Penelope Trunk, a Broken Vase and Honesty Online

Penelope Trunk is one of my favorite bloggers. Not just one of my favorite careers bloggers, but one of my favorite everything bloggers, up there with the very best writers.

If you’ve never read her blog, it can be a shock at first. It’s a shock because Penelope is honest. Brutally honest, all the time. She gives career advice – good career advice – but always in the context of her own life and her personal problems. Some people are uncomfortable with that. I love it because she always makes me think.

In her last post, she describes a marital fight. In commenting later, she added this:

I guess what I want to show here is that the people who give advice — the bazillions of them — have problems too. It’s just they don’t write about them. And I think it’s weird. I think lots of marriages have broken glass on the floor. But people don’t write about it. And I think lots of people who give great career advice find themselves totally lost at times.

She’s right of course and her comment made me think, because one of the key pieces of advice I give people when they start using social media is ‘be yourself and be honest.’ I think that fakery is impossible in our new hyper-connected world, and that ultimately lying or pretending will hurt you and your career. Recruiters do read what you say online now, and they’ll only do it more and more in the future.

But when I say ‘be honest’ I don’t really mean it do I? Because for most people, total honesty would be an utter disaster. It’s not a disaster for Penelope for one reason: she is such a good writer that she has been able to build a career around her ‘totally honest’ blog persona. What she writes won’t hurt her career because what she writes is her career. Chances are that you won’t be able to do that. I know I can’t.

If I filled my blog with my personal problems, you’d all leave soon enough. For one thing they’re not as interesting as Penelope’s and for another, I couldn’t possibly describe them the way she does. And besides, that’s not why you’re reading my blog – you’re reading here for career advice, not to learn about my life and that’s the difference between Penelope and the rest of us ‘careers experts.’

So what do I mean when I say you should be honest online if I’m also saying you shouldn’t share your innermost thoughts with everyone (unless you’re Penelope)?

I guess I mean that you should be authentically the best, most competent, most engaging version of your professional self online. In the same way that if you attended a breakfast networking meeting you would wear a nice suit and be polite to everyone you met.

We’re all feeling our way in this new world where so much of what we say is available for others to read and discuss and form opinions on. I used to think I believed in honesty online but now I realize that what I really believe in is edited honesty – unless your name is Penelope Trunk.

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