Archive for the ‘work’ Category
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
Last week, a New York Times opinion piece, The ‘Busy’ Trap, made the rounds on the Internet. And nearly everyone who shared it (myself included) did so with a sort of perverse pride. “Hah, this is so me. Busted!”
Which is ironic, given the article’s thesis. We’re not busy out of necessity. We’re busy out of hubris – it makes us feel more important when our every waking hour is spent on work or an extracurricular. And while I’d argue that some of the busiest people I know are genuinely busy doing genuinely valuable things, overall the author presents a solid (and damning) case. When prompted, we enjoy lamenting about the insane pace of our lives. In fact, these days we don’t even have to wait to be asked. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, etc, we can now volunteer commentary on how busy and important we are at any hour to an ever-available audience. And often, that audience responds. Instant validation.
I suck at carving out free time for myself. And yes, this admission is half humility, half brag (#humblebrag). But I tell myself that it’s okay, because my current busyness is a conscious, measured choice. Just like I’ll later choose to counterbalance these sleep-deprived years by embracing the opposite extreme. Take a year or two to live on some remote, exotic beach. Write a novel. Meditate and do yoga daily.
But here’s the problem with that plan, as charming as it sounds (aside from the obvious economic challenges). Relaxation isn’t merely the absence of busyness. It’s an art, a skill. It takes as much practice to learn to calibrate to an agenda-less existence as it does to a 16-hour workday.
When I studied abroad in Seville, Spain my junior year of college, I was initially enamored with the slow pace of life and a relative absence of responsibility. Classes were a joke and warranted attendance about a third of the time. My host family only hosted for financial benefit, and didn’t care to see me outside of meals. Every day was the same: some combination of napping, attending a class (or not), tanning alongside the Gaudalquivir river, binging on pirated episodes of 24 (Spanish TV is flat-out awful, sorry), eating too much fried food and drinking too much wine, and hitting the discotecas until sunrise.
But after the novelty of it all subsided, I began to go a little insane. My days had no purpose, no structure. I’d invent random tasks for myself, like reading The Economist – one of the few English-language magazines I could get my hands on – cover to cover each week. I planned and took trips to stay occupied, and probably (okay, definitely) drank way too much. My surroundings were exotic, my days were wide open, and I couldn’t wait to return to my overscheduled, goal-oriented life.
If I had a difficult time making the transition in college, I can only imagine how hard it would be for me now. Back then, I had no iPhone, no Twitter. I’d check my email maybe once or twice a day. Today, I am incessantly, obsessively connected. And by extension, busy. And oh-so important.
I think most of us who’ve fallen into the “busy trap” like to kid ourselves that we could crawl out of it at will. We go on vacation and read in the sun and pat ourselves on the back for only checking email once a day. Busyness is a choice, and we can choose to disconnect. It’s that simple.
Except that it’s not. We measure our self worth by what we do each day, and in what volume. Vacations don’t change that equation, they merely hit pause on the calculation.
I have to imagine that this is why some women who decide to stay at home and raise children have a difficult time with that transition. Or why people who lose their jobs fall into such deep depression. Obvious challenges associated with both those scenarios aside, the entire way we value ourselves (and assume others value us) crumbles.
Is our generation going to be capable of appreciating retirement, or will we be too far gone?
Let’s say I do find a way to make my beachy retreat from the world work. Would I even know how to feel good about myself in those circumstances? Could I survive without structure, ubiquitous connection and constant feedback? Or would I falsely build those into my new life?
It might be worth the agony of an exotic ex-pat adventure to find out. Someday.
Last week, I had the privilege of attending Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dinner in New York.
Now, before you declare that the most obnoxious and unlikely sentence ever written, let’s be clear. I wasn’t exactly invited. Alas, my evil plans for power accrual have been stalled by the remodel of my underground lair.
I didn’t crash the party, either. Rather, my awesome (and far more powerful) boss couldn’t make it at the last minute, and she graciously allowed me to go in her place. How lucky am I?!
But then the plane ticket purchasing high subsided. And it hit me: I was about to be the Least Powerful Woman at a Most Powerful Women dinner. By about 20 rungs. And let’s be real here, I’m probably not even on the same ladder.
