I work at a fully remote company, and one of the services we use to help us know each other better is called Know Your Team. Since we don’t work in the same office, this service sends out regular questions that are meant to show aspects of our personalities that may not be apparent in our virtual work environment.
This question came into my inbox from Know Your Team this morning: What’s a common misconception people might have about you?
I thought a lot of my answer, and here’s my reply:
Wow, this question is a great opportunity to practice vulnerability!
As an African American in tech, I don’t have the privilege of seeing a lot of people who look like me in my field. This has two primary consequences. One, I don’t have a lot of examples of people who look like me and have been successful in my field. Two, a lot of the people in my field have socially, culturally, and historically constructed misconceptions (conscious and unconscious) about someone of my race.
Having faced these consequences since I started my career in tech, I responded in my early years by trying to be perfect. I obsessed over being flawless in my work, vocabulary, usage of the English language, professional etiquette, etc. I didn’t want to be a stereotype so, when I came to work, I made sure that everyone knew that I wasn’t there to play. I’m not here to bust out a freestyle rap, do a comedy set, or show off my dance moves. I’m a technologist, and I’m here to make technology happen. Yes, I’ve often been nicknamed “Spock” (although, “Data” would have been more accurate).
However, over the years, I realized that my obsession about racial misconceptions created another set of misconceptions. The misconception that I was distant and a bit cold. That I was humorless and didn’t care for fun. That the people who reported to me saw me as too serious to engage when issues needed a sensitive and emotional touch.
However, the reality is that I love ratchedness as much as the next brother. I have a great sense of humor and love to crack jokes. I’m not the greatest dancer, but I’ll slide onto the dance floor waving my hands in the air when the DJ plays MY song (and, yes, most of my songs come from the era of 1990s R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap).
So, over the past few years, I’ve learned to relax and show more of my real self. I’ll have fun while still getting things done. I still have a default state of “ultra-serious professionalism” but letting my teams really see me has had an amazing impact on how well we work together. I’m still a work-in-progress, but I’m very happy to be at Help Scout where we can bring our full selves to work every day and work through our misconceptions together.