we have to make PowerPoints about our personal lives and present them to coworkers

A reader writes:

I’m 43 years old and I work in a place in which most of the employees, including the boss, are 30 or younger, so maybe this is a generational issue. I enjoy my actual work, but I cannot stand some of the required activities that the administration has implemented in order to “improve the culture.”

For example, every staff meeting, including meetings with only 4 or 5 people, has a required time at the beginning for “shout-outs.” I think it’s nice to acknowledge people and thank them for special work done, but I don’t like it being imposed — especially in meetings with few people I feel obligated to shout someone out, even if nothing in particular comes to mind.

Additionally, in the weekly meetings we are currently listening to 10-minute presentations prepared by employees about their “river of life.” This is a PowerPoint presentation prepared with personal photos and sharing of personal (sometimes VERY personal) information. Most of the employees really get into it and share about losing people in their lives, illnesses, etc. My turn is is coming up and I have absolutely no desire to share personal information with the other employees. Additionally, I am already working 80 hours a week and I frankly resent the idea that I have to spend any time preparing a presentation with personal photos, which has nothing to do with my work and job performance. Is there any way I can get out of this without insulting my boss or my teammates?

River of life presentations?!

I’m sure someone in your office has decided this this is a way to build camaraderie, but holy Hanukkah balls, it’s misguided. I don’t blame you one bit for having no interest in participating in these. It’s a waste of time, a violation of privacy, and a really silly way to “build culture.”

The start-of-meeting shout-outs don’t strike me as nearly as egregious. A little forced, absolutely, but whatever — I can see just dealing with that one.

But the friggin’ PowerPoint about your personal life? Blech.

If you have reasonably good standing in your organization, I don’t think it’s crazy to say to your manager, “Hey, I know some people really enjoy these, but this is really not my thing. I’m pretty private and I’d be a little uncomfortable doing one, and frankly, I’m working 80-hour weeks right now and really want to use my work time to focus on work. Okay for me to opt out?”

However, be aware that in some cultures (maybe this one!), this would get you marked as Not Participatory, Not a Team Player, and/or Not One of Us. Personally, I’m very comfortable with that in this particular context, but you might not be. At a minimum, you should think through what the ramifications of that are in your culture and how much it matters to you.

{ 552 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonie*

    Ugh! Things like this drive me CRAZY! Because if you don’t do it you are going to be put in the “Doesn’t play well with others” category.

    1. Mike C.*

      It shows a serious entitlement complex from management – like they’re somehow entitled to know your personal history and private life. It’s disgusting.

      1. majigail*

        Does anyone think it’s possible that management expected something entirely different to happen? I can see them thinking that it would be a good icebreaker… a baby picture, one as a kid, a graduation pic, a few puppies, that backpacking trip through Mexico. I can see that turning rather quickly after the first person talks about losing their mom in high school and having people one up each other with crazier, more depressing things.
        I don’t think it’s so much entitlement as much as wanting to build a team gone awry.

        1. My two cents...*

          that was my immediate thought… that what was started as a hope in sharing who has pets or what sports did folks like to play growing up quickly turned into a strange therapy/unloading session.

          if i were OP, i’d just compile some pictures of pets and maybe a craft project or two that i had worked on recently.

    2. LoFlo*

      I would be tempted just to make up some outside life just to go along. I have been there as the doesn’t play well with others person when I declined to discuss my health issues related to two hip replacements, and other parts of my personal life while everybody else thought it was perfectly normal to moan about every little boo-boo and sniffle.

      Does you company also participate in some type of engagement survey? Wonder if your manager’s performance review is based on engagement and this exercise is some way to show his commitment. My last company did this and it was misrable for departments who had managers with low scores. All kinds of engagement activities were implemented.

      1. Ethyl*

        Wasn’t there an episode of The Office where everyone had to share a story and people were using the plots of movies? “Yeah, my um, aunt, was this awesome lady boxer, and uh…”

        1. LBK*

          Yep, “Grief Counseling”. Michael makes them all tell stories about losing a family member so they tell the plot of Weekend at Bernie’s, Million Dollar Baby and Lion King instead.

      2. Artemesia*

        Early in my career I drew a bright line between personal and professional life; I thought I was perfectly sociable but I didn’t share details of my life — I saw that as the sort of thing that undermines women (kids issues etc). I was viewed (as you can imagine) as ‘standoffish’ and the apex was a Christmas party where the group I was standing with said ‘you and Joe don’t have any kids do you’ and I responded with ‘oh we have a 5 year old and a 7 month old baby.’ They were stunned, and it became the thing everyone talked about for two weeks. People would come up to me and do this ‘I was so surprised’ number. I did learn from that, to be a little less ‘standoffish’.

        I think this is a ridiculous waste of time, but I would view it as a political action (as in office politics.) Think about two impressions you would like others to have of you and build your river around that. E.g. perhaps a deep intellectual or cultural interest and a charitable activity. So we learn about your love of opera and your deep commitment to ‘saving the children.’ You can make up the charitable stuff or at least embellish it. Feel free to leave out losses, illnesses, infertility issues, and your love life.

    3. Ted Mosby*

      Totally. Just put together some not too personal details you’d be comfortable sharing anyways.

      I love to run. I have two older brothers. I have two cats. I love making soup and brownies (not together). 30 Rock is my favorite show.

      There you have it yall. Ted Mosby’s RIVER OF LIFE.

      1. Hous*

        I’m honestly surprised HIMYM Ted Mosby never did an actual serious powerpoint presentation about his river of life. That really sounds like his kind of thing.

      2. Ella*

        Or how about making the presentation more about your professional life? Here is where I went to college, this is what I majored in, I started out with this kind of internship, my first job was X, my next job was Y, now I am focusing on Z in my role here, etc.

        1. A Cita*

          Exactly what I was thinking. Can you turn it into something you would be comfortable showing, like work life? Career trajectory. Or maybe, since your workload is already so high, the lifecycle of the current project you’re working on (especially if it led to some really interesting processes/insights/changes that others may benefit from). That way you’re using the presentation prep as a way to track and document your current project so it’s not just added work, but also potentially useful to you.

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            Set it all to “Wind Beneath My Wings” with a couple of soft-focus fades and nobody will remember it wasn’t about deep personal stuff!

      3. glennis*

        I agree. You’ve been assigned it, they’re paying you to do what’s assigned so do it. And keep it about as personal as what you’d share with a neighbor or a shopkeeper you regularly visit.

    4. INTP*

      I hate that crap too. I’d probably just put together one about a vacation or something. The pictures would all be in one area on your computer or cloud storage already and you can just throw it together.

      I’m 28, so I’m inclined to say it isn’t a generational thing. However, it could be in the sense that people who are fresh out of graduate school or college often aren’t experienced at social environments with major boundaries, like the workplace, and may feel more inclined to bare their souls. I’ve been private since I was in elementary school getting annoyed with my mother for wanting to know how my school day went, but some people are not naturally so and must learn it.

  2. Carrie in Scotland*

    Oh Alison, just when we can’t love you any more than before, you use the phrase ‘holy Hanukkah balls’… :)

    OP – no actual advice but yeah…I would hate, hate to do this too. Do they stand up and explain each slide, going ‘this is so and so and this is what they meant to me’

      1. Another unnamed*

        Holy Hanukkah balls! :-D

        I’m totally using this in inappropriate context and then having to explain it…

    1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      I spat Coke all over my screen at “holy Hanukkah balls”. It’s the new Wakeen, isn’t it?

    1. GOG11*


      As soon as I saw “holy Hanukkah balls,” I ‘ran’ to the comments section to post something to this effect.

      Now I will finish reading Alison’s response.

  3. Stephanie*

    Ha, “Holy Hanukkah balls.” I see what you did there, Alison.

    For the record, I’m under 30 and getting twitchy at the thought of a river of life presentation.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      in my head, I’m now singing ‘the circle of life’ from…is the Lion King? the ‘river of life’ fits very well.

      1. Kelly L.*

        It’s making me think of a ride at Epcot. El Rio del Tiempo (The River of Time). Do I need animatronic figures of all the people in my life?

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah, I’m 30 and that powerpoint thing isn’t a generational thing at all. EEK.

      I agree that the shoutouts are less annoying – maybe because acknowledging people who might be overlooked is a huge priority of mine.

      One thing I’m not clear on: is it general time for anyone to call out someone’s good work? (A good thing, in my eyes!) Or a “go around the circle and say something nice” exercise? Because uggggggggggh.

      1. OldAdmin*

        Oh God.
        In a group that basically disrespected me we once were forced to do team building exercises, and had to do the “say something nice (about work related stuff)” exercise.
        I had tried to follow the company’s culture of bringing cake or food on joining a new group… which I did successfully. After that, a long uphill struggle to get them see my work.
        At the horrible exercise, the colleagues gaped at me like fish – and said “Oh yeah, Old Admin cooks well”.

        I left the group soon after.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    This post makes me want to rip my hair out on OP’s behalf.

    If you think that speaking up will get you branded as “not a team player,” I’d suggest filling your presentation with trivialities. Ugh, OP, I’m sorry.

    (I would love to see this company outed…who thinks this is a good idea?!)

    1. Helka*

      Either trivialities or things that are obviously goofy and meant to be fun (if that’s something the OP can carry off, personality-wise). “Four score and seven years ago, I sprang fully formed from Zeus’s forehead after his drunken bender left him with a wicked headache…”

    2. Adam*

      “If you think that speaking up will get you branded as “not a team player,” I’d suggest filling your presentation with trivialities.”

      If I knew I wasn’t going to be staying at this place of work much longer I’d totally fill my presentation with the most inane pointless factoids.

      “Here’s the ‘A’ I got on my 5th grade science test.”
      “This is what my dad got me for my 23rd birthday.”
      “Here was the combo to my old gym locker.”
      “Here’s my recipe for Campbell’s soup. Step one: Get can of soup. Step two: Open (with a can opener) and empty into pot. Step three: Heat up. Step four: Enjoy with a spoon (in a bowl if you prefer).”

      1. Stephanie*

        Although make sure this would actually fly at your workplace. I could see OP’s manager earnestly liking this idea and getting upset that OP didn’t take the river of life presentation seriously.

        1. Adam*

          Naturally and mostly jokingly. But still I think if the manager doesn’t list specifics about these “river of life” doohickeys he should be surprised by some out there responses.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          I think you can do trivialities without making it look like a joke. You could include things like “how much I loved Rainbow Brite as a kid” or “lamb stew is my favorite dish to cook at home” (and then use up at least a minute talking about how good it smells, how I enjoy working with fresh vegetables, blah blah blah). Presented in an earnest tone of voice, I hope anyone silly enough to think requiring these presentations is a good idea would also be silly enough to buy “oh, OP is sharing such nice details!” without those details having to be deeply or painfully personal.

          1. L mc*

            +1 and if only we lived in a sitcom world this would somehow lead to op ending up as the CEO. :D But I have done stuff like this before when my heart wasn’t in an assignment like this – as long as you present it earnestly it’ll work just fine.

            1. stb5114*

              made me think of Office Space- when the consultants suggest promoting Peter after he just stops giving a crap.

          2. MH*

            Maybe use harmless things like the first concert you went to or favorite food or pet as a child or adult. Your favorite trip is also a safety.

          3. Formica Dinette*

            I really like this idea! OP could even do it in such a way that it would benefit them. For example:

            “I want to share with you my obsession with fine chocolate. My goal in life is to sample chocolate from each and every Belgian chocolatier. Did you know there are 2,000 of them?”

            Since OP’s co-workers are such caring people, they’ll probably bring OP pieces of Belgian and other fine chocolates with some regularity

        3. Jennifer*

          This reminds me of a story years ago about how someone I used to know online got forced to decorate a bulletin board and she did it in a joking manner–and people took it very seriously and loved it, no irony.

      2. cuppa*

        “Here was the combo to my old gym locker.” 23-3-29!

        I’ve never told anyone that! I feel so happy that I got to share that with all of you! ;)

    3. Meg Murry*

      I wouldn’t necessarily fill it with trivialities – but I would make it extremely work based – essentially a powerpoint that is similar to your resume/LinkedIn. Here is my hometown, I graduated from school X, I worked at companies 1,2,3 with titles A, B,C before I came to this place, where I started in year YYYY with title XYZ. Here are the major projects I’ve worked on since I’ve been here. And then one slide on “in my spare time, I like to cook and knit” or “here’s a picture of me and my kids (or cat or garden etc)” something dull like that that you don’t mind sharing with the group. I think the original intention of presentations like this were SUPPOSED to be more work related with a little bit of “getting to know you” trivia – but your co-workers have taken the oversharing way too far.

      Done. Is it a waste of time? Maybe. But maybe it will serve well to sell yourself as someone with years of experience, and next time someone needs help on a project in an industry you worked in the past in, you could get a good assignment out of it. This seems like the kind of thing you could put together in an hour, and then move on from.

      It seems to me that the real issue is that you are doing this busywork and team building, when what you really need is less filler and more people or resources so you don’t have to work 80 hour weeks.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        Exactly. I’d be like, “I work 80 hours a week and i don’t have a personal life” and sit down.

        1. Snowball II*

          Photo montage of selfies snapped at your desk:

          “Here’s me at my desk at 6:57 am on Monday. Here’s me at 8:53 pm, also on Monday, still at my desk. Note the discarded takeout containers in my trash bin, along with the pile of empty coffee cups I’ve artfully arranged on the shelf behind me as a representation of how much caffeine is required to deal with this job 16 hours a day.”

        2. Windchime*

          Or maybe go the opposite, and create slides for some fantastic life that you don’t actually have. “This is my lover”, and stare meaningfully at the slide of a random handsome/beautiful person for a moment before moving on to the next slide, which contains a picture of a beach in Bora Bora.

      2. jag*


        Either speak up if you are planning on leaving or have sufficient job security that you can do that – you’ll be helping other people.

        Or do what MM said if you feel you have to play along.

      3. Kat A.*

        That’s still too personal, at least for me. I wouldn’t want to give out info like where I’m from or went to school or my kids to people at some past places where I’ve worked.

        Where I am now, they know my whole life, and that’s fine. But I’ve worked with some creepers in other jobs, and – ugh – I wouldn’t want them to know a single fact about my personal life.

        Just sayin’.

        1. Cassie*

          It reminds me a bit of school projects (elementary & middle school) where you had to make posters showing your interests or a collage of your baby pictures, etc. It didn’t bother me back then, but I’d probably feel differently now. My cubicle is pretty sparse for a reason – I don’t want people asking who these people in pictures are, or if I like this or that.

          If I had to do this, I’d stick to very mundane topics, but try not to make it look like you’re purposefully keeping it distant. But it would definitely take some time to figure out what is “safe”.

      4. EG*

        From this view, I can see this as a useful exercise in getting to know coworkers you might not see on a daily basis. It’s the random bits of non-work related trivia that seem more suited to water cooler chats than a full presentation. Yes, I share these things with coworkers, but not standing up in front of a room of them.

    4. Jennifer*

      I’d suggest picking a hobby and going on about it in tedious detail, but if you work 80-hour weeks you clearly have no time to do anything else.
      Maybe just do a “this is my day: I drive to work. Here is a picture of my car. Here is a picture of my lunch as I eat it at my desk. Here is a picture of my clock at work when it is 8 o’clock at night and I am still here. Here is a picture of my bed” sort of thing?

    5. Academic Counselor*

      I once worked in an office where every Monday morning started with a staff meeting where we were supposed to give personal “updates” (not work-related). Most people would talk about what they did over the weekend, sometimes in excruciating detail. I hated it, and me and one other guy would always just give a 1-sentence update that was as vague as possible – I’d say something like “I had a nice, relaxing weekend”, or “I watched tv and saw some friends”.

      So, my recommendation would be to make your powerpoint as short as would be reasonably allowed, and just list whatever mundane things you are comfortable sharing. Personally, I’d probably just show pictures of my dog for 10 minutes and not do anything else…

      1. JayDee*

        Was that intended to cut down the amount of time everyone wastes catching up with each other on Monday mornings?

    6. Kat A.*

      I, too, am aggravated on OP’s behalf.

      When I, as a new hire, had to create a personal bio for the office newsletter, I did a phony tongue-in-cheek one. It went over very well except for one man who took it all so seriously. He wanted to know more about my supposed ear deformities (which had been part of a Star Trek reference).

      I still laugh at that one… though not to his face.

    7. Adonday Veeah*

      “Here is a story of the most meaningful event of my life. Here’s the ultrasound… here are the birth pictures… ooh, look, you can see the head…”

  5. Adam*


    I don’t particularly enjoy the “Hey! Share something about yourself!” moments at work either, but for mine at least it’s usually ten seconds and then done. If I want you to know about my life outside of the office we can chitchat next to the coffee pot. You know, like people actually do?

