Nice Girls Fake It

January 25th, 2009 by Stephanie Malone

"Can you fake it for just one more show?"
- Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Smashing Pumpkins

One of my new employees stopped by my office at the end of the day on Friday and said, "You’re a good writer." It threw me a little because I don't get to flex my writing muscles at work much at all these days. About the most I can hope for is a well composed email every now and then, which doesn't generally inspire a lot of love and respect from the literary crowd. The comment seemed to come out of left field, so I probed for more details. That's when she disclosed that she had visited my blog and read some of my recent posts. Uh-oh. I sometimes forget that my dirty little secret diary is also a public forum, and I can't really control who sees my dark confessions.

I've never been very good at the art of BS. I'm a pretty real, straightforward, genuine person. I don't fake it with my direct reports any more than I do with my managers. Personally, I appreciate that same kind of honesty in others I interact with. Nothing makes me angrier than when you lie to my face or say you're going to do one thing one day when you proceed to do something entirely different the next day. Don't tell me what you think I want to hear. I detest corporate spin and pandering, and I can't respect you if I know you’re being insincere.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks the way I do. And my honest, direct approach has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion. Last week I was chastised by my new boss for not being better at playing the game. He said,

It's all about perception. And you need to be seen as someone who is on board with these changes.

I am deeply troubled that the only skill I'm really valued for anymore is my ability to fake it. Forget my knowledge, expertise, years of experience and loyalty, talent, passion, commitment. As part of an old regime — a relatively small boutique company who was acquired by a corporate giant — I am the enemy. Regardless of what I really think or feel, I am seen as inherently negative, someone so tied to the old way that I can't possibly embrace a philosophy of change. It's a culture of us versus them, and it's definitely a two-way street of hostility. But we're the only ones getting called out for not welcoming the conquering heroes with open arms. So my only recourse is to take my regular beatings with a smile and eagerly repeat, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

We recently hired a talented new traffic manager. She's great, and I was venting a little to her about the dark turn my job had taken. I was lamenting the loss of my creative outlet, confessing how I missed doing actual design work or anything that was even remotely creative anymore. She was a little taken aback and confided that she didn't even realize I had a design background. She saw me as a product of my current role — a manager, an administrator, a project leader. But not a creative. Not that I can blame her. Why would a passionate artistic type allow herself to be pigeon-holed into such a deeply uncreative, unfulfilling role?

I recently came across a brilliant post on the Career Renegade website called Dead Man Working. It's a revealing look at a nation of sleepworkers — people spending far too much of their lives in an uninspiring, unfulfilling, soul-sucking job. Some interesting stats from a 2005 Harris Interactive study of 7,718 American workers:

  • 42% felt burned out
  • 33% felt dead-ended
  • 21% wanted desperately to change jobs
  • 85% did not feel strongly energized by their work
  • 70% believed their employers did not inspire the best in them

And this was all before the recent economic disaster that makes the prospect of finding something better all the more daunting. Like most people, I am discouraged by the state of the economy and the rapidly growing unemployment rate. I'm legitimately worried that my options are limited and that I'll be singing this same sad tune a year from now — if not longer. Nothing feels worse than the perception of being trapped and having no way out. But, as Jonathan Fields of Career Renegade points out, inertia is the enemy of progress. One thing I know unequivocally is that don't want to be another dead woman working. I've got to do whatever it takes to make a change so I can be truly happy at work without having to fake it.

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Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, marketing director, designer and creative director with over 16 years experience. She lives in Austin, TX and her passions include horror, film, design, comics, blogging, reading, and spending time with her family.

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Posted in The 9 to 5

3 Responses

  1. Mike Brown

    Stephanie – Great reflection on your part. It’s always challenging to figure out career transition points when things have changed around you, and you have to determine what changes you make as well. Here are a couple of ideas that have helped me navigate through a number of these points. Interestingly, the answer has always been reinventing myself where I’m currently at than looking to start over somewhere else.

    This post has some steps to define a personal category that you uniquely fill based on your talents and the things that are most exciting & fulfilling to you. There could be a distinct category that captures both your managerial and your creative skills that really sets you apart.

    The other contains some lessons I’ve learned and practiced over time in understanding corporate politics while trying to stay out of it.

    Hope they’re helpful, and I look forward to staying in touch.

    Mike Brown

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