Your Family Is Dysfunctional. You Should Blog About It.

I just dropped a pretty little chunk of change on a seminar by Penelope Trunk called “How To Write About Your Life” and I blame the entire HR industry for the fact th

at I even need to attend it.

But I do because I’ve been conditioned to keep my personal life off the internet, to fear transparency, and to make sure that I’m setting the perfect example for employees in my organization by never stepping foot near the grey line of being human on the web. Because to be transparent means I could get caught doing something, somewhere, at some time in my life that might offend a single person and then I’d be forced to wear the Scarlet Letter of Looser-hood for the entire HR world to see.

The truth is that our fear of putting ourselves on the web stems from the fact that we’re so good at judging those who do; namely, our candidates and our employees.

I read blog posts by Penelope where she combines career advice with stories of her sex life, eating disorder, chaotic family, and daily struggles that would make any HR Pro blush. And as I sit there in shock with my mouth wide open all I can think about is how I wish I could write with her honesty, candor, and humor. She doesn't give a s#*t what people think of her and she knows that in order to truly impact people she has to be honest about who she is. And as one of the most successful independent career advice bloggers on the web it's apparent that her honesty is good for her organization (her own company).

Kris Dunn just wrote a post speculating that our fear that how to get your ex back councilor

they-are-ugly-and-thats-getting-in-the-way-of-organizational-effectiveness.html#comments” target=”_blank”>we’ve been beat by the ugly stick is keeping us from being transparent on the internet and, in the end, hurting our organizations. I couldn't agree more but I think the fear or being ugly is only one reason for the lack of transparency. I believe the bigger issue is that we are, by the nature of our roles and responsibilities, focused on playing the part of the level headed glue that holds the organization together, the person who can create clarity out of chaos. In times of stress employees look to HR to essentially make it okay. We’re afraid that if others see us on the internet for who we truly are – humans who don’t always have the answer or know the right thing to say – we will no longer have the ability be the glue.

The truth of the matter is that we are so much more effective as HR professionals when we open up and let people see who we truly are. Embracing a sense of transparency on the web about ourselves and our organization will lead to more meaningful connections with industry leaders, customers, candidates, and employees. The internet is powerful when it comes to winning the business game yet it feels like HR pro's are too afraid to take the leap.

I’d like to challenge every HR blogger out there to stop being so fearful of being transparent. Let's start by making the posts we write focused more on our personal thoughts and opinions and less on the politically correct ones. Let's use our personal experiences to teach others about our businesses and our industry. And let's start connecting at a deeper level.

I’ll get the ball rolling with a post called “My kid just shat in the tub and four more reasons I miss Corporate America”.

Who wants to join me?


FOT Background Check

Marisa Keegan
Marisa is a Culture Coach for small and quickly growing organizations trying to establish the infrastructure required to create a company full of passionate, motivated, and engaged employees. She has held culture and engagement roles for two nationally recognized great places to work, founded the research and networking group Culture Fanatics, and is an industry recognized blogger. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and twin boys and is looking forward to the day she can bike across the country to raise money for MS research. @marisakeegan.


  1. Paul Hebert says:

    I get the transparency thing. But… I don’t think you really mean you wish you could write like PT. Frankly, I wish she didn’t write like PT. I read her for a while but in the last year or two completely removed her from my radar. Her need for therapy through blogging far outweighed any value she brought to the table in her posts relative to work, business, hell… life. She’s a mess and not someone I think I should encourage.

    I hear your need to be transparent – but you are not a singular brand like she is. She makes money because she is PT. You make money because a ton of people all work together to provide a product/service to the world. She is a free agent. You are not. You have a responsibility to your company and the people that work there – one that far outweighs your need to be transparent. What PT does is an anomaly. One out of 10,000 can do that – and those that can don’t have other’s really relying on them.

    I don’t think you need to talk about your insecurities, your problems and the activities behind closed doors to be honest and transparent. Sure, use your own experiences and stories to make your points more compelling and interesting. But there is a fine line between great writing and shock writing. PT is the Howard Stern of blogging – and that is not a compliment.

  2. Colleen Fitzgerald says:

    Penelope Trunk is my hero! I wish I could meet her in real life. Her style of writing is fab-u-lous. My only complaint is that she doesn’t write/blog enough.

