Invited by world renowned singing teacher Dr Robert Alderson, to up sticks to Manchester to study opera, the now 25-year old Darwin Prakash tells a story of not telling his parents about the offer for fear they would not be on board with it. Prakash now has a full scholarship with the Royal Academy of Music, performed as a guest soloist for the reopening of the Royal Opera House in Mumbai, and has sung on the main stage of the Glyndebourne Opera House. A feel-good story, certainly, about someone who before 2014 had no formal training in music and singing, and couldn’t read music.
Keeping from his parents the reason for his move to Manchester might of course have placed Mr Prakash in the realms of secrecy. Everyone has secrets, right? And the psychology of secret-keeping suggests that if we’re keeping something that is not actively endangering anyone else, we don’t have to feel too bad for being secretive; keeping a secret doesn’t necessarily make us inauthentic.
Professor Michael Slepian, from Columbia Business School, studies the psychology of secret-keeping and has discovered that on average each person is holding on to 13 secrets, 5 of which they’ll never tell a single person. In two different studies, he found that keeping secrets can have a negative impact on a person’s well-being – but also that it’s the thinking about keeping the secret that more likely does harm, rather than the nature of the secret itself.
For Darwin Prakash, the secrecy didn’t last long – he talks of owning up to his parents … “listen mummy and daddy, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.” For the rest of us, it seems that to minimise the impact of secret-keeping on our health and well-being, a controlled release is advised – admitting your secret to even just a few people is thought to help you to feel more authentic. Professor Slepian suggests that this might include a therapist, a counsellor, or another trusted confidant. Even revealing a secret anonymously online can be beneficial. (Yes, there are sites that exist for you to do this.)
Mr Prakash had his mum and dad to reveal his secret to. And dare I add … for that secret you’re holding on to in the workplace, how about seeking the help of someone there who can help you? Your manager, a co-worker, a critical friend, a mentor, or a coach? Find someone you can trust. Tell them about your secret for the right reason. As benign as your secret might be, just talking about it might work wonders.