Oh. Em. Gee.
Panicked, I immediately began: a) scouring the interwebs for an outfit so perfect it would compensate for all other deficiencies, and b) preemptively drafting a series of self-deprecating tweets to have on hand. Ya know, the standard coping mechanisms.
Why the freak out? It’s not like I’m totally unaccustomed to hanging out with a more powerful set. The Valley is filled with brilliant people, and I’m often the least impressive and intelligent person in a room. I legit love that.
But it’s different when it’s an invite-only event, and the people invited have all earned the right to be there. Would they (politely) question my right? Would they even want to talk to me at all? And if not, could I overcome my chronic networking paralysis and summon the courage to talk to them? Standing in a corner and praying to be hit on for the sake of conversation was unlikely to work, given the obvious lack of Y chromosomes. Er, not that I’ve ever done that.
Well, the big night arrived. And the women milling about during the cocktail hour were, as expected, crazy impressive in every way imaginable. Some I knew by name, others I had to surreptitiously google later in the bathroom. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, because it doesn’t seem right to namedrop anyone here.
Except maybe when it comes to Martha Stewart. I think she’s fair game. And she was positively regal. As soon as she entered the room, the volume dropped and every head turned. And even though my commitment to the domestic arts has dropped precipitously since the age of eight, I just had to meet her.
Which never would have happened, if the powerful woman I was chatting with at the time hadn’t pulled me across the room, depositing me firmly in front of the Queen of Homemaking herself.
“Martha, this is Ashley,” she said.
“Hello dear,” Martha cooed. “Are you an intern?”
Staring into Martha’s impossibly tan, impossibly smooth face (holy skincare regimen, isn’t this woman sixty-something??), I was so nervous I almost said yes. Whatever you want me to be, Martha.
I did, I think, manage to get out one word.
Martha nodded politely, and my escort provided a few more helpful details about my identity. And then Martha was gone, her earth tone-clad body gliding through the crowd.
(I think I made a good impression.)
The dinner portion of the evening was fantastic. Everyone was chatty and friendly and interesting. The speakers were truly inspiring, and amazingly humble. They’d overcome some crazy shit, and many of them – despite their near-omnipotence – seemed to have far more balanced lives than I.
They also killed – or at least challenged – some assumptions of mine. I’ll admit to being wary of the effect that power can have on women. Rising to the top ranks in Corporate America seems to require a pretty substantial degree of aggression and ego (not to mention pantsuits, barf). The same goes for men, but these traits are already in line with the accepted male stereotype. I guess I just don’t like the idea of femininity and power being inversely related, which is one of the reasons why I’m such a Sheryl Sandberg fangirl.
So anyway, I did it. Great success, as Borat would say.
To celebrate my survival, I headed straight into another terrifying situation: karaoke-ing. Eek. And who happened to be getting his sing on in the East Village, but the one and only Adrian Grenier (sans any sort of entourage).
Funnily enough, I wasn’t even fazed. Perhaps I’d accrued some power at the prior event. And by power, I mean booze, natch.
It’s hard not to feel like a second-class citizen in Silicon Valley. In a world where everyone seemingly has a startup, an idea for a startup, or an idea for an idea for a startup (this latter group being the largest contingent), I am boringly uninspired. 95% of my mental energy goes into my job, and the other 5% is reserved for Scrabble matches.
The entrepreneur worship in the Valley is extreme – although you could argue that a large portion of it is self-worship. For every brilliant and successful entrepreneur, there are hundreds (thousands?) planning to build a “Netflix for cats.” Or worse, they are entrepreneurs in search of an idea. Um, order of operations??
I don’t mean to sound so frickin curmudgeonly. The audacious, pursue-crazy-ideas-against-all-odds mentality is a big part of why I love living and working in the tech community. I guess I’m just tired of feigning engrossment in the composition of an oh-so urgent tweet whenever conversation turns to everyone’s world changing ideas. Market demand and business models be damned. Gah, curmudgeon!
But in the past 24 hours, I’ve read two (totally unrelated) posts that make me feel much, much better about my lacking entrepreneurial spirit.
