A dear friend and colleague, “Sandy,” recently accepted the role of manager of recruiting at a preeminent cultural institution in New York City. Before starting her official first day, her colleagues-to-be took her out to lunch to welcome her into the fold.
Which is where trouble struck.
During the meal, Sandy’s coworkers noticed she wasn’t eating much at all. She sensed them taking notice, and felt compelled to speak up. “I’m gluten-free,” she announced, and related her solidarity with her daughter who lives with celiac disease, and manages the condition with the whole family’s help.
Did you see that? She came out at work as a mother just then, too. Her revelations didn’t stop there.
Since this is in New York, the discussion soon turned to Broadway theater. “I love Stephen Sondheim,” she professed. “He’s dark,” a teammate responded about the American lyricist’s themes, getting a grasp on Sandy’s taste in entertainment.
A couple of days later, Sandy confided to us, “I revealed too much!” She felt exposed, and was unsure about the implications of what she disclosed to her lunch companions. She acknowledged that talking about her dietary restrictions was practical, since of course she plans to eat regularly at work. And being a mom who works is nothing extraordinary. But piling on to the mix her affections for Stephen Sondheim, she concluded, was probably too much for her new compatriots to bear.
Which got us thinking about the nature of coming out at work.
There’s always gravity involved in coming out to your workmates. Sometimes the weight of coming forth at work as an alcoholic, for example, is heavier for the individual coming out than it is for his colleagues. And the weight of coming out at work as HIV+, for example, may be heavier for coworkers than it is for the individual coming out.
So we’re getting a clearer picture of Sandy here. Her office mates most likely didn’t give a second thought to her taste in Broadway musicals. Yet her devotion to Sondheim is so profound, she experienced something akin to opening the floodgates to her soul. A significant contrast of perspectives, no?
As you think about divulging different parts of your self at work, consider the potential effects on your relationships. Is it possible they will see this as just another part of you, with no further ceremony? Yes, your feelings are paramount to generating the energy to come out. Still, sometimes it’s just not that serious.
Just as in Mr. Sondheim’s work, what a relief to see the lightness in the story.
Shout-out to Sandy on her fabulous new role!
Stencil of Stephen Sondheim via
Update 5/31/11, directly from Sandy: My supervisor has taken for at least the moment, a genuine interest in both my and my daughter’s gluten-free situations, and her knowing about it has made one or two lunches easier (when I found I had to be picky or question the waiter in her presence). I’m glad she knows, because it will be an integral part of the way I handle my work life. But no one else has asked me out to lunch…and a few discussions of yummy-looking food trucks (which hang outside our office) have been cut short when it became clear I wouldn’t be able to act on a recommendation. Not sure if this is just normal beginning-of-work jitters, or if I have changed a dynamic by discussing this part of my life too early.
In truth, no one has questioned me on Sondheim, it hasn’t come up again. I agree with Robert’s post that I shouldn’t go blasting show tunes from my cubicle, it’s not that kind of environment. No music coming from any cubicles. But I did bring in a drawing of Sondheim and hung it, somewhat obstructed from view, in my office. I think it will make its way to full view soon enough. 🙂