  3. Marisa says:

    Thanks for your comments Paul and Colleen.

    Paul, really good points. As someone who does a nice job of putting yourself out there, I’m curious to know more about where you think the healthy balance is between how much PT puts on her blog and how much it’s okay to share as HR professionals. I really feel like we fear putting too much out there and it keeps us from putting things on our blogs that aren’t SO terrible and that could be a good lesson for other HR pros to hear about. For example, I never would have blogged about my infertility even though so much of what I was going through was directly impacting my career. I learned a lot about how much someones personal situation can truly impact their work and as an HR professional who focuses on employee engagement I have stories and examples of ways that my company stood by me and lessons for how other companies can help employees during tough personal times. But I never shared any of that for fear of being judged.

    Thanks again for the feedback!


    • Paul Hebert says:

      I use my “Mom’s Blush” rule of thumb. If it makes my Mom blush – it’s not a good subject for the blog. Now that’s me. Other people have different yardsticks. I have client base and others to consider when I write.

      The issues you described I’m sure you could and would have handled in a way that would make for an interesting and personal post. I also believe you’re judged when you aren’t thinking you’re being judged so don’t worry about it. If the issue you’re discussing is an issue of fate and not choice – then why not – you didn’t do anything wrong. If you went bankrupt because of a drug habit and a gambling addition I might keep that out of the press (but I’m shy that way) – but if you were hit by Katrina or Sandy and then had to take care of an ailing grandparent and it wiped you out financially – then that’s a story that might help someone.

      It is a fine line.

  4. Marisa – I love this post, great conversation starter! I totally agree with you that as HR professionals we have strangely conditioned to fear exposing too much information – work or personal. I think what I continue to think about when I write anything on the internet, whether it’s an article or a Facebook update, is… what kind of value does it add to the world. That’s been my guiding post, well, at least I try to have it be.

    There are a ton of things in my personal life that I could blog about, but most people would roll their eyes and be like, “Girl – shut up. That’s first world issues. Man up.” Oh wait, that’s probably what I would say. And that’s where I agree with Paul in some respect, in that PT over-shares, in a way that I am constantly asking myself why I should care. I am not so concerned anymore about crossing a blurry line or looking ugly because the reality is, we’re all ugly in certain respects. But more about, “if I share this ugly, will someone say – ‘me too!'” If not, then I call a friend. 😉

  5. Marisa says:

    Melissa, I like the idea of asking if what you are posting truly adds value. A good story plus value = great whereas a story without value will fall flat. Great idea and thanks for being part of the conversation.

    Paul, thanks for your additional thoughts. I’ve been thinking about what you said in your first comment about guessing that I don’t actually mean that I want to write just like PT because, in a way, you nailed it. I think that she does a great job at what she does, which is essentially build a brand around being completely open about who she is. I really enjoy reading her stuff and think that I can learn a lot from her style of writing. She knows how to tell a story and captivate her audience, which I’m hoping to learn more about throughout the writing seminar.

    What I truly want to do is help people in our industry be the absolute best they can be by using stories to inspire and motivate them to drive change. It’s similar to PT in the storytelling aspect but different in that I’m not sure I need quite as much personal, personal stuff in there.

    This gives me a lot to think about so I appreciate all of the feedback and will try to report back after the seminar with any new aha moments I have.

  6. Jen says:

    The problem with PT is that you can’t always trust what she says, and that’s where we as professionals have to guard ourselves. We’re being told to follow the examples and take advice from people who have made a living being a personality and sometimes compromised their integrity to do so, which is the antithesis of HR. If you look way, way back in Penelope’s blogs she admits that at times in her career she has lied about who she is, which makes me doubt most of what she says anymore. While I agree she used to be an interesting writer, lately she has just become a hot mess and not at all the example of someone I would base my writing on. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from PT is that she is a storytellering sales agent, able to easily converse with others and get them to buy into her way of thinking whether right or wrong, and that’s really the only secret to her success. Literally, because if you look closely at PT’s career history, you’ll see that sometimes her honesty and her inability to filter has actually contributed more to harming her career than helping it, and it’s only through blogging and writing about how she bucked convention has she been able to salvage a livelihood.

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