Why do we love Mick Jagger’s swagger, Basquiat’s “Untitled, 1982,” and Serena Williams’ roar? In these expressions of self, there’s a full spectrum of emotion, a distinct line crossing, and a public display of primordial power that holds an allure that’s hard to define. None of these representations of human talent is smooth, clean or socially mainstream. And if you look closely at what they represent, you’ll see that there’s a lot of that in you. The difference is that you rarely get to express a fuller version of yourself.
Expressing your full range of emotions has distinct advantages. The concurrent experience of positive and negative emotions bodes well for your adaptive capacities. It makes you more resilient and enables you to cope with adversity more easily.
Yet many of us try to sterilize our feelings and torture ourselves to feel a certain way about people we’re drawn to. It turns out that you might be better off feeling what you feel. No forced positivity. No emotional clean up. We need our complexity in order to lead more effectively.
Related: The Secrets of Being Authentic
To get in touch with your funky genius at work, you could do one of three things:
1. Wear something that expresses who you are.
As a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and faculty member, people expect various things from me. Someone once said: “You should wear dark turtlenecks. They add to the enigma of the image of a person who sees others’ minds deeply.” On one hand, I liked the role-playing aspect of this. On the other hand, I hate feeling confined. I like wearing suits as much as I like wearing glitzy, sparkling jackets or monogrammed, printed leggings. I wear these clothes to challenge myself to be more bold—to dare to demonstrate that what I know or my achievements aren’t tied to what I wear.
When I’m myself, I can share my knowledge more authentically. Not all people will like what I wear or how I am, but I can stay more comfortably invested in doing a good job. After all, when you wear what makes you comfortable—within the confines of what’s acceptable at your workplace—you feel more satisfied by and engaged in what you do.
2. Talk about your quirks openly.
Openly discuss a unique fascination with a friend or write about a personal idiosyncrasy. One study demonstrated that the more you can give of your whole self at work, the more engaged you’ll be.
Many successful entrepreneurs have quirks that they indulge. For instance, Bill Gates sits in a rocking chair at meetings because the motion helps him think. Nike CEO Mark Parker takes his business notes on one side of a notebook and draws sketches on the other side because this practice keeps his brain in equilibrium.
Think about it. Who are your favorite actors or comedians? They’re not the moderate middle. What gets you laughing is Chris Rock saying something so outrageous that it’s true or Jon Hamm playing the beautiful bad guy, Don Draper. When we watch them, we experience the parts of ourselves that we’re hiding.
These are the people we remember—and the people we somehow revere or can’t stop loving (or hating). They draw strong reactions because our brains are wired to react with excitement to the sublime.
3. Embrace who you are.
In 2016, psychiatrist Rosa Chavez reported on the creative minds of successful artists and scientists. She found that their brain scans were buzzing with activity in the “imagination” regions. But there was something special about their imaginations. They all relied heavily on the sudden appearance of primordial imagery: a “highly condensed representation that is germinative, unleashing insight and multiple associations and possibilities for meaning.”
Think of exceptional tattoos or graffiti. These expressions bring a fuller version of oneself to the table. We wear this primordial reality on our skin and walls, but what we truly want is to feel it.
We all experience sudden stresses that throw us off course. A critical email, an annoying colleague or an extra task might wipe the smile off your face. When it happens—and it will—don’t feel pressured to put the smile back on immediately. Allow your mixed emotions to exist. This will help you feel more self-connected and less anxious about having to cover up what you truly feel. Authenticity will also boost your confidence when problem solving at work.
In every one of us, there’s a funky side that needs expression—a side that will add to our intelligence and humanness. If we keep sterilizing who we are to fit in, we’ll never be at home with ourselves or the world at large. So my ask is this: Can you share a funky side of you right now? And if you can share it here, please do.
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