    1. cuppa*

      Or can you make it work-related?
      I only like writing in blue ink. There’s nothing more satisfying than using a freshly sharpened pencil. I once got interviewed by a news crew on my way in to work. My favorite part of my job is filing my TPS reports every week.

      1. Cool Beans*

        Going off the idea of making it work-related, why not share your history/background at other companies?

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          This is exactly what I was going to recommend. Let me say, I think this concept is stupid. But I get what your manager is “attempting” to do. The idea is to have a strong team, you need to know and respect each other. But remember, you get to decide what you want them to know. You can share as little or as much as you want about your personal life.

          I am also a private person and really dislike this type of pseudo-organizational development stuff. If I had to do something like this (and yes, I think you have to – sorry), I would take it seriously, but focus on my professional life with some information on where it intercepts with my personal life. Examples would be:

          I went to ____ University (Go State!) where I first became interested in ____ field. From their my career moved me to _____ town, USA when I joined _____ company. I loved living in ______ because of ____ (the beautiful weather, outdoor activities, culture whatever general info you can share). Etc., etc., etc.

          As for the “shout outs”, I agree that it is a little forced but it is harmless and is a nice reminder to look for ways you can appreciate your colleagues.

          Good luck!

      2. bearing*

        I kind of like the idea of playing along with “Ten things you didn’t know about me” and then let them be stuff you’re completely okay with people knowing about you.

    2. some1*

      Thank you! I had an ex-boss who was managing people for the first time and her first order of business was instituting mandatory weekly meetings for the dept. (This makes sense for most departments, but this was a small company where we all did completely different things so it was unnecessary for us.)

      At the end of each meeting, we all had to go around the room and say what we were doing for whatever upcoming holiday it was or what we were doing that weekend. Seriously? Some people aren’t on speaking terms with their family or are getting divorced or whatever and don’t want to get into that with their coworkers.

      1. Adam*

        Yeah, that’s a minor pet peeve of mine. Even though I’m 30 years old and have lived on my own and in my current city for about a decade now, people still naturally talk like “home” is wherever my parents happen to live, even though I have no enjoyment of the place they both live in (divorce) and I’m only on good terms with one of them. But innocently people will always ask the question and they always get my standard response.

        “When are you going/coming home to visit again?”
        “I am home.”

        I know they (probably) don’t mean anything by it, but ‘home’ is where you say it is and is a place you actually want to be, or at least it should be.

        ….I think I rambled a bit more than necessary. Must be the holidays.

        1. fposte*

          I’m with you, but I’m stunned how many people do use the locution for their parents’ house. I’ve got a fortysomething friend who’s lived in this town for close to twenty years and she still talks about going home to her parents’.

          1. Adam*

            I wonder if it might be a product of the times and so many adults still living with their folks due to [insert reason here (health, finances, etc.)].

            I have several friends who still live with their parents over the 30 mark, with various feelings on the subject. Some really wish they didn’t, whilst others don’t seem to care either way.

            And then you have your “failed to launch” individuals, but that’s a whole separate issue.

            1. sunny-dee*

              I’m one of the people that refers to visiting family as visiting “home,” but it’s actually kind of fluid. I sometimes use “home” to mean Oklahoma City (where my grandmother and assorted aunts and uncles live) or Tulsa (parents and brother). I live in Dallas, and my house feels like home because of my beloved husband — but I don’t consider Dallas “home” at all in the warm-and-fuzzy sense.

              It’s weird.

              In general, when I say something like “are you going home,” I really mean something like, “are you spending time with family” as opposed to taking a kickin’ vacation.

            2. Kyrielle*

              Maybe/maybe not. I used to hear it all the time – even holiday songs reference it. “Home” most of the time is where you live, but for certain holidays/other events, it’s where you grew up (which is assumed to be where your parents still live). Which is a painful assumption for various people. (My parents are no longer alive, so someone asking me if I were going ‘home’ in this sense for the holidays would cause me to burst into tears. Despite the fact that, you know, that house is in driving distance of here anyway, so the whole concept of ‘going home for the holidays’ never really applied in the same way anyway.)

          2. Jamie*

            I feel a little sheepish but I do this – I never noticed that others don’t.

            Even with my family I’ll talk about how we did things at home (meaning my childhood home) and I still consider the suburb in which I was raised to be home even though my parents are long gone and I haven’t lived there for 20 years.

            I think it’s just a figure of speech but if it turns out it’s some deep psychological disturbance based in an unhealthy over-attachment to my family of origin that wouldn’t surprise me either.

            In thinking about it I actually have had this very conversation, because my siblings and I don’t spend the holidays together* and I’ve always thought it’s because we don’t have a home to go back to anymore. I really doubt the people who live in our old childhood home want us descending on them December 25 criticizing the mess they made of the landscaping and pouting about changes.

            *we lost our parents relatively young so it was easy to let in-laws co-opt all the major holidays…then it’s a hard pattern to break. I wish we’d tried harder to keep holidays together in the rotation but I suspect that I’m not the only one who finds the thought of being together for the holidays without mom and dad too weird to attempt…like the void where they should be would be more present than any joy we’d have in being together. Or maybe I’m over thinking things and it’s just me – but it’s definitively me.

            1. Adam*

              I think for many it is just a figure of speech. The stories are endless of all the families that sort of drifted away after the last parent finally passed and so you reminisce on “home” as nostalgia is wont to do. It’s just more personal for me for many reasons. I may have a harder line on this than is really necessary, but after spending so many years on the other side of the mindset I find this much more preferable.

              1. AnotherHRPro*

                I’ve moved so many times that while I have enjoyed each place I have lived, I still consider my “hometown” to be “home”.

              2. Jamie*

                I think it’s weird that people would ask others about that. I’ve lived long enough to know not to inquire about people’s personal situations as it’s often complicated with family or whathaveyou. I stay away from anything that could be sticky and not assume everyone’s situations are like mine.

                Funny – I have a pretty okay life but if people would stop being so sad for me when they ask about holiday plans and I say it’s just us. I like my husband and kids – I like my cooking and know there won’t be any horrifying surprises. I like spending the holiday in my fuzzy socks in my own home. If I’m not sad why are they?

                1. Kristen*


                  I love going to spend time with my close family and doing absolutely nothing but eating and reading by the fire and playing outside. My office mate is being all “hahaha aren’t you sosuperjealous that I get to go to Hawaii for Christmas!!!” and I nod and smile while thinking “ugh I would HATE that”. I really would, too.

                2. Adam*

                  “If I’m not sad why are they?”

                  I don’t get it either. You’re not alone on the holidays. You have your spouse and children, the people who no one would argue against being the most important people in your life. Just because you don’t have a house so full people are falling out of the windows doesn’t mean you’re The Little Match Girl shivering on a sidewalk.

                  People have really society driven impressions of large families on holidays, always failing to discount that families are made up of individuals.

                3. Zoe UK*

                  Yes this!

                  I also find that there is always an assumption that I must be going ‘home’ for Christmas because my partner and I do not have kids. We do our family visiting before December 24th on purpose because we LOVE Christmas just the two of us. It’s ok for us all to like different things!

            2. sunny-dee*

              The same thing happened when my dad’s parents passed, and it was when my aunts and uncle were in their 60s (dad was in his 40s). Parents/grandparents tend to root everyone; without that, it’s just easier to make your own way.

          3. Jennifer*

            I spend enough time at the childhood home/where Mom lives enough that it doesn’t exactly feel like “not my home” any more, even if I no longer have a useable bedroom there, etc.

            Then again, I tend to refer to “home” as “wherever the hell I’m sleeping tonight,” so a hotel may very well be “home” in conversation while I’m on vacation.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yes! I sometimes use it just to mean “base,” essentially. BF and I don’t live together, and last weekend I caught myself saying “Let’s pick up some beer and go home” meaning his place, where I don’t live. I meant it as shorthand for, yeah, “where we’re going after we finish all these errands.”

          4. Anonsie*

            I never thought about this before, but I use “home” to refer to the house of any family members I’m close to and I have spent a lot of time in even if I’ve never lived in their city.

          5. Connie-Lynne*

            It’s so interesting how people view “home.”

            Three years ago, I moved from the place I’d lived for 40 years to a place 400 miles away. Most of my family still lives in my original place (generally speaking — it’s a big metro area). I do refer to going back there as “going home,” because it by and large still feels more like “home.”

            One of my friends up here called it out recently that, on a camping trip, I referred to my new digs as “home” repeatedly in conversation. She’s right … I am growing more comfortable and it does feel more like home.

          1. hermit crab*

            Haha! That’s what my brother and I call our parents’ hometown. Either that or “the motherland.”

        2. squid*

          Yep. I moved out at 17, my parents now live in a place I have never lived, and I have a better-than-it-was but not close relationship with them. People I discuss holiday plans keep referring to it as me “going home” and I’m tired of correcting them awkwardly.

        3. GH in SoCAl*

          I had one holiday when I realized I was referring to every leg of the trip as going home. Flying from City C, where I was living on a multi-year but ulimately temporary assignment, to City B, where I used to live as a young adult, was “going home.” Then I “flew home” from City B to City A, where I grew up, to see my my mother. After a week of that, I “flew home” to City B, then a few days later “flew home” to City C. I guess I’m lucky it feels that way.

        4. Int*

          I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve had the following exchange several times:

          “Are you going home for the holidays?”
          “No, I’m going to my parents’ house.”

          My parents moved the same time I left for college. Their house doesn’t have any conotations of home for me. Strangers now live in the house I grew up in. So the only place where the label “home” feels appropriate now is where I now live.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Same here. My dad still lives in the hometown (the old country, ha ha ha, Jazzy Red!), but he’s in a different house. Mum lives farther away because she’s self-employed and there is no work for her in Mayberry. :P Neither house is actually where I grew up, so it’s not really home.

            We have Christmas at Mum’s usually, but I’m not going this year because I have to work the day after and it’s not worth driving six hours in one day just to shovel food in my face and turn around and leave again. So it will be fuzzy slippers and A Christmas Story for me, and a ham slice. With duck sauce. WHICH I LOVE. :3

      2. CG*

        That’s obnoxious in a work meeting, but also: I have an extremely superficial “personal mode” when I’m at work–when someone asks what I’m doing for the weekend, I say “Oh, just relaxing!” or “I’m thinking I might go rock climbing!” Impersonal details that are polite and fairly evasive. I thought everyone did this? There’s no mandate that says “When Billy asks you about your holiday plans, you have to tell him exactly what family issues you’re having and why you’re therefore not excited.”

        1. some1*

          I’m not saying people are supposed to get into personal issues, I am saying someone who has a decent emotional IQ shouldn’t force their reports to discuss holiday or weekday plans in a meeting.

          1. SherryD*

            No kidding.

            “As you see in our latest quarterly report, sales are down 8%. That’s too bad. Anyway. Sally, what are you getting up to for the Christmas break?”

        2. Riri*

          In a former job I had a co-worker who was inappropriately nosey about very personal matters. One day she asked one of our co-workers what she had done over the weekend, and the reply was “Not much, I just hung out at home with my husband”. A little while later when that colleague was not in the room, Nosey said (loud enough for everyone to hear), “Wow, she didn’t even have sense enough to lie about what she did over the weekend!” There was a moment of silence and then I said (also loud enough for everyone to hear), “So what youre saying is…” and just looked at her.

          Nosey pretty much left me alone after that.

        3. Zoe UK*

          I really hate being asked what I’m doing/what I did at the weekend. The specifics are none of anyone’s business!

          Like you suggest I’m polite but evasive and then turn it right back on them. ‘Oh not much, just chilling out. How about you?’ Job done.

      3. A. D. Kay*

        Or maybe you ARE planning something fun, it’s just not anyone’s ding dang business. “Hubby and I are looking forward to trying out that new lube we just bought!”

      4. jag*

        It’s been demonstrated over and over again in business, that some degree of personal familiarity can help with work. In the cases where people are all similar, it can help build cohesion. In cases where people are different, it can build understanding for diversity.

        Note, I’m speaking for the enterprise as a whole. For a few people who are very different, this can be stressful.

        But I’d recommend that rather than feeling you have to go into detail about your divorce/estraged family/whatever because other people are talking about their families, you learn the ability to talk about something personal that it is not important to keep private. I’m stating this as a skill you can cultivate that is likely to benefit you in the future.

        Plans for the holiday? “Oh, I’m catching up with some good books I’ve been meaing to look at.” “Oh, going to the museum.” “Oh, nothing special this time – just spending it at home myself.”

        1. some1*

          “It’s been demonstrated over and over again in business, that some degree of personal familiarity can help with work. In the cases where people are all similar, it can help build cohesion. In cases where people are different, it can build understanding for diversity.”

          This sounds like mumbo jumbo they sell MBA candidates, imo. There’s nothing wrong with showing an interest in a coworker’s life, but it’s super off-putting to be put on the spot in a dept meeting and be forced to reveal how you plan to spend your time.

          1. jag*

            It might be sold to MBAs (I don’t have one and don’t work in business), but it’s also true.

            You can approach it in two ways: I’m being forced to do something I don’t want to and am upset. Or this is a part of work skills – learning to share and build (shallow) connections without going outside your comfort zone. Do what you like.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But the thing is, what’s being done here (and this kind of thing in general) ISN’T work skills. It’s absolutely true that getting along with others is a work skill. But in a reasonably healthy environment, that happens on its own … though, you know, working with others. Powerpoint presentations about your life, trust falls, and all the other team-building BS aren’t work skills at all, not unless you work at a camp for 12-year-olds.

        2. JayDee*

          Yes, SOME degree of personal familiarity. “Oh, you like to rock climb? So does Wakeen over in teapot handle design. Remind me to introduce you at the holiday party.” Some amount of chatting about your family, hobbies, pets, favorite foods, sports teams, etc. is innocuous and helps build camaraderie. Forced “all-about-me” PowerPoint presentations are a whole different category.

        3. Iain Clarke*

          I know it was a typo, but I rather like the image “estraged” brings to mind. Not just drifted apart, but due to something anger-y…

    1. hayling*


      Although I expect the update will be that the OP left the company…this seems like a sign of bigger problems.

  6. Muriel Heslop*

    Ugh. I am so sorry! This is weird! I work with special educators and social workers and we tend to find out a lot about our clients and each other over the course of time (as our river of life flows along, I suppose). This forced intimacy – including a powerpoint – seems creepy and really time-consuming. And most of my colleagues under 30 would just give me a link to their tumblr or their webpage – they wouldn’t want to be doing a powerpoint either!

    Surely if you working 80+ hours a week, you can get a pass? I hope so!

      1. Plaster*

        Hahaha, my reaction too! The worst part is that I sometimes put “freelance artist” on resumes….yes, I do do freelance art, and it does demonstrate my time management, marketing and entrepreneurial skills, but you can’t see it, because it is porn :( (I set up a portfolio site for this purpose, but it really doesn’t communicate the volume and pace of my sometime-business, because everything that’s nsfw has to be completely divorced from that site…)

        I don’t even let coworkers know about my sfw blogs because they might be able to google character names or reverse image search pictures and end up at my tumblr…

    1. Jamie*

      Me too – and I’ve used it irl! In my head I can only hear it in the voice of Ana Gasteyer in the Scheddy Ball’s skit from SNL so when I say it’s in a weird, creepy, NPR whisper.

      This place is definitely making me stranger.

      1. KJR*

        Ah, thank you for this, now I am hearing it like that too! One of the best SNL skits ever. Did you see the Betty White one about the muffins? It was horrible and awesome at the same time…

        1. Jamie*

          I did not but I will google as you’re not the first person who has asked me that in a week and I keep forgetting to look it up.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Search for the “weirdest holiday stories” post. Then search for “Savannah” (or just “balls”) within that page.

        Doing it this way instead of providing a link so I won’t get stuck in moderation purgatory.

      2. GOG11*

        I’m having difficulty locating the original post because Hanukkah balls has been referenced gleefully throughout posts since then, but if I remember correctly, someone’s boss learned that she didn’t celebrate Christmas (employee is Jewish) and decided to “help” her celebrate her “first Christmas” by doing a bunch of stuff like giving her and “So-and-So’s First Christmas” ornament and inviting employee to boss’s Christmas gathering.

        I can’t remember if the boss also put Hanukkah-related ornaments on the tree to somehow integrate the two holidays or if that came up in the comments…

        But, eventually, the name Hanukkah balls came out of all that, I think as a title for Hanukkah-related ornaments for placing on a Christmas tree.

