A few years ago, I had a moment of total clarity. I was spending the Thanksgiving long weekend with my then-girlfriend. My friends were away, and we’d been hanging out with her friends for three days straight. On Sunday, I really wanted to spend some quality time with just her, but there was a group hike already planned. My way of dealing with my disappointment and frustration about yet another activity was to be completely dismissive of the hike they chose. When my girlfriend said, “Well, I’m going and you don’t have to if you don’t want,” I went into the bedroom and melted down.
After this relationship ended (it was just one in a very long string of failed relationships during my 30s), I started to realize that I behave very differently at work from how I behave in my personal life – and that in many ways I preferred who I was in a professional setting. Work Rebecca is confident, assured, and willing to speak her mind. Personal Life Rebecca can be insecure, tentative, and prone to make noise to buffer herself from vulnerability. The two overlap at times and there are spaces where they meld, but they often feel like two distinct personalities. In order to help bring some of my confidence and self-worth from my work self into my personal life, I decided to mentally incorporate myself. I am now Rebecca, Inc.
What was it that I so respected about Work Rebecca? And what scared me about acting like her in my personal life? Work Rebecca understands her company’s objectives and she isn’t nervous about being a “forceful” advocate on behalf of the business. In other words, she knows what the company’s needs are and asks for them to be fulfilled. This behavior, while respected in business, terrifies me in my personal life because that would mean that I would not only have to begin to understandand allow for my own personal needs, but to go the next step and assert those needs no matter what the outcome might bring. If I had done this with my girlfriend over Thanksgiving weekend, the outcome probably would have been the same, but at least I would have made myself known. I can tell you from experience, denying yourself feels a hundred times worse than asking for something and not getting it.
Work Rebecca is someone who says, “If you don’t ask for something, you won’t get it.” Work Rebecca understands that expressing a need is necessary and not “needy.” Personal Life Rebecca hasn’t quite figured that out. In fact, she believes that asking for something in a relationship may actually make that relationship come to a screeching halt. Leda and I were talking about how hard it is to communicate about things when you don’t expect what you do to have any influence over the outcome. She said, “the value is in the expression.” I’ve been thinking about this little statement ever since because in my personal life, I often hold back my thoughts, desires, or needs for fear that I will be seen as, well, needy. I have a perception that I must help everyone else realize their own needs, but in some perverse way this can only be done by actively denying my own.
Thinking of myself as Rebecca, Inc. has helped my attitude toward my personal life hugely. As an example, if someone in my life isn’t meeting my needs, I start to think of them as a vendor. I know this may sound a bit over the top and cold, but Work Rebecca doesn’t let the company’s vendors lag on anything. If they aren’t performing, she will let them know. This allows them to understand where we have a conflict and work with me to create a positive change and improve. Of course compromise is involved, but if a vendor isn’t performing to the standards and needs of my company, even after I’ve let them know what the problem is, then it is time to move on. It doesn’t happen overnight and there is a process, but at some point you have to let go and find a better fit.
And that brings up another point of Work Rebecca. She doesn’t take as many things personally as Personal Life Rebecca. After all, it is only business. To be honest, this attitude took years to cultivate. Because I am highly invested in my work and my company, I had to learn how to remove the personal aspect and stick to only the company’s needs. Personal Life Rebecca tries to not take the behavior of others personally because you really can’t know someone’s motivation unless they tell you, and generally it has absolutely nothing to do with you.
Every time I feel myself shrinking back from what I want to say or something I need from a friend or a partner, I think of my life as my business, and remember that advocating for my needs isn’t a bad thing, but actually the best thing I can do for myself and for any relationship. By incorporating myself, I’ve helped to bridge the bifurcation between these two parts of my personality. I am able focus my energy on bringing myself to the table rather than setting it for everyone else. It has given me the space to be more proactive with getting the things I want, while still being able to compromise and be open to other people. Honestly, it is one of the best things I’ve done for because now I advocate for me. So if you ever hear me say “Rebecca, Inc.” you know I’m about to ask for, and hopefully get, what I need.
Rebecca is from Billings, MT. She blogs at My Life as a Cartoon.
Edward Hopper, Gas (1940)