Professional persona vs. public persona

Why we must keep a distance between our private and professional side

Recently, Twitter struck again with a post that resulted in the end of someone’s career. In August, a woman tweeted: “Everyone shut the f*ck up I got accepted for a NASA internship.” A man named Homer Hickam tweeted back: “Language.” To which the woman responded: “Suck my dick and balls I’m working for NASA.”

Hickam replied with a simple statement revealing his identity as a member of the National Space Council that oversees NASA. As quickly as it started, the woman’s heated tweet got her fired from her intern position, according to Buzzfeed News.

Inevitably, the entire exchange as well as its outcome caused a fair amount of backlash online. Some people defended Hickam’s choice to end her internship before it even began. Others, however, went so far as to attack Hickam’s “white-man privilege” for firing a woman because she didn’t mind her language.

Eventually, it was discovered that Hickam was not involved in the decision to fire the woman. Hickam explained that he only replied to her tweet as a warning because he feared she would lose her job if NASA officials saw the tweet.

This brings us to the topic of the day: Should there really be a difference between a person’s personal and professional persona? In my opinion, there should be. Biases and opinions tend to scare some people off and affect how they view others. In this case, excessive swearing smeared a woman’s professional persona. Had she made sure to keep her personal persona, one where she is the master of her own words, different from her professional one, she would not have suffered such consequences.

Ideally, nothing should faze an employer’s view of their employees besides how they deliver the work asked of them. If someone’s competence is not affected by their opinions or, in this case, excessive swearing, why should they be punished for it? However, oftentimes, that is not the case. Too often, employers cannot get past certain values or habits their employees have.

Social media is a dangerous place to venture, and while people may think the World Wide Web is synonymous with freedom of expression, it definitely isn’t. Once a person chooses to use your public persona against you, there is little you can do about it. There is little you can do about how certain people will choose to hurt you and get away with it.

In a perfect world devoid of limitations and social norms, people would not worry about such things. They would be trusted in the professional world despite opinions they have or their way of life. Unfortunately, in our world, people are held accountable for what they choose to show to the public, and not without reason.

Human beings are biased creatures, whether we like to admit it or not. Once we see a person act a certain way, we cannot control the need to put that person into a box or stereotype. At times, that can get harmful. For example, an Islamophobic employer will inevitably let his negative bias affect his choice in hiring a Muslim individual, regardless of the person’s professional abilities.

In my opinion, this is rigid and counterproductive. Excessive stereotypes derail people from possible life opportunities, especially on a professional level. For instance, when one hears a person excessively swearing, one might think they are not professional and borderline disrespectful. Nonetheless, this is the reality of our ever-evolving world, and while some constraints might seem unfair, others––such as keeping certain things private––are deemed necessary.

In the case of the woman on Twitter, she not only swore excessively, but directed her language toward an important person in her field of work—a person she obviously did not know to be of such importance until he corrected her. Hence why it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to such stories. Ideally, one should not fear their private lives affecting their professional life, because  the profession should only be defined with the work you put into it.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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