As a young child, I was an unabashed extrovert. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Bigler, once told my mother that she was concerned about me because, although I was smart, I wasn’t very smart about people. I talked to anybody, as often as possible, including the school janitor and the boy in my class who always cried and was teased mercilessly.
My teacher’s concern, coupled with my parents’ long-standing worries about me talking to strangers, made my outgoing nature a topic of real scrutiny over the next few years. By fifth grade, they thought I’d outgrown it. What I’d really done was learn to suppress it. In fact, by junior high, I was over-compensating, holding back in all social settings (but still vocal and eager to speak up in class, the one place where it was “okay” to do so).
When I entered the workforce, my mom would occasionally caution me about the need for privacy and how important it was to keep work and personal lives separate. I believed her, mainly because she had truly been burned by a workplace romance (which resulted in me, but that’s another story).
There were occasional magazine articles and messages I latched on to about the power of mystique. Being mysterious and a bit inaccessible (emotionally) was the right thing to do, I thought. It wasn’t what came naturally, but I got quite good at it. Every once in a while there would be a lapse, and I’d accidentally make a friend who was also a co-worker. Or I’d feel I’d gone too far in sharing a piece of personal information. So I’d withdraw a little more to try and tidy things up again.
One day, out of the blue, I got feedback from my boss that shocked me. He said I needed to be “more transparent” and “more real.” He said, “I don’t even know how many kids you have or how old they are,” as if that were a bad thing. I was indignant, offended, and all the more determined to make it clear that my personal life was separate from my work life. It was a bad time.
Eventually, I began to experiment with sharing, with practicing more transparency in the workplace. I told a couple of people about my daughter’s accomplishments in school. Then I started talking about my new home and then the death of my mother-in-law and eventually, to a few co-workers, my struggles with infertility. I realized that I liked sharing, but I wondered how much was too much.
To me, the idea of being transparent was too much. And although I probably over-share more than I hold back these days, I still tighten up at the word “transparency” which is used so often in business today. Recent feedback on a 360 assessment called my attention to the fact that in some circles I still have work to do on letting my guard down.
So I’m looking for the right balance, the midpoint between being mysterious and being transparent. You’d think this would be easy for me since I have been at both extremes at different times in my life. What I’ve come to in this thought process is a definition (thank you Webster’s) of both extremes:
Opaque: Murky, clouded, difficult to see through, hard to understand.
Transparent: Easily seen through, recognized or detected.
What I’m lacking is the word that represents what I am aiming for. Readable? Open? Clear?
The closest I can get to one that feels right is:
Translucent: Permitting some diffused light to pass through; easily understandable.
I can live with that. It gives me room to share and permission to hold back. It will feel satisfying to me and keep mom’s warnings at bay. (They play on auto loop in the back of my mind.) I think it will meet the needs of people I work with and for. And if it doesn’t, I will need to be translucent enough that they will know they can signal me to open up even more. Likewise, I hope people around me will clearly communicate when I am over-sharing, too.
It’s a scary thing, this notion of opening up more. At the same time, it feels like letting 5-year-old me out to play. Sharing that makes me feel more translucent already!
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