Airing Out Your Compartments

By Julian Burke in Management on October 10th, 2009 / No Comments

If you think you hate your job, consider that the job may not be to blame. It may be that you’ve unwittingly taken the wrong approach to compartmentalization.

To become a professional in almost any field, it is usually necessary to compartmentalize – to separate one’s personal life from one’s work. A criminal lawyer can’t kick back with clients the way she would with friends. A CEO may call the employees of his company a “family” – but he would be a fool to relate to them in the same way he does his actual family.

While the need for distinguishing the personal from the professional is obvious enough, it’s also clear that compartmentalization can lead to dishonesty and dissociation from one’s true self. It can bring about a cognitive dissonance that separates oneself from one’s spirit.

When such a separation takes place, otherwise good people sometimes knowingly participate in unethical, illegal or even murderous activity under the ruse that they are “just doing their jobs.” Commitment, loyalty and dedication – values that may be genuinely meaningful in their relationships with friends and loved ones – become empty justifications for wrongdoing when applied to their business.

But even when dissociative compartmentalization doesn’t lead to such extremes, it can still take a spiritual toll. If we haven’t developed our spiritual lives to gain a deep and meaningful self-awareness, we could find ourselves putting on a show at the office that, while perfectly innocuous and maybe even convincing, fills us with self-loathing because we know it is a lie.

Healthy compartmentalization is not a lie. Ideally, one’s professional and personal selves are simply different manifestations of a unified whole.

Create Compartments Consciously
For most people, compartmentalization is something that happens without being planned or thought out. We dress a certain way for work and a different way at home. We tell jokes to our buddies that we know could get us fired if we told them to the boss. We react to the expectations and demands of our workplace and adjust our behavior accordingly. And before we know it, we have gone beyond mere codes of conduct and social mores to develop a whole new persona – one which may or may not be meaningfully connected to who we really are.

We may unthinkingly carry this persona from one job to the next or from one level of employment to the next. We may use it to mask insecurity about or dissatisfaction with our work. What began as a show of respect for our employers and colleagues somehow becomes a daily deception we perpetrate on ourselves.

If you find yourself in such a situation, you probably can’t blame your employer. It’s not likely that systematic self-delusion and abnegation of identity were clauses in your contract.

Of course, you may have just picked the wrong career and need to move on to something else. But if the problem truly lies within, an external change of environment won’t fix it. Before sending out your resume, take some time to consider the possibility that – with the best of intentions and all on your own – you may have simply warped your approach to work.

There are many ways to test this theory and bring your personal and professional lives into spiritual alignment. Perhaps the most fun and potentially rewarding method can be found on the internet, in the form of social networking sites.

Get Into It
As web sites like Facebook and Twitter become almost ubiquitous, many professionals are confronting compartmentalization conundrums. Even if there isn’t a big disconnect between our personal and professional selves, our relationships with people at work are drastically different than those with friends and family. Seeing them all lumped together in one place can be jarring.

For this reason, some people only use these sites for business networking, leaving their personal lives out of it. Others take the exact opposite approach and only use the sites socially.

Still others open the doors to both compartments – but then become wallflowers on their own profile pages. They don’t engage on any meaningful level because the idea of uniting the separate compartments of their lives seems fraught with the potential for embarrassment or even disaster. They may understand the value of networking sites and join because they want to avail themselves of the opportunities – but they don’t want to take any risks.

Of course, social networking sites won’t add much to your life if you’re antisocial. Taking this approach certainly won’t allow you to gauge the compatibility of your personal and professional compartments. As with everything else in life, you’ll only get out of the experience what you put into it.

Get Over Yourself
Your colleagues know you’re a human being. They assume – or, depending on how distant you are, may just hope – that you have a life outside the office. Moreover, they have lives of their own and likely don’t care much about yours. If they see you giving an occasional shout-out to an old college buddy or share a silly inside joke with a sibling, they are not likely to sit in judgment or pay much attention to the content of your messages. They are likely either sending out similar messages or pondering the appropriateness of doing so.

What will come across to them, as you use the sites the way they were intended to be used, is your level of engagement.

If your messages to friends and colleagues are positive, upbeat and supportive, you will create a kind of goodwill that goes beyond what you could generate in any one compartment. People from both compartments will see the same you in a different context – which will only serve to reinforce the impression of your integrity.

If there are toxic people in your personal life, don’t bring them into your online social network. These sites aren’t your real life, but you can build them to reflect and unify the best aspects of your compartmentalized life. The connections you make as a result could be socially, professionally, financially and spiritually rewarding.

Set aside ten or fifteen minutes every day to poke your head into the online party. Have fun with it.

Your computer can become a wonderful tool for opening up and airing out your life’s compartments.

The illusion of separateness is necessary for day to day functioning. The illusion of compartmentalization is equally necessary to succeed in the professional world. But both can be sources of needless misery if we forget – or never take the time to realize – that they are merely illusions.

Your professional Self and your personal Self are the same being. And you are united with all other beings. We are manifestations of the same Spirit. Create your compartments with this in mind and use them wisely. But don’t take them too seriously.

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