We all have professional identities. They define the parameters of our business, and they help to "flesh out" the communities where we are most familiar and comfortable. Our professional identities also determine where we probably spend most of our waking hours.
There's a time and a place to "go public" with your interests and activities outside of work. The strongest signals are, first, when there's a demand for your perspective on the topic, and second, when your "outside interest" is integrated and woven seamlessly into your professional identity, even in quieter, more subtle ways.
That's what's currently happening for me.
I'm known professionally as a writer and entrepreneur in the wine industry, and I write often about other women entrepreneurs in the wine industry. I'm invited more and more often to speak to various professional organizations about my own work, as well as related topics such as work-life balance and finding success as a woman in two male-dominated industries of wine and technology.
I could say no to these invitations, of course, particularly if they take focus away from business objectives and professional goals. But as I carefully considered the pros and cons, and weighed the benefits of professional exposure against the risks of speaking openly about personal matters, I began to identify the occasions when it makes sense to say "Yes" to these invitations.
There are two things, very much behind the scenes, that make my professional life possible. First is the counsel and support, emotionally and psychologically, of my husband. The second is the practice of yoga, both the physical postures as well as the more subtle practices of breathwork and meditation.
I recently said "Yes" to an invitation to "go public" about my meditation practice. Here are four reasons why it made sense.
It is relevant to the community.
If you have an opportunity to bring your "off work" interests to light, the first question to ask is whether it is relevant and helpful to your community. Is there already some momentum and interest around the topic? Can your contribution help to advance it further? If so, you're on the right track.
The 30-day practice was inspired by a session on the same topic during a major industry conference last month called Women of the Vine & Spirits. This is my professional community. Maintaining balance while working in the alcohol industry is a topic I've written about many times, and it is the mission of a new business called A Balanced Glass that my friend and colleague Rebecca Hopkins has started. It makes sense that we would co-author this 30-day practice, and it makes sense for this particular community.
It is relevant to the work.
The next question to ask is how, exactly, your "off work" interests apply to the community. Are there takeaways that will help individual members, and what are they? If there are concrete applications that you can contribute from your unique perspective, then you're another step closer.
For the wine community, and especially for an audience of mostly women who have expressed an interest in increasing their mindfulness while at work, I offered tips for meditating while traveling, and whether meditating can improve writing and communication. (It does.) Future content will address how the practice of meditation prepares us for handling unexpected or bad news at the office, and how some breathwork practices physiologically refresh and rejuvenate the body, which is particularly useful when dealing with jet lag or not enough sleep the night before.
It expands our networks.
We're all looking to expand our network in authentic ways. Can being more open about your "off work" interests help you to find shared common ground with new colleagues? It can, particularly if the sharing comes from a place of joy and sincerity.
All throughout the 30-day practice, both Hopkins and I came to know our colleagues better, and we came to know new colleagues through a previously unknown area of common ground. We are looking for ways to keep the momentum of the practice moving forward, and to continue identifying more people in this "tribe" who hadn't been known to each other before.
It has continuity and longevity.
There was something before this 30-day practice (that is, 20+ years of practicing yoga) and there will be something after it, too, most likely in the form of day-long gatherings and casual meet ups of the community in different geographical locations. Yoga and meditation are very real parts of my life -- outside of work initially, that's treading over more and more into my work life itself. It's a natural and organic extension from one into the other.