By Heather Huhman
Gen Y is constantly being told they must be professional if they want to achieve career success. Many think this means becoming a robotic "cog in the machine," or eliminating those parts of themselves that make them unique so they can fit the standards of the corporate and professional realm. This is simply not true. Being professional at work does not mean not being who you are. In fact, most employers want to see your personality shine through even before they hire you -- after all, no one wants to work with someone who doesn't have the self-motivation to pursue their own interests.
If you're unsure of how to be professional while still maintaining your individual identity, interests, and opinions, check out these three tips:
1. Don't be afraid to cultivate and share your interests.
Employers like to see that you're a well-rounded person with a full, exciting life. Don't be afraid to let your colleagues and employers know what activities and issues are important to you, whether it be rock climbing, animal rights issues, electronic music or book clubs. If you keep a professional online identity (which you should!), don't be afraid to share news and commentary about the things you care about.
As long as you remain professional and polite, your employer will like to see that you have a life and identity outside of work. It means that you bring different perspectives to the table, and that's often the key for companies to innovate and succeed.
2. Share your opinions -- but know where to tread carefully.
Our opinions, values, and ideals about the world around us are an integral part of what makes us ourselves. Don't be afraid to share your opinions about various issues -- this could mean anything, like your take on the newest Pixar film, current events, the rising cost of college tuition, or your thoughts on switching to organic foods.
You can express yourself while still being professional -- the key is to know how to have calm, level-headed discussions, and to avoid conversations that could get too heated (for instance, if your office is split on political opinions). Going to work each day doesn't mean you have to be tight-lipped about your thoughts and feelings.
3. Take an interest in the identities of others.
Your boss and colleagues aren't professional robots -- they have lives, opinions, and interests outside of work, too. Make a point to actively get to know what's important to the others in your office, and you may find that you have a lot in common. The office doesn't have to be a place where you feel constrained and limited -- it should be a place where a number of interesting individuals come together to work and leverage their unique perspectives and identities.
Remember, being professional doesn't mean eliminating the parts of you that make you you -- fitting a mold isn't what professionalism is about. It's about leveraging your unique identity to become a valued worker.
How have you been able to be professional while maintaining your identity? Share your tips below.
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