A decade ago, I started using “profersonal” to describe the way in which social media was causing an unavoidable melding of our personal and professional lives. Today, with Zoom calls from home being the norm, profersonalism has finally arrived in full.
Now as then, people do still try to hold a line between the two. It used to be a digital line—refusing to friend bosses on Facebook, keeping family out of a LinkedIn network—but today it’s often become physical, a literal demarcation between the clean background that shows on your video conference and the stack of junk that’s only just out of view. Also now as then, there are those who have no line at all between the two, who merge their worlds 100%: they’re “transparent,” they’re “genuine,” they’re “themselves.” (And if you don’t like it, well, prepare to hear that since it seems to trigger you, maybe there’s something there for you to unpack with your therapist, hmm?)
Somewhere between keeping rigid lines up and erasing them entirely lies a better, more subtle approach, but in today’s world, subtlety is dead, so let’s skip the nuance—I know no one’s here for it anyway.
Truth: I’m Struggling More This Time Around
I’m hitting this round of profersonalism from a different place—10 years older, with a more robust network, children old enough to know what’s going on, etc—and honestly, it’s feels harder. Ten years in and no one’s done the work to prepare, leaving us all to ride this massive wave together, with no chance of getting past it unscathed.
Here are three recent moments when I found myself on the profersonal struggle bus:
Tip 1: Transparency is (Still) Not the Same as Letting it All Hang Out
One of the best things about profersonalism is it allows us to form more genuine, natural, and holistic relationships with one another. We get to both professionals and also people with lives outside of work. That’s amazing.
But if one’s personal life consistently overwhelms the professional, that person stops being both—and stops being professional at all.
For example: if you have a social media profile where every post is about work, that’s professional. If you mix in a few shots of yourself in a bathing suit from vacation, that’s profersonal. If every post is a shot of you in a bathing suit, mugging for the camera like you’re a model, or a quote—with nothing about work—that’s personal.
Takeaway: Just because you can mix personal and professional doesn’t mean that there are no longer any rules—transparency is not the same thing as “letting it all hang out.”
To find the right balance, do this:
On a sheet of paper, complete this sentence: “I want the people I work with to experience me as _____.” Fill in the blank. You might have one, two, or even five things you want people to know.
Now take a look at your social footprint—the places where you’re going to send professional colleagues to look you up. And ask yourself this question: “If this profile belonged to a different person, would I experience them as ______?” fill in the blank with your same answers from a moment ago.
If the answer is “no” or “maybe,” think about changing up your mix of content.
If you’re putting yourself out there with a “the only opinion that matters is my own,” certainly you’re entitled to do so, but make no mistake, there’s a self-centeredness to that approach. Better is to think about what you’re sharing from the point of view of those who will be interacting with your content, and, if what you want to share might create an impact you don’t want to have, thinking twice about how you approach it.
Tip 2: Be Careful the Expectations You Set
Transparency is only genuine if it’s discretionary—otherwise it’s intrusive. I went on an intense social media diet in 2018-19 in order to work through personal issues that I felt were too intense to share online. It cost me a friend, who cut me out of their network because they felt I wasn’t being genuine because I wasn’t sharing anymore. Maybe they were right: I had created an expectation that I’d share things about my life, and here I was, changing it up to keep the biggest thing happening in my life private.
To find the right balance, do this:
Take a look at what you share online, about your family, your home, your friends, and ask yourself, in order: (1) If something went seriously wrong, would I be comfortable sharing that problem with the world? (2) If something went moderately wrong, would I be comfortable sharing that problem with the world? (3) If something went slightly wrong, would I be comfortable sharing that problem with the world? (4) If something didn’t go wrong, but I was stressed about it anyway, would I be comfortable sharing that concern with the world?
Wherever you stop answering “yes,” stop sharing at the next higher number. If you’d be uncomfortable sharing at level four, then don’t share on that topic at all.
Our personal and professional worlds have been fused. We’re going to need to figure out as a society what the new norms are going to be, and it’s going to be a messy process. In the meantime, use the suggestions above to set healthy boundaries for yourself!