Sharing out of Authenticity Versus Withholding for the Sake of Professionalism

I have seen so many wonderful humans on and off the screen being so vulnerable and authentic lately. It has been incredibly inspiring. From friends to public figures, I am reminded time and time again that there is endless strength in vulnerability.

Rachel Platten, a singer-songwriter who sings the inspiring, well-loved songs Fight Song and Stand By You, shared on social media last week that she hid the fact she has been struggling with postpartum anxiety the last two months, “I thought, I’ll share about it when I’m “better”. I’ll have a really powerful story about how i overcame it. And everyone will think oh she’s so strong bla bla.

Rachel’s sentiment of wanting to share her struggle once she overcame it deeply resonates with me. I always think to myself, “I am going to get my feet in the ground first and then I’ll share this. I feel too vulnerable sharing right now” or, “I can’t share this because it could impact my career, relationships, etc.”.

In the past, when I first began publicly sharing my life on social media, I was quick to share what I was going through, thinking and feeling. I often did not hold back. In some instances, this got me into trouble. I’ve had to learn what boundaries are right for me. Right now, I in a sense feel too stringent on always keeping my guard up. I like to think I share where I can, but I still feel my content lacks the vulnerability that once came to me with ease. It was the brave vulnerability I was known for. The candor I was met with praise for.

I realize I have grown to favor some amount of privacy. At the same time, I also would like to challenge myself to be more open where I feel comfortable being open. Worry often stops me now.

While it may seem that simply worry is the locking door that causes me to no longer share as much or at all, and one could say, “Well, just face it and share it. You’ll be fine”, it is not that easy.

I began sharing my thoughts and writings online as a way to connect with others, receive support and also for the fun of it. In the past few years, my work online has naturally become professional. This is one of my jobs now. And with that professional territory has come the threat of being too honest — of being too vulnerable. And you may ask me, “What’s wrong with being honest?”. Jobs outside the mental health community, and I would argue even some jobs within the community, and academic institutions expect solely professionalism, which leaves little room for practicing authenticity. Some would much rather see a phony highlight reel than an honest depiction of a struggle being worked through. Working through a struggle shows bravery and strength. It is a shame the world continues to push aside and sometimes even punish those who are honest.

It makes sense to an extent, as a hiring manager may hire someone who is qualified and ready for the position over someone struggling or going through a hardship. At the same time though, especially during this pandemic, we all struggle time to time. It is human to go through hard times. It would be absolutely careless to assume an employee will never struggle or face hard times in life. It would be ideal if more of the professional world realized and accepted we all experience difficult times, but we often see authenticity disqualifying one’s abilities. Many of us can excel professionally and academically while also dealing with heavy struggles; it does not have to be one or the other. I struggle with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses and I work and attend school full time. I work quickly and diligently and I am in my school’s honor society. Struggle and success are not mutually exclusive.

I’m realizing that the work we do as writers and online personas now is what will define how it will be in the future. Even if it is lifetimes from now, I hope one day we value being open and honest over a gleaming highlight reel that may not even encompass the actuality of someone’s life.

I personally have my boundaries and limits as a writer; however, I would like to share more, even if it is just a little and even if it is after I am doing better. And I don’t want to feel guilty about it. As Rachel Platten explained, she felt guilty for keeping her struggle to herself. I feel the same way at times. However, it is valid for many reasons to hold back and share more publicly, and even privately, when we are able to. Shame, worry or our professional lives may hold us back from always sharing during the struggle, and it is important to challenge that while also remaining confident in our choices.

We must remember that delaying sharing something until we are comfortable sharing it or until we have found our footing is not inauthentic or withholding the truth; sometimes it comes down to survival.

Something I practice when making these decisions on what to share and what not to share publicly is that I will always share what I feel comfortable sharing privately in therapy and with close friends. This way I am still practicing authenticity, but it is not jeopardizing me professionally. I still feel it is important to try to share some matters publicly though, even if it’s not everything. And I don’t think we ever have to share every detail as privacy matters and boundaries are healthy. I have said before that it is ok to be honest in some areas while not saying everything; that doesn’t make you inauthentic — it just makes you a human being deciding what is best to share for the sake of connection and what it best kept close to the heart. I continue to work on deciding on what I’d like to be more open about as I work through it.

I will leave you with these questions: How do we balance authenticity and honesty when it can negatively impact us professionally? Where do we draw the line? Do we sacrifice one or the other? Can there be a balance? Does the line change topic to topic? What do boundaries look like? How can we feel comfortable in our decisions?

Personally, I feel the line I walk is ever-changing and is contingent on my current feelings surrounding each struggle. For instance, I may be more inclined to share a struggle I have overcome many times before rather than something new, as it may seem less likely to others I will certainly overcome the new hurdle. I was very hesitant to share my bipolar disorder diagnosis and did not talk publicly about it until a year later, until I was comfortable with it myself, for this very reason and others. A lot of thought goes into my decisions of what I post and I try to look at every angle before pressing “share”.

It is sad to me that we must think like this at times in order to survive. Some people also have bad intentions when scouring one’s social media — looking for things to belittle, make fun of or disqualify. It comes with the territory, of course — to know that people like that exist and are going to do as they please. We must focus on the bigger picture and how we are actively helping others feel seen, heard and supported — that is worth everything to me.

Being honest about struggling and detailing a plan to move forward from said struggle (ie. going to therapy, starting a new medication, etc.) should suffice when we share what we are going through publicly online. We sadly do not always get this understanding from the professional world as we do from our friends or colleagues.

Sometimes we cannot share at all. Sometimes we must wait to share until it is safe. It is just as fiercely brave to have boundaries as it is to be vulnerable.

For when I was best known for my brave vulnerability, I now want to cement in my brain how fulfilling it felt to build connection with others in the unraveling of my layers and the lowering of my walls. Connection is a beautiful, sacred thing. If being open has taught me anything, it is that it is always worth it in one way or another. Lost souls find solace in the surrendering of safely kept secrets. No longer are we alone. No longer are we trapped. Where there is vulnerability and authenticity, there are hands reaching out to lift us back up.

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