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A twitter acquaintance of mine recently opened a second twitter account. In her words telling us of the new account, she said, “Just want the professional dishing, without the personal ranting? Try my new […] pro account.”

In one of those flaky odd experiences that happen sometimes, within a day of  that tweet, I then stumbled into a blog article about how important it is to ‘be professional’. This is wonderful advice, of course. The problems came when the writer tried to explain what ‘being professional’ means. The short version? ‘Being professional’ had a remarkable resemblance to ‘being beige’.

Pernicious tripe.

Being professional means several things, but it does not mean “to hide your non-work nature in a cloud of fluffy beige”.  In the world of the situated geek, being professional means:

  • investing heavily in the development of your skill;
  • being generally courteous, friendly, and open;
  • being where you said, when you said;
  • taking responsibility for your actions.

There’s really nothing whatever in here about whether your clients know things about your personal life, or even just you as a person.  No, of course, your personhood is not the main story:  they’re not going to be happy if you’re a great person who is totally incompetent.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret:  just because people say that they hire only for the beige skill, doesn’t mean it’s true.

The situated geek knows that real life is about things like eye contact, and good cheer, and successful collaboration.  So, yeah, take a shower before you go meet a customer.  And, no, don’t try to fit yourself into a narrow beige box.

About 25 years ago, there was a rather strange science fiction comedy named Cherry 2000. It was not the most magnificent film ever made, but neither was it the worst: Melanie Griffith plays a brassy and ballsy bounty hunter. She’s hired by a wealthy man to take him into a post-apocalyptic California to recover parts for his (insipid) android wife.

Tim Thomerson as Lester

Tim Thomerson as Lester

The chief villain of the piece is Lester, played by Tim Thomerson, a well-known character actor and comic from the period. Thomerson is hilarious as a kind of west-coast- love-beads-cum-EST hippie who is the overlord of the Mad Max-esque wasteland through which the pair travel. The best moment for me–it has stayed with me for 25 years after all–is the moment when the heros escape Lester’s clutches and are on the run. Lester calls together all of his crazy, creepy, Mad Max characters to hunt down and kill our pair. He gives these whackos their instructions, and then he winds up, beautifully, with this:

“Ok, fly low, stay cool, and remember: be yourselves!”

4 Responses to “And Remember, Be Your Selves”

  1. Way cool, Mike. There’s only one me. And thank Gaia, there’s only one you.

  2. Mike Wilson says:

    Most memorable moment: “I’m not a fucking machine!”

    I was a scant 15 when I saw that. I’m still not sure if it was supposed to be funny.

    Indeed though! I make no damn compromises about who I am. People who want ’em aren’t worth my time. My selfness is too damn big to fit in a cubicle, much less a professionalish blog. (Frankly I think everyone’s is, most people are just chicken shit about it.)

  3. Jeff McKenna says:

    Mike,
    We still have ‘Cherry 2000′.
    Good to see you are well and still truckin’. A little reflection is good for most of us.
    Jeff

  4. In my experience as project manager, the people who are clinging to be beige (like it a lot) seem mostly people who lack confidence. Where I could create a team culture that allowed people to express their individuality within the team, I’ve seen these people opening up. I think when entering work life, many techies, and lets admit that they often have less social experience, embrace the anonymity of ‘corporate behaviour’, which still dominates. Equally most managers prefer their team members to behave according to the beige pattern. It makes interaction less involving, more predictable, plan-able. It also is a sure way to kill off any enthusiasm, initiative and pride in the work.
    I think a manager’s main role is to nurture people’s confidence and to construct an environment where the team members are comfortable being themselves. All the other stuff is “accounting”.

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