Several months ago I was on a conference call with a colleague of mine. Collectively we were creating a proposal document for a big project. As we started to talk about strategy, action steps, and deliverables, we were suddenly interrupted by a piercing scream. It was her 18-month-old baby awake earlier than anticipated and obviously not dozing off again anytime soon.
My colleague was horrified and started apologising profusely. In among the hysterical crying in the background all I could hear was ‘sorry’ and ‘this is so unprofessional’. We quickly ended the call and rescheduled for another time.
It made me start to contemplate the idea of being ‘professional’ and questioning to what extent we shut down parts of our life in order to keep up appearances.
I started to think about how many times I lied to clients and colleagues, telling them I had to run off to a meeting when in actual fact I was on school pick up duty; or that I was unavailable to speak due to back to back consultations when in fact I was at home with an unwell child.
How many other women and men had come to believe anything associated with our personal life, such a being a parent, should not be discussed or mentioned in a professional context?
Perhaps if we started to refer to parent as ‘Director of Future Generation’ we would better comprehend the gravity of our domestic roles and be proud to talk about them. My experience that day made me stop and recognise my own behavior and the outdated ideas I was perpetuating.
If being professional means I have to hide all of the personal, then I don’t ever want to be professional. That is not life. In the hyperconnected world, we live in, the one thing we all crave is a real connection. How can we ever truly connect if we insist on trying to hide elements of the personal out of fear of not appearing professional?
It reminds me of the video that went viral last year of Professor Robert E. Kelly and his interview with BBC. While being interviewed live to air, his kids walked into the room. It makes me cry with laughter every time I watch it. Professor Kelly tried to remain ‘professional’ despite his personal life literally storming in and causing a raucous. The clip was viewed millions of times. What I love even more is the follow-up interview he did with his family on BBC to talk about the video going viral. Though he never intended for the incident to occur, nor would you ever stage something like that, it was refreshing to see him embrace it and do a personal interview (I am not sure he really had a choice but I am glad he did).
If we all embraced the reality that our lives outside of the office, more often than not, inspire our lives in the office, we may be more open to allowing the two worlds to coexist. Aim being, to find that healthy balance where our personal and professional lives are one, and we feel safe enough to proudly announce in a meeting that we have to go home early because little Jimmy has a school concert.
Things only change when we change and change comes from within. In doing so, we give others permission to do the same and we open up the possibility of truly connecting with one another. In order to create a personal brand that is meaningful, you do need to get personal and for some ‘Mum’ really is the word.