Living a Double Life: Thoughts on Cursing and Professionalism
I have a confession: I curse like a sailor (sorry, mother).
On the average day, if you catch me on the phone talking to a friend about anything in life then you’re guaranteed to hear a full suite of “bad" words over the duration of the conversation.
That’s me being me.
Like many people I know, I’ve gone through periods of my life where I’ve thought I should stop cursing. The reasons have ranged from being convinced it was “unladylike” (ugh) to stopping because I was very involved in church and felt it to be inappropriate.
Despite all of my attempts, a couple years ago I decided that it’s a part of me I love and had no desire to suppress. Besides, curse words are simply effective in ways that other words are not.
Yet this is where the dilemma unfolds: I’ve had it engrained in me that cursing is unprofessional and inappropriate. Something to be ashamed of in a public setting. And while I’m a firm believer that your professional and personal selves should not be presented separately to the world, both on and offline, it’s the one area in which I don’t let the two overlap.
So the potty mouth in me lives an undercover life, often making me feel like a fraud.
The question I’m always asking is: in seeking to be true to who you are, how much of your authentic self do you share with the world?
I’m particularly hesitant to share this side of me online. It’s a place where people really only get bite-sized samples of your personality – whether it’s a tweet, status update or blog post – and quickly make assumptions and judgments on your character. Online, you’re technically always creating a first impression with someone if you really think about it. And would you rattle off a string of curse words in a conversation with someone you just met 2-5 minutes ago? I know I wouldn't.
However, when I consider the people I love reading articles and blogs by the most, they don’t hesitate to throw a curse word or ten around. Yesterday I read an awesome op-ed on The 99 Percent on having the courage to be brilliant where a curse word was used to effectively drive home a point (emphasis mine):
The meaning of all this is that you, your opinions and intelligence and history matter. But you gotta do the work. To pull from the most personal areas of your life, your opinions, your stories, your experiences — by doing this you create something meaningful not only to yourself but to those who see it. The work, the fear and struggle, the constant worry of whether your gift is good enough, the small critics both inside and out? Fuck 'em. The world awaits your gift. Isn't that what life is all about?
The author, James, doesn’t seem to hide the fact that he’s a lover of the good old F word. See his Twitter bio:
Another blogger I love uses her curse words less strategically. Reminding me of my own use of them in common conversations, she actually puts them in her very popular and hilarious personal blog. I love just about every post she writes, but one of my recent favorites starts with:
If you think something enough, and if you say something enough, it’s going to wind up coming true.
I’m not talking about winning the lottery or getting free food from In-N-Out for the rest of your life, because I don’t think you can power-of-thought those kinds of things into reality (although, fuuuuuck). I’m talking about the other things we think and say, the things we do have control over, things like, “I can’t afford that” or “I’m fat.” Tell yourself shit like that all the time, and hey, guess what, before you know it, it’ll be true.
And while one could argue that it’s her personal blog and thus she can get away with it, Nicole is also an entrepreneur and runs a web design business for a living. It’s one of the first things her current and potential clients learn about her. Does that change anything?
Personally it makes me want to work with her more… and maybe it’s because she has the guts to do something I don’t (and because she does great work). But everyone isn’t the same, and everyone definitely wouldn’t react like me.
The office is a place I’m a bit more flexible on the overlap of these two sides of me, mostly because the people I work with have had more time to get to know me. This is also probably the case because I’ve always worked with managers who have thrown a curse word or two around during internal meetings (never with clients or external partners though).
Yet, despite this, I can probably count on both hands the number of times I’ve used a curse word around a colleague. It just feels wrong, which honestly annoys the [crap] out of me.
What say you? Is it okay to let your sailor tendencies slip into all areas of your life?