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Inside Buffer

What Does It Mean to Bring Your ‘Whole Self’ to Work?

Life is a mashup of passions, purposes, and pursuits.

The role we play at work is only a small part of who we are. Yet often, it’s the only part employers care about.

Traditionally, when we arrive at work, we leave something at the office door—and the same applies to getting home. We almost separate into two different personas.

In fact, a fascinating study by Deloitte found that more than half of us cover up some part of our identity at work to try to fit in—underrepresented groups feeling the most pressure of all to “cover” aspects of themselves.

covering by percentage

Stewart Butterfield, the CEO and co-founder of Slack, sums up this “covering” feeling perfectly and even named it as a major influence in creating the chat app:

“We believe there is a widespread feeling that people are meant to check a lot of stuff at the door when they arrive at work. Some of that makes sense, but there’s a risk of having people feel diminished or unable to contribute fully—that’s the part we hope Slack can have a shot at correcting.”

This “checking at the door” feeling, while commonplace, can be damaging not only to your morale but also your health.

Research suggests that suppressing your behavior is linked with health issues including a decrease in immune-system functioning.

So what’s the remedy? At Buffer, we think it might be bringing our whole selves to work.

What is wholeness?

Throughout my Buffer bootcamp, the question “How can I bring my whole self to work?” was frequently on my mind.

I wrestled with the concept a lot, and in this post, I wanted to share my learnings and experience during my first six weeks at Buffer.

First, I needed to know: What does wholeness really mean?

The book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux has been a crucial piece of research for our team in uncovering the answer to this one.

As Laloux describes it:

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”

Wholeness means we bring all the elements of who we are to work—our passions and strengths, our side projects and relationships, our partners and kids.

It allows us to be truly ourselves and alleviates the pressure to leave some of our personality behind during the hours between 9–5 (or whichever hours we choose to work).

Leaving nothing at the door

In previous roles, especially as a freelancer, my work environments could feel very focused on my professional persona, with much less focus on who I was outside of work.

At Buffer, things were different from the off.

When I started bootcamp, I was lucky enough to have Kevan as my role buddy and spoke to him most days in my first couple of weeks. Our conversations ranged from work and role-related topics to much more personal topics such as hobbies, friends, family and weekend plans.

After just a couple of days, many of the Buffer team already felt more like friends than colleagues. I was able to wholly be myself and share my passions far more than at any other role.

Wholeness at home

More than just bringing my whole self to work every day, this change was also about bringing my whole self home again.

That may sound a little strange, considering I spend 80% of my time working at home. But in the past I’ve found that remote work can mean that the people closest to me feel disconnected from my work life.

With colleagues based all around the world, it’s harder for our partners, family and friends to make a connection with our work.

This is something I hadn’t realised until I started at Buffer and Jade, my girlfriend, mentioned how great it was to feel more included in my work life.

From the bigger things, like inviting partners on retreats, to small things, like a private Buffer team Facebook page for team members and families, Buffer has been amazing in helping me to create a deeper connection between my work and home life—something I hadn’t realised was missing in the first place.

3 results of wholeness I’ve experienced

Before joining Buffer, I’d never really thought too consciously about wholeness at work. But that changed after I had three standout experiences that really helped me to embrace wholeness.

1. I learned to embrace vulnerability in my writing

Oftentimes, in a work environment, we’re primed to show only our strengths. Always putting forward the best version of ourselves and avoiding our weaknesses.

At Buffer, I’ve learned the importance of vulnerability and realised that it’s only when we embrace our vulnerability that we’re able to reach our potential. 

embrace vulnerability

Sometimes this means admitting I don’t know the best way forward—quite a difference from many other companies I’ve worked with.

The approach we take at Buffer is to instead be suggestive, avoid words of certainty and focus less on creating a solution ourselves, and more on collaborating with others to create solutions.

I’ve learned that without vulnerability, it’s hard to create excellent work. I’ve started to enjoy the slight feeling of discomfort when I click “publish” on a new blog post.

As I look back through my articles, it feels like the content I’ve published has become more vulnerable over time.

Posts like Why Building An Audience Is So Hard (And Why I’m Still Trying) and The #1 Mistake We All Make on Twitter included more personal stories, anecdotes and experiences—and made me feel more open and vulnerable upon publishing.

Vulnerability is essential for growth. The more freedom we have to do work the way we feel we should, and admit the times we don’t quite know the solution, the more chance we have of making an impact.

2. I experienced what it feels like to value kind over clever

In a lecture at Princeton University, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos re-told something his grandfather shared with him as a child: “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

That statement is something I can really relate to.

Before joining Buffer, I’d never understood the impact small acts of kindness can have. But from Day One of bootcamp, I experienced overwhelming kindness from the Buffer team.

At times I’m sure I was asking questions that had obvious answers, but every single time I received an amazingly kind answer. My teammates were extremely happy and grateful to be able to help out.