The first, The Secret Guild of Silicon Valley, shines a light on perhaps the least visible but most essential Valley contingent. Or as the author puts it, “They are part of a nomadic band of software tradesmen, who have mentored one another over the last four decades in Silicon Valley, and they have quietly, steadily built the infrastructure behind the world’s most successful companies.”
And then this quip from Dustin Moskovitz at last night’s PandoMonthly interview, “The 100th engineer at Facebook did way better than the vast majority of entrepreneurs in the Valley.” And they’ve also “had more impact.”
I think impact is the most important point. There are a multitude of companies in the Valley serving millions or tens of millions of users each, with employee counts in the hundreds (or in Instagram’s crazy case, the teens). That’s a pretty powerful ratio.
Which isn’t to say that I would never ever do the startup thing. If I had a brilliant, all-consuming idea, I like to think I’d go for it. (And yes, I know I’m a PR chick with no programming skills, but hey, a girl can dream.)
But in the meantime, I’m going to forgive myself for being content helping to build a company that I fiercely believe in, but had no part in starting.
And maybe I’ll compile an arsenal of really, really horrid company ideas to deliver deadpan the next time peeps want to talk startups at a dive bar.
The upside to being busy is that it forces you to be very intentional about how you spend your time. And I’m finding that most pursuits worth pursuing fall into one of two categories:
- Things that require significant input and have a predictable, highly desirable outcome.
- Things that require minimal input and have an unlikely, highly desirable outcome.
This is generally how I try to prioritize my time at work. If something doesn’t fit either of these descriptions, there’s a good chance it’s not worth doing. But I think this framework might apply more broadly, beyond the to-do list.
In the first category, we have undertakings that are time and labor intensive, but where the time and labor put in largely determine what you get out. Learning to play the guitar, for instance. Or training for a marathon. Crazy amounts of practice and training required, but every hour will show up in your performance.
The second category is all about pursuits that require very little effort relative to the awesomeness of the potential result. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against you and mostly out of your control. Maybe you’re applying on a whim for your absolute dream job. The work required to put together a solid cover letter is miniscule compared to the transformative impact of actually getting the offer. But you’re likely up against thousands of other (more) qualified candidates. Same dynamic when it comes to asking someone out on a date – a relatively easy (albeit terrifying, IMO) effort, and one that pays dividends if it turns into a legit, lasting connection. But with all the fish in the sea, it’s unlikely you’ll catch your soul mate.
You’re probably thinking: well, duh. There’s really nothing particularly mind-blowing about either of these classifications. I agree. What’s powerful – at least in my (potentially crazy) mind – is their combination. When we’re taking on massive projects, we go into heads-down mode, tuning out any unrelated distractions. When we’re feeling desperate or adventurous, we tend to get lazy and just throw spaghetti against the wall and pray that something sticks.
In the first case, success is best achieved by laser focus. You probably shouldn’t try to organize a wedding, learn to speak Italian, and remodel a home all in tandem. Volume is your enemy. But in the second case, volume is your friend. You’re effectively playing a numbers game. The more bets you place, the more likely that one of them will pay off. And focus can be limiting – in fact, you probably want to diversify. Experiment.
And because of these very different mentalities, it’s pretty difficult (and not at all intuitive) to consistently and simultaneously pursue efforts that fall into both categories. But if you can force yourself to do it, I think it’s an interesting way to work, and an interesting way to live.
Take on the massive, super important projects, and execute the hell out of them. These hard-earned accomplishments are what will make you successful and fulfilled.
But also carve out some time – you really don’t need much – to place easy bets on the long shots. Even if unsuccessful, these attempts will keep you hopeful and alert to new opportunities. And if one pans out, it can take your life in an entirely new and unexpected direction.
Which probably means I should blog more. Ya know, just in case the Julie and Julia lightning decides to strike twice and someone wants to give me a book deal.
Lately, a few friends with startups have asked me to share PR advice with their teams. Which I find both flattering and frightening. Flattering because…well, duh. And frightening because I already secretly feel like a bit of a fraud. Any moment now, someone is going to call my bluff and point out that I’m really just figuring this stuff out as I go along.
