My friend “Mel” works for a big, well-reputed finance firm. Recently, she started night school to pursue a degree in medicine. Being a doctor is a dream she’s had since she was a child but never thought she had the smarts for it. Now she believes she does.
Unfortunately, she has to lead a double life.
Leadership at her firm sees Mel as a high potential for growth because of her strong work ethic, intelligence, independent and collaborative thinking. She conquers details while keeping an eye on the big picture, respects the hierarchy and has no qualms talking with anyone at any level to get things done. Mel is a Millennial. Her manager thinks she’s great.
Mel’s manager is the only one at work who knows about her goal. He told her not to tell anyone else because he fears her growth opportunities will shrivel if the firm’s leadership knows she’s pursuing a degree unrelated to finance. That’s the company culture. She wants to keep this job as long as she can, so she’s following his advice. She already has a finance degree.
Mel is committed to doing her best at work, but her heart is in what she’s learning. Her colleagues don’t know about her hours at class, her weekends filled with studying, her enthusiasm for what she’s learning, her vision of making a difference as a doctor. It’s too bad because she sparkles when she talks about it.
It’s great that Mel’s manager wants to protect her financial career, but how much mental energy will she waste thinking about what she can/cannot say at work? What impact will keeping this secret have on relationships at work?
Granted, many of us have aspects of our personal life we don’t disclose at work. It’s personal and we want to keep it that way. That’s our prerogative. But when you have to keep secret what you’re passionate about out of fear of it impacting your career, that’s a whole other story.
Leaders who acknowledge that their employees have lives rich with contrast allow a brilliance to shine, allow expanded thoughts and perspectives to enrich the norms. Leaders who encourage employees to talk about what they do on their own time (if they choose to) learn what fuels the fire within them, which enables productive conversations.
I know a leader who asked one of his people what he wanted to achieve in life (his whole life, not just at work) and what he could do to help him reach that goal. He said the man’s eyes welled up. No one had ever asked him that before.
It’s short-sighted to think that keeping employees’ focus only on work-related studies will bring out their best. A rich variety of backgrounds, experiences and growth practices makes teams stronger.
Mel’s ambition to pursue her dream could be a catalyst for others to expand their thinking, stretch their comfort zones and do something they’ve always wanted to do. The firm could benefit from healthier, brighter, happier, loyal employees with thinking and performance energized beyond expectations.