When I think back to my first couple of days on the team, I remember Dave and Tom reaching out and taking time from of their schedules to get to know me and help me settle in. This really meant a lot.

clever vs kind

Cleverness is often displayed at the expense of others.

On the other hand, kindness helps people to grow and connect. My bootcamp really helped me to realise this.

3. I made time to reflect

One of our values at Buffer is ‘make time to reflect’, and this has really helped me since joining Buffer.

It’s amazing to be able to put time aside to focus on the bigger things.

One of my favourite things to do is disconnect from my laptop (usually on a Friday afternoon) and reflect on the past week. I love to open up a fresh page of my notepad and use this time to scribble down notes and thoughts on the challenges and successes from the week.

This reflection time doesn’t have to be limited to work-related things either.

Throughout my time at Buffer it has been brilliant to be able to converse with teammates about goals and challenges outside of work.

These types of conversations also lead to stronger connections with each other.

What I’ve learned: Wholeness is about simply being yourself

Over the course of bootcamp,  I realised that initially I’d overthought the concept of bringing my whole self to work.

As time progressed, I realised that it’s not so much about focusing on bringing your whole self to work, but more about simply being yourself and not leaving anything at the office “door” when you start up for the day.

Are you able to bring more than just work into your workplace? What does it feel like to you to think about bringing your whole self to work (and home again)?

I’d love to hear all of your thoughts in the comments!

  • Terence Mentor

    Thanks for this Ash!

    I’ve realised lately that so much of who I am has been affected by my work’s “personality”. It’s like work has filled in the gaps of me that I, as you say, “left at the door”.

    This is especially true as a social media community manager – I spend most of my time writing in my company’s voice, that I can easily forget that that’s not the way I actually speak!

    P.S. I’m totally stealing your end-of-the-week reflection idea. :)

    • Hey Terence! Thanks for dropping by the comments here. Hope the end of week reflection works out well for you – would love to hear how you get on :)

  • Ken

    This! This is why I would love the opportunity to work for a company like Buffer. I really believe the culture you’re building is extraordinary, and as such, you will reap incredible rewards across the board.

    Oh, to be the rule rather than the exception…

    Thanks for clicking “publish” on this one – discomfort and all. #kudos

    • Thanks Ken, means a lot to read such a great comment :)

  • This post gives me the “feels”. :) Often times, it is so hard to connect with all the amazing teams and gurus blogging online because there is no vulnerability. A lot are trying to show their side of authority, and that’s great, but personally, I’m feeling the need to read and follow people and companies who are not afraid to show they’re real. Happy to have read this post. My blog reading experience has changed since reading the Open blog.

    • Hey Rachel, thanks so much for reading and sharing your comment. I definitely agree with you that vulnerability is a key part of building a connection with someone. :)

      So amazing to hear your thoughts on the Open blog.

  • I can’t tell you how much I needed that quote from Jeff Bezos, along with the general message of this article. Working in content marketing, I feel like there’s this unspoken quest to one-up and out-snark the competition. In reality, that doesn’t always help you resonate. But being honest and helpful? That gives you a much better chance at being heard and remembered.

    As always, I think many organizations could learn a thing or two from this article. Employees that feel encouraged to try (and sometimes fail) are able to learn and grow quickly. It seems Buffer does an incredible job facilitating that throughout their culture. :)

    • Hey Erica, thanks for reading and commenting. I definitely feel that being honest and helpful are two great ways to build connections with readers (and anyone you encounter, to be honest).

      Buffer certainly does a great job at enabling us to try new things, sometime fail and grow – both personally and in our work :)

  • This was really great to read. The idea of being your whole self at work is something I struggle with. I have no problem with sharing the positive, but I have a hard time being vulnerable. I like people to think I know what I’m talking about and I’ve often found I have a hard time pursuing opportunities because I dont feel like I know it well enough, or the outcome isn’t as obvious as I would like it. I think too often in work environments you do have to be cautious about sharing your weaknesses because co-workers see each other more as competition rather than teammates. Buffer sounds like an amazing place to work and grow individually and as a team.

  • felicia.cristofaro


    Everything you’ve written here resonates with me! My whole career has been in ‘corporate America’, and to your comment, if you admit you don’t know the way, you’re seen as incapable, or incompetent. Such an outdated mentality, and I know it frustrates a lot of new hires at my workplace!

    In regards to reflection, have you tried meditation? It’s such an easy habit to get into, and the benefits are too numerous to list. It sounds like you’ve really found a good place at buffer, congratulations! Thanks for sharing!

  • Nik Crossman

    This is a great piece Ash – Thanks for your openness and vulnerability.

    Let’s take an average 40 hours/week career, assume we sleep 8 hours/day 7 days/week… Then we’re at work 36% of our waking hours! Imagine if you left your personality, quirky hobbies, passions and sense of humor at the door for 36% of your life?!

    Not only is life less enjoyable because you don’t get to indulge in the consciousness that makes you unique, but your work will suffer because your creativity and idiosyncratic thinking is thwarted by your own censorship!

    I never really put it in perspective like this – Thank you for nudging me along this thought exercise Ash!

