We all have a ‘work self’ – but do we really need one?

“Oh, he’s only like that in work.”

You’ll have heard this a lot over the years.

“You’re completely different around your colleagues.”

Friends and loved ones will have said at some point.

This is something I’ve wrestled with a lot over the years. For many of us, it’s hard to be your true self in work: the office culture is set in a certain way, so we’ll suppress aspects of ourselves to fit in.

It’s a natural, normal part of human behaviour.

When have you found something out about a colleague’s personal life that struck you as surprising?

We tend to develop a work persona – a version of ourselves – that isn’t our true selves: we keep a few pieces back.

For some people, this is a good thing: why should you reveal your whole self when you’re just taking money from ‘the man’?

For me, though, it’s never been that. I’ve always felt that as work is such a massive part of one’s life, you should be comfortable being yourself.

You see, I’m a bit of an odd character…

I’ve never fitted in.

I’ve always been a bit, well, odd.

“He looks a bit strange, but he’s a nice lad,” my grandad once famously expounded to a group of his friends.

I did miserably at school, to the point that I had to do a year of retakes, which I also did miserably at, which I put mostly down to riding mountain bikes and being way more focused on trying to land a job at Mountain Biking UK magazine – following a fab stint of work experience –than I was into learning school subjects or doing exams.

At 16, I went to art college for two years and continued to ride bikes or be at the magazine every spare minute I had. I had become an unofficial member of the gang and would spend my weekends going to races. I finished art college and had no solid plan as far as anyone could see, which scared the life out of my dad. “But what are you going to do with your life?!” I remember him asking me exasperatedly.

“I’m getting a job at MBUK, of course,” I replied with the kind of assurance only a teenager can muster.

“Have they told you this?” he asked.

“Well, no. but I will.”

He understandably lost his head a bit at that, but sure enough, I got offered a job at MBUK as Editorial Assistant. I was super proud.

Over the next handful of years, I learned all the ropes that I could, working my way up to Staff Writer, and became something of ‘a thing’ on the mountain bike scene, famous in that small world. What comes hand-in-hand with envy? Vitriolic jealousy.

Every week I’d receive handwritten abusive letters in the post, mostly centred around how bad a rider I was, and so didn’t deserve to be riding with those people, but also – due to what was considered my questionable appearance.

This kind of thing spread into the real world, too, so as much as I had kids running up to me in supermarkets who recognised me or queued for my autograph at bike shows, I had people walking past shouting abuse at me. Most memorably, at a Bike ’96 after party back at the hotel, I had a whole table of about 20 BMXers shouting at me for being a ‘fashion victim c**t’.

It was brutal to realise I was being shunned from the very scene that I loved so much.

I thought about that moment every day for years afterwards, and it all started to take its toll. So, I got a job on Metal Hammer magazine, sold all my bikes, and moved to London. I disappeared into the melee there, unnoticed for my outlandish appearance – which by London standards, was anything but – and got lost in the heady world of rock ‘n’ roll.

But even there, I still didn’t quite fit. When I moved again, nearly a decade later, to Top Gear magazine, I definitely didn’t fit.

Over the years, I’ve created a ‘work persona’, hiding parts of myself, depending on where I was.

When really, I just wanted to be me.

Which I’m happy to say at Rebel Lion Advertising, I now feel that I can be.

We have an understanding of each other, where we are all in it together, and everyone is free just to be themselves.

If there are issues or problems – professionally or personally – we collectively deal with them.

We’re all in, all together.

I’m not ‘the weird one’ anymore; I’m just myself.

And that’s something to cherish.

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