As a Christmas gift, I received a “23 and Me” kit, which is a scientific test of your saliva sample to detect your ancestry. A few days ago, I received my results and was quite surprised to learn I’m apparently 76% Irish, 11% English and 11% French and German.
Three facts surprised me about these percentages. Firstly, they don’t add up to 100%. My wife sarcastically said: “The other 2% must be Everything Bagel and Toblerone chocolate!” Secondly, I knew I had some Irish in me (“to be sure”) but 76%? Wow! And thirdly, I’m not sure how happy the French would be about being lumped in with the Germans as a collective percentage.
Will the results of this DNA test change the way I think about myself? Well, for about half a day, it did get me thinking about how I’ve always liked the band U2 and they’re Irish. I am partial to a pint of Guinness and that’s Irish. Oh, and I do have some dental work that needs doing, and so do many of the Irish people I’ve met.
This set me thinking about a word we often hear in the workplace — “culture.” In common vernacular, the word can be defined as “the way we do things around here.” Over the last 16 years serving a diverse range of clients with staff training and leadership development around the world, I’ve noticed how some employees become the culture. It’s almost as if they morph into becoming a walking, talking humanoid version of the brand. The problem is — this can be good and this can be bad.
If the culture of a particular organization is fast and furious, some people become the same to get along and get ahead. If the culture of the organization is laid back, some people almost become horizontal in the way they walk and work. The saddest version of this is when we see subordinates become almost “mini me” versions of the boss. What is it about our human condition, which dictates if we don’t know who we are, we become shallow and shadow versions of others? No wonder so many people are unhappy in their work — they’re not really who they are.
So although my test says I’m mostly Irish with a sprinkling of French and German, I still see myself as an Englishman (because that’s where I was born and how I was raised) who really wanted to live in America — specifically California and so chose to move here permanently nearly 16 years ago.
The importance of this peace of knowing who you are was emphasized to me just yesterday when I was sharing my DNA findings with one of our friends, Jean. I asked her about her heritage and Jean, who just shines with so much love, said: “I don’t know! I’m just me. I’m Jean from Santa Monica.”
I wish more employees in today’s workplace thought like Jean — just be who you are. Let the quality of your work and the manner in which you conduct that work magnify your heritage. Take off the mask of pretending to be someone or something you’re not, just to blend in with the organizational culture.
The other risk of striving to be a walking, talking version of the culture is when that organization is acquired and a new culture comes in — you may be perceived as part of the history and not so much, the future. Likewise, it’s sad when people put decades into their work and when they retire, they don’t know who they really are. They spent years and years playing a role in a theater called the workplace, which is not really who they are.
I know whose I am and who I am. I’m an Englishman who will become an American citizen this year regardless of what my saliva sample says. How about you? I’d encourage you at the start of this New Year to think about the person you want to be in the workplace. What adjectives best describe your character and your competences at work? Being clear on who you are and who you want to be is much more effective in the long run (and healthier I’d suggest), than toiling and troubling to be someone you’re not.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].