingly. That’s just professional courtesy and you may have to set aside your rugged individualism for the sake of good commerce.
A Weapon Called Laughter
None of this commentary on professionalism means you need to compromise your sense of humor. Sense of humor is one of the trademarks of a civilized and intelligent person. I will add however that “humor” at others’ expense isn’t the brand I’m talking about. But a sense of humor that you share with others to brighten their day is a mark of individuality you should wear well.
Mark Twain said, “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”
Striking a Balance
It is necessary to strike a balance between YOU the individual, and YOU the business owner, business person, employee, tradesperson, or whatever it is that you do. Ideally, the various parts of your life are in communication with one another, meaning they integrate well and support one another.
You being considerate of others is reciprocated in how they treat you. You taking care of yourself is reflected in your work ethic. Your peace of mind is mirrored in the peace within your own home. Your personal ambition is echoed in the vibrant atmosphere and industriousness of your workplace. And so it goes. Balance. Strike some balance and some more balance will follow.
One Last Reminder
Just keep in mind one thing:
Doing the above means you are bringing order. But as you bring order in your life, work and environment, confusion will “blow up”. Just keep bringing order and the confusion will dissipate and disappear. The result will be more order and a more balanced existence.
And with that space and freedom, you will find more and more room to express your individuality while expanding your professional sphere and prospering as a result.
Good luck and…over to you!