        1. Another Ellie*

          The boss bought a bizarre Hanukkah themed ornament/contraption, which she declared were “Hanukkah Balls” (I sort of wonder of she accidentally stumbled across a gag Christmukkah ornament and didn’t have the cultural knowledge to interpret it?).

          1. A Teacher*

            One student said “What the hell?” He asked me if it was real or made up and I reminded him this is the site we’ve used throughout the semester and its real. Another girl was like, “I’m agnostic and even I know Jewish people don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s just wrong”

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            I also used Ask a Manager articles in a Nonprofit Management class! Several people said it was their favorite part!

          2. A Teacher*

            Sorry, got busy this afternoon. This class is an Introduction to Health Careers course, which is a dual credit course I teach to juniors and seniors and they get junior college credit. We’ve used this site to create prezis, debate, and for essay purposes. I actually used two posts from this last week on my final. They have an open ended response but basically I’m looking for them to point out lack of social and self awareness in one and in the Christmas post they are pointing out how a manager’ slack of awareness will impact the dynamics of the workplace if they stay unaware of the issue they are creating.

            Sometimes I have them be the advice giver and we compare their answer to Alison’s. I also used this site to help teach about objectifying women earlier this semester and when we talked about 8 difficult personalities that can result in someone that appears to be a bully. (Not in the legal sense but just that jerk you have to deal with.) I get to write my curriculum so it’s fun and interesting to teach.

  7. Andrea*

    I absolutely agree with the advice here, but I’ve worked in places like this, and my opting-out of this stuff did indeed label me as Not One of Them. It hurt my career at those places, too. I think that if the OP enjoys this work and wants to continue working here, she should consider spending a little time on one of these. I’m also a private person, but if it were me, I would use this as an opportunity to be creative, i.e., make it all up. Just lie. And I’d make them outrageous lies with obviously photoshopped photos, just something funny, not like you’re actually trying to trick them into believing these things, but make ’em laugh. Maybe anchor each slide with a teeny little nugget of truth that isn’t at all revealing, if you want.

    Then again, if you are truly working 80 hours per week consistently, this might not be a possibility. And maybe your company/organization ought to focus more on that problem instead of coming up with dumb ideas like this.

    1. Snowball II*

      Oooooh, I’d go all “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and photoshop myself into obviously-famous adventure photos.

      1. mweis77*

        When a beloved manager left, she hosted a party at her house. And we photoshopped her into all sorts of historic moments. And ourselves into pictures as well – I still have the one of me and George Clooney in my office. People think it’s real at first. Alas, it’s only my head and Rachel Weisz’s body.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          My boss’s boss was legitimately on the same magazine cover as George Clooney once. She has it framed on her office wall.

          (It’s our in-house magazine, which has a lot of articles about health and wellness. The main picture was of Clooney, for an article in which he talked about “fit at fifty” or something like that. The photo of boss’s boss is a small inset towards the bottom, for an article about project management. But hey, that still counts, right?)

      2. Jamie*

        Love this. My kids are under direct orders that when I die to fill my eulogy with amazing tales of my accomplishments. My Turing award, the year I won the Nobel prize was the same time my career as a super model took off…I want to be fabulous and the truth is not appreciated.

    2. Fabulously Anonymous*

      “I think that if the OP enjoys this work and wants to continue working here, she should consider spending a little time on one of these.”

      I agree. I am also a private person and I don’t have the personality to pull of trivialities and jokes. But I do want to succeed in my job, so what I’ve done is sit down and think about what would apply to the job and stick to that. That way I don’t have to remember a lie and I control the message, which is that I love my job and want to succeed in it.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      If OP does this the boss will NEVER again ask people to talk about themselves. Boss will be permanently cured.

  8. TotesMaGoats*

    I know that I’m usually the (sole) voice for participating in the sharing of personal information at work camp but this goes beyond the pale even for me. Could I see it if it was work related? Like sharing your work history, special skills type of thing. Yes. We did that once and found out that we had staff that could speak Russian and that really helped with one of our students.

    But all of that from a personal perspective? No. Just no.

    AAM is right on with how to proceed but holy Hanukkah balls, no.

    1. Stephanie*

      I’m not against sharing personal things at work. Illnesses? No. Relationship statuses? No. But I do think some personal info (be it career-related or actually personal) helps to humanize people beyond being “the TPS report guy.”. I’ve worked in teams of virtual strangers and if was just really weird working with these strangers for 40+ hours a week.

      That being said, a PowerPoint is overkill.

      1. NK*

        Really, relationship statuses? I don’t need/want to know all of someone’s relationship details, but I know who in my group is married, in a relationship, etc. Someone might not immediately announce a new relationship or breakup, but generally speaking I don’t think it’s too personal to know your coworkers’ relationship status.

      2. Zillah*

        I don’t know – I think relationship status is often a perfectly reasonable thing for people who are friendly to share. I wouldn’t go into a lot of detail, but I don’t think it’s particularly strange or overfamiliar to mention your partner when you’re chatting about weekend/holiday plans.

        1. Stephanie*

          Ah, I was more speaking as singleton who’s been the brunt of one too many questions about my dating life. But yeah, I could see it not being that odd mentioning a SO or spouse.

          1. Jamie*

            This is one of those things I never ask about, I figure people will share if they want to.

            I am assuming most people will mention a spouse or SO if you work closely enough with someone for a while not as a data point but just because they did something funny, or you tried a new restaurant. But no one should be inquiring about anyone’s love life – that’s rude.

            And if people who are married or in a serious relationship starting using “I” statements when they used to use “we” and ring fingers are newly naked I wouldn’t dream of asking or mentioning it to anyone. People share what they want to share.

            After having been on the listening side of people who share WAY too much info about their love (read sex) lives I’m a big fan of people erring on the side of privacy than transparency. Some things you just can’t unknow.

            1. NoPantsFridays*

              Right. I find it totally innocuous and inoffensive when a coworker says, “Oh, my wife and I tried this new restaurant and it was great!” That’s a total non-issue. That kind of mention of a spouse/SO comes up in passing all the time. On the other hand, I would not ask someone about their spouse or SO, or worse, why they have not married, are they currently dating, etc. I don’t think it’s too private to know someone’s relationship status if they share it, but I think it is too private to ask.

              1. Jamie*

                I don’t think it’s too private to know someone’s relationship status if they share it, but I think it is too private to ask.

                Perfect rule of thumb.

          2. Jennifer*

            People with SO’s always mention them (unless they’re skeezy/trying to cheat), probably pretty quickly when you meet them too. It’s the rest of us who really don’t want to talk about our lack of SO, thanks.

            1. ProductiveDyslexic*

              This isn’t true! For some people talking about their partner would mean coming out as gay.

              Unfortunately there are still workplaces where being open about yout sexuality might not be good for your career.

              1. Meg Murry*

                Yes, this is sad but true. I had a former co-worker at a previous job who unfortunately felt it necessary to keep this hidden from us the whole time he worked with us – he friended a bunch of coworkers on Facebook after he moved away and took a new job, and that’s when we found out. I’m guessing he must have had a bad experience with coworkers at a different job and felt it better to keep quiet – but I felt terrible when I realized how much of his life he was editing for us when we talked about our families and weekend plans an vacation stories. He was in a long term (5+ years) relationship with his partner, and was apparently out in the rest of his life – but not at work.

          3. Zillah*

            Yeah, I can see that how it could be rude and invasive to get questions about, and I do think that asking those questions is a bit insensitive – there are a lot of people in non-traditional relationships who don’t necessarily want to volunteer the information in case their coworkers are prejudiced in some way. However, I think it’s pretty normal to mention spouses/SOs and children to your coworkers. Of the coworkers and bosses I’ve worked closely with, I think I’ve known the relationship status of the vast majority.

        2. JB*

          I don’t think it’s too personal if you choose to share, but it’s too much to expect other people to share. For many people and for many reasons, they don’t want to talk about it with coworkers. It’s not something i talk about with my coworkers.

      3. Jamie*

        I agree and the humanization aspect is real – but for me it will always come organically just from getting to know people.

        Not to get into it because my eyes keep leaking (I think it’s the dry air – or I’m allergic to work) but my beloved 14 year old pup passed last night. We found out about the cancer on Sunday and so this was sudden once we realized the options we’d tried Monday wouldn’t ease his pain we did the humane thing…anyway…

        As I was leaving yesterday my boss hugged me and offered to drive me home. I came in today and got the most sincere expression of sympathy from someone who reminded me of things I’d told him about Lucky which made me smile when I needed it. I don’t know that you develop that kind of personal bond by seeing a power point about how I have dogs.

        Damn leaky eyes – they really need to do something about the dry air in here.

        1. louise*

          Oh, Jamie. I’m so sorry. If I were a co-worker, I’d make sure your favorite candy is nearby and if you needed a hug, offer it. But I’m not really a hugger, so I’d kind of hope you didn’t need it. Your home will feel empty and weird for awhile, so you may find the air is awfully dry there, too. I’m sorry for the loss and the tough decisions you guys had to make.

          1. Jamie*

            I’m not a hugger either – but I appreciate the sentiment. I love non-huggers irl when you can just say “hug implied” and I get warm and fuzzy from the kind thought without having to actually, you know, touch anyone.

            Oh, and the air is so dry at home all 5 of us are leaking a lot. We really need a central humidifier or something.

        2. A Teacher*

          I’m sorry. Just did this with my 14 year old 2 weeks ago, now I’m crying. Know he’s not pain and that he was loved, it does get easier. So sorry for the loss of your family member.

          1. Jamie*

            I am so sorry for you as well. I hate that anyone has to go through this – but I’m happy you could give him a lifetime of love.

            I have been a pet mom my whole life and every time this happens I swear it’s not worth it because it hurts too much – but to avoid the pain of loss would also be to avoid the years of love and for me that would be a life too lonely to contemplate.

            And NOW I’ll get back on topic…promise.

        3. Stephanie*

          Aw, Jamie. I would bring you all the Peeps right now if we worked together. I hope you were able to get some memento. After our last dog died, no one could bring themselves to clean her cage out. It was just too tough. My mom was able to get the vet to do a paw print for us before she was put down.

          I passed a dog that was by a car last night and was choked up just to call animal control (and that was just some stranger’s dog).

          1. Jamie*

            We did get the paw print. We didn’t last time when his 14 year old sister passed a couple of years ago which I regretted. I know I’ll be a mess when it arrives – but I’m glad we did.

            And I love that you’re the kind of person who would cry over a stranger’s dog – and that would call animal control. The world is full of people who wouldn’t…which is why I prefer animals to people by and large.

        4. Diet Coke Addict*

          Oh my, Jamie, I am so sorry. Even random commenters on the Internet can tell how much you loved your puppy (no matter how old they are puppies to us), so maybe you can take some small comfort in knowing that he was very, very loved and you have done the right thing.

        5. Jamie*

          Thanks everyone – I don’t want to hijack more than I have by replying to everyone (Sorry, Alison!) but I really appreciate the thoughts.

          I know a lot of people who believe in heaven picture dogs getting there and running through fields and frolicking…all the bones they could eat…but I just keep picturing him in what I am sure is his version of heaven.

          An endless house where the gates which keep the cat bowls out of reach are all open and no one tells him no…so he spends an eternity snorfing up cat food from tiny bowls which was his favorite naughty thing ever. And then stopping to do his little hiney shaking/spin around look how cute I am dance which means “pet me right now!” And if heaven has food processors he’s now under foot of anyone running one to demand they make his chicken liver brownies for him.

          I’m done hijacking – but you guys made me feel so much better. Thanks.

          1. Pineapple Incident*

            That’s so hard- fellow dog-mama lending another implied hug. It takes a while to get easier. My family put down our 13-year old baby last May, and I couldn’t look at my copy of her paw print for months without feeling it. Now it’s a nice reminder of her, and I’m glad my mother thought to ask the vet for another one for me.

        6. LisaV2*

          I am going through this right now. Palliative care for our 13 year old Wheaten. End-of-Life journal every day to make sure we are making the right choice. Her quality of life is in negative digits. Just got off the phone with the Hospice/ Euthanasia vet scheduled a home visit for Friday morning. Lots of door closing and crying. Let a few colleagues know. So sad.

        7. Jipsy's Mom*

          Now my eyes are leaking. So sorry Jamie – I know it’s hard. I had to say goodbye to my 14.5 year old girl this summer (and my coworkers were similarly kind). Letting go is so hard, but it’s often the kindest thing you can do. Sending positive thoughts to you and your family.

    2. Cheesecake*

      I am also not against sharing some personal info. We once had a team event where we had to share 5 facts and let others guess which were actually true. This was fun, but team was small and even was out-of-office. Maybe OP can suggest this one to minimize the pain?

      But this River of Life initiative – as said before, burn it with fire!

    3. Miss Chanandler Bong*

      I agree with this. And the (one) thing I like about this is that it isn’t just the new person stating something about themselves, so everyone knows them and New Person still has a sea of personality-less job titles and names to memorize.

      And if it weren’t super personal, it could be fun. You find out who else in the company enjoys running marathons, so you can hit them up for an after-work run. Who’s a cat person, dog person, or bird person (and who names their pets with themed and or pun names [Truman Catpote, Catsby, Alexi Clawless]). Who went to Public University vs Public State (Go Mascot!) that you can recruit for a fun “rivalry” during the big game (loser pays for the pizza/does the TPS reports/has to clean out the fridge). It would probably make some of the secret santa stuff easier (I remember Wakeen saying he loves hedgehogs! I saw a great Hedgehog Poem of the Day calendar at Barnes and Noble!)

      This sounds waaaay too invasive, though.

      1. Cheesecake*

        I agree with “secret santa made easier”, but there are tons of opportunities where you can find this out in a more informal and easy way (what happened with kitchen small talk???). Also, it is not only that I’d have to make a power point about my life, it is more that i have to listen to stuff some colleagues i wish to know nothing about have prepared. Duuuh.

        1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

          You’re not wrong. On the other hand, I’ve been on some work trips with people in other departments, and it would have been nice to have some starters for the conversations during the (interminable) layovers/setup/dinners/etc. “I remember you said you loved Stephen King! Did you read his new book? I thought it was —–” or “Stephen King? Is he actually good? I’ve always wanted to read some of his stuff but I’m a big fraidy cat. I’m really into historical thrillers, though, have you read any?” (Answer: Read 11/22/63.)

          At any rate, this could definitely be short and informative and not invasive, but the “River of Life” presentation is clearly none of these things.

      2. PEBCAK*

        Yeah, we did something like this to get to know a new team, and people used facts like “greatest griller in the world” with a picture of him next to his Weber and “speaks three languages” with a little map of the world. I told them I was a certified lifeguard and poorly cut/paste a picture of head into a Baywatch photo. I think I’d play along and just not get too personal, rather than getting labeled a stick in the mud.

        1. Windchime*

          We did this at a team Happy Hour when we were a newly formed team. It was very informal, but here are some things I discovered: one person was a contestant on The Dating Game back in the 70’s. Another is a trained opera singer (!). Yet another is an identical twin. People were surprised to find out that I rode horses competitively as a youngster. So that was kind of fun.

    4. Jen RO*

      My thoughts exactly. You are not the only one who is “pro” sharing personal information (my coworkers know a LOT about my boyfriend, my cats, my holidays, etc)… but a PowerPoint is ridiculous! I would feel uncomfortable doing that even with people who have known me for years!

  9. The IT Manager*

    This is wierder than I thought from the title. I’ve done the short getting to know me presentations in some training classes especially those that graded presentations, but including highly personal information like losing people in their lives, illnesses, etc is very surprising. This really crosses the line.

    You should not have to do this in a professional organization, but it sounds like your company is crossing that line. If you do it, stick to not terribly personal facts – born here, school here, this is my family, and these are my (non-personal) hobbies. I’d also keep it as short as possible.

    1. Judy*

      Depending on your audience, you could start up a “Star Wars vs Star Trek” discussion and the 10 minutes would be blown right there. (But maybe that’s just because I’m an engineer. ;)

      1. The IT Manager*

        I totally included the fact that I was Star Trek rather Star Wars in an intro bio to a team, but the person intriducing me did not use that fact in my intro.

        Favorite sports teams also works really well to intro yourself without getting personal if you’re a sports fan.

    2. So Very Anonymous*

      This is what I was thinking, too. I happen to have a pretty out-there birth story which is funny but not especially emotional depending on how it’s told, and I could see creating a quick presentation around things like that. Born here, lived a bunch of different places (montage!), career path, whatever. Facts and lighthearted/unemotional photos.

