How much is TOO much?

I’m originally from the USA.  While I have lived here for over a third of my life, I find that some things are a continued learning process.  Case in point: Your career.

Growing up, I was taught that you should always keep your personal life completely and utterly separate from your working life.  You go into work, do your job and you get out.  Period.  You may make “friends” in the office, but you heavily restrict what you reveal to them – never going into any sort of detail about your family, friends or beliefs.  I remember that my mother would never even attend work social functions, always making some excuse or another as to why she couldn’t go.

This is what I was taught to do, but I have since discovered that this is definitely not the norm in Australia.  Not only is your attendance at work functions expected, you simply cannot succeed without making friends with your colleagues.  And I don’t mean work friends – I mean going out to dinner and drinks, honest-to-God friends.  Obviously you still want to steer clear of office politics (which is kind of crazy because if you get personal, you’re automatically in it to a certain extent), but people actually become wary of you if you don’t participate at a social level in the workplace.

The same goes for when you’re seeking a job.  Employers no longer want to simply find someone with the right skills – it’s all about cultural fit.  “Why do you want to work for this company?”  “What unique perspective can you bring to my team?”

For the most part, I find this refreshing.  It’s so much more fun at work if you have someone you can relate to and banter with.  It’s also a lot easier to brainstorm and come up with amazing ideas in a cohesive team that has your back.  But at the same time, I often find myself feeling like I should revert back to how I was taught to conduct one’s work life.

This goes tenfold while looking for a new job, as I’m doing right now.  For example, I am very interested in applying for a position at a specific not-for-profit organisation.  One of the things that interests me about this role is that I have a first-hand understanding of a key social issue they work in and, therefore, empathy with the people they work with.  I believe this perspective would be a valuable asset to my application and while I want to highlight it, I can hear that pesky little American voice in my head yelling, “Too much information!  Don’t reveal that much of yourself!”  And I am genuinely scared to reveal this piece of information, even in a cryptic fashion because it will ultimately lead to questions whose answers you cannot evade.

So where do you draw the line?  How much IS too much information in this day, age and culture?  I’ll be damned if I know.  Until I either know the answer to my own question or, in the very least, know how much I am comfortable revealing in this instance, I’m going to take a break.  It’s about time for a cuppa anyway.