By Sunny Bonnell
We all want to be accepted for who we really are. That’s especially true for Rare Breeds, the gifted, stubborn misfits who won’t conform to society’s arbitrary standards because that feels like hypocrisy and self-betrayal. If you’ve never felt understood, if you’ve always known there’s a side of you that’s waiting for its moment in the spotlight, you get it.
This is especially true at work. Work is where we spend most of our waking hours, meet friends, and have an impact on the world. So when you start to follow a career path, it matters that your superiors and mentors “get” you. You want a workplace where you can let your hair down and turn your personality up to eleven — where you can obsess and be labeled a perfectionist or defy norms of dress and humor and be appreciated as a creative firecracker.
If you don’t work at a place like that, it hurts. Our readers have told us as much. Monday through Friday, from eight to five at least, you feel like you’re wearing a mask, selling out, and being less than yourself in exchange for…what? A shot at a promotion or a five percent raise? That’s a crappy trade.
If you’re stuck in that kind of job, here’s the key question:
Can you get your boss to see and respect the real you, or are you better off leaving?
The answer is, it depends. For one thing, Rare Breeds are always misunderstood. That’s the price of being a disruptor or visionary. You get used to it…but that doesn’t mean you have to take it. Over the years, we’ve spotted four under-the-radar “reveals” that will tell you if your workplace can learn to accept and appreciate the Rare Breed you or if you should head for the exit.
First, your leaders give people a lot of freedom and flexibility. Insecure executives keep employees on a short leash because they worry that if they think for themselves, they won’t follow orders. They lead through fear. Confident execs know that giving people autonomy actually makes them work harder and own their results. They’re also less likely to be threatened by you being you.
****Sudanese pop music in a morning meeting? Tiki ephemera or silent movie images finding their way into designs or presentations? If people’s personal obsessions show up in their work, that’s a good sign. That’s because the company is cool with letting employees express themselves. They know the only way to tap into anyone’s true genius is by letting them step out of “company mode” and be authentic. Smart.
****The third reveal is that company get-togethers are spontaneous and employee-driven, not mandated and planned by management. Colleagues connect when they feel like the people they work with every day are the real deal, not sanitized, buttoned-down robots. They want to hang out, have drinks, grab dinner, or throw a barbecue. The company doesn’t have to schedule awkward team-building events because the team builds itself.
****Finally, everybody swears early and often. Could you create an Obscene-o-Meter to assess the health of a company’s culture? Probably. In our experience, workplaces where everyone from the newest hire to the CEO drop f-bombs at will (without crossing over into things like sexual harassment) are laid back, have more energy, and are the kinds of places Rare Breeds congregate.
Obviously, if your workplace is already packed with daring, audacious people, you’re probably in a good place. But most of the time, things aren’t that black and white. These subtle clues can help you figure it out. If at least two of them apply to your workplace, it’s probably worth sticking around and trying to bring your real self to the office more often. If not, move on to someplace better and don’t look back.
We’re Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger, authors of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different (HarperOne), hosts, and executive producers. We’re also the co-founders of the award-winning branding agency Motto. Learn more about us and our book at www.rarebreedbook.com.
© Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger 2020