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Struggling with professionalism

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Senior Staff

SEPTEMBER 15, 2020

For a long time, I’ve wrestled with the concept of creating a professional Twitter, or at least, taking the time to properly delineate between the semiprofessional, semipersonal account I have now. 

My internal ethical dilemma reignites most often when I have a tweet that’s less work or school-oriented and instead a rambling attempt at humor or a shabby mix of the two. 

I usually send the tweet packing to my drafts. As it ages there, I visualize a street fighter showdown between an elementary teacher saying, “Just Be YOU,” and a Goldman Sachs financial advisor reminding me of the dog-eat-dog world. 

As a journalist, I empathize with the pragmatic approach of keeping the professional and personal in their own lanes as a way to retain our commitment to fairness and reporting that is unadulterated by opinions. 

We have our words, truth and deadlines, and without assigning integrity to all, especially our writings, we endanger our credibility. 

But resolving the conundrum by creating a second account to relinquish our biases or personal endeavors doesn’t seem a reliable alternative for me. It’s the fix to separate the candid and to ensure our professional demeanors remain competent, but it’s a Band-Aid on the larger issue of why that distinction is required in the first place. 

I’m propelled by the strong impulse to solely operate from one account. It seems a way to push back against the idea that I shouldn’t have to censor myself and fine-tune my “brand” in hopes of being better suited for an employer.

Like many, I grapple with this mostly in relation to the aspects of my identity that are more taboo, such as sexuality.

I’m lucky, and perhaps a bit naive, to not doubt my choice to indirectly and directly share the experience of being queer on social media.  

I don’t believe that characteristic should be the defining quality of my life or a chance at a career. 

Personally, I don’t want my identity to be perceived as being solely my sexual orientation.  Professionally, I shouldn’t have to run a cost-benefit analysis of the risk of being openly queer. These thoughts come from a place of inauthenticity — a direct feed into the professional mantra to stay away from hot button topics.

I should be able to tweet about the irony of my childbearing hips considering my queerness and not have to worry about my employer discounting my value as an employee.

I get it, though — at its core, professionalism roots itself in the hopes of a functional workplace dynamic. If everyone at a job is highbrow and no extracurriculars, an operation will more likely than not be smooth. There’s no inside joke to stoke or extra aside to giggle about for it to be otherwise. 

The crutch of functionalism, however, seems to be missing the point. Professionalism supposedly holds us accountable but with a filter and hesitation to everything we say. It avoids discourse and gaslights problematic, superficial behavior, in effect, making society less responsible. 

The taboos that professionalism tries to tiptoe around aren’t inherent to professionalism but the uneasy situations and conversations we navigate daily. I keep running to the idea that you shouldn’t be intentionally hurtful to your coworkers, but in the most cliche way, that belief really should be to never be intentionally hurtful at all. 

Considering work is a constant in life, its culture should be just another environment that doesn’t expect us all to agree on a definition of kindness, but rather supports a learning of kind, unfiltered yet respectful dialogues and coexistences. 

There’s an unappreciated empowerment to utilizing every aspect of who you are in the workplace. Undoubtedly, there’s also a balance to being professional and personal, but that equilibrium too often teeters toward an uncomfortable omittance of personality.

I’d rather err in judgement while being human than learn to expertly surf the void of knowing which email to sign off with “Cheers” rather than “Best.” 

Why can’t I be an intellectual and tell you about how I ingeniously cut my hot dog with tongs and a dull knife?

Being in the formative years of finding myself, any space to encourage that discovery is obviously more inviting than its restrictive counterpart. 

For that reason and extenuating circumstances, like journalism, that make it hard to advocate for a general solution, it’s important to note that I’m not here with a comprehensive guide to reboot professionalism. 

I don’t think this debate even deserves that. Simply, I want to be given context.

I’m tethered to my semi-professional, semi-personal Twitter account because I believe it does just that. Without both, I shortchange my life’s context more than the idealistic snapshot of social media already does. 

Ultimately, my joint account might be the wrong decision, but I’m content in the liminality that lets me embody the full context of who I am.

Contact Lisi Ludwig at [email protected].

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020