Like a lot of people in the Valley who were lucky enough to join a company pre-hyper growth, I’ve found myself in a role that’s arguably beyond my years of experience. Fortunately, in startup land, this is not necessarily a deal breaker. Speed, agility and willingness to experiment can trump – or at least help compensate for – been-there-done-that.
But one of the outcomes of relentlessly creating, iterating and experimenting at startup pace – regardless of whether you’re in PR, engineering or business development – is that you rarely take time to really reflect and digest. My favorite term for this is ‘success amnesia.’ So you just pulled off the BIGGEST thing you’ve ever taken on? Nice, what’s the next big(ger) thing? This mentality is incredibly productive. You’re always moving forward, never pausing to administer pats on backs or languor in post-victory bliss. There’s just too much cool shit on the horizon.
But there’s also a lot to be gained from reflection, and this is where mentoring others is counterintuitively self-serving. It’s a great forcing function for analysis that you wouldn’t otherwise prioritize, because there’s just so damn much to get done. People ask you questions you wouldn’t even think to ask yourself. They need you to abstract insights from the specifics of your announcement and your company. And they force your today-and-tomorrow-oriented mind to recall the missteps and successes of yesterday.
Plus, it’s fun sharing the war stories. I happen to love my job, and I like to think I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes and triumphs of the past few years (emphasis on mistakes). And passing on whatever knowledge I may have accumulated can only be a good thing. I can’t speak for other professions, but my theory is that it’s not a zero sum game in PR. There’s a lot of animosity towards PR peeps (the consummate middlemen/women), and a fair amount of it is deserved. I hate that. Helping others not make mistakes I’ve maybe made out of ignorance, and generally trying to raise the overall bar will hopefully have good network effects.
Which will in turn benefit me. Bwahaha. My evil plan is working.*
Confession: I actually like working on the weekends. I can get ahead of the upcoming week, free myself up for any unanticipated Monday developments (the Internet is a crazy place, after all), and better coax my ADD-brain into tackling longer form projects.
But every weekend, I do the same. Damn. Thing.
I promise myself that this time I won’t save everything for Sunday evening, which invariably means I’m up crazy late. Instead, I’ll spread the work out. Get up early on Saturday, perhaps, and check a few to-do boxes over a latte. But without fail, I always end up procrastinating until Sunday night.
Which totally sucks. Not only do I feel shitty about not meeting my goal, but I’ve also sabotaged the rest of my non-working weekend with guilt.
This time around, I tried something new. I accepted that I wouldn’t get to my work until the very end of our glorious three-day weekend (so in this case, a Monday), and I gave myself a free pass to just enjoy myself until then.
And it was AWESOME.
Ask any habitual procrastinator, and they’ll tell you their biggest source of anxiety isn’t the adrenaline-fueled eleventh hour (that’s actually kinda fun). Rather, what plagues us are hours one through ten, when we know we should be working, but almost certainly won’t, if prior data is any indication. Sure, we all have highly developed powers of compartmentalization, but we still spend time feeling guilty about just how highly developed these powers are.
So new goal: when I already know I’m going to put off doing something, I’m just going to roll with it. This mentality goes beyond near-term, definitive deadlines. Want to join CrossFit but know you won’t have time until the Spring? Enjoy your curves while you still have em. Or, on a more serious note: to all my friends who love what they do for a living, but feel the pressure to get a “real,” better paying job; or dig the single life, but worry they should be settling down – give yourself a free pass. Pick an age, any age, and go ahead and postpone tackling that responsible, adult milestone until then.
Because if you’re not ready, you’re not going to do it anyway, silly. So you may as well have fun in the interim.
So, huge nerd alert. I’d ask you to withhold judgment, but that doesn’t seem reasonable.
I’m in 2012 planning mode at work, so naturally I decided to give my personal life the same treatment. To start, I listed various dimensions of my life – work, social, romantic, creative, fitness, hobbies, etc – and then ranked my level of optimization for each. (I know, I know. But I have friends that use Excel spreadsheets to track relationships, so I’ve come to think that this behavior is not only normal, but rather clever.)
Diagnosis? I’m totally unbalanced. By my own very biased measurements, I’m quite optimized in some areas, like work and social (yeahhhh awesome job and kickass friends). But not so much in others, such as fitness and hobbies. Or my love life – which, while highly entertaining, probably does not satisfy the conventional metrics of success for a 26-year-old, especially as the engagement epidemic spreads.