      That’s only if you have to, though. The idea of having to do a presentation at work on one’s personal life makes my skin crawl.

  10. Julia*

    Do you not have a bunch of normal family pictures from when you were growing up? I’m a little older than you and have tons of meaningless family pictures. And a fair number of cute photos from when I was a little kid. That might be a good ‘bulk’ of the presentation. I agree with not getting too personal, but would be concerned about making a joke out of it. That could rub people the wrong way.

    I would, however, end my presentation with a couple of photos of the building where I work, perhaps with a clock and calendar, stating that the focus of my life is work.

    But treating it like a joke is risky!

    1. Katie the Fed*

      But this assumes that most people have loving, staightforward childhoods. Some people lost a parent young. Some were bounced around between foster homes. Some had an alcoholic or abusive parent. Some spent most of their childhoods in the pediatric oncology ward.

      Not everyone needs or wants to relive the river of their life (eww) and especially not with coworkers. You can share the river of your life with your therapist. A short getting-to-know you introduction is fine. This is not.

      1. Stephanie*

        Or some people just don’t have that many childhood pictures. My parents go through picture-snapping phases. Based on the photo of me in my dad’s wallet, you’d think he still had a teenager on the school basketball team (I made it one year, mostly as a bench warmer).

        1. Adam*

          I know how this goes. Somehow even our school pictures got lost to the far corners of the our old house. If you go purely by photo record I don’t exist in the time between 5th grade and when I learned to drive.

        2. Collarbone High*

          My dad’s wallet photo was taken when my sister and I were 6 and 2. He’s apparently had several confusing conversations where he showed the photo and was asked “Oh, how old are they?” and answered “late 30s.”

          1. Artemesia*

            The picture my father carried all his life was of me at age 5 standing next to him. He is holding a huge 60 pound salmon that he caught that is as big as I am — I suspect he carried it because of the fish and not the kid. When he died I had a copy of it enlarged and it hangs in my office.

        3. Jamie*

          Yes. And some people have album after album filled with older siblings pictures but even though they were just as adorable and had just as happy a childhood just being born last can give you a much thinner volume.

          Apparently by the time the 4th kid learns to walk everyone is less amazed. I prefer to think of it as they just had higher expectations of us than the older ones and knew we were destined for greatness so didn’t capture the pedestrian moments with such fervor.

          That and my mom apparently lost the ability to work the camera after she entered the workforce. Both of those delusions really help.

          1. Mephyle*

            It’s also that as the number of children grow, the job grows, and there’s less time for picture-taking of any one particular child when parents are busy parenting several others. Moreover, the common phenomenon that the youngest is alone in fewer baby pictures than the oldest can also occur for purely practical reasons – when the oldest was an only, there were no siblings to share the picture.

      2. fposte*

        And even those of us who had reasonably nice childhoods may not have the faintest idea where the pictures are. I’d have to use clip art.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I had to find one a few years ago for a “match the childhood photos to the current employee” game at a Christmas party, and the only one I could get my hands on was one that my cousin had posted on Facebook. The rest are thousands of miles away, in various drawers and boxes at my parents’ house

          1. VintageLydia USA*

            I have ONE tiny brag book of about a dozen pictures that covers my first 18 months I squirreled away with me after my grandma passed away last year. All my other baby/kid photos are at my mom’s house or at whichever aunt took my grandma’s other pictures. The rest of the pictures I have are about 12 and older (basically whenever I started buying and using disposable cameras.)

      3. GOG11*

        Regardless of whether or not my childhood was something I want to rehash, the vast majority of my family photos were lost when our family home burnt down.

        I would be able to provide a picture of my house on fire, though :/

      4. chewbecca*

        I didn’t have a particularly happy childhood, and a twisted part of me would be tempted to put together a presentation on all the gory details and then get up and do my best Ben Stein impression while presenting it.

        Make it as awkward and uncomfortable as possible in the hopes that maybe they would never ask me to do something like that again.

        “My earliest childhood memory is the of the day my mom left my dad…”

      5. LisaV2*

        The assumption of family is a remarkable one. I would just go with “my job is my life” And do a “how I got here” presentation. I do agree with all the advice to just do it instead of getting dinged for not participating.

      6. Formerly Bee*

        Agreed. My parents are wonderful, but shit happens. If I had to do something like this at work, I’d like to pretend my ~river of life~ begins at 18.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      Most of the kids with whom I work don’t have any pictures and if they did, they would only serve as painful reminders for them. I find the whole project really insensitive.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        Yeah, we had a team building thing recently and not only were the questions anxiety-provoking for me (although I could see how for most they’d be pretty innoculous), but my answers are often sad/odd because I didn’t have that standard childhood. And I’m not going to lie to reinforce your Narrative of Everyone’s Childhood.

        And in terms of blowback of this, at a former job where a majority of people were from one particular religious/cultural group, and we had a teambuilder of questions from teenage/young adult years, people were SHOCKED at the woman who alluded to her teen Wicca phase. Like, they were now very scandalized by something that’s pretty tame. She said she wouldn’t have mentioned it if she’d known it was going to provoke them so. She left the organization soon after and I wonder if it was a factor.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        HAHAHAHAHA, you have just reminded me of the awesome “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” #1 and 2 which I need to go watch again now.

  11. Hiring Mgr*

    Yeah, very odd.. Between this, and the 80 hr weeks (unless you’re the CEO/Owner that’s lunacy), I might start looking elsewhere

    1. Sarah*

      YES. I would do 10 minutes on a pet. In my case a nice long talk about my cats, their habits, how they cuddle, what they eat, their litter boxes. Something along the lines of….my river of life really started when my cats came into my life, three years ago.

      But, that’s only if you know you can get away with being a bit sarcastic. Otherwise, be super genuine about your pet.

      1. A Teacher*

        Even better, do a prezi or a series of flipagrams with captions of your pets… Flipagram, oh how I love that app. Oh and you can put music to it, even better.

    2. GOG11*

      I was thinking this actually. I could tell the story of my life using a visual timeline of pets. Dog > Cats > Ferret > Hamster > Hamster 2.0 > Rat > Goats > Cat + Cat + Cat + …Cat.

      You get the first cat and okay, you’ve got a cat. Then you get the second one because the first one needs company, right? By the third you start to be that weird guy with all those cats…

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Our newest coworker had “I used to live in a house with 120 cats” as one of his “two truths and one lie” statements at our team retreat. We all guessed it was false, but apparently he did it as a paid job for some kind of pet food company research project.

        1. GOG11*

          My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they were animal lovers, too, and being on a farm…well, they indulged my pet-related requests sometimes. Luckily, I was pretty responsible from a young age, so I took good care of them.

          I received the first hamster on Black Friday as a sort of reward for being dragged about at 3 in the morning in search of a toaster or something (again, I must emphasize that I took very good care of animals and any animal I took in, I took care of for his or her life).

          This hamster was always a bit of a grump, but one day it bit me…and then died. My brother teased me mercilessly, stating that I’d infected the hamster with some disease.

          Then, I got hamster 2.0 who was not bitey and there were no further hamster incidents.

          Now that I think of it, I think the hamsters were before the ferret. The ferret was, obviously, rather weaselly and consequently was rather good at escaping from his cage. One time, he made his way into the walls/floor joists and my parents had to knock a hole in the ceiling of the office downstairs to get him out. We were able to locate him because he, being oblivious to his predicament, just carried on running/sideways scoot-hopping around wherever he could and made his usual ferretting noises (kind of like those sounds that the old Jibber Jabber children’s toys made when you shook them…)

          ….yup, I could DEFINITELY fill a 10 minute presentation with the ridiculous antics of my pets….

    3. CAF*

      Mine would be all my cats! That’s all my FB is now too, to the point where people assume I’m not feeling well if there aren’t regular cat pics.

    4. stellanor*

      If you don’t have a pet can you make up a fake pet and do 10 minutes of pretend facts about your pretend pet?

      1. CollegeAdmin*

        My aunt was once assigned to write about her pet peeve in middle school. She told her teacher that she didn’t have one, and the teacher told her to make one up. Apparently my aunt didn’t know that a pet peeve is something that really irritates you, and instead made up an animal and wrote an entire paper about what it looked like, how it acted, etc.

        (This same aunt had to write a paper for the same class about euthanasia and instead wrote all about youth in Asia.)

    5. Revanche*

      This would be the only way I’d be OK with it. I filled a 60-page memorial photo book of our beloved Doggle, I could fill a PPT like nobody’s business with pet stuff.

      All other personal stuff is so off limits.

  12. fposte*

    Is this job at the Olympics committee? Because it sounds like those hideous inspirational backstory narratives you get for every athlete who so much as breaks a sweat.

    1. C Average*

      You could use one of those as a template, actually, and play the same syrupy music in the background and have a friend narrate in somber tones. And obviously you’d do the whole thing in the third person.

        1. C Average*

          Yeah, me too.

          (Not really. But just a little bit.)

          This post and its comments are the best things about the holiday so far, though. Everything that’s awesome about Alison and the AAM community is beautifully encapsulated here.

        1. fposte*

          OMG now I really do want to do this. Dressed in whites, typing furiously on my laptop by the edge of the sea…

  13. Gene*

    Make regular tangential references to your history as a cowled superhero helping protect the City.

    Or just pick your favorite movie and make it yours; my suggestion, “The Jerk” and start with the first line of the movie, “It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family.”

    1. MsM*

      Okay, I’ve changed my mind. Now I want my office to institute this so I can share how difficult it is to be the last survivor of Krypton.

    2. Maureen*

      But if everybody is under 30, they won’t get “The Jerk” reference and just think you are racist. So pick something in the past 5 years.

      1. Anonsie*

        Bzzzzt plenty of people under 30 watch Steve Martin movies! Every time I get another set of business cards or a directory or something with my info in it, I’M SOMEBODY NOW!

        Though folks of all ages may just think you’re being racist, so I would still skip it.

          1. Anonsie*

            The folks around me are all over 30 and none of them seem to get why I’m somebody every time my name is in print, but I didn’t explain the first time and now I feel like it’s too late haha.

  14. TheExchequer*

    Everything about this letter is a thing of beauty, from river of life to holy Hanukkah balls. I laughed, I cried, it moved me.

    OP, maybe you want to do your river of life presentation on “all the silly things my former employers used to do”.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      At this point, I think OP could do a PP presentation JUST talking about what happened next on AAM after he asked about his river of life presentation for work.

  15. MsM*

    There are some business schools – I think the University of Chicago is one of them – that ask applicants to put together a brief PowerPoint presentation on themselves as part of the application package. If you can’t get out of this, maybe you could find some examples and use those as a template for how to share without oversharing.

    If I were you, though, I’d be sounding out the employees who don’t seem enthused with this practice (because I can’t imagine you’re alone) and presenting your concerns as a group. And for what it’s worth, I’m just north of 30, so this isn’t a generational thing; it’s a touchy-feely vs. “I like you, but there is only so much I need to know about you to do my job” thing.

  16. soitgoes*

    This is easy for people hovering around 30, since many of us have instagram accounts anyway and are already sharing pictures of our lives. If the OP doesn’t have a digital camera or smart phone, she could buy some time by claiming that she simply doesn’t have any photos for a presentation (but if she’s on facebook or linkedin, that’s an obvious lie). Can you get away with just posting pictures of your morning cup of coffee and your 4th grade spelling bee trophy? “I’m really into home furnishings” ::picture of new couch:: I wouldn’t hate doing this kind of project, but I certainly wouldn’t include any overly personal information. If you already have pictures of your spouse and children on your desk, include the exact same ones. Cat and dog pictures, if you have them. Pictures of your favorite foods. Just fill up the presentation with generic crap.

    These kinds of projects are common at the tail-end of education programs, where the ed majors are in that odd phase of having to do the projects that they will later be assigning to their own students. Do any of the managers have a background in education? Does the company have any relation to children or education? I won’t say this stuff is par for the course, but I think it’s to be expected if you’re in an environment that’s run by a former teacher and is used to dealing with underlings in a certain way.

    1. JC*

      Eh, for some people, but not others. I’m close to 30 and I’m not a big picture-sharer, no Instagram account, etc. I have a facebook account and all that, but it doesn’t have many pictures of meaningful things on it; I rarely take pictures on vacation, even. And I’m not sure what you meant about being on linkedin, unless you think someone’s professional headshot would make a good slide?

      However, I do have a smartphone full of cat pictures…

      1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

        And almost all of my FB photos have beer/wine in them and/or me making a silly face (I hate having my picture taken and don’t think I look good on camera). Nothing scandalous, but not really what I would want to have in a work presentation.

        1. soitgoes*

          That’s why I think the OP should turn her presentation into something like “the top 10 sandwiches I made this week.”

  17. illini02*

    Eh, I think this is just one of those culture things that you kind of have to grin and bear. You can make a pretty basic powerpoint in like 20 minutes. I’m sure you have some random interesting facts that you can do without getting too personal. In my opinion, this isn’t the worst thing ever, but I can see why you would find it pointless. At the same time though, if everyone else is doing it, and has been doing it, I think it wouldn’t reflect good on you to make a big stink about why you are “above” doing it. Phrase it however you want, but I think thats honestly how it would come across to a lot of people. Since you are already somewhat of an outsider because of your age, this seems like the type of thing that would just separate you more from the others.

  18. OhNo*

    Ugh, gross. I hate this kind of nonsense, especially when it turns into an over-sharing pity party. I like my coworkers and I enjoy chatting with them, but watching someone I barely know tear up as they talk about their dead grandmother’s cat? Blech.

    One of the places where I intern has a similar format to their all-staff meetings – each meeting has some weird “bonding” time. My reaction was similar to OP’s; I don’t want to do it, and I don’t want to know that much about my coworkers. The week we did the “life story” session, I managed to get out of making a PowerPoint… only to be called out by one of my coworkers in the meeting, who demanded I get up in front of the group and share.

    Definitely go to your manager on this first, because otherwise you might end up with a coworker or two who pushes you to participate when you don’t have to. Depending on how reasonable your manager is, you might even be able to drop some hints about how inappropriate this kind of thing is.

    1. Beebs*

      Uggggh. The “funny-fake” route seems the most appealing, if you could pull it off/get away with it. Short of that, I’d try for the bland factual route–born here, went to college here . . . maybe focus on the interesting things about the places you’ve lived rather than your own life. Or tell a couple of funny stories along the way that aren’t revealing. I’m pretty private–I don’t often talk about “issues” even with people I’m close to–but I have some seemingly personal stories that don’t actually reveal anything. Maybe something like that? No pathos, just funny?

  19. ZSD*

    “Since we’re all working 80 hour weeks, has the company considered subcontracting out these River of Life assignments to improve efficiency?”

    1. Sharon*

      LOL, and +1000

      In my opinion this is the primary concern more than the personal sharing. The OP is already giving 200% to the company and they want her to also spend time preparing a presentation? Um, no.

  20. Shortie*

    I haven’t been asked to do anything quite like this, but have successfully balanced between being participatory and not actually participating in the intended way many times. For example, in a situation like this, I might spend no time preparing and just show up and say something like, “I had X project going on this week, so wasn’t able to prepare a great PowerPoint like you all have done, but I’d like to share with you A, B, and C things about me.” Then I would keep it to info that is more comfortable to share as the IT Manager suggested. I was born here, grew up here, went to school here, and I like to read, travel, and attend concerts. Heck, I might even tell them what kind of music I like to seem more personal.

    (All that being said, I have found it useful at work to let people know when I am personally going through difficult times. People notice when their co-workers are crankier than usual or maybe missing details, and they can become resentful if they don’t know the reason behind it, fair or not. OP’s workplace is requiring this “background” in a weird way, though.)

  21. Anoners*

    I now have the Lion King song “Circle of Life” in my head, but instead of the usual lyrics it goes


    1. MsM*

      I have Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” in my head. Maybe the LW could just start an impromptu karaoke session instead.

  22. Annamaison*

    Holy Hanukkah Balls indeed! I laughed out loud. “River of Life Presentation”. Oh man. I’m so sorry.
    For what its worth, I have a framed picture of the US Surgeon General in my office. She’s there because people asked me why I have no family photos in my office. I tell people she’s my “Auntie Sheila”. I’m not American, I’m not located in the US, and I’m from a very obviously different genetic background. So far as I know, her name’s not actually Sheila, either. Said completely deadpan, its a real conversation-stopper. Could you pull off something similar?

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Long ago, my sister and I used to send each other these thumbnails of pictures of babies we stole off a stock photo site. We used them as email emoticons. Like she would say, “I’m having a tough day,” and send a crying baby. Some of them were really funny, and we’d share them back and forth.

