Who am I at work?

The Japanese have a formal term for the “outside” mask others see: ‘tatemae,’ and the “inside” face that few people see, ‘honne.’ This is especially common in the workplace, and is not just particular to Japan.

I lived in Japan for a couple of years following university and I remember this terminology. As a gaijin (foreigner), I was on the outside looking in, certainly to start with. People put on their work clothes, their work voice and mostly didn’t want to stand out from the crowd. Work is a great example of wearing the outside mask. The more firmly fixed this is, the more our real self, the one that feels relaxed and at ease in mind and body, is hidden from others.

The idea of wearing a mask or several masks depending on context and situation, is almost always about people and relationships. I have worked at several companies and I am familiar with the work mask, either you let your true self, ‘honne,’ illuminate through in your work environment and interactions, or you keep that work face firmly in place.  It’s a matter of degree of course, we need to adapt ourselves to situations but sometimes we can take this too far. We can look and act professional, say what management want to hear, get promoted even, and yet for many of us, somewhere deep inside we are not really happy.

What gets in the way of showing more of your real self, the ‘honne’ in the workplace? Is it the work culture, your boss, your colleagues, your own judgements about yourself? Are you scared that you won’t be taken seriously if you let your guard down? If you are not being true to yourself and you are aware that you are hiding behind ‘tatemae’, then pause, take time to uncover what’s going on behind the mask. This is not always an easy exercise, often there is fear lurking in the background that is the underlying cause of our unease.

Befriending the self takes time and commitment but it will  allow us to develop more self-confidence about who we are, we can start to let ‘honne’ shine through in body and mind, our eyes and our smile, the mask begins begins to dissolve.

To be who you really are takes courage but it will make a big difference to your life if you can let yourself shine from within.