I had an interesting conversation with a friend tonight. We discussed job expectations and they expressed their concern that no matter what they gave, it wouldn’t be enough at the office. I found it perplexing that most Millennials do not understand the concept of personal and professional branding. More importantly, some Millennials do not understand that work, is not life and vice versa. In today’s world, to actually state, “I trade my talent and hours during the week for a paycheck,” is almost looked at as a disloyal concept. In fact, one of the most toxic ways to ruin any work environment is to poison the pool of employees and question peoples’, “loyalty.” 

A friend was dealing with this exact situation and I expressed what I did to separate my personal and professional life. However, as I told her, it took me years to understand my boundaries and what made me function best.

To work in today’s culture, is to not only lend your time and talent, but also, your entire persona. I consider lending my time and talent to my employer weekly for a paycheck, a very fair trade. As a company, we achieve our deliverables through a teamwork of painstaking detail and passion to create quality work. Outside of work, I am able to breathe life into volunteer projects, rally for what I believe in and most importantly, spend time with my family. More and more, I’m noticing this seems to be an alarming concept. Am I suddenly not loyal because I strive to lead a life where I am just as passionate on off-hours, as on?

“Here’s the fact no one wants to believe: We only want to be our job titles if they are fancy, or demand respect. But, we are not our job titles. I’m not Kate, (job title here) everywhere I go. I’m Kate and just Kate. Sometimes that means I’m Mom Kate, or GirlmeetsGeek Kate but most of the time, I’m just Kate. That’s the way I like it.” 

My personal brand is something I spent a seemingly endless supply of hours perfecting through blog posts, speaking engagements and planning. I set boundaries with each employer. “GirlmeetsGeek is just my personal touch on the world,” I spoke to my friend. It’s my way to make a few extra dollars, or often, just leave a mark with no money at all. I haven’t gotten wealthy off this blog, but what I have received is far better: I have a network of incredible people I’ve been blessed to meet and learn incredible things about.

While most employers have appreciated my passion, I’ve often heard and felt that simply having an outside personality, made others question my “worth” at the office. My friend had found this too and we both were able to cite specific examples which made me wonder, was this something bigger than I realized? To me, this is an important opportunity to teach the power of magnetism. We are what we portray and if what we portray is authentic, no job title or company will matter. People will be drawn to where we are and who we are with. The formula is simple. Plus, no matter the position, company or job title, I am utmost responsible to my own future. If I do not establish a credible background and presence outside of the office, I will not be able to achieve my goals and be successful in the long-term.

Even as a non-Millennial, I see all generations struggle in these new rules of the workplace. Apparently, we are always, “on.” I’m often asked questions about how the professional and personal lives can be separated successfully. One of my rules is to establish a strong voice to say no, not to my employer, but to myself. It often occurs that at 2pm on a Saturday, someone will be in the office and I will be out with my children. The guilt at not immediately getting back to an email can be crippling to a perfectionist. (I’m raising my hand here.) I used to get noticeably crabby in front of my children or John because I felt pulled in two different directions. It wasn’t until someone else mentioned, “I don’t rent myself on the weekends, unless I need to. I deserve time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I don’t work because if I spend my entire life working, I’m literally not living.” That truth struck me to my core. I struggle each evening to pledge to myself that my children are the priority, not the next project, or another email.

If I happen to be networking, I have rules for which cards I hand out. If it’s a work function, I always hand out my work cards. I carry my work business cards with me to personal functions as well, but I don’t hesitate to hand out my personal, “girlmeetsgeek” card at after-hours functions or during time “off the clock,” especially if it’s a contact I want to grab coffee with or a playdate. While I’m always happy to be a proud advocate for my employer, I recognize the importance of establishing non-work connections to help solidify friendships and relationships that matter outside of the office.

If I’m on-air or speaking at an event, if it’s one where I’m representing my employer, (speaking about our services) I am happy to name drop and create lead generation. Even though I’m not in sales. I believe that every employee should be an advocate for their workplace. However, if it’s about job search or something I build with my professional brand, I just use my name. My bio always states my employer, (as does my LinkedIn.) I think that’s sufficient. Sometimes, I feel we don’t understand where to draw the line. Am I Kate, (job title here,) or am I just Kate? We seem to push the need for our job and titles to own us, instead of us owning ourselves. My personality goes far beyond my job title and this blog. It’s the same reason I’d struggle having to wear a uniform outside of work to state to everyone and anyone who sees me, “I work at Company X!” Most people would wonder why I’m wearing a logo’ed polo everywhere I go. I’m not a billboard, I’m a human being.  The best way to damage your department is to undermine your staff’s right to have a life outside of the office. Not everything is connected, nor needs to be controlled. The most productive employees in fact, are employees who have the freedom to utilize social tools within the workplace and those who have a healthy work/life balance.

To become a healthier workplace and economy, we must give employees (and ourselves,) permission to achieve a healthy balance on and off the clock. For the perfectionist in me, it’s a daily struggle but one that determines my happiness. I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal life for my professional life. Are you?