Did you know that you spend around 90,360 hours at work during your lifetime? I usually only write about my job in the most vague terms but work is, and always has been, a really important and vital part of my life.
A hundred years ago, when I left my first professional job, I remember it felt like somebody died. At the time, Andy, who, shockingly wasn't in touch with my emotions, asked me why I was felt this way. I told him I was so upset because I felt like I was leaving my family. I can still remember, clear as day, when I gave my resignation. I had just taken a ride in the Oscar Meyer wiener hot dog mobile (Yeah I know I had an awesome job) and I felt incredibly sick to my stomach. I went home that night and cried like somebody died. I remember Andy asking me why I was so upset and I wasn’t sure how to articulate it. Looking back now I better understand why I had such a visceral reaction to leaving my employer. I think part of it was because it was my first real job. I think part of it was because I was scared because I didn’t know what was ahead of me. Maybe part of it was because I felt like I was letting people down because I knew that I was leaving a void and that people had counted on me to do a job. Mostly I was upset because I was not going to be spending my days with people who had become a really important part of who I was.
I needed to grow, and I don’t regret my decision to leave my first job. I’m really proud to say that I stay in touch with many of the people that I worked with at that time because they were my first work family. They were my work family when I was just a work kid learning how to be a work person in the working world. Looking back, I remember those days with rose-colored glasses.
I recently learned that a colleague of mine is leaving my current workplace. I have been at this workplace for over a decade and some days it’s hard to believe that I’ve been there so long and I’ve seen a lot of people come and I've seen a lot of people go and I’m really grateful for all the people that I’ve met through my work. I’m always excited when someone leaves, particularly on their own terms, at the right time in the right place, because that’s what we all look for when it’s time to make a career shift. But I can’t help being sad because I'm not just losing a colleague. I’m losing a family member.
Part of my job is to teach professionalism and of course we all know the first rule in the professional world is not to get close to anybody and to develop a healthy barrier between work and the rest of our lives. There’s the employee handbook and then there's this unspoken, unwritten protocol about how you’re supposed to act in the workplace with all these rules, all of this etiquette. Yet, let’s face it. Like I said, we spend more time at work then we do with our actual families. Our coworkers see us at our best. Our coworkers see us at our worst, our coworker see us when we are proud and when we are disappointed. They see us when we’re ready to grow, they see us when we don’t think that we could do something and we did. Our coworkers are there when we test our limits and they are witness to the moments when we didn't test them enough. On those particularly intense days, we eat three meals a day with them. Sometimes we travel across the country (maybe for some, the world) with our colleagues. We celebrate special occasions with them and often they know our personal disappointments because they need to be there for us in a place and at a time we aren't supposed to show that we are hurting because that's not what you do when you are a professional.
How can we pretend that severing ties with people you spend more hours with than your actual family is easy thing to do? And of course you’ll stay in touch. Of course you’ll see each other's Facebook posts and Instagram feeds and Twitter updates.
But it’s just not the same.
It’s just not the same as sitting across from someone in a meeting, looking at them and seeing their eye twitch just slightly and knowing exactly what they’re thinking at that moment because you can read their face that well.
It’s just not the same as sharing an inside joke about something really silly that isn’t funny to anybody but you and your work people.
It isn't the same as everyone trying to sneak the birthday card around the office so you don't see it but you really do but you pretend you don't and act surprised when you get it.
It's not the same as busting your butts on a project and only you and your work peeps understand how hard it was but also how gratifying.
But everything changes. Nothing stays the same. And when it comes to personal and professional growth that’s just the way that it should be. I know that it is time for my coworker to grow and I wish them the best and I know that they will quickly become a confidant to someone at their new workplace just as they have been for me. They will no longer be a part of my work family they will always be a part of my extended family as a friend.
I may be unorthodox in the barriers that I don’t have at work but you have to be when you are in the business of developing human beings. Or at least you have to be if you want to be successful at it. You can’t pretend that people matter between 9 to 5 Monday through Friday if they actually do you matter to you. So, to my work peeps, past, present and future: you matter to me and I thank you for letting me matter to you.