The world of work has a lot to answer for…

Hands up if you…

Work 9-5 even if you are self-employed?

Feel like you have to work 7 hours minimum?

Behave a certain way online?

Communicate in a professional way?

Have to work at a desk or in an office?

Wear smart clothes?

Or feel guilty about taking time off in the middle of the week?

My hand is well and truly up, at least it used to be.

For the first few years I was self-employed I followed all of the above ‘rules’. Ones passed on through society’s conditioning of us worker bees.

We first learn the ‘rules’ at school, wearing our smart uniforms and behaving like everyone else. And then we start work and the ‘rules’ continue. Staying at your desk even if you have finished the work and waiting until others have left because heaven forbid we are thought of as lazy.

Through teaching and working in retail, I was wedded to the rules. Even though I’ve always worked with efficiency, I still did my hours, the ones I deemed acceptable to the outside world before I allowed myself to go home. I often worked late, finding more work to complete so no one thought I was work-shy.

But this attitude made me poorly. I worked so hard to keep up with perceived appearances that I had to take time off. Not really the perception I was going for!

The only way I could stop this cycle of overwork, getting sick and having to take time off was to quit.

Something had to change so I took a leap into the unknown work of unemployment followed by self-employment. I quit working for anyone else and I’d love to say I stopped working at full speed until I was burnt out or that the hang-ups around being seen as work-shy disappeared but they didn’t.

I’ve worked until burnt out twice since being self-employed and until recently found it hard to switch off no matter what boundaries I tried to instil.

And don’t get me started on behaving like a professional, whatever that means. I was obsessed with rereading emails, scrutinising how I showed up in my business and that others would see me as unprofessional.

Now when I think of the word professional I think suit.

How about you? When you think of the word professional – what first springs to mind?

My idea of what a professional looked like was not something I actually aspired to be. It’s hardly surprising that I was trying to be professional but not quite getting it right. I didn’t want to be a suit-wearing business owner so I knew it was time to explore and work through these feelings.

I worked with a wonderful coach, Rosie, and in our sessions, we explored these thoughts of needing to be a professional in my business and what it meant to me.

She allowed me space to think about the impact of not being professional and I came to realise it actually doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if my spelling isn’t perfect, If I forget something or if people think of me as work-shy.

In fact, being work-shy is something I’m slowly embracing. Taking naps when I need the rest, allowing myself time off if I’ve completed my allotted work and saying no to things that don’t feel right for me.

I’ve stopped re-reading emails 10 times unless I’m over tired, which really means I need a nap instead, and whatever I was doing can wait. I’ve tried to become more me and even started this Substack to show more of me, something professional Claire never would of allowed.

Writing this does still make me feel a bit exposed, like what if people won’t work with me if they know my flaws, but I know that’s my old friend perfectionism mixed in with my need to behave the right way and be professional, but it’s something I’m working on.

Tell me about your experience of professionalism in the comments, can you relate?

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