      There was one that was just hilarious–the kid looked like an egg with a face on it, in a little plaid shirt, and we called it the Egg Baby. She said that she had tiled it on her desktop, and one day, a clueless and annoying coworker came by and said, “Oh look at that baby! Hahaha!” And my sister said completely deadpan, “That’s my son.”

      GULP! and the coworker went away.

      I laughed so hard when she told me this that I nearly burst a blood vessel.

  23. Brett*

    Some things I learned from the startup I work with part-time, where I am a decade older than the next oldest employee…

    Because I have more work experience and life experience, sometimes the expectations are different. We have huddles and sharing sessions and other team building exercises like this, and while they are treated as mandatory I get more flexibility than younger employees on participating. This is not going to be every company like this, but I get a pass because I have a longer work history and have more experience working in teams. This might be the case here.

    In the long run, I have realized that it has benefited me to share with co-workers. They have different life experiences than me, especially work experiences from a different era, and hearing those helps us relate without getting into my personal life. Turns out that many of my work history stories and hobbies that seem mundane to me are, “Wow! Really?” to them (although I thought my research expedition to Antarctica was a mundane thing, so I am a bad judge of that). So, if you do have to participate in the “Stream of Life” you might be able to make it a professional “Stream of Life” with interesting anecdotes there.

    After all, you may have a professional career longer than some of your co-workers have been alive.

      1. Brett*

        Here’s the article on it from the Antarctic Journal, including one picture:
        You can figure out who I am, though I have actually changed my name since then :)
        My high school physics teacher who went with me actually joined the US Polar research program for several years after this and one of the other teachers eventually help found the Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic program that NSF fan for 6 years.
        He wrote a journal of our expedition here:

    1. CAA*

      This was my take on it also. Just give a similar response as you would to the classic “tell me about yourself” interview question. Your coworkers are making it more about their personal lives because they don’t have enough work life to fill that time.

  24. NavyLT*

    “River of life”? Mine would be sarcastic, and I’d probably use the most terrible stock photos I could find from the internet in lieu of actual family pictures. Or I might just deliberately misinterpret the assignment and give a brief about actual rivers and how they sustain life in various ecosystems.

    1. ProductiveDyslexic*

      Yes, I would be sorely tempted to give a presentation on “Rivers I have known in my life”.

      1. NavyLT*

        “For our senior class trip, we went white-water rafting on the Kennebec River. As an adult, I have driven across the Mississippi River on multiple occasions, but I have never recreated in or on its waters.”

  25. Allison*

    Yeah, millenial here, I would not want to do that. I like talking about myself, especially my hobbies, to my co-workers during the day, and I can’t say I’d mind saying “a little about myself” in a team meeting when first starting with the company, but these presentations are a big fat NOPE in my book. I don’t even like my company’s “new hire videos” they require new employees to make, and are shown at quarterly company meetings.

    In a way, I sort of get the thought process behind it. Whoever thought this up wants people to know where people “come from,” and maybe think it’s easier to empathize with each other if people know about the various hardships and obstacles others have overcome. This is just not a good way to go about it.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Because all the coworkers are busy with their powerpoint presentations. Somebody has to get the work done.

  26. Snowball II*

    I’d create a presentation that heavily implied I grew up in the witness protection program.

    “So here’s a picture of my dad” (insert picture of guy with his face blurred out), “he grew up in New Jersey and worked in the sanitation business for awhile before we relocated to the chicken farm in Iowa. Then when I was 8 my dad’s estranged brother showed up in Iowa and we had to move away to southern North Dakota, and that’s when my name became Beverly.”

  27. AnotherAlison*

    I would do this gleefully with full snark.

    Maybe a 1 slide ppt with just a pie chart of how you spend your time…168 hrs/week, 80 to work, 42 sleep, x commute, x eat, x personal needs.

    Or a major life events timeline with birth…and nothing else. Note that nothing else has rivaled birth enough to warrant inclusion on your timeline.

    1. Anlyn*

      Quote Gina from Brooklyn 99:

      “My mother cried when I was born, because she knew she would never be better than me.”

  28. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    As a former RA, this sounds like a very Res Life thing to do. Appropriate in that setting maybe, but not in a professional office.

    I tried putting myself in the OP’s shoes, and I would be dreading this myself. But I probably wouldn’t fight that hard to get out of it. I would probably share very non-private things (at least non-private to me), like I’m married, I have a son, I enjoy the outdoors, X University is my alma mater. Things that people could figure out if they tried to Google search me.

    1. soitgoes*

      LOL yep, it’s very, “Hi, I’m soitgoes. I’m a history major and I’m taking this art appreciation course because it’s a graduation requirement. I like soccer.”

  29. voluptuousfire*

    The OP is SO working for a start-up. That explains the feels and the 80 hour weeks!

    My last role was at a start-up and when you started, they asked you for a fun fact about yourself and that was it. I hope you’re a higher up there!

    1. Fabulously Anonymous*

      Hmmm… I had to give a fun fact, too. Is this just a start up thing or were we at the same place? ;)

  30. Ali*

    I almost thought this person was from my employer because under my last boss, we did the “shoutouts” in team meetings too. Although my current/new boss was recognizing people who exceeded expectations on their monthly reviews as well. Last Boss also picked one person to give their bio at the end of every meeting. It felt so fake, and while everyone I work with is nice, no one seemed truly excited or enthusiastic about the exercise.

    And also, I don’t think we have too many people over 35 in my organization. I could probably count them on one hand and the beginning of the second. Most are young. I mean, my last two bosses have been in their late 20s.

  31. A.K.*

    I think this is the kind of situation where you just put on the fifteen pieces of flair and move forward. Throw together a minimal powerpoint with a picture of your cat and maybe a selfie at your desk and include a few facts like “I’m from Minnesota, but I hate snow!” or “I really love Reeces Pieces.” This way you’re technically participating without mocking people who do enjoy it, but you’re not sharing anything about yourself that is personal.

    1. Noah*

      Now, you know it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Or… well, like Brian, for example, has thirty seven pieces of flair, okay. And a terrific smile.

  32. HR Manager*

    This is not as crazy and offensive as some make this sound like. We did this exercise (but not via Powerpoint) in our orientation programs, where new participants had to talk about their “river of life’. They drew this on a training pad and stuck it on a wall. You highlight anything about you that you want to share. It doesn’t require that you talk about your personal life in a way that you are uncomfortable with. Most of our employees talked about where they went to school, what they studied, sometimes their favorite jobs and a few hobbys. Some people threw in interesting tid bits about where they’ve traveled to, and some go back way far to their childhood memories. It gives peers insight into what’s shaped you. It is about getting to know your co-workers beyond just Mary is the person for all AP questions. If you want a collegial work environment, is it that horrible that your co-workers may want to know something about you beside that you sit in aisle 3 seat 4? Don’t share what you don’t want to share.

    By the way, they use a river analogy because you start upstream with your ‘beginning’ and go downward as you progress. You don’t have to stop at the present. If your goal is to retire at 45 on a beautiful private island, that can be way downstream and share that with your team. I found this exercise a lot of fun, but more so because of the varying degree of art/drawing skills the employees had.

      1. HR Manager*

        Then you draw yourself as a salmon and talk about that metaphor, and yes, you can draw your river upstream and going in reverse. We put no restrictions on this. People only talked for about 5 to 10 minutes max. It’s not like we put people on a stage, with a microphone, and said “Do something entertaining!”

        1. ProductiveDyslexic*

          Do you not think it’s demeaning to have employees do this?

          I would walk out of a session like this.

          1. HM in Atlanta*

            I have walked out of a session like this (I wasn’t disruptive, I picked up my notebook and left). That caused a bigger conversation about what we were trying to deliver through that process, AND – was there a better way? The answer was that there was a better way; one that came across as less demeaning/condescending, so it delivered a longer-lasting impact on people’s professional relationships (rather than remembering that Sally was the person who talked about being a salmon in her presentation).

    1. Mike C.*

      I think you need to understand how being put on the spot and talk about one’s own life isn’t fun for everyone and for many is personally invasive.

    2. Lucy*

      I wouldn’t want to share anything. This exercise sounds awful. Is it acceptable, and made clear that it’s acceptable, to not share anything at all if you don’t want to?

      If not, all I’d be sharing is that I have panic attacks. Because you’ll all be watching me have one.

    3. Snarkus Ariellius*

      And if I don’t want to share anything personal, will that be held against me?  

      I’m a big fan of putting a wall between work and personal stuff.  Starting out, I didn’t understand that, and I’ve been wrapped up in way too many situations where that stuff blended together.  It was a mess.

      The reason that I’m so standoff-ish is because I feel like as a woman there’s a tendency to attribute how I feel about certain things in the workplace to stuff going on in my personal life.  (You know, because those ladies can’t control their emotions, amirite?)  

      I know that’s not what you’re getting at, and I know you mean well.  However, more than once, I’ve had to have difficult conversations with people only to hear “Is everything okay with [personal situation]?” instead of addressing the issue at hand.  I’ve gotten it from bosses and subordinates (who I would never confide in!) too.  

      My very real voice and concerns were diluted because of some personal details I shared that got around the office.  Oh yes it’s all under the guise of “care” and “concern.”  The fact that the guy reporting to me is doing sub-par work is irrelevant!

      So, yes, all you need to know is my job title, my duties, and that innocuous thing I did last weekend.  That’s it.  If one can’t comprehend that yes I’m a living breathing human being even though I don’t share personal details  at work, then that isn’t my problem. And I’m rather tired of being told that it is.

      (Again, not a rant against what you posted personally.  Just my thoughts over the years.)

      1. AnonyManager*

        I find absolutely nothing wrong with being the “pleasant, professional manager down the hall that doesn’t talk about herself/himself much.”

    4. neverjaunty*

      The fact that you, personally, found this exercise to be fun has nothing to do with the fact that MANY PEOPLE find it invasive, intrusive and worthless. And as an HR professional or manager I think you would want to be aware of whether the company is doing things that make employees feel dissatisfied and resentful.

      I promise you that if you haven’t already, you are going to get a “river of life” employee who had a very unpleasant trip upstream and you’re putting them in a very bad position.

    5. tt*

      It’s not so bad for co-workers to want to know each other, and many people actually enjoy it, when it’s done on their own terms. But people should be able to choose a) if they want to share anything b)what they share c) when they share it and d) specific people with whom they share it.

    6. C Average*

      I wouldn’t call it crazy and offensive, but I would call it silly and infantilizing.

      It’s one thing when you have a group of colleagues who come together organically and choose to share personal things. I think most of us have been part of teams like that and would acknowledge that there’s often value in getting to know our colleagues as people.

      I think it’s the contrived nature of this exercise that’s so objectionable. We all endure writing essays in grade school about what we did in the summer and hauling our teddy bear to kindergarten show and tell. We all endure our parents’ friends asking us what we’re going to do when we grow up. Those of us who go to college endure four or more years of inane conversation about our major and our prospective career. Job-hunters endure interviews where they must blather engagingly about their general wonderfulness and suitability for the role in question.

      There’s sort of an understood agreement that once you actually GET a job, that kind of nonsense stops and you focus most of your work time on actual work. And those of us who don’t care for self-aggrandizement really aren’t happy when this understood agreement gets violated by management and we’re treated like children.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        Precisely this.

        I’m going to sound like a jerk, but I don’t care about a lot of these personal details.  I don’t have any emotional investment in Mary from marketing because she’s my co-worker.  It’s not her fault.  I care about her as much as I would a random stranger on the street.  I will probably never see Mary again after one of us leaves this job.  

        For me to hear about her family drama or a major illness or nervous habits is weird because our relationship doesn’t allow for that type of intimacy.  THAT is what makes me uncomfortable, which is the exact opposite of what these exercises are supposed to do.  The underlying mistake in all of these exercises is that everyone assumes we all want to hear things these.  Not me!

        All Mary needs to do in my world is her job.  That’s it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Love your third paragraph about contrived nature and all the various types of inane conversations we have in the process of growing up.

        What do you want to be when you grow up? By the time I reached fourth grade I was so sick of this question. “How the hell would I know? I am in fourth grade. I haven’t even learned how to figure out the compounding interest on my college loan yet!”

        No, I did not say that out loud. But we did get surveys each year and one of the questions was what you do want to be when you grow up?
        I just copied the answer from the person sitting next to me.

        Decades later, I told a teacher that I used to copy the answer. It did not take me long- maybe by second grade, I figured out I could copy off of someone else and no one cared. This teacher looked me square in the eye and said “No, kids don’t do that.” hmm.

    7. Episkey*

      I guess I will be the 2nd lone voice of dissent here because I don’t think it’s particularly offensive or intrusive either.

      But then I guess I’m looking at it as just because other people shared perhaps very personal things, that’s not a requirement. I think it would be relatively easy for me to fill 10 minutes about growing up as a military dependent (we lived lots of places!), some general undergrad/grad education info, my pets (seriously, I could probably talk for 10 mins alone about my dog & insane cats), and some random info about my hobbies (volunteering, running, etc). Done and done. I suppose I don’t consider myself a super private person, though, either.

    8. LBK*

      So…yeah. I’m kinda with you, to be honest. The way it’s presented here and the way the OP’s coworkers have decided to do it certainly sounds overly invasive. However, I don’t think it has to be. If you stick to really basic stuff – where you were born, siblings, pets, moving, going to school, getting jobs, etc. – it doesn’t necessarily have to be that private. Unless I’m misunderstanding the assignment, you’re not obligated to spill intimate secrets, that’s just what people have chosen to do.

      Most of those are question I would anticipate being asked when you first started anyway as a way for people to get to know you, so even if they aren’t easy answers surely you’re used to deflecting them somehow? Like, “where are you from?” is probably the first question I’ve been asked by every new coworker at every new job. If you aren’t comfortable answering that I’m not sure how you’ve participated in small talk up until now.

    9. Colette*

      I’d question the effectiveness of this. Were all of the orientation participants from the same group or working in close proximity? If not, there’s unlikely to be any value as they probably won’t interact regularly.

      In the OP’s case, it’s happening at a busy time (assuming that 80 hour work weeks are not a quiet week), which makes creating a PowerPoint presentation particularly onerous – even if it were strictly a presentation on her favourite cheeses, it takes time to pull together. I wouldn’t want to give up sleep, eating, or my life outside of work to do that.

    10. Isabelle*

      Some people are very private or like to compartmentalize their lives and participating in these exercises is hell for them. They also know they’ll be stigmatized as ‘not one of the team’ if they don’t participate. It’s better to gradually get to know these people in a natural way without any forced oversharing.
      It’s a nightmare working with or for people who don’t understand or respect boundaries.

      1. LBK*

        Serious question: how do people who do this handle basic small talk questions? If you’re new to an office and someone says “So where are you from”? do you respond “Sorry, I don’t discuss any details of my personal life at work?”

        That’s obviously your prerogative, but I think it would raise eyebrows in pretty much any office.

        1. Anonsie*

          “I didn’t know you had a wife!”

          “And my wife doesn’t know I have a job! I keep my personal and professional lives separate.”

        2. esra*

          People love talking about themselves. Basically make small talk with light answers and ask people about themselves and you never have to tell anyone anything.

        3. Isabelle*

          I’ve never met anyone who would mind answering innocuous questions like every day small talk, that’s just ridiculous. Compartmentalizing different aspects of your life simply means you don’t involve work colleagues in your private life. You don’t socialize with them (apart from work functions obviously) and you don’t share your innermost thoughts or life plans with them.

          It doesn’t mean you don’t get to know them and they don’t get to know you. You just do it on a more shallow level and you keep conversations light and stick to safe topics. It doesn’t stop communication, and it doesn’t stop effective team work.

        4. ReanaZ*

          I am a deeply private person who is outgoing and doesn’t mind small talk. But… It depends on the coworker and the tone used to ask the question. I don’t live in my country of birth; sometimes I get a friendly “Where are you from?” and something people are really aggressive about it. Sometimes personal questions come up naturally in a friendly way and sometimes I feel like I’m being grilled by a police investigator. If the former, I’m likely to give more specific details “Oh, out in the country of (region) in (country), although I lived in (big city) for years before moving here.” If the latter, I’m likely to be vague and generic. “Oh, I moved here from (country). [full stop].” In more extreme cases, I might excuse myself from the conversation for a work reason or, if they’re really rude, give a disapproving teacher stare, say “I’m (nationality).”, and walk away.

