Why I’m Glad I’m Not a Corporate Chameleon

Mental health suffers when you are asked to be something that you are not.

When you are constantly analysing how you should behave in order to fit in with the expectations of others, your life is no longer yours. Yes, society has to have certain norms and accepted rules concerning every aspect of our lives, personal and professional, but there is far more flexibility to express yourself as an individual than many people think.

The playground drive to “do what the cool kids are doing” has well and truly implanted itself in our consciousness, and most of us feel compelled to comply with whatever our environment dictates. Company culture is celebrated as the ultimate solution to enable people to express their authenticity, but in too many companies it ends up as a homogenous collection of clones seeking to “fit in” with each other.

No matter how much a company might hire for this “cultural fit,” it is inevitable that they will take on a huge variety of personalities, many of whom then feel that they should adapt their behaviour accordingly. We are stronger together if we all play table football and drink craft beer on a Friday afternoon.

I quickly understood that I didn’t want to swim with the crowd. I did pretty well to stay within the corporate environment for the first seven years of my career, but since then I have not looked back. Everyone is different, but I personally feel much more comfortable dancing to the beat of my drum.

Happily, I sense that the future belongs to the individual, not the changeling chameleon-like masses.

Over the past century, companies have found it easier to manage their employees if they are all looking in the same direction. Much of the work has been repetitive and operationally focused, so it has been easier that people didn’t question the way that things were done and simply got on with it. The rise of RPA (robotic process automation) and A.I. means that compliance will soon not be so high on the agenda. Robots will do all the boring and monotonous stuff, and companies will start to value the divergent and creative thinkers over the “whatever you say boss” employees of the past. People who think for themselves, stick to their guns and aren’t afraid to go against the grain will be those who will add the most value in the new age of automation.

However, here comes the potential problem.

When people are free to think for themselves, all sorts of doubts come into their minds. We are simply not used to it. When your salary (and food on your family’s table) is dependent on taking creative risks, our minds can go into overdrive. Stress levels rise, and creativity is quickly stifled. The advent of the gig economy has meant that ever more people are going out on their own, doing their own thing and building their business in their own image. On the one hand this is great, but on the other hand, it creates a whole raft of mental health challenges.

Being a chameleon is the easy option – you act according to expectations. Choosing to bring your creative and unique self to work is a lot harder, but if you can deal with your internal demons, it is so much more fulfilling.