photo of a mirror

“Just be yourself.”

It’s advice just about everyone has likely received since childhood. Be yourself and let the chips fall where they may.

Of course, it’s not always that simple. Especially on the job at the workplace.

Every month ASCE hosts Thursdays@3, a conversation among civil engineers discussing topics relevant to their everyday work. The recent June topic focused on this notion of “being yourself.”

Why is it important to be your authentic self at work? And how does that authenticity help both the individual and the entire work team?

Check out what the civil engineering panel had to say and register for next month’s Thursdays@3 conversation.

Saki Handa

Senior optimization engineer, Chicago

“So, I’ve been working for almost eight years, and in the beginning, I probably wasn’t always myself, because I was just nervous and didn’t know what I was supposed to do. 

“But as I progressed in my career, it was evident that I really needed to be like who I am and be authentic to myself and also encourage others who are younger than me, coming into their new careers, to be that too.

“It was better for the team and teamwork. It was easier for the team members to see who I am and understand how I work. That made it a better team as a whole.”

Jude Hill

Bridge engineer, New York City

“Actually, I feel like I have been discovering more about myself over the course of my career. I came out as nonbinary within the past couple of years, slowly piecemeal, at different points.

“I just got my updated license with my new legal name on it yesterday, so I’m still not even quite at the end of my journey – although I guess everyone’s always journeying somewhere.

“But I found that it was difficult to focus on my work as I’m discovering myself, because I’ve got had so many other things going on in my head. And one thing that compounded that … was also worrying about, ‘OK, what are people going to think? If I tell my job, am I going to have to worry about them pushing me aside and not wanting to show me to clients?’ Thankfully, all of that ended up just being worries that I had.

“But until I got the reassurance and knew that it wasn’t going to be a problem, I wasn’t sure if I could be authentic, and it was just always something running in the back of my head.

“I can look back now over that specific period and see I definitely wasn’t putting out my best work or being the most efficient with my time because I was just so distracted all the time, basically.”

Clint Smith

Project manager, Austin, Texas

“I think as engineers we have pretty stressful jobs. We have a lot of work on our plates, and we’re trying to develop solutions and design projects or just advance in our careers. 

“Then it is a whole other job in itself to put on a front and put on a mask to show a different person to the people around you.

“So instead of working two ‘40-hour weeks’ where you’re putting on a mask, it’s so much simpler and so much less stressful to just be your authentic self and to not have to work those two jobs at the same time.

“Also, there are lots of people in the world who are really good at reading people and can tell if you’re being inauthentic with them. So, it almost develops a sense of mistrust that can happen. Building that general camaraderie with your coworkers … and being your authentic self leads to a sense of trust and belonging. And it allows for people to actually get to know you and understand how you think and how you behave and why you came to a certain conclusion for a project.”

Betsy Kirtland

Bridge engineer, Boston

“I think it’s important for all of the reasons that have already been said, and I’ll tag on to it with job satisfaction.

“I think that as civil engineers, every single one of us cares inherently about other people. So when we’re surrounded by other civil engineers at our firms, they want to care about you as a person, too – just like you want to care about your coworkers. And I’ve found that being my authentic self at work has really let me to make deeper connections with my coworkers.

“I am a firm believer that liking your coworkers and enjoying the people that you work with and getting to know them and caring about them really plays a very large role in how satisfied you feel at that job

“So I think for me, the important piece with authenticity is the connection piece. The better and the stronger connections you have with your coworkers, the better work you're going to do, the more satisfied you’re going to feel, the less exhausted you’re going to be at the end of the day.”

The next Thursdays@3 discussion is 3-4 p.m. Eastern, Thursday, July 18. The topic is strategies for better productivity. Register today.