Personality Within Professionalism


I'm currently in my final year (*sob*) of my undergraduate degree in Printed Textiles & Surface Pattern Design and I feel a bit lost. Everyone around me seems to be crafting some kind of "professional identity" ready for graduate job seeking - creating websites, branding themselves, switching their instagram profiles to business accounts and shrugging off the informal identities they've had online for years. It seems trivial to even be writing a post about this, but I guess I'm looking for some kind of reassurance in a sea of uncertainty. Can I maintain the open and honest reputation I've built for myself online whilst still being attractive to potential employers?

I've been using the screen name 'hayerlily' now for around 7 years. Back story: my brother went through a short 'baby talk' phase when he was younger and decided he wasn't going to pronounce anyone's names properly. I became 'Haylily' instead of 'Hayley', which then somehow made its way to hay//lily❤ in my MySpace username in 2007. Yeah, I'm not really sure either. 2007 was a weird time for me. Then, when I finally got persuaded to leave MySpace behind and make a Facebook account in 2009, hay//lily❤ progressed to hayerlily. Again, I'm not sure why. But by the time I'd even thought about it, the name had kind of stuck amongst my friends as a somewhat embarrassing online identity. My personal Facebook account, twitter and instagram are all @hayerlily, as is this blog. I've built up my (much appreciated and loved) online following around that username and although I know that it's just the internet, I feel like in some ways it's so much more than that. It's been such a huge part of my life that it seems kind of odd to jump on the professional bandwagon and leave it behind.

I'm 21 years old now and definitely not the same person I was when I created all of my social media. In some respects I do feel like I grew out of hayerlily years ago and part of me does want to switch all of my social media handles to some variation of my full name. I do want to brand myself as myself like so many other young designers do in order to have a recognisable online presence. I think that having a social media trail that's coherent and easy to follow is really important, but I don't know what direction I want to take with mine. I like the distinction that having 'hayerlily' and 'Hayley Hunter' currently seems to be providing between 'real me' and 'work me'. I'm not saying that people who have professional accounts aren't 'real', but I definitely think it makes it harder to interact and get to know the person behind the screen. It feels a lot more impersonal and I think that can have a real impact upon someone's authenticity, a value which is key within both my creative practice and personal life. As a creative, I know that your personality can be equally as important as the work you produce. People want to know what you're like before working with you, but treading the line between being personable and professional is more difficult than it appears.

On Twitter I enjoy following people who tweet every random thought that goes through their head, almost like a public stream of consciousness, and I enjoy tweeting that way too. I often describe my twitter as '140 characters of throwaway babble' because when I'm tweeting I'm not really thinking about it. I'm definitely not thinking 'is this going to reflect badly upon me?' or 'will this stop me getting a job?', I'm just sharing honest parts of my life and things I find amusing. I spent a long time filtering everything; only sharing positive things, not divulging much personal information and putting on the EVERYTHING IS FINE AND GREAT AND MY LIFE IS PERFECT façade that it's so easy to fall into online. I know it can be tempting to only share the good bits, but through only portraying myself and my life in that light I felt like I wasn't really connecting with anyone. Putting that artificial distance between yourself and others can feel quite isolating, but when I started being more open about my life, my thoughts and most importantly my struggles, everything seemed to change. My blog (as it is now) was born out of the constraints of Twitter's character limit. When I started opening up more online, I realised that sometimes 140 characters is not enough to articulate what you want to say, especially when addressing important issues. My first proper post was Please Stop Body Shaming, which led on to other highly personal posts such as Asking For Help Is Okay and Eating Disorder Recovery: It's Okay To Feel. I'm proud of these posts in a funny kind of way. Although reading them back and knowing that they're there for anyone to read makes me feel a bit ill, almost every day I get a message from someone saying they've read my posts and that they don't feel alone any more. Knowing that these posts have helped someone in some way makes talking about deeply personal issues seem a bit less scary and 100% worthwhile. I struggled silently for so long myself that I know what it's like to feel "crazy". I know what it's like when everyone else around you seems to be getting on just fine whilst you're struggling every day just to stop yourself from crumbling. I'm a huge advocate for being open about your mental health in any way that you can as I know firsthand that suffering in silence only makes it worse. Communication and transparency is key to recovery and I don't want to ever have to stop talking about these issues that I'm so passionate about.

Instagram, however, feels the most 'me'. In short, it contains most of the elements that I associate with my identity. It's midway between the personal aspects of my blog and Twitter account and the professionalism of my portfolio and LinkedIn profile. There's pretty pictures of coffee and what I've been getting up to with my friends, but it's not any deeper than that. I don't talk in depth about how I'm feeling and I rarely share details about my mental health. But I do post a fair amount of my university design work on there too, which is forming the basis for my future career. I don't feel as weird about these ~two sides of my life~ clashing as much on Instagram, where they seem to fit together pretty well. I know that if an Industry Professional found my work through Instagram, they wouldn't be thinking "look at this mentally unstable girl", they'd just see that I like coffee, plants, having nice days out and creating work that I can be proud of. And maybe that right there is what I'm scared of - coming across as "mentally unstable" and therefore undesirable to hire. It has been suggested to me on numerous occasions (sometimes by well-meaning individuals, other times by insensitive people who don't really understand) that I should remove the personal blog posts I mentioned above. Someone told me to stop talking about my eating disorder on Twitter because it was "unprofessional" and gives off the wrong impression. I got advised not to link to my portfolio from this blog and vice versa because they "don't match". I've been thinking a lot about this recently and I think I understand this point of view now, but I've also finally realised that I don't agree with it.

It is difficult for me to balance the work/personal life online because yes, nothing I do online really matches up. I thought it was the idea of having a universal username that was bothering me when I started writing this post, but I've realised it's more than that. I want to be able to uphold a professional portfolio of work that shows how hard I work at university, but I also want to be able to make a tweet if I'm having a rubbish time with food or write a blog post about mental health. I want to be able to post pictures of my design work on my instagram but I also want to keep posting photos of what I'm drinking/eating/doing without worrying that it's giving off the wrong impression. I live and breathe my course and couldn't imagine doing anything else for a career but I'm also a person with other interests and struggles that I don't want to stay silent about.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but for the first time in my life I don't feel ashamed to be me.

I am a creative human who likes trend research, process driven design and playing with materials. I am a typical student who likes soy caramel lattes, photographing my food, reading books and staying up late. Unfortunately, I've suffered with an eating disorder for the last 5 years and sometimes I want to publicly talk about it to get support or to support somebody else.

At the end of the day everything I post online has one thing in common; it has been created, written and worked hard on by me. I'm just a human with good intentions and if that puts somebody off hiring me, then so be it.

I'd love to know what your thoughts are on this topic, even if they differ to mine!

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