          I usually don’t have to be as aggressive as “Sorry, I don’t discuss any details of my personal life at work.” because most people pick up on the fact of someone giving short, generic answers and not asking any questions in return doesn’t really want to talk about personal things, and reasonable people will politely and quietly stop asking. But some people are boundary-pushing and totally ignore soft noes and conversational clues, which makes me extremely uncomfortable. In these cases, I have had to say “Your questions are making me uncomfortable; can we please keep our conversations focused on work-related matters going forward?” I usually get an aggressive non-apology (I was just TRYING to be NICE.), but then the crappy behavior stops.

    11. Anonsie*

      By the way, they use a river analogy because you start upstream with your ‘beginning’ and go downward as you progress.

      This bit was really funny to me– like you’re not sure if the detractors understand the concept of why a river is being used here. We understand the metaphor of the current and timeline, it’s the having to give a mandatory presentation about yourself using a really silly metaphor part that people are finding objectionable.

      I’m with you ish in that I think it’s a good idea to give a little self-selected summary (with timelines being a good way to do it) for new employees so everyone has the same background on the person and they only share what they find relevant to share. I think it’s a really bad idea to start regular meetings with this, to have to make it a whole presentation (with slides, good lord), to use the river of life framing device, or to try to make constructed activities where people are required to “express” themselves.

    12. Joey*

      Have you ever polled your folks to see if they find this stuff useful? We completely went away from canned stuff because it’s so cheesy.

      Why on earth would you do this? do you think professional associations doing networking events could get away with this? People would never show up.

    13. Diane*

      I think it’s fascinating that so many people dislike exercises like this. The places I’ve worked have all done similar things at orientation and trainings, and that worked because it fit with the cultures. So culture has to be part of this discussion. That said, in workplace cultures that don’t respect boundaries are asking for dysfunction. (this has me thinking about correlation between oversharing and ineffective business practices)

      Also, when I was growing up, I was taught not to ask questions because if people wanted me to know something, they’d tell me, but I shouldn’t talk about myself because if people wanted to know, they’d ask. That dissonance might be there for others who would like to share, but don’t have a vehicle to do so.

    14. Snarkus Ariellius*

      I feel bad that people, including me, jumped all over you for this because I think you had good intentions.

      Here’s the thing. While you might visualize casual, innocuous personal details? You’re opening the floodgates for everything else. You can also get people who don’t understand or who assume, given previous experiences, that the personal stuff is what is being demanded. (I remember reading an article about one of these exercises. The guy leading it demanded participants to share something about themselves that no one else knew. This was during a trust building exercise.) Trust me, once one person starts talking about an eating disorder or a traumatic childhood event, it can easily open up the whole thing into a faux therapy session. That is NEVER a good thing.

      Not only that but don’t you think the visuals, the metaphor, and the drawing are kind of childish? I mean…that’s what you’d do with schoolchildren. Maybe sharing a quick fun personal fact is what you meant?

      I don’t like that everyone jumped on you, but I do hope you rethink things like this exercise.

    15. Girasol*

      I’ve been in a number of teams that have done this and don’t find it abnormal in the least. I kind of like it, actually, as a getting-to-know-you exercise for a new team. Folks usually start with their college and go from there. Some people focus on sports interests and career (pictures of school and team mascots and corporate logos scrounged from the web) so there are no personal photos at all. Some folks show their kids and homes, some show photos of their hobbies or places they’ve traveled. I’ve never seen anyone get seriously into illnesses and deaths in the family but I’m guessing that’s an unusual choice of subject matter from the presenter, and not specifically encouraged, right? The basic photo bio assignments I’ve seen are open enough that an introvert can participate without sharing very much that isn’t on his resume.

    16. Cassie*

      The less I know about my coworkers (and the less time I spend with them), the better I get along with them. If you want to get to know your coworkers, go talk to them! Take a coffee break together, grab lunch, whatever. Why make everyone sit there listening to everyone else’s life stories just so everyone can be one big happy family?

      I’m a pretty private person but there are some things that I don’t mind sharing – I graduated from the university where I work, I grew up in a neighboring city, I was born in another country. I’ve had a fairly plain/mundane life (which I’m very grateful for) but what about people who haven’t had it so easy? What if you’re the one person in a room full of college and post-graduate graduates who dropped out of high school (or never even attended)?

    17. super anon*

      Coming from academia and knowing some of the horribly inane and ridiculous team building, or pd stuff they would make us do, this sounds exactly like the kind of thing that would happen and most people in my office would’ve thought was a great idea.

      I don’t think it’s as horribly offensive as everyone else seems to, but there definitely should be very clear boundaries about what is appropriate to share, and what isn’t (such as deeply personal facts about your family, deaths and illnessess), and that you can choose not to participate and not have it held against you.

  33. C Average*

    I would be sorely tempted to assemble a series of talking-head clips that apply to me when edited creatively.

    I’m not going to lie: I’d at once resent the hell out of this project and think of so many awesome things to do with it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This habit of asking employees to share their life story can be fixed. There are cures for many of these types of problems now.

  34. teclatwig*

    I have to suspect that someone high in the organization attended a workshop where s/he had a powerful experience creating a River of Life presentation and decided it should be implemented for all employees.

    (I am going to post a link in a separate comment, in case it gets locked in comment jail, but I invite you to search River of Life + seminar)

    1. teclatwig*

      Not sure how long I will be in moderation, so I will post again, though it will mean 3 comments in a row:

      I meant to suggest searching “river of life presentation,” with the seminar showing up as the 3rd or 4th hit.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Thank you! I always wonder where these fads come from and it’s always interesting to see the source.

  35. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Am I the only one who views terms like “culture fit” and “office culture” to be exclusionary to women, minorities, and 40+ employees?  At least that’s how Silicon Valley uses those words.

    Once again, I blame an overeager consultant or motivational speaker who is desperately thinking of “outside the box” garbage in order make money.  This is less about improving the work environment and more about trying to come up with ideas no one else has ever heard of.

    Don’t do it.  Like AAM said, not complying is worth whatever label you’re going to get.  Besides, if you’re cringing at this request, as you should anyway, your office is probably already picking up on the fact that you’re not a “team player” anyway.

    Denying this request isn’t going to make or break you.

    Take a page out of my old boss’s book.  Before an 18+ hour road trip, she turned around to everyone in the van and said, “Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t need to know everything about you people so let’s keep the conversation casual, okay?”

    Bless that woman.

    1. hayling*

      I think it *can* be exclusionary but not always. I work for a small tech company in SF (we’re not really a startup anymore but we’re not super-established either) and “culture” is actually a big deal for us.
      Although most of our employees are under 30, we are pretty diverse in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. But “culture” for us is about being hardworking, not being an a-hole, having open communication, etc. Yes we have free beer and snacks and the occasional Nerf gun fight (but nothing like that other poster!) but those are outgrowths of the culture not the entire thing. And nobody would put up with this River of Life nonsense!

    2. HR Manager*

      That’s because Silicon Valley is known for not being under-represented in women and those 40+, and some minority groups.

    3. neverjaunty*

      No, you are not the only one, and that was my first thought too: 80 hour weeks? Ridiculous and mandatory peer-pressure driven oversharing? If this isn’t a Silicon Valley startup run by overfunded techbros I would be astonished.

      OP, run.

    4. Joey*

      It’s not just Silicon Valley. Way too many people use “culture fit” or “fit” when they really mean “not like the rest of us.” If you can walk through the place and the demographics are different from the local area theres a problem.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        Maybe my approach is too simplistic but if the work gets done, no one is horribly resentful, and the results are awesome, then does it matter who fits in where?

        “Culture fit” is the more acceptable way to redline.


  36. mel*

    Are you working 80 hours a week because you’re covering the entire company while everyone is busy making these powerpoints?

  37. LMW*

    I’ve worked in places where we’d do something like this — a 10 minutes about you thing that rotated, but it was usually pretty professionally focused. Occasionally someone would delve into a hobby that they spend a lot of time on (volunteer work, travel and creative pursuits like amateur film making were common), but it never really crossed the line to be unprofessional. In general, it was a really helpful way to get to know coworkers in a big department where you didn’t always work closely together. It helped me find great resources to advise on certain projects.
    But…River of Life? Really? Ugh. I don’t really like getting that personal with coworkers.

  38. Lizabeth*

    This is worse than being pressured to supply a photo of yourself as a little kid for the company newsletter (which I have no intention of doing) I might send the new marketing person a horse or cat photo instead (G)

  39. BadPlanning*

    Have you gone on a vacation recently, OP? If so, I’d take 6 photos from that and use that as a presentation. Just open each one and say a bit about it. Then, you did a presentation and you talked — but your prep work is limited to scrolling through and selecting some photos (as long as you don’t agonize over the photo selection).

    I suppose you risk people complaining that you didn’t give a River of Life presentation…but I guess it depends on your coworkers…I would think most people would be satisfied that you shared something.

    We do this on one of my teams — present a few photos from big vacations. It’s a nice little getting to know you, but usually low stress.

  40. Us, Too*

    I’d probably go with the idea of doing a “personal” presentation that isn’t particularly personal or revealing of anything I don’t want to share. I can imagine kicking off my own presentation saying “The one thing that you really need to know about me as your colleague is that I really love charts. All kinds of charts.” Then go into a presentation that uses charts to show how my professional/personal life intersect. “This is a chart of the amount of time I listen to heavy metal, by year. That spike in 2009 was a particularly dark period in my life. You might remember it as the the year we were all working on project X together before it was cancelled, may it rest in peace.” “Here you see a chart of my annual caloric consumption. Again, the spike in 2009 is not coincidental.” “Finally, a pie chart of my coffee consumption by type. Thanks to the office manager for the new espresso machine – that segment of pie is solely a result of her fine contributions!”

    In other words, I’d treat it seriously, but make sure it was funny and upbeat and didn’t cross any of my personal information boundaries.

    However, I work in an organization that would be open to this kind of tomfoolery. And I’m kind of known as a funny/outgoing person on the team – this wouldn’t work for everyone.

  41. Mike C.*

    This project is one of the dumbest, most personally invasive things I’ve heard of in a long time.

    I’m so sick and tired of businesses thinking that they are somehow entitled to access to your non-work lives. Plenty of teams work just fine not knowing the full life history of their coworkers.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t expect to know full life histories of my coworkers, but I do know where most of them were born, where they live now, where they went to school, if they have siblings…granted, most of that has come up in conversation rather than being formally presented to me, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to have a vague idea of someone’s history that you see for 40+ hours a week. I would feel pretty creeped out if I didn’t know anything about someone I saw that frequently.

      1. Mike C.*

        But that sort of thing comes up naturally. The idea that you should just put it all out there for everyone to see in such a forced and contrived manner is nuts.

        1. LBK*

          My point is that it’s not like this is confidential information you would never tell your coworkers. Is it weird to be forced to do it rather than allowing it to come up organically? Yes, I agree there. But I disagree that it’s an invasion of privacy for your coworkers to expect to know some basic info about you.

          1. Kat M*

            All they need to know is that I’m hear to do a job and do it well. Developing relationships over time is one thing, but I don’t like these being forced on people.

  42. SH*

    I keep my professional and personal lives separate so I can relate to the OP’s discomfort. However, I don’t feel like it’s an unreasonable request so I would make a generic presentation (e.g., “I went to school here”, “I occasionally volunteer with dogs”, “I’m a vegetarian”, etc).

  43. Zillah*

    Yeah, if I was told to do this, I would literally spend the entire presentation talking about soccer. I’m a soccer fanatic. I could easily take up 20 minutes going on about my teams and my complicated pyramid of who I root for when.

    1. cuppa*

      I would honestly be more interested in learning that about you. I know that me and a lot of other commenters haven’t taken this really seriously, but the silly things and the interests, quirks, and activities of people are the things I’m more interested in learning about (and sharing).

    2. HR Manager*

      I honestly think that’s exactly what they’re going for (that’s what we were going for). No one at work wants to hear details about people’s divorces, marriages, illness, financial difficulties and having to work 3 jobs. No one! That’s not what these things are about. It’s funny to me that that seems to be what all the commenters are expecting — what experiences have people had where asking to ‘tell me about yourself” means getting into details of your financial, marital, health or other status that wouldn’t be appropriate otherwise?

      1. cuppa*

        Exactly. I would much rather know that Mark makes a killer homebrew, Julie has eaten a Big Mac every day for lunch for the last four years, Samuel follows a Van Halen cover band around on tour, and Angela collects pictures of babies in funny outfits.

      2. NavyLT*

        Right, but OP’s coworkers have made it about all that, and I think that’s what people are responding to. Also, “river of life” is just cheesy. I have no issues introducing myself and providing some interesting factoids, but what’s wrong with just saying tell us a bit about yourself, without a metaphor that induces so much snark (in me, and apparently in many others)?

        1. HR Manager*

          We called it that (I’m sure from some model/training) but that’s because we made your draw the river on the sheet of paper and then you dot it with drawings of whatever you wanted to talk about. And yes, CATS! featured very prominently in mine (not the musical, the animal…)

          1. Joey*

            This sounds eerily similar to what my 4 year old does in her pre K class in the name of learning how to interact with other 4 yr olds.

            If you want to learn about co-workers just bring in lunch and let them have at it for a couple of hours after a milestone. Trust me, you don’t have to force people to share, just provide the forum to do it and most of them will do it.

        2. Tau*

          It occurs to me that the metaphor in and of itself may lead to participants feeling they have to overshare. Because “start at the beginning and talk about how you got here” has a pretty different focus from “tell me about yourself” or “let us know a fun fact about you”, and I can see how people faced with that might think they have to delve into their past and their hobbies or last vacation don’t qualify.

      3. tt*

        They probably were looking more for the quirks, interest, casual things, but I’d still argue that people shouldn’t be forced to share those things if they don’t want to.

        1. AnonyManager*

          Exactly! If I want a co-worker to know anything about me I will tell them when and if I am ready! No one at work is entitled to know anything about me other than:
          What I do for the company
          That I do my job well
          I am professional
          That I expect other to be professional and do their job well.

          I am not saying I wouldn’t share personal quirks, hobbies, stories about family/children. I am saying a meeting isn’t the place for it. A “river of life”, “3 lies and a truth” etc. Makes me feel put on the spot and it is a contrived method of sharing info that I probably would have shared with some people at some point anyway. But even if I never shared this type of info with anyone why does it matter?

      4. Snowball II*

        To be fair, I think we’re getting the impression that people are revealing illnesses/financial difficulties/etc. from OP herself, since she makes a point of saying that people are sharing deeply personal information in these things.

        And collegial work environments come from hiring decent people and treating them decently. Slaving people 80 hours a week and then expecting PowerPoint presentations about the “river of life” to make the work environment all nicey-nice? Nope. Hire nice people and be nice to those people after you hire them. Boom. Work environment problems solved.

        1. HR Manager*

          Right, because work problems never pop up when river of life (or insert your own name of choice here) is not discussed. And work place stress and anxiety is only caused by those who deliberately and maliciously try to make your life terrible, be it a co-worker or a boss.

          1. Snowball II*

            I’m not saying there’s no such thing as stress and anxiety, I’m saying I fail to see how “river of life” type exercises address these problems more effectively than just generally treating people well and avoiding the hiring of jerks would.

            1. Colette*

              Agreed. Hire people, treat them well, and expect them to treat each other well. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems – there could still be people who aren’t a good fit, stressful hours, and personal crises – but it is better than adding stress over an activity that, at most, part of the group will enjoy while others will find a serious violation of their personal boundaries.

            2. HR Manager*

              Because organizational dynamics often involve stress and anxiety, without anyone intentionally looking to be a PITA. People sometimes do this unintentionally. Getting to know and understand a co-worker beyond “all I need to know about Joe is that he better get me XX on time” can help with that. Being a good supportive co-worker and/or team mate is understanding your peers’ strengths and weaknesses, and knowing someone’s likes and dislikes can be extremely helpful to build a rapport for a better working relationship. THIS is why nearly all college business programs involve a team project at some point. Working through challenges of a team dynamic is key.

              This is what any style/type inventory (INTP, PI, DiSC) can help with, any team-building exercise, and ‘tell me about yourself’ techniques is designed to do. How many of the questions written in often involve someone not wanting to have an honest or direct conversation with a manager or a peer? You may be more likely to broach a topic with someone if you know them better and can anticipate his reaction.

              1. Anonsie*

                I think that last point actually flows the exact opposite way. People always say “oh we’re really friendly here, I don’t know how to change that suddenly to have a Serious Conversation.” That’s a major part of why people try to keep work relationships above a certain casual level: too casual and conversations that shouldn’t be personal can suddenly seem very personal.

                That or it’s hard to reconcile the personal conversations with the wholly professional ones. “Why did Bob cite me for x mistake? He knows I’ve been having y problem. I thought we were friends.”