    On another side note about Making Time to Reflect…
    I just started doing The 5 Minute Journal and it’s been a wonderful way to take a few moments each day to set intentions and reflect while building a habit of gratitude and accountability…

    Have any of the Buffernauts have done The 5 Minute Journal? If so, I’d love to hear about the experience! :)

    • Just looked up the 5 Minute Journal after seeing your comment. I think I’ll be trying this! Thanks for mentioning it.

  • Sylvia

    Even though I feel like I get to be mostly myself at work, I don’t even think I thought being 100% me was an option in the workplace. What a wonderful opportunity you get to experience that, Ash!

  • Tanya Jones

    Three years ago I wouldn’t have understood any concept other than bringing your whole-self anywhere you go. That’s who I am and as an entrepreneur I’ve been fortunate to have the freedom to provide that leadership role-model to my team members.

    Then a series of life-circumstances found me working in a public school division. First “job” I’d had in 20 years. Wow, what an incredible learning opportunity to see inside a more traditional corporate structure, something I had no previous experience with.

    I can now fully understand the concept of how so many people don’t bring their whole-self to many places and why.

    One thing I have learned from both a failed marriage and a corporate job – bringing your whole-self is incredibly important and more importantly is surrounding yourself with people who appreciate your whole-self.

    I’ve loved working at my school division, I’ve learned some terrific skills and met many wonderful people. But I’ll be leaving soon and won’t be returning. It’s not a culture I can flourish in and I understand that now. I also loved my husband of 16 years very much. But after all was said and done, I now also understand how I was not flourishing with him. It’s taken me three years to figure this all out… But this article nailed it. I went from a marriage that didn’t accept my whole-self to a job that didn’t – I now know what I need to do and have spent the last month getting things inline to make that move over the next month or two. It’s the best feeling in the world to be free to embrace your whole-self.

    Kudos to Buffer for recognizing and acknowledging how critical that is.

  • Feels great to read this post today. I just put in my application and was worried that I might have soured it by how open I am about my life situation. Sounds like I might not have to worry so much.

    Interesting to hear about the facebook group. I’ve been seeing a lot of people making networks of private alt-accounts on twitter as a way to create places where they can be more vulnerable without the fear of the outside world judging them.

    Glad to hear things went well, looking forward to your future posts!

  • Rose Kuo

    Been thinking a lot about vulnerability (re-listening to some of Brene Brown’s talks on it). Thank you for this, Ash. Really loved this: “Without vulnerability, it’s hard to create excellent work.”

  • loved this… “without vulnerability, it’s hard to create excellent work” —so true!

    – Annie /

  • Hardip

    YES, great post! In my previous company we were encouraged to be completely ourselves and our quirks were celebrated (when I left they published a book of some of my silly tweets haha).
    I think this is so important as it boosts morale, new ideas and brings the team closer together. I ended up staying 5 years and made some lifelong friends!

  • Brad Finkeldei

    Love this. I was just talking to a friend the other day how it’s myth to drop your life at the door for work. It doesn’t happen. We carry it with us regardless and then it comes out and unfortunately sometimes people carry it out negatively at work.

    Being vulnerable opens up the opportunity for someone else to see an opportunity in themselves and relate to you in a new way. That creates stronger connections and better work done!

  • Selector C

    Coming across this article was great timing we are talking about this today in our EDI (Equality Diversity and Inclusion) event the second time were holding this and the same question will be asked of this group

  • pigbitinmad

    I could never bring my authentic self to work because I hate all this new age babble about “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.” I hate it because it smacks of Scientology and they sure don’t practice what they preach. Maybe I am just angry because I am not considered “diverse” (aka “kewl”) enough for the kids anymore [I got news for you. You are not cool, you are LAME], but it sure seems that anything different is sought after except for one thing, being older. Those of us who do not worship at the alter of Startup Culture hate you and your stupid products. I hope all of it goes bankrupt soon. It’s a stupid way to do business except for the few who get the golden parachutes at the end. Funneling investors’ (actually I call them suckers) money into all these Ponzi schemes is certainly no way to run an economy.

    I sort of don’t care because hopefully I will be dead before my money runs out. Thus, I actually want it all to go horribly afterward. I want the people who created this mess to experience unprecedented levels of suffering. You deserve it.

    And this is why I would never utter a genuine opinion in the workplace. And BTW…. Nobody gives a crap about “wholeness,” or “holocracy” or any of this crap. There is one thing…. and one thing only …. that I care about and that is MONEY!!

    I want to be nice because you pay be to act nice. The minute you stop paying me, I will revert to the monstser that I am. I do a good job, because I want the company to succeed so I can keep getting MONEY.

    If you believe anyone comes to their stupid job for any other reason, I have a bridge I would like to sell you. Excluding rock stars (real rock stars not “office ninjas”), DJs or other types who do fun jobs. NOBODY COMES TO YOUR STUPID GLORIFIED SHOP to be “at one with the world.”

    That is all.

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