As the youngest person in my role by a significant margin at a traditionally conservative firm, I felt like I needed to augment who I was to be accepted by my peers and respected as a manager. Out of insecurity, at work, I was very private. I didn’t discuss my family, my partner, or close friends. I didn’t express negative emotion or concerns in times of professional or personal challenges. I didn’t socialize with people from work or even connect with them on social media outside of LinkedIn. No personal effects on my desk. No going out for social lunches on Fridays. I kept my head down, worked hard, and held myself to what I thought was the highest level of professionalism by playing the role of the ‘perfect employee.’
Work Kinsey and Life Kinsey were two very distinct people and I liked the safety of that separation.
In many ways, it worked. I was promoted early. I won awards for my work. I ended up being sponsored by my firm to move across the country and continued to rack up advancement opportunities and accreditations. However, in many ways, it didn’t work at all.
As my role transformed from entry-level number crunching and email writing to balancing stakeholders and people management, my unwillingness to personally connect with people quickly limited me as a leader. Also, and more importantly, I was really sad.
I wasn’t bringing my whole and true self to work and, as I fell deeper into this inauthentic pattern, I lost motivation, joy, and confidence. My resilience dwindled, my relationship with myself turned toxic, and, therefore, my relationship with the world around me suffered. I failed to invest in the people that mattered. I tolerated abusive behaviour. I was not my best self in the office or at home. Separating Work Kinsey and Life Kinsey was getting harder and harder, as the emotional stunting I was feeling at work was only exacerbated in my personal life—and vice versa. In summary, things weren’t going well and I didn’t have a place where I felt like I could truly exhale and be myself.
In August 2016, I had hit a metaphorical rock bottom. My personal life had crumbled, my sense of self was severely shaken, and I was never more apathetic or unmotivated—just as I was about to move to Toronto for the biggest opportunity of my career to date. Something needed to change, and quickly.
As this seismic shift was occurring, I was fortunate to have my community step forward in a major way. Despite a year of my neglect, my friends immediately rallied when I sounded the alarm. My mother may have been across the country, but was on the next plane to the West Coast to help me rebuild. In my time of crisis, I was supported and stabilized by my community—but once that intense moment of change passed, where did I go from there?
When I moved to Toronto, I found myself falling back into my same old habits—professionally and personally protecting myself by building loose relationships at arm’s length. However, I had a new resolve to change things. So… I went to therapy.
Gosh, I thought it was so dumb when I first started.
I sat there going over a diagnostic checklist with a lady I had never met, was already convinced didn’t understand me, and thought I would never see again. I told her right off the bat, “Look, I’m not into this whole lay on the couch and talk about your relationship with your father thing. My family and friends are great. I have a great job. I don’t even have, like, real problems. I just, y’know, thought I’d see what this was about. That’s all.”
That would not be the last time my therapist ignored my self-preserving ramblings.
I walked away after the first session, well, feeling the exact same; however, as per the wisdom of a late friend, I trusted the process—and came back. And then came back again. And came back again.
We talked about the big stuff: How did I measure my self-worth? How did I see myself? How did I see the world? What did I aspire to—and why?
And we talked about the more practical stuff: How could I better connect with others? Where could I show better leadership at work? What is a new way I could challenge myself?
Through exercises, journaling, behavioural experiments, and tough conversations, I felt a shift begin in my personal life and at work. There was a newfound resilience in me that I had never known before. A resilience that said, “This is who I am, how I want to live, and what I am about.”
Naturally, I started to open up:
Personally, I continued to deepen my relationships with my close friends and redefine my already very close relationships with my family. I happily committed to my endlessly supportive and patient partner, after months of keeping him at arm’s length out of fear. I took on new hobbies and creative pursuits for the sole purpose of bringing myself joy.
Professionally, I started to make actual friends at work. My clients began to praise my authenticity and kindness, in addition to my business acumen. My support staff and I developed productive and supportive relationships beyond the deal at hand. I started asking people for help. I started asking people if they needed help. I adapted situations and environments to me, rather than the other way around, by focusing on industries and projects that I loved, decorating and stocking my physical space with things that brought me joy, and scheduling time with my co-workers to connect outside a transaction for even just a 20 minute coffee.
I felt the lines between Work Kinsey and Life Kinsey blurring to the point of non-existence—but, more importantly, I felt happy.
Since beginning therapy over a year ago, my life has transformed in so many ways. My mindset is a far cry from perfect. I have many days where the insecurities creep in and the old habits put up the walls that protected me for many years. I have compassion for that part of myself—but it is no longer useful to me. Also, my job isn’t perfect. There are days when I am, as my runner friends would say, “just putting in the miles.” There are also days when I don’t feel like I entirely fit and question myself and direction.
These isn’t a ‘magic wand’ for this stuff; if there is, I sure haven’t found it. For me, it has been a slow, iterative process of recovery and improvement. There’s been no ‘big moment’ or ‘key philosophy’ that has aligned my world and brought clarity. Yes, spending time at the therapist’s office has been valuable—but so has improving my eating habits… and staying out with friends dancing until 3 am… and my little desk cactus, Bill (What? You don’t name your cactuses?).
I don’t know all the answers, but I do know this: We cannot have any of these conversations until we destigmatize mental wellness—and if sharing my story online, or with my team, or with my manager, is even a drop in that bucket, I am finally in a place where I am ready to contribute that.
All the best,