              2. fposte*

                I think there’s truth in what you’re saying, but I think you’ve got a fallacy of the undistributed middle here–this process isn’t necessarily going to get you to that goal, for all the reasons people have stated on this thread.

                I don’t think it’s evil, but it’s also not a shortcut to intimacy, and the fact is that very little is.

              3. Snowball II*

                I’ve done more than my share of team-building exercises in my career (worked Res Life in college, those people are single-handedly funding the “team building” industry, I swear), and I don’t know that I’ve ever gained any particular insight into my coworkers through the activities that we did. My comfort level with coworkers was developed through working together on actual work, not on trying to artfully draw rivers on poster board or create skits about our team. The only way those activities were even marginally helpful was that the downtime at a lot of these team building weekend affairs was a good time to socialize with people and get to know them more naturally.

                In my present career, the coworkers I’ve gotten to know, I know because I’ve worked with them on projects and had lunch with them and gone to happy hours with them, not because they did a PowerPoint presentation on how their hobby is knitting sweaters for hairless cats. If the workplace is so rushed, or overtaxed, or disconnected that people don’t have the opportunity or the inclination to get to know each other naturally, THAT’s the problem that needs to be solved. And company-mandated “fun” activities aren’t the solution, taking better care to not overwork your employees and to create opportunities for them to have natural social interactions are.

              4. Colette*

                Yes, building rapport can make for a better working relationship, but you don’t build rapport through forced sharing, IME. I’d be concerned that this would be used to make emotionally-based decisions – e.g. “Oh, I can’t tell Chris she needs to proof-read her report, her dog is sick” or “Well yes, Bob yelled at a customer yesterday, but he was a foster child” or even “Sara can work late, she doesn’t have kids”.

              5. Elizabeth West*

                But you can’t force this kind of stuff. I have worked at places where I would (and do and have) shared personal details with coworkers, because I got to know them by us being together daily. I felt comfortable with them. Conversely, I’ve also worked at places where if they asked me to do this, I would have quit on the spot. Those places were full of people I did NOT want to share anything with, other than the fact that we both worked in the same place and I had to pass my widget documentation to them twice a week.

                The personality things aren’t that intrusive. And they’re not all that accurate, either, just so you know. People aren’t so simple that you can just pigeonhole them into Slot A, Slot B, etc.

    3. A Non*

      I’d do the same thing. I have a hobby I could talk about for HOURS, and it lends itself to exciting pictures, so there we go. By the time I explain what the hobby is and how I got started, we’re out of time.

      And I agree that hearing what people are passionate about is far more interesting than the town they grew up in or the college they attended. I love seeing people light up and come alive.

      1. Kyrielle*

        My hobby is photography.

        …that presentation would write itself, and also, you’d learn a lot of very picturesque areas around our state (and you’d probably meet my cats and family, yes).

        After I got over the nausea-inducing factor of being required to make a Big Thing and a presentation out of it, in a meeting, and decided how to tackle it.

  44. Mary Beth*

    I would do it, but I would do it based on what I think is an appropriate amount of personal sharing. I think opting out altogether could back-fire culturally, but I guess if you go too far in the other direction and make your presentation too professional it could appear that you are tone-deaf to the culture of your office.

    I’d focus on geography (where you are from), education, professional goals, top professional lessons learned over the years. Throw in a few surface-level jokes, local sports team references or something, and call it a day.

  45. Purple Jello*

    I would be in the group giving public facts about my work life. Maybe throw in a bit about my 1st job which was ” taking the blame for my sister”… I’d also include interesting or funny things about my past jobs: “At my first temp job, I learned not to open the top two drawers of a loaded file cabinet while sitting in a desk chair with wheels”. “My second job was at a small business making specialty teas which acquired an art deco teapot manufacturing company”. If I needed filler, I’d go with the Star Trek v. Star Wars points (even thought I ‘m not an engineer) and allow discussion.

  46. Colorado*

    Holy hell! River of life? And just when I thought my boss was a tool for asking me how my marriage is when I give no indication of my personal life (marriage is great btw but something I’m not interested in sharing). Thank you for giving me some perspective :D

    1. HM in Atlanta*

      I default to dog stories (or stories about when my brother lived with me while he was in college – it was kind of like the odd couple, and he was Oscar).

  47. Insensitive*

    The biggest issue I see with this is its insensitive to people who might be dealing with difficult issues. While some people might feel about sharing stories about illness, others might be really uncomfortable even hearing about it. Last year my husband was being treated for cancer and it was a really tough time. Work was an escape and even there is had private break downs on occasion. If if had to watch a presentation about someone else’s illness I would have lost it. And I would not have been able to manage my own composure delivering my own presentation, even trivial, because trivial things become incredibly poignant when you’re faced with losing someone.

    That said, if I did have to do this and that kind of thing wasn’t an issue for me at the moment, I don’t think I would just do pictures of cats or of growing up for the very reason that I wouldn’t look like a team player. If just keep my personal as impersonal as possible.

    “Here’s a pic of me getting married this year” rather than “this was the most amazing day. I felt beautiful and it was magical because blah, blah, blah. My husband is amazing because of…” You don’t have to get sappy. You can just present. I’d focus on stuff that happened just this past year and find a few funny but real things. Like the video of my 2 year old walking around our living room with a bucket on her head, laughing hysterically. Or even a photo of the new car I got.

  48. Jazzy Red*

    I’d do it, and my first slide would be pictures of babies in diapers. I see the caption as “when you were all still pooping in your diapers, I was…”(fill in the blank). My pictures would all be nature scenes, or great works of art while I recall where I was when JFK was shot, John Glenn landed on the moon, Nixon was impeached, 9/11, etc.; absolutely nothing personal or private. If they require 10 minutes, I’d include some classical music with pictures of the great composers.

    Of course, if this would get you in trouble in your office, don’t do it.

    And I would like to know – are you really comfortable working in that very youthful environment? Even though I like young people, and have learned a lot from them, I wouldn’t want to work exclusively with them (or any particular age group, for that matter).

    1. soitgoes*

      I agree with your approach. It’s easy to make people overlook the lack of real info you’re revealing if your presentation is entertaining enough.

  49. J-nonymous*

    Private lives and boundaries around those aside, OP – there are some things in your post that make me think perhaps you’re not a great fit for the culture there. You point out an age gap. You point out how personal some of the employees’ presentations have been. You talk about resentment over being expected to work a lot of hours AND being expected to participate in this business.

    Your personal boundaries are absolutely your business (AND your prerogative) and I don’t suggest compromising those. But there is an undercurrent of animosity in your letter that hints at more disparities between you and your colleagues than just this one PowerPoint presentation represents.

    As has been said before, culture is a huge factor in job satisfaction. I’d wager it’s as important as how engaging, challenging and rewarding the actual responsibilities of the job are for the employee. It sounds like you’ve found a way to navigate the differences in what you feel comfortable with vs. what the office likes to do by immersing yourself wholly in your work.

    But on the other hand your organization does have a culture, and for now at least, it sounds like the cultural bonds within that organization are both strong and well-regarded. Your wish to have your personal life remain private is absolutely valid, but beware of how much resentment you let show when you ask to opt out, lest you risk being viewed as an outsider to the organization’s (valued) culture.

    1. fposte*

      I think this is a fair point. It’s possible to negotiate being a cultural outlier, but it really helps to be conscious of the task and to strategize points where you can clearly support the culture even if other times you’re abstaining.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I can see what you are saying.

      I can also see me working 80 hours a week and becoming cantankerous about every. single. thing.

      Seems to me it’s more like human nature: “Mr Employer, you push me to my limits, I do 80 hours a week for you. I have no personal life, heck, I barely sleep. And now you want a PP of my life story? NO. N.O. NO.”
      I would be so angry, I don’t know if I would have enough of my wits about me to even write to AAM and ask the question. The boss is clueless as to how much of a work load OP is carrying. He is totally oblivious as to what OP is doing and what OP needs from him as a boss.

      As a boss, you do not take an employee that is already doing 80 hours a week and ask him to do something like this. OP, I am sorry you have an absolutely clueless boss. Tell him when you get down to working a normal 40 hour week you will consider this exercise. Tell him it is just not physically possible for you to do it under your current schedule.

  50. puddin*

    I wonder if some of the ultra-personal presentations are a result of toppers trying to outdo one another to just some form of peer pressure to expose personal details?

    I do not find the idea of this type of presentation so abhorrent. It could be executed horribly and it sounds a little like a Michael Scott idea. However, I think there are a lot of ways to present without putting yourself all out there. In any case, if you do not present my worry would be about the team player repercussions AAM mentioned.

    1. puddin*

      Oh and I meant to add that I love some of the creative personal but not PERSONAL presentation ideas on here. I have two that I keep handy, but will steal these ideas too if y’all don’t mind.

  51. A. D. Kay*

    This requirement sounds like something that a scriptwriter for The Office would think up. My first thought, which is very juvenile and inappropriate, would be to include a clip of the face-melting scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  52. tt*

    One time, my office wanted to get better acquainted with the services provided by another office (so we could refer students to them). So one of our staff coordinated a meeting with the other office, and decided it would be great to do an ice breaker, which involved each person standing in the circle, sharing 3 things about yourself – at least 1 of which had to be something no one else there knew about you. Since I had worked there for many years, my reaction was “if my immediate coworkers don’t already know something about me, it’s because I don’t want them to.”

    OP has it far worse!

  53. mp1*

    My dept just finished this exercise for our boss’s boss. I didnt want to participate for the same reasons as the OP so my presentation was full trivial details and work related stuff (past positions and two photos of a painting i made and my bike, trivial stuff like “I go to the gym 3x/wk” “I like my bike commute”. ) My boss actually reviewed the file before i presented it and askes why I didn’t post a pic of my husband and why I didn’t share details like where I grew up, etc. I didnt change my presentation, and maybe it will be held against me, but it took 3 hours for our whole dept to run through all of the slides and you could tell Big Boss was just as annoyed with it as the rest of us by the end. I doubt we’ll be doing this again anytime soon!

  54. Gene*

    Here are all the surgeries I’ve had in my life with graphic videos from the internet of what it looks like.

  55. long time reader first time poster*

    I think everybody is waaaaaaay overthinking this. There’s no “wrong” answer for this.

    Grab half a dozen innocuous photos off of your phone or facebook account (even as a decrepit 44 year old surrounded by millennials, I have such things) and say ‘here are some things I like. Cats, the beach, my kid, my car, and this book.” Write a sentence or two about each. This will take like ten minutes, tops. Done.

    Nobody is going to boo your presentation for not being overly personal. I promise.

    1. LisaLisa*

      Soooooo agree – not that big of a deal. Find the first 10 random photos you can find. Drop them into a ppt. Say what the are. Move one.

      And I like the idea of complimenting everybody at meetings. Sounds nice. Sometimes you have to force yourself to be complimentary.

    2. soitgoes*

      I’d agree with you (and I made similar suggestions) except I sense that the OP’s coworkers all revealed information that was far more private and now she feels pressure to follow suit. She might not feel like she has the particular public presence required to play it off as comedy or surface-y. She might have a boss that assumes that he or she is entitled to certain amounts of private insight into their employees.

      1. long time reader first time poster*

        But one of the best ways to push back on nosy inquiries (isn’t there a thread about that right now?) is to just be obtuse. “Oh, you wanted to learn about me? Here’s a picture of my cat.” Nobody in their right mind would say “oh that’s not PERSONAL ENOUGH” even if they have blue balls over not getting the juiciest details of the river of your life.

        1. esra*

          We had to do a similar assignment and totally had a prof that went off on the class for not sharing personal enough things.

          If the office is stupid enough to assign people working 80-hour weeks this powerpoint, I can absolutely see them saying it’s not personal enough.

  56. MaryMary*

    I have a theory, please discuss amongst yourselves: the rise of workplace sitcoms (and dramas, to an extent) has given younger people a skewed idea of how close and friendly coworkers should be. It’s set unreasonable expectations that your coworkers will be your “family,” and even if you don’t get along you will likely be closely involved with their personal lives. I feel like this may be driving OP’s boss promoting this level of intimacy, and some coworker’s feelings that it’s appropriate to share so much.


    1. Snarkus Ariellius*

      I have also thought that, especially with the popularity of the American version of The Office.  Ironically, this was a great quote from the finale of the British Office.

      “The people you work with are people you were just throw together with. You know, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice, and yet you spend more time with them then you do your friends or your family. But probably all you’ve got in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for 8 hours a day.”

      There’s this misunderstanding that just because you spend all this time with people *in a specific environment* that you’re somehow…entitled?…to know certain things.  But it’s not that weird.  We’re not family or friends; we’re people who are paid to perform a specific role.  Problems arise when we try to act as thought the people we work with are anything more than that.

      Put it another way.  If I have to be forced to remember your birthday or be paid to meet with you or travel with you, then chances are good we are not friends.  

      Coworkers are people you know by chance so why do we act like we’re supposed to be BFF?  I don’t get it.

    2. CAA*

      Workplace comedy is not a new phenomenon. I am 51 and I remember Barney Miller, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, Taxi, WKRP in Cincinnati, Cheers, etc … all of which had many scenes that took place in a work environment of one type or another. I don’t think the characters in these shows were less involved in each others’ lives than the ones in today’s comedy.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, and the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show explicitly identifies the workplace as family.

        (And honestly, for all my pro stance on personal privacy, I’m really close to the people in my unit, and they have been well beyond co-worker supportive of me while I’ve been dealing with my surgery stuff.)

      2. MaryMary*

        I’d argue that with cable and perpetual reruns of those classic shows workplace sitcoms are even more ubitquitous for someone in their 20-30s.

  57. Jessie*

    My suggestion for the OP is pretty in line with what others have said: go along with it, but avoid the uncomfortable personal areas that your coworkers love to delve into. Talk about sports played back in school, favorite movies/tv shows, hobbies, and favorite vacations. Include a funny anecdote to keep it interesting.

    Not really related, but I was taking a course for work which included several students from other countries. Each foreign student was asked to give a presentation about their country and culture. Most were pretty much you would expect. Except for one guy. Another student had already made a presentation about his country. So his presentation was all about his “girlfriends” back home (they were all pictures of famous models taken off the internet). Completely and totally inappropriate, but still funny.

  58. Sparky*

    I worry that I talk too much about my cats, so I’d go with this and actually try to make everyone die of boredom during my presentation. Maybe mess with them a bit, with one cat slide introduced with,”When I was being deprogrammed after my parents abducted me from the cult, I fostered this little guy…” Or something. OP, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.

    Maybe a list of books you’ve read? Foods you eat?

  59. Kathryn T.*

    One way you can make this work is to tell ONE INTERESTING STORY for ten minutes, and bracket it with light biographical details to fulfill the whole life-river thing. Like, “I was born in England, but moved to Texas when I was five. While I was in college in Connecticut, my family moved to Seattle, and when I left school I moved here to live with them. Here is the hilarious story of the second time I filled my mouth up with superglue. Now I work here with all you people.”

    Mission accomplished, no overly personal details shared. I agree with you it’s dumb but it might be better to go along in this case if you can stomach it.

      1. Kathryn T.*

        That’s what makes the story funny, is when I get to the line “Fortunately I had done this before, so I knew what to do!”

        Sadly (or possibly worryingly) it was not the last time.

        1. fposte*

          I had thought you were inventing this for effect–this is an actually true story? That’s an all-weather anecdote for sure!

          1. Kathryn T.*

            This is an actually true story! It is easily my funniest anecdote, I did it for a standup routine as part of a “$LocalOrganization’s Got Talent” competition.

              1. Kathryn T.*

                OK. Here’s the whole thing, with all the bells and whistles — you have to imagine the hand gestures though.

                So, the thing about me is, on paper, I am a very smart person. And if you need a math problem solved, or a personal problem worked out, or string untangled, I am a great person to go to. But in terms of, like, handling things that a normal person can just handle without any difficulty? Not so much. I’m like a Zooey Deschanel character, except those are only fun in movies where there are writers to make sure everything ends well.

                The other thing about me is, I HATE peeling potatoes. With a passion. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is, because my husband LOVES mashed potatoes, and he doesn’t like them with the skins still in them. In an effort to soothe this tiny area of marital strife, our best friend gave me a genuine as-seen-on-TV possibly-manufactured-by-Ronco Rotato, which is an automatic potato peeler. You know those Yankee apple-peeler-corer devices? A Rotato is like one of those, except that instead of being struck from a solid block of iron as though by Thor himself, it’s made of cheap plastic, with a tiny little sliver of razor blade bent into a crescent and slid into a little slot to form the cutting surface. The idea is that you mount a potato on a cluster of wicked plastic spikes, ratchet the cutting arm into position, and then it’s held against the potato by tension and you turn a little crank and the cutting arm spirals down the potato and peels the potato for you.

