Is it withholding not to “bare it all” when asked to do so by corporate, or is it wise?

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“I’m part of a corporate up-n-comers executive training program, and an outside team recently asked us to share how we felt about work openly and our work-related problems so that our managers could back us up more. 

It seemed everyone shared fully. I wonder if that’s true because I knew I was holding back. What if my candid comments were used against me by corporate HR? There’s no evidence that it is safe. (To be fair, there’s no concrete evidence to the contrary.)

I feel really grateful to have been picked for the program. As I meet with my peers to discuss our varied experiences, I feel myself growing and learning. So much so that I could picture myself staying at this company for a long, long time.

But by withholding, am I not showing up, as you say, fully alive?”

Dear Withholding

You say that there’s no objective evidence that it’s safe to be yourself, one way or the other. 

But I wonder about that. 

I’d bet anything that you have data. Or, at least a part of you has it. 

Not the grateful part that feels lucky to be on the team at this good company. Not the growing and learning part that wants so very much to contribute your ideas. But the part that wants your Onlyness to be valued? That part f-ing knows.


How—or, if—we reveal ourselves at work is a big question. 

It comes down to this: Can we trust that if we make ourselves known (to reveal is to make known), people will want to know us. If we open ourselves up to BE SEEN, will people SEE us? 

Or will they look right past us as if we didn’t matter? 

The worry is that if we reveal ourselves, some can’t or won’t see us. 

And that hurt? It’s a BIG hurt. 

Indeed, we each want to find our place in the world, connected in a community. And, of course, we want to contribute our value where we can. But what we wish for more deeply than anything is to be seen for our true selves. 

And when it doesn’t happen, it makes us feel invisible. Like we don’t exist. As if we’re not worthy. And, this is why any of us might “withhold.”  

Not because we’re trying to hide or deny others an opportunity to be more honest with each other. And it’s not, as you suggest, because we’re not showing up fully. 

No, we’re entrusted to protect that light. And, to keep it lit. 

So it seems smart to wait and learn who can be trusted to see us. 


And even then, even if we’ve vetted the room, we can end up deeply disappointed. 

Take, for example, a recent room I joined to do a management podcast. 

The person who invited me was someone that I’d met through a lovely group in London (the one that runs the “Academy Awards” for management, Thinkers50.) So I was looking forward to it. 

But as soon as I joined the Zoom session, I was surprised. 

Instead of greeting me, it’s so good to be working together, or something similar, the host, whom I’d met several times in person, said, so nice to meet you

I have to admit that I started to reexamine my life choices at that moment. 

I share this now, not for pity, but because the old me would have been so grateful to have been listed alongside a Nobel prize-winning economist that I would have found a way to excuse or dismiss this moment. The old me would have found some excuse, like fatigue or confusion. The old me would have comforted him as if it was no big deal. 

But this is not who I am today.  This time, I took notice. 

I started to realize that the very gracious and well-thought-out request that had gotten me to say yes was probably written by some complete stranger. It was someone’s job to recruit and solicit the best people to make their sponsored podcast successful.

I then realized that his not remembering me probably also meant he didn’t remember exactly how I had helped him with his last big book idea.

As I was processing what I noticed, the second guest for this podcast joined. He was late and, yet, unapologetic. And all the attention went to him, asking if he was comfortable with the format and if he wanted to change the design so that he didn’t have to answer a crucial but challenging question that his peers had upvoted. 

Which, I observed, hadn’t happened for me. I wasn’t given any such choices. 

After that, we were introduced to each other. Well, not quite that. I was asked to inform my fellow panelist of my background and ideas and left to advocate for myself. 

Each observation unto itself?  Small bits of information, 

But in total, a sign and signal about what I meant to them. 

Or evidence, using your word.


I shared that “backstage” story out here in broad daylight because my former me would have been so focused on being super grateful to be included alongside Daniel Kahneman that I would have ignored all that data that I noticed. 

And, denying all the signs of their unseeing. 

Maybe I would have taken it a step further by second-guessing myself, wondering if it is “egotistical” to want to be remembered. Maybe doubting if I even need to have choices or the same respect as a Nobel prize-winning economist. 

In other words, I would have tried to rationalize their use of me. Not because I have incredibly poor self-esteem (though, like everyone, I have my own set of issues and the related therapy bills to work on them, thankyouverymuch), but because making the issue about me gave me some semblance of control and sanity. So I would say that just being picked is enough, or just being able to help them was goodness. And therefore downplaying my full value. 

But these years of studying Onlyness have taught me something important: We each count. 

So it’s not a question of whether you’re worthy of them, but are they worthy of your truths?

That means it’s not enough to be grateful to be picked.  It’s not even enough to be able to add your value. We can want something more. 

And I think that part of you that writes to me wants that, too. 


I got a follow-up note from those podcast folks. 

“You were at your brilliant best, charismatic and insightful, and a true joy to work with. The response we received from fellow panelists and Daniel was nothing but positive.

I hope you enjoyed it, as much as we did hosting you.”

And I wrote back that—while I hated to say it—I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like being forgotten. Or having all the men plug each others’ books without mentioning my three notable books. Or being asked to introduce myself rather than someone vouching for me. 

To which they responded…

“Reading your email really hurt me.”

Le Sigh. Even now, they can’t acknowledge a new point of view, or onlyness.

And so you know what I think? 

I think you’re absolutely brilliant in figuring out the room before deciding if they are worthy of your truths.

Do that more. Trust that part of you that knows you deserve to be seen. 

My mental soundtrack for this essay:

And you lucky ducks, a BONUS song from our Editor of FullyAlive@Work:

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