We’re engaging in holiday merriment. That’s what it’s called and you will be merry. I was asked to provide a favorite song for the work-related festivities. It’s funny how such a small request can be so difficult. We want to and are encouraged by other professionals to engage in social media and sharing about ourselves but the self that is shared is often only one face. If you’re a law librarian wondering how much to share, I feel your pain.

You want to be out there. But you don’t want to be too far out, out there. I had a boss who always made sure I was in the mix. It’s important in a work environment to be accessible, to be included. Not necessarily to be liked although that helps, but you do need to have some awareness about how you’re viewed. We tailor our personas to make that happen.

We have personas for each part of our life. I’m a different person – and listen to different music – at home than when I’m at work. Similarly, I share different stories and use different language depending on where I am and what I’m doing and who I’m interacting with.

This blog is a good example. I try to recount things I’ve done with technology or activities I’ve participated in. Sometimes it’s just a musing on an experience. But it’s pretty heavily censored. I try not to talk about identifiable people. My current employer has made specific requests that I remove posts, so I self-censor in part as a way to avoid having those conversations.

Face Value

A music favorite, though. That’s a big ask. I listen to a lot of music and have about 50,000 music files. It’s hard to pick one and, really, favorite is kind of a loaded term. I was participating in a discussion recently and someone asked me to say something I’d learned about someone else. That was hard too.

It is hard to say you know someone. At best, you know the curated face they offer to you. This may be projection, because I am very careful about what I share about myself. Sometimes I’m not confident I know myself well all the time. So I tend to be unconfident that I know someone unless I have spent a lot of time with them, and engaging in the kind of relationship building that causes people to open up.

My perspective is that I don’t really feel that I know most people that way. I mean, sure, I can know you play an instrument or that you have a pet. But the question focused more on knowing the person. And I think that’s mostly unknowable. As a manager or a director in an organization, the best you can do in most cases is to build an awareness about a person. Their actions accumulate into a sense of the person.

I put it this way to the person who posed the question. If I work with a person Q (no, not that Q) and they act in the same way every time they engage with people, then I learn that, most of the time, I can anticipate that is how they will react. Not all the time. We all act differently under unusual circumstances.

When Q acts one way, though, and then the opposite way, it is harder to know or anticipate Q’s next action. I’ve posted about autonomy and certainty before in regards to managers. It is just as applicable with other colleagues. It’s not unlike a court with precedent. When a court stops adhering to precedent, it creates uncertainty. We like knowability but it’s a matter of degree. I don’t know if you can ever be 100% sure you know a person.

You can, of course, just ask Q what they’re thinking. But there are relationship reasons why you might not. Not your boss. Not someone you know well enough to ask. The very inconsistency might make you uncomfortable taking the risk. What if they don’t take your observations constructively? In the end, you can only take what they say at face value anyway.

When I was about 6, I went to a birthday party. The birthday girl had a new dress and was very proud of it. “Isn’t it beautiful,” she asked one of the other boys present. “No.” Tears. People can be ugly – even without meaning it – and we learn early to be careful.

That’s the nub, I think, of the curated self. What we share and with whom we share it involves taking risks. We can create stronger relationships by taking risks and having them reciprocated.

When someone asks you to share something about yourself, you can over think it. What and how you share probably says something about you as much as the content. I had to laugh at Sarah Glassmeyer’s tweet about introducing yourself, since it strikes so close to home for me.

A tweet on introducing yourself. I tend to keep it brief (name, job if relevant) because I figure any other background isn’t usually relevant. Also, if I don’t own to a J.D., I’m curious to see how the person treats people without law degrees.

Unless there is a reason to, I don’t tend to over think it. I tend to assume people are good and well-intentioned. You usually learn pretty quickly if they’re not. I’ll even make multiple attempts but have gotten to the point with some professional colleagues where it’s not worth the effort. At the same time, I have years of practice now in what I share (whether you call them elevator pitches, or what have you) and so it’s rare for me to share something I haven’t already mentally approved for sharing.

My Favorite Things

But back to the favorite song. It has to be safe for work. Except for instrumental classical music, I listen to a lot of things that are NSFW. I mean, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, let alone the many parental advisory albums, sea songs, and a good number of other tunes that may be an acquired taste.

I also have problems with designating a “favorite”. Just as I let go of genres in recent years (music is either (a) listenable, (b) unlistenable, or (c) radio listenable – I don’t love it but I won’t change the channel either), my favorites are contextual, environmental. There are some tunes I will listen to repetitively and then skip for a few years. Some music was meant to be played on a road trip. Other in a rain storm.

Now layer on the fact that this is for public consumption. A favorite says something about you, even beyond the words and music of the song. I still laugh when I see Matt Damon in “The Martian” and he can’t decide between coquettish ingenue and high school senior for a photo pose.

In the end, I went with an oldie but goodie. Something I’ve sung with the kids enough that I know most of the lyrics by heart. Something that represents my tendency to enjoy the sounds of the song – even if the sounds are the lyrics – without worrying too much about what the song is saying. Something that is a favorite, when I’m in the mood. Something that reflects a bit of my irreverent nature. It’s matched well to the low-risk experience for which it was requested.

A video of the original music video for They Might Be Giants, “Birdhouse in Your Soul

I’m curious to see what my colleagues have chosen. And what impact it will have on my perspective of them!

The point is that sometimes we’re not sure how much to share. You get more comfortable and confident with experience but there’s not a right way. Where should we be online, to meet new colleagues, to further our careers, to strengthen existing offline relationships. It’s not always easy to know.

The same channels – Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, blogs, professional associations, conferences – don’t work the same way for everyone. It takes time to find your places, and to find your people. It takes time to feel comfortable taking risks, and gauging whether those risks are reciprocated.

The curated self can feel artificial. But everyone keeps something for themselves. I try not to over-curate; I like a garden with some chaos in it. I’ve started to be more choosy – I removed about 1/3d of my Twitter followers recently – about finding opportunities for interaction. And I’ve been less reticent about reaching out to people I don’t know, to ask a question or send them a note of congratulations. If I’m curating my professional self, I hope it errs on the kind, collegial side.