In every workplace around the world, from Greenland to Australia, we are told to have a professional attitude and separate between our personal lives and our work. We hear phrases such as "it’s not personal" and "this is unprofessional" often and try our very best to abide by blurred rules of "professionalism" that basically translate into being cold as a fish and as detached from emotion as possible.
Sticking to these rules of professionalism has proved time and time again that they lead to the success of the business we are in because they are translated into practical decisions, solutions and actions that are void of any emotional interference, making them the best possible for the welfare of the organization. So, basically, being professional requires that we build a wall between how we feel and how we are required to go about our work. It means that we should take criticism openly and easily and not translate it into signs of weakness in our own personalities. It means that we should, under all circumstances, base our decisions and actions on what is practical and functional, regardless of the presence of any human factor in the matter.
Many have succeeded in finding and applying this intricate balance of not mixing your personal life with your professional one. They have found a way to lead two lives where one person takes over the moment they step into the workplace and another one takes over once they have left the building. Outside work, they talk about everything but work and, at work, they talk about nothing else. And I can’t help but wonder if their brains function the same way. Are they capable of not thinking about work when they are outside the workplace? And vice versa; are they capable of not thinking about their personal lives when they are at work?
The majority and norm are people who are still struggling with this demanding way of life; trying to apply the rules and trying not to "take it personally" when they are told that they have failed miserably at completing a certain task.
Consistency is a trait that simply cannot be applied by humans. As feeling, thinking creatures, it is impossible for us to maintain one mood or one level of performance throughout a day, let alone our entire careers. When we are told to remain professional and to not take it personally, we are simply kidding ourselves.
When we spend more time with the people we work with than with our spouses/kids/parents/siblings, how can we be expected to remain professional and emotionally detached from them? How are we expected to keep up a professional frontage all day long, unless we are applying enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves? These people are the ones we deal with most of the time, even more than we deal with our closest family members. They become our family in a way and we cannot detach ourselves emotionally from them. The same goes for the offices we work in. We spend more time at the office than we do in our homes so we cannot detach ourselves emotionally from their walls either. We personalize our desks with picture frames and little desk toys to make them relater to who we are. We are not cold creatures and we find it impossible to "remain professional", at least not all the time.
When your boss sits you down and gives you your annual or quarterly appraisal, telling you that you lack a certain skill or that you need to work on improving another, how are you expected to stop yourself from reflecting this appraisal on your personality and wonder if this is perhaps a point of weakness within yourself? When your boss is, in a twisted way, your God at work, how can you not take their criticism personally when, to you, they are your guidance to how you should or should not go about your work?
When your colleagues see you on your best and worst behavior, and when you do the same with them, when they know you so well that they know when to avoid you and when to come to you with or for advice, how can you remain detached and not mix your emotions with your work?
Julia Roberts, when playing the role of Erin Brockovich, screamed to her boss during a quarrel where he told her that this is work and that it’s not personal, "NOT PERSONAL! That is my WORK, my SWEAT, and MY TIME AWAY FROM MY KIDS! IF THAT IS NOT PERSONAL, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS!”
Our work is personal. Our lives in our offices are personal. Our relationships with our colleagues, bosses and subordinates are personal. Remaining "professional" is a myth; it’s an inapplicable idea that we simply must dispose of. So, the next time you feel like crying at the office or punching a hole through your boss’s wall, please feel free to do so.