Identity Protection, or in defense of ‘secrets’

My friend Tom, who went to high school with me, has often introduced me to readings that I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Over the years, he gave me a copy of Camus’s The Stranger (Dubya’s favorite) and sent me books by Jhumpa Lahiri and John Irving. More recently, the sharing has moved online. In the last few months, Tom told me about Google Reader and how it works. Being not so deft with technology, it took me some time to figure out the whole ‘subscribing’ stuff, but in the previous weeks, I finally managed to start ‘following’ Tom and the item he’s chosen to share. He shared an item with his ‘followers’ today from an apparently well-known blog by Penelope Trunk called ‘Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist.’

It was an entry entitled “How to Decide How Much to Reveal About Yourself.” In this post, Trunk, a founder of three start-ups who uses the blog to give career advice and intertwine personal stories, reveals a great deal about her past, especially her childhood. In a single entry, she manages to tell her ‘secrets’ that would be painful for anyone to share, and she concludes that we should be open with others because “when you think you cannot tell someone something about yourself, ask yourself, ‘Really, why not?’.”

I do understand why most comments to the post lauded her for her ‘courage’ and ‘inspiration,’ and sure, I concur with many of them. But I took away something else from this post. How about the practicality of being open (e.g. by disclosing my real name on a blog) for someone like me?

I visited Brazen Careerist and saw that one of the featured posts is called “8 tips to building and maintaining a professional online image.” In the article, it warns that potential employers can easily google our names to find information about our lives through our web habits, such as posts on Facebook or a personal blog. With such advice, this point is where I tend to contend with Ms. Trunk’s statement that we should be completely open, even with the darker personal stuff. The problem is, when you are not well-known, past stories aren’t  going to be seen by employers as ‘inspiring’ or ‘brave.’ Instead, they just give ammunition for them to not hire that person. She has a clear advantage of being already well-established enough to get more respect rather than suspicion by posting this sort of content. Most of us aren’t in that boat. The warning about maintaining an online image is the very reason why I’ve chosen to use a nickname to write this journal. Writing under my non-real name has actually given me much more freedom to just write, rather than giving a narrowly edited picture in fear that my future employer will find what I’m really up to. Her advice isn’t that practical even according to that featured post on her social network website.

Moreover, she tends to argue that when we don’t share a certain information with everyone, then that information is still a secret. Just because I’ve chosen to share my story with a select set of people, does that mean it’s still a secret? Does everyone really need to know everything about you before you can say that you’re telling the truth about yourself? At this point in my life of having to find a job and career, there’s really no use to sharing the fact that I have bipolar disorder and that I’ve had ECT to my potential employers.  And I don’t think  my decision to not to tell everyone about those things make those two parts of my life something I’m keeping a secret. It’s mostly not relevant to interactions with those people.

I will say that Ms. Trunk’s post was inspiring for me on another front: it made me want to write like my self for the first time in a while. I don’t necessarily agree with all her points, but her points are so concisely and beautifully written that it made me want to start writng better. Thanks to my friend Tom, I found a much needed inspiration from an encounter with a single blog post.

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4 Responses to “Identity Protection, or in defense of ‘secrets’”

  1. Neat that you have found Google Reader since that’s how I subscribe to your blog–so that I can read it at work without as wide a digital trail as the direct URL for a blog about ECT. Like you, I have BP and just started maintenance ECT (my first go-round was several years ago). Thanks for writing.

  2. Thank you for subscribing and reading. Hope your maintenance ECT goes well.

  3. Very interesting take. I haven’t read the article, but I do have to say I am totally for being open on my blog. There’s a difference between keeping secrets and being tactful. I reveal the “darker” stuff but frame it in the way I see it – as a growth experience and learning opportunity. I never complain about things on my blog without actually creating an action plan to do something about them. I share my struggles with the hope that others will relate and together we can help each other; not for the sake of complaining about things. I think if an employer were to read my blog, they would get a sense of the REAL me, and if they didn’t want to hire me because of it, then I probably wouldn’t be a good fit for that organization. I see potential employers reading my blog the same way I’d see potential friends reading it – they get a picture of the real deal, not just the sunshine-and-roses stuff. I think it’s always good to be true to yourself, and the ones who’ll see it as a positive and want to hire/befriend you anyway are the ones that are meant to be in your life.

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