Promotional feature

When being selfish works

We all develop versions of ourselves to suit different contexts, but we're real people in business with other real people - so it's time be YourSelf, rather than a Business Self

Caitlin Evans, senior strategist, MBA
Caitlin Evans, senior strategist, MBA

The Self has been on a weird journey in recent times. First, it was seduced into curating a perfect version of Itself on social media. Beautiful, benevolent and brilliant at everything. But then, that perfect Self came to the stark realisation of what wasn’t real. There was an exposé of its inherent inauthenticity. And a subsequent backlash at it for the hyper-FOMO-anxiety it’s caused to those Selves actually more likely to be eating pasta on their sofa than on a beach with a straw planted in a freshly fallen coconut.

Most recently, the Self has been coming to terms with its unconscious biases; even fully fledged, badge-wearing Woke Selves have realised they have certain expectations of their own and other Selves, given their gender, race, age.

One Self I’ve been thinking about recently is the Business Self and the differences between what we see in stock photos of work life and the reality of everyday work life.

I used to have this idea of the Business Self I should be – a Self who never checks Facebook, keeps a tidy desk, is always impeccably groomed, never has overwhelming feelings and is professional at work parties. My Business Self buys work heels and smart notebooks that my Real Self gets stained and dog-eared. My Business Self is steely; my Real Self cycles between happy confidence and shaky imposter syndrome.

With the carefree abandon of someone deleting Facebook, I’ve now given up my Business Self and bring MySelf to work every day. Here’s why.

Because Selves at work are just that – Selves
When you leave your house and walk into your office, you don’t suddenly find LinkedIn as exciting as Instagram, webinars as entertaining as Netflix or manage to blot out the anticipation of lunch.

We don’t become productivity ninjas, either – the competition for attention at work is higher than outside work. As well as a never-ending to do list, the Daily Mail ‘sidebar of shame’ is only ever a millisecond away – and then there’s the rise in WFH. 

The Business Self is not a PowerPoint-loving shirt – she’s YourSelf. 

Business insight 4 real people
There can be a perception that B2B work needs to be as rigid and rational as a spreadsheet. At MBA, we believe B2B work needs to be as creative, surprising and wonderful as ‘consumer’ work. Yes, you absolutely need to prove to the Self wearing their business shoes that you understand their industry, their challenges and that your brand will help them reach their business goals. But you are still connecting with a Real Self.

When you walk into your office you don't suddenly find webinars as entertaining as Netflix

With our work for O2 that might mean an energetic headline, beautiful website interactions, or attention-grabbing technology.

When planning Investec Click & Invest CRM, we think about the moments people are in at different points in the day and plan around them – such as the likelihood of tackling time-consuming tasks in the middle of a work day as opposed to at the weekend.

The poet Robert Frost wrote: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." We need to shake off the idea of other people having Business Selves – and we need to shake off our own Business Selves and bring our Real Selves to work.

An inspiration 
Frances McDormand – for always bringing herself into everything she does. 

Your best tip for creative thinking
Indulge yourself in inspiration – spend so much time on your research and inspiration stage that it feels indulgent. Nail your insight first time, rather than rushing to get to an answer which always takes more time in the long run.

The best time to think
Whenever there’s no paper – recording thoughts can disturb your flow. Great thoughts will always be memorable and pass the ‘no paper’ test.

Thought for the year
Embrace distraction – I feel guilty, or unproductive, when I’m distracted at work, but it’s unavoidable. Use it as a chance to do some more research, or have a cleansing laugh, rather than spending energy resisting it.

A guiding principle
Give up your Business Self.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free