Do you know how many people live their entire lives socio-culturally incarcerated? They go from being raised to be a certain way in life from childhood, through the school system, then the professional workplace. By the time most professionals retire, they have spent their entire career conditioned to be a certain way. I see this all the time and I will just call it what it is. The trauma of being a professional.
I have seen many a person on platforms such as LinkedIn, calling out another for their content, saying it is inappropriate for the platform! There are so many of these people all over the interweb, policing others for being authentic to themselves. I get many policing my grammar and sentence construction hahaha!
Disclaimer. I am aware that a professional could be in any field of work. Also I know that some people, are actually fulfilling their life purpose in their professions. As well, I recognize that with each profession there are rules and expectations. My argument herein is that if those rules and expectations irk you in any way, it’s time to reconsider. Instead of dragging your way, pretending to be what you are not.
Now, I will preface my thoughts on this by explaining that aside from having worked in the formal education system in multiple countries, I am now a healer and mentor. Professionals hire me because they feel stuck, and unfulfilled. They realize that they have spent years doing things to please a profession and to meet a boss’ standards, and they have never had an opportunity to pay attention to who they are, what their true desires are, or what they really want out of life. They spend years putting their own life purpose on hold, to build someone else’s.
Conditioning begins at birth. As children, we were expected to behave or else we get in trouble. Our success was measured by attending school and getting good grades. Then get in the professional sphere and once you received the credentials and snagged the title, voila! You are deemed successful! Then the tag of war to climb the professional ladder begins!
Hey, I am not against those who excelled in school, and got the job. I witnessed many of my schoolmates who excelled academically, but were also breaking records in track and field. They however did not pursue sports careers because academic success was celebrated over any other. You don’t see many Ugandan athletes in the Olympics, do you? Or Africans for that matter. Does it mean they aren’t there? Of course there are many kids who could out race those guys in the Olympics. Unfortunately, it’s been hammered into so many kids that educational success and getting a job is more important. Yet their childhood matters! Thus, they are discouraged from going forth with their talents!
We all probably know that success in sports calls for physical and mental toughness. And some of the best transformational speakers are former athletes. But again, I am talking about the Trauma of being a professional! As Les Brown observes, “The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”
Don’t you think the graveyard is full of former professionals many of whom were praised for their dedication to their work? But here is the thing, many people have succumbed to the traumatic image of the professional. Where they dress up everyday to “fit a role,” speak a certain way to project themselves as professional, work so hard to remain in this act all day. And yes, will even police others for not being professional! I recently sat in on a school meeting and the Assistant Principal who led it did not even smile for one second during the two hour meeting! She marshalled us through it in a very cold way and I wondered if she even loved her job! Her demeanor was statuesque!
How can you love working in a position where you have to be stone faced, cold, stiff, no fun all day, everyday to conform to the image of a professional? What drives this person to work? What fires them up? I can’t imagine them excited for their day if this is how it goes! No wonder people break down in stress and burn out because being “professional” is very unnatural and traumatic for the body! Remember for many, the body is already traumatized from childhood with the expectations of being a certain way!
This professionalism continues to torture people into being a certain way online. Their pictures have to be “professional,” their language and the articles they write and share have to be professional. Gosh we even have coaches and talent recruiters who devote their lives to helping or scouting the most professional people! People will go to great lengths of even practising a professional handshake! I could get myself so worked up and rehearse being professional and ace an interview but deep inside, if I am unhappy and none of this represents who I truly am, it doesn’t work for me.
Do you know why people leave interview rooms feeling that they flunked? Because they feel they did not do a good enough job of being who they are not! They feel they revealed more of who they truly are than who the interviewers want. Talent searchers don’t look for the most authentic, they go for the best actor. But how long can you cat? For how long can you sacrifice your authentic self? Imagine spending all your life as an act!!! This my friend is the trauma of being a professional.
If you’ve read this far, you probably are wondering, now what? Well time to examine yourself. Are you being true and authentic to yourself? Are you truly happy with the image you are projecting in your work and to the world? Does that image represent who you are at the core, separate from the expectations of the workplace, or of your family or society? Are you trying so hard to conform, or impress specific others? What runs through your mind when selecting clothes for the day? Is it about you or others? This is you biggest clue! You are giving away your entire life!
Do you find yourself loosening that tie as soon as you leave the building? Or once you get off a zoom call? Do you kick off those heels, or rip off that jacket and blouse as soon as you are done with the professional space? That is a big sign that you just walked off the stage. Out of actor mode and into who you truly are. Do you desire to loosen up after work, change your demeanor, language? Do you look forward to weekend or days off and dread the work days? Those are all clues that you are not living an authentic purposeful life and that you are experiencing the trauma of being a professional! I do have some tools to help you through your work day in the meantime!
Until you heal the trauma of being a professional, your true hopes and dreams can never be realized. Your life is all an act. So you will realize the actor’s hopes and dreams, but not yours. What is your natural talent, save for what you learned in school? What do you love doing? An easy way to know this is to think about the time you are with your best friends, and you loosen up, what comes naturally? This information here could give you some clues on what is going on.
Until you heal the trauma of being a professional, your true hopes and dreams can never be realized. Your life is all an act.
A quick story before I close. I grew up in a culture where men were not allowed in the kitchen. Having taken Home Ec in school, I definitely learned how to cook. And being a girl, I was trained right from childhood. A cultural expectation. I was awesome in the kitchen. When my family moved to Canada, roles reversed and my husband had to help with the meals. He discovered that he is a natural in the kitchen. Now, he kicks my butt in the kitchen! He always said he did not know what he was good at until he started cooking!
Give yourself a chance…strip away the mask. So much trauma is trapped in the professional archetype. So many have been conditioned under the guise of the professional, that they don’t even realize it. It’s kind of like when someone gets radicalized. They will defend their beliefs and sometimes lay down their lives. An abuse victim gets to a point where they even defend their abuser. Many a traumatized professional has been so radicalized they will defend the profession! It’s time to set yourself free. Most incarceration is self inflicted anyway. You locked yourself up and can actually set yourself free! Let me know if you need help. Contact me here!
Love and Care,
Miriam Sekandi, PhD