“There’s a line in Turgenev’s novel Virgin Soil that absolutely haunts me. It’s a suicide note, and the entire note is, ‘I could not simplify myself.’ “

– Peter Matthiessen 

How many of us who work at a job to earn their money are able to just be ourselves?

I’m not talking about the outer reaches of honesty where you reveal your innermost secrets willy nilly. I’m in favor of honesty but I’m also in favor of privacy and everyone has to decide where they draw that line.

But there’s something fundemetally fake about working life. The mask most people wear at work is just as real as the uniform or name tag some people are required to wear in order to get paid. 

The recent news about the Circuit City layoffs suddenly had me envisioning tens of thousands of people running into the street while ripping off their brightly colored polo shirts. I don’t mean to dimiss the hardship that those people will endure but part of can’t help wondering if some of them won’t be happier opening their own computer consulting and repair business or something. 

It’s really hard to be yourself when there’s a fake hierarchy and a policy manual that discourages individual thought, innovation and achievement. It’s really easy to dig in and keep your head down, hoping that that will somehow save you. I’ve seen this process take great, really cool companies and slowly grind them down into nothing particularly interesting. Worse, I’ve seen companies grind really interesting people down, too.

How would your attitude at work changed if you had nothing to lose? What great thing would you do if you knew you wouldn’t be fired for it? What if you started saying exactly what was on your mind at work?


  1. I was laid off in November from a church. As the lone female employee I was in an interesting spot. When I was myself, slightly cranky and cynical it was disturbing to the staff. They were cranky and cynical but that was OK bec. they attached a NY coolness to it but I should be sweet and accommodating. PPL have real issue w. authenticity I think. Me included. What I want is an image that makes me comfortable. After working w. priests who were not the illusion of what I grew up my world was rocked just a bit and ruined me for religion. Maybe not a bad thing.

    I would tell bosses to stop screwing around w. their employees and really include them in the process or leave them alone.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *