Can the personal and professional be separated?
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own
RECENTLY AT THE Fulcrum, a debate was sparked among our editorial board about whether or not our private personalities could affect our professional personas. While some agreed that personal and professional are two different spheres, others argued that an individual was just that—one person, no matter how hard they try to split themselves in two. Taking the debate to some of our volunteers, we sought to answer the question: Can personal and professional lives remain separate?
Point: Career comes first
As students, the line between personal and professional life isn’t stark, because most of us haven’t established professional lives yet. The majority of students work at part-time jobs we don’t intend to keep past graduation. Once our “real” careers begin, however, we’re faced with the complicated problem of trying to be ourselves via social media while projecting a professional image.
The bottom line, unsavoury as it may be, is personal and professional lives cannot be kept completely separate online. They will reflect on each other to some degree, regardless of how much we try to distinguish between them. Your career has to come first, and that may mean keeping certain aspects of your personal life off the web.
There are plenty of horror stories about people who have been embarrassed at work or even dismissed because of an inappropriate Facebook post or tweet. Social media sites offer a variety of privacy features—locked Twitter accounts, Facebook lists, Google+ Circles—but don’t let these lull you into a false sense of security.
Anything you put online can be traced back to you. All it takes is for you to forget to make a post private instead of public, or for your laptop with its keychain of saved passwords to be stolen, and the words or images you didn’t want to reflect on your professional life are suddenly on public display.
Is it worth damaging your reputation to post a profanity-filled rant, a photo from a wild party, or a joke in bad taste? For professionals, social media presence is like an ongoing resumé. Every time you tweet or post, you’re projecting who you are and how you operate to an audience of potential colleagues and clients.
No one wants to work with someone who appears immature, irresponsible, or acts like a jerk. If you couldn’t stand to have what you do online discovered by the people in your life, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
It’s not easy to make the transition from straightforward social media to social media for professional purposes. As students, Facebook and Twitter are just for fun and staying connected to people and events. But as we leave university and move into our various professional fields, the way we interact online has to change too.
The messages, pictures, and jokes you want to share with your close friends can be exchanged via email, phone, or in person. When you send content out on social media sites, be the kind of person others would want to hire or work with, because your career will follow you online.
Counterpoint: I am what I am, depending on where I am
The separation of personal and professional is as important to a healthy lifestyle as the separation of church and state is to a happy democracy. Big statement, I know, but an important philosophy as social media becomes an increasingly important part of both our personal and professional lives.
On any given day, I am many different people. I am a student, a writer, an editor, a volunteer, a friend, a daughter, a girlfriend, and a certified tanning consultant. I am an expert in grammar and lotion, hard-working in my academics and my relationships. The only way it is possible for me to give as much energy as I should to each of these many facets of my life is through meticulous separation—no matter what my Twitter bio says.
Everyone has come across a situation in their professional life that is incongruous with their personal values. Frankly, no, I do not have a passion for hiring prostitutes or marginalizing the francophone population of my university. But do any of the Fulcrum’s regular readers (or Sun Media, for that matter) know it? Heck no! Why? Because, when I am active in my professional life, I am able to put my personal perspective on the back burner.
As a student journalist, it is my job to report on issues that affect my community. As an opinions editor, it is my responsibility not only to present the opinions of U of O students, but also to inspire them. While this is something many of my critics refuse to understand, what I write as a part of my job is just that: My job. It is not always—or even often—representative of my actual values.
Sure, I may have posted a frustrated Facebook status or two about my job in my life, but did I do it while I was at work? Nope. Did I present it in a way that could damage the business that employed me? Absolutely not—that would have been unprofessional. Posting a line or two about having a long day at work when I’ve been clocked out for over an hour, however, is not.
What I do and say on my personal time has nothing to do with my professional persona, as long as I keep it away from those who I encounter in that sphere. A person cannot be a barista or a denim expert 24-7, and the employers and professionals of the social media age need to get that.