In fifth grade I was given my first major research assignment; pick a sea animal and write a report on it.
The week before we had prepared for this topic by watching videos on all types of sea life. As a ten year old kid, it didn’t surprise me why I ended up picking the octopus.
I found them fascinating because they could reshape their bodies to squeeze through cracks, change colors at the blink of an eye, and squirt ink like a fountain pen on steroids.
The octopus was my literal super hero of the sea.
But of all the octopuses amazing abilities, one grabbed my eye more than the others…their ability to camouflage.
For example, here we are swimming in the ocean. Isn’t that coral beautiful?
I don’t know something feels odd about this perfectly swaying coral let’s get closer.
Oh my gosh…why is this coral suddenly changing colors on me?
My bad. I was mistaken, it’s is an octopus.
Awesome right? (Full Video here if you want to see it.)
Maybe I still am a kid at heart, but it got me thinking about something.
Are we not that much different than this majestic sea monster when it comes to our own behavior?
Do we camouflage our true selves as we transition from life to work?
Let me explain
You wake up in the morning to make yourself breakfast before heading to work.
You’re smiling as you read the latest updates of your favorite sites and wait for your bread to toast.
You feel relaxed, at peace, like nothing’s going to stop you from having an awesome morning.
Then fast forward to arriving at work.
Now things are starting to change. You feel a knot in your stomach from the stress.
Your boss wants you to be more forceful and aggressive with people on the phone, even though it’s not in your nature. You do it anyways.
At lunch you are surrounded by people who could be described as “sharks” but you play nice and agree with their ideas out of fear of getting “eaten alive” for having an opinion against their norm.
Later that afternoon your brain is hurting from hours of data entry which tends to bore and frustrate you. If you had it your way you’d outsource or delegate it and spend your time doing more productive work suited for your talents.
But you focus on the job and get it done anyways.
When 5:00pm arrives you feel a second wind coming. You’re excited to go home where you can work on the model you’re building, speak at your book club, or lead your team in slam dunks at Tuesday Night Hoops!
So like thousands of other professionals across the world, at 5:00pm you take off your work face and put on your true face…you’re happy face.
Why Do We Do It?
Obviously wearing “camo” to work isn’t easy. We feel uncomfortable and stressed out of our mind, but we have to do it right?
Sometimes if you don’t do your job a certain way, you may be in jeopardy of losing it. So you adapt and evolve, stepping out of your comfort zone in order to get the work done.
2. To Fit In
We all know companies have a culture. Hopefully your company fits your values, but sometimes there may be conflict. Maybe it’s the competitive atmosphere, the strictness to rules, or lack of social interaction.
Sometimes we have to be someone else just to fit in.
3. It’s In Our Nature
We are conditioned at an early age to put on our “camo” when we leave the house.
Remember your first few days at school? I do.
As a kid, I was a tyrant. I would tease my sister, hit my brother, neglect my chores, but at school…I was an angel.
I knew “out there” I couldn’t get away with certain things, like I might at home. I had to be on my best behavior, so I did.
We instinctively carried that into our jobs.
At home we were free to be ourselves, at work we were free to be what the company wanted us to be.
Sometimes if you were lucky and wise enough to find the right job, it meshed and fit like a glove.
Other times well…it was like visiting Hell.
My Advice to All “Camo” Workers
1. Understand Your Natural and Adapted Behaviors
The best way to avoid spending your time at a job that goes against your natural behavior is to understand your natural and adapted behaviors.
An excellent tool to do this are DISC and Values Assessments. Here’s a sample if you want to see what they will help you discover.
2. Adapt Where Necessary, Avoid When Possible
Not even people who work for themselves will spend 100% of their time doing stuff they enjoy or that falls under their natural behavior. From time to time, we need to adapt, and it will do us well to learn this quickly.
But if you find yourself constantly dancing from your true self to your “camo” self, you’re in danger of major burnout or stress.
When possible avoid situations or jobs that have you out of line with your natural behavior. If the company culture has noticeable differences that conflict with your preferred style of working, look else where. You’ll thank me later.
What Would An Octopus Tell You?
Again, like the super hero of the sea, we flash into our camouflage when our instincts tell us we need to survive or “fit in,” but not even the octopus stays in this form for long.
He could look like anything, yet if given a choice…he chooses to look like himself.
image courtesy of Jennifer A. Villalovos