                That’s the idea, anyway. In practice, what happens is that you get 20% of the way through your first potato, and one end of the razor blade springs out of the slot, and then instead of peeling the potato, it just cuts a spiral groove into the potato, which is great if you were trying to make an old-fashioned phonograph but not so great for mashed potatoes.

                So anyway! It was Christmas, and I was trying to peel potatoes to make mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner, using the Rotato. Except that the {expletive} razor blade kept springing out of the slot. So finally, in a fit of cheap plastic rage, I decided I was going to glue the son of a bitch razor blade into the fricking fracking slot, and I went to the junk drawer to grab the Superglue. Unfortunately I had used the glue the previous day to glue my phone back together after I’d dropped it on a tile floor, and I hadn’t gotten the cap back on tightly, so the long slender nozzle had a plug of dried superglue down it. And also unfortunately, I had ripped one of my thumbnails off at the quick that morning taking the orange juice out of the refrigerator, because as previously discussed, I am fundamentally bad at life. So when I tried to grab the end of that plug of glue, I couldn’t really get a good grip on it.

                Ladies and gentlemen, what do you do when you need to get a very firm grip on something very small, and you can’t use your fingernails?

                {this space reserved for the collective horrified gasp}

                That’s right. I used my teeth. I took a firm grasp on the tube with my hands, an equally firm grasp on the end of the plug with my teeth, and gave a sharp tug, neatly dislodging the obstruction. Of course, the minute the plug was out, my firm grasp became a firm squeeze, and superglue went BLORT out of the tube and all over my tongue.

                Fortunately, I had done this before, so I knew what to do.

                Not many people know this as intimately as I do, but the reason why Superglue always seems to set faster on your skin than on your D&D miniatures or whatever cooler thing you are gluing together is because it is actually catalyzed by enzymes found in your saliva and sweat. So when you fill your mouth with superglue, you have only fractions of a second to solve this problem. What you need to do is to rapidly agitate your tongue against the roof of your mouth, so that you end up with two independent surfaces independently covered with superglue instead of two united surfaces cohesively joined with superglue. Once you accomplish that, which only takes about three seconds due to the aforementioned catalyzation process, all you have to do is go out in the living room and tell your in-laws and other guests “Eck-hoove me, I haff Hoopagoo on ma tong,” go into your back bathroom and gargle with nail polish remover until the Superglue softens up enough that you can scrape most of it off your tongue and hard palate with a Popsicle stick, pick the remaining fragments off with tweezers, and hope that someone else will finish peeling the potatoes for you.

                Merry Christmas, everyone!

                1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

                  oh god this is everything I’d hoped for, and more!

                  Really shocked you didn’t swallow the nail polish remover, though. I would. I am incapable of gargling without swallowing (and subsequently gagging/vomiting)

                2. Kyrielle*

                  …you have my sympathy, and you will (given that you’ve used it in a comedy routine and wrote it up here for us) probably be glad to know I’m laughing so hard I almost can’t breathe…. Oh my word.

                3. Kathryn T.*

                  Also, by the by, anyone who wants to use this as a sacrificial personal moment in any sort of work related scenario has my permission to do so. 100% true, 0% overly-revealing.

                4. Stephanie*

                  I hate peeling potatoes as well.

                  So I knew the way to “undo” superglue was with acetone or acetone-based nail polish remover. I was wondering if that would make an appearance. Where you just figured to gargle with nail polish remover, I would have just promptly driven myself to urgent care or the ER.

                  You have to save that for every future team-building exercise from now on.

                5. MeUnplugged*

                  This is the most amazing story I have ever read. Thank you for sharing I am laughing so hard I’m crying. You win all the internets forever!

                6. Kathryn T.*

                  Katie, I’ve actually discovered the solution to my potato peeling hate — just buy a new peeler every year. They’re like $3 at Ross and if they are sharp then I don’t hate peeling potatoes at all. This story is about a decade old, but STILL FUNNY.

          1. Kathryn T.*

            I posted the whole story, but it’s long and so went to moderation. When it comes out you can read it!

              1. Kathryn T.*

                I can gargle without swallowing. I’m a professional singer and regularly gargle a honey/lemon/garlic/hot sauce combination if I have a sore throat, and trust me, you do not want to swallow that.

  60. HAnon*

    Not related, but reminded me of something from a previous job…I worked for a photographer who would play this extremely cheesy, sentimental sounding song (sounded like something from the mid nineties) that went “There is a riverrrrrrrrrr….that never runs dryyyyyyyyyy….we must give baaaaaaaaaaack…………for the rest of our liiiiiiiiiiiiiives.” I can’t remember the rest of it (thankfully) but every time a client came in to review their photos (especially if they had kids) he would put the photos in a slideshow with this song playing in the background like a montage…I believe the thought process was “get the mom on the verge of tears looking at photos of her kids while this emotional song plays and she will spend $$$$$” Had to listen to it multiple times a day :p

  61. Joey*

    Oh cmon you grinches. Every company is entitled to have their own weird culture as long as they aren’t breaking laws and aren’t doing unethical stuff. Just as you are entitled to find a particular culture at a particular company you like.

    I wouldn’t say anything personally. Id just start looking for a job that better suits my tastes.

  62. A Teacher*

    I think you should do a series of flipagrams (15 seconds in length) of some innane topic–or your pets like posted above, with snippets of music that you like… My high school students introduced me to flipagram this year.

  63. RG*

    No, this is not a generational thing. Trust me, I’m under 25, and I think this is crazy. My friends, who are all under 30, would agree. No, this is an office thing.

  64. Cath in Canada*


    We’re going to start taking turns to do 10-minute presentations about ourselves at our weekly meetings in the new year, but everything will be 100% focused on our career paths, what we’ve learned in previous jobs that gives us a unique perspective on our current roles, and where we think our strengths are that might not be obvious to others (so for instance I would mention that editing and proofreading is one of my strengths*, so my colleagues would know to come to me if they need any help with that).

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, so this may have been suggested already – but if the OP feels that not doing a presentation at all might have negative repercussions, perhaps a career-path version of the “river of life” (ugh) talk would work? No need to give any caveats or preamble, just do it “straight” – surely no-one can ding you for keeping things professional…?

    *with exceptions for blog comments :)

  65. Mel*

    Yeah, I’m a pretty open person in general, but there’s the information that I share with my coworkers I’m closer to, and there’s the information I share with my friends outside of work. Especially being in HR, I feel like this entire this has the potential to have them learn things that could backfire if they ever have to terminate someone or something (“I shared about my disability and then I was fired 2 weeks later!”)
    This is exactly why I don’t ask people to tell me about themselves in interviews. Don’t open up doors to hear things you don’t want to hear.
    Still, in this case, I would share overly generic information like you would in response to that above interview question. “Well, I have a degree in this. I enjoy this particular part of the HR field, although I love all of it as a whole. I am an animal lover and really care about our environment, so I don’t waste money and trees on printing things that can be sent electronically. Before I started working 80 hours a week, I used to enjoy spending my time reading sci-fi/fantasy books, but now my life revolves around my work.” Of course I tend to be so snarky, I’d go into great lengths about how I used to do drug screens at my old job, which meant messing with people’s urine all day. Or “I like to read, I’m a romantic at heart and enjoy long walks on the beach. Thank you.”
    Seriously, though, I would recommend just finding a generic response that looks like you care when you really don’t. It doesn’t seem worth making a big hoopla about, as if others really get into it they are unlikely to change it. Grit your teeth and smile like you mean it.

    1. MommaTRex*

      Love the snarky comment.
      But I think it is also good advice to focus on things that aren’t overly personal like hobbies or what you like to read.

  66. JC*

    The thing that I find the craziest about this is how the OP is expected to work 80 hours a week on top of this. Do you know how I got to know about my coworkers’ personal lives? By eating lunch together. Because we work somewhere with sane hours where we have time to eat lunch away from our desks.

  67. Dawn88*

    I’d be more concerned about the 80 hour weeks than a stupid Powerpoint presentation. My math tells me at five days a week, that is 16 hour days, leaving you exactly 8 hours left to sleep, including a commute, time to shower, eat or breathe!

    Sounds like they need to hire another person. Hope you are getting paid appropriate overtime!

  68. Colorado*

    I keep coming back to read the comments because it’s just one of those days. I can’t get over the River of Life, I just keep smiling! I will keep this thought in my head until vacaction comes.

  69. John*

    I would suck it up and find a way to make this what you want it to be.

    Me? I’d use this to share my career journey and discuss what parts of the job are exciting to me. And then I’d say, sure, we’re not curing cancer, but as you’ve learned through these River of Life presentations, some of our colleagues have dealt with cancer and worse and whether we realize it or not, through our work we are a support system and fellow travelers in each others’ journeys. And that gives my work extra meaning and I look forward to continuing on that journey with all of you. People would respond with “Awwww” and I could take my bow and get the heck off the stage.

    The point is, move yourself past frustration with this nonsense assignment and use your creativity to get through this nobly. I say that as one who can sometimes expend too much energy fighting these things.

    Apparently, this is the culture, so these are the sacrifices you have to make.

  70. Green IT*

    That is possibly one of the funniest things I’ve read all day…although my manager does this thing that is equally weird…she makes us send each other (team of 4) emails on 2 things that was good and why so and 2 things that were bad and how to fix it.
    The first time she told me I had this look of disdain which prompted her to say – it’s not mandatory. So I don’t generally participate.

  71. MommaTRex*

    How about expand on something really mundane? For example, if you have a cat, go on for about five minutes non-stop about Mr. Prissypants with pictures. When you stop, they will be so grateful, they will not mind that you didn’t fill the whole ten minutes.

    1. MommaTRex*

      I see that cats are a recurring theme in the comments above. I think if you don’t have cats, you should just steal some pics from the internet and pretend they are your cats. It should only take about two minutes to find great pictures of cats on the internet.

  72. Jamie*

    Call me “not a team player.” I worked for an office like this where the manager liked to feel like she was “mothering” the staff. My coworkers would regularly go to her office to discuss private personal issues, often resulting in tears. My disinterest in doing this, partially because I think it’s unprofessional and partially because I have pretty drama-free personal life, ended up indirectly costing me my job. When there were layoffs, I was the first to go because I was “disengaged” from my coworkers.

    Honestly? Totally worth it. These types of offices are typically below-the-surface toxic.

  73. Student*

    I would start out by saying that I don’t have time this week due to deadlines, skip me this time.

    Then, if I couldn’t get out of it, I’d probably engage in some significant exaggeration / embellishment, with intent to be funny and transparent about it. Or I’d tell a funny story, probably from a previous job.

  74. NavyLT*

    Put together 150 slides that are just photos of cats. Talk about them at length. Imply that the cats are your pets. When your coworkers ask you later on about your cats, give them a blank look and say, “I don’t have any pets.”

  75. So Very Anonymous*

    “My river of life is the Mississippi, because I grew up in the St. Louis area. Here are 50 slides of the Mississippi in its many moods. Here’s the year it flooded all the way up to the Arch. Here’s a photo of Mark Twain, who wrote a lot about the Missi— What? I thought this was supposed to be about our river of life? …. Ohhhhh.”

  76. Mike C.*

    I think if I had a gun to my head I would make the most generic, non-specific presentation possible.

    Hi, I’m Mike C. I went to sleep last night. I consume food approximately three times a day. On and on and on and on.

  77. ggg*

    “I was the original understudy for Sarah Jessica Parker when she played Annie on Broadway. Since then, I have won four Junior World Championships in ice dancing, filled up my mouth with superglue twice, won Ben Stein’s money and used the proceeds to start a successful artisanal sheep cheese business. Exactly one of these facts is true.”

  78. Nichole*

    Because of the nature of my job it benefits me to be visibly “human” rather than 100% professional in all ways, so pieces of my personal life are visibly displayed in my office. Giving people something small to relate to is a great tool for building relationships (I had no idea how many people in my building are into Star Trek until the autographed photos went up…). That being said, I think it’s completely ridiculous to try to build that camaraderie via a forced presentation, and I love PowerPoint more than anyone should. I suggest ending your presentation with a photo of Lavar Burton. That seems to go over pretty well. (Believe it or not, Lavar was not one of the autographs, that was pure coincidence.)

  79. Willow+Sunstar*

    My old dept. used to do this for new employees until we got a new CEO. Thankfully, I got hired on at a time when it was not being done, and so never had to do it.

    I would say if they still force you to do it, put a harmless hobby you enjoy, and photo of a pet or musical instrument you played as a child and call it done.

  80. OP*

    Thanks to everyone for your advice, and for making me spit my coffee all over my desk from laughing at Holy Hanukkah Balls. I can’t say where I work but I will say more– its a public school and I am a teacher. That’s why I am working 80 hours a week. The administration kicked off the presentations by sharing about divorces, eating disorders, deaths, all kinds of thing I don’t want to know. I do think if I don’t participate I will definitely be Not One of Them. Which I am happy to be. I am looking for another job where the culture is a little bit more sane.

    1. Anonsie*

      Ohhhhhh wow. I almost said before “what kind of atmosphere are they trying to cultivate? Like you’re in school?” I guess I wasn’t wrong on that one.

      I’m someone who just loooves to talk about myself (see above) to a fault and I would still not be comfortable with this if the kickoff was divorce death eating disorder. That just goes to a weird place from the start.

    2. Adonday Veeah*

      Oh, dear one, it sounds like they’re trying to out-disaster each other! What a horrible corner they’re trying to paint you into! Invent a time when your mommy forgot to pick you up after school in the 3rd grade and how it marked you for life. Then move on. Thank your lucky stars you only have to do this once!

      1. Tau*

        “A dog stole my teddy bear when I was seven. It was so traumatic I’ve been afraid of dogs ever since”

        This actually did happen to me and it makes an amazing deadpan answer when someone asks me why I don’t like dogs. I happily give permission for anyone who wants to use it as a Tragic Story (TM).

    3. LisaV2*

      OMG!!!!!! I was just thinking about how when I worked at a school the encouraged “oversharing” especially at faculty meetings and section meetings. When we regrouped from summer break we were encouraged to submit a picture that spoke to our learning and growing over the summer. I sent in the NETFLIX logo and said I discovered TV and it was the best thing ever. I wasn’t even being ironic or sarcastic.

    4. Amy*

      You could create a powerpoint that sticks mainly to work skills and skills/experience acquired through volunteer work or travel. Think of it as a live-action resume that you might want to use in a job interview at some time… some time soon!

  81. NutellaNutterson*

    I love the ideas about making it like a generic get-to-know-you portion of a job interview.

    If you wanted to spend an extra five minutes, it could be all team-player-ish to answer questions you feel comfortable with from something like the Proust Questionnaire.

    Start and end with pictures of cute animals and your co-workers will feel good about whatever you say in between. (Seriously, the happy feelings from oxytocin is crazy stuff, man!)

  82. Alma*

    You could take photos of the rock “Flat Stanley” style in different locations to illustrate your presentation. I would even do obvious open source images of places with a copy of a picture of the rock pasted on it. Draw sunglasses or a tie (for more formal occasions) onto the image with a Sharpie.

  83. Bunny*

    LIE LIKE CRAZY…but do so skillfully…stuff they can’t prove/disprove…tell them that, when younger, you were with special ops and are a trained killer…say it with a total deadpan voice/straight face.. And tell them all of you work was top secret.(read: don’t piss you off & I can’t talk about it so don’t ask). There will be nervous laughter…but they will leave you alone.

  84. Natalie Anne Lanoville*

    Meh. I wouldn’t have a problem with sharing my ‘life river’ with my co-workers – or anybody really. I men my life hasn’t been perfect, but whose is?

    If I were asked, the Powerpoint presentation I would present to my co-workers would highlight my childhood in Manhattan, trying to fit into a family of eccentric geniuses after my adoption.

    Childhood memories would include writing a play in which my brothers and next-door-neighbour performed, secretly smoking on the roof and losing a finger on a freak accident with my birth family.

    I’d include pictures of my two husbands (a reggae musician and noted psychiatrist) and perhaps a Vine clip from my recently-mounted semi-autobiographical theatre piece.

    No biggie.

  85. ReanaZ*

    Oh, god. Do you work for my old employer? Has anyone ever said “Teamwork makes the dream work.” without a hint of irony? Do you have to evaluate every fucking thing you do with a “Plus/Delta”? When you get evaluated are you aiming for WOW!?

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