Well fuck, what’s a girl to do? Should I subtract some points from my high-performing categories and spread the love around? Slow down my career to fast track future babies?
Oh hell no. Or at least that’s what I imagine Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg would tell me, if she and I were bffs and reviewing my chart over a few beers. (Sheryl, if you’re reading this, I’m a huge fangirl. First round is on me.)
After all, her mantra for women is “lean in,” as told to the lucky Barnard Class of 2011 in a commencement speech:
“Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.”
“Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision.”
Especially in the tech world, where there’s a constant blame-throwing frenzy to explain the shortage of female leaders, I love that Sheryl holds women accountable. Sure, there are some very real, very unfair extra hurdles. But at the end of the day, what we do with our careers is an individual – not institutional – decision. Blaming the system gets us nowhere.
And those “small little decisions” that women are prone to making are dangerous. They pretty much rob us of the chance to make any big decision later on. Because by the time we’re weighing a career against marriage, or kids, or whatever, the career has already lost its luster.
“Leaning back” means that rather than choosing between options A and B, we’re downgrading A in hopes of optimizing for an unknown X. Which sucks, because you can’t really optimize for the unknown.
But to only apply this logic in favor of career escalation would be narrow-minded. For the same reason that you shouldn’t take yourself out of the running for a promotion because you worry it might compromise a future relationship, you also shouldn’t give up the hobby that you love because it will surely be unmanageable when you have your yet-to-be-born children. Nor should you abandon a great relationship because it might, in the future, distract you from your career. (See, the reverse is possible, too.)
Do everything that makes you happy, and do it fully, until you reach a breaking point. And only then make a decision, because only then will you actually have a decision to make.
I’m really glad that “sleep” wasn’t on my optimization chart.
My great uncle passed away recently. I wish I could say I knew him better, but by all accounts he was an amazing, loving and well-loved man. From an outside view, his life can be described in lengthy, sweeping chapters. Born and raised in Suffield, Connecticut, one of three brothers. Went to college at Yale. Returned to Suffield, where he took over the family business and started a family of his own. He ran the family business until retirement, and won awards for his unprecedented Rotary Club meeting attendance streak, something that gave him great pride.
One job, one hometown. 91 years.
That’s a way of living that I find hard to relate to. I belong to a generation with ADD in its DNA. We plow through jobs, cities and dates like they’re going out of style. We have twenty tabs open in our browsers, and dozens of apps on our iPhones. We scour Yelp for new and untried restaurants, because why be a regular when you can be a pioneer? Whether with a newly-hatched tweet or a fresh Foursquare check-in, we’re incessantly self-iterating.
OkCupid profiles include a section titled, “I’m really good at…” Most entries are obvious attempts to appeal to potential mates: cooking, playing guitar, making you smile (barf). But the other week, I received a message from someone who listed “uncertainty.” And I thought:
1) Props. That’s refreshingly original.
2) Me too.
In fact, uncertainty is perhaps the thing that I’m best at. I wish I could chalk it all up to nature, but nurture deserves some credit. The four years I’ve now lived in San Francisco are the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. Growing up, it seemed like each time we’d finally finished remodeling (the price of having an interior designer mother and power tool-savvy father), it was time to pack up and move again. We lived in some pretty cool spots: an avocado ranch in San Diego, a desert retreat in Tucson, a teeny tiny bungalow in Laguna Beach, an old farm house outside of Philadelphia, and many more. Moving so often, you have a lot of opportunities for reinvention. My less subtle example: alternating between Ashley (my first name) and Madeline (middle) with each move throughout elementary school.
As an “adult” my zig-zagging continues. I veered off the law school track at the eleventh hour, stumbled into technology PR, and now work for a startup. I’ve held two jobs in four years, which is relatively steady for a Millennial. (Pats self on back.)
I love my job, but I don’t plan on doing it through retirement (is that even an option??), nor do I plan on finding a clone for my next gig. I totally dig San Francisco, but how can I commit to living here forever when there are dozens of amazing cities I want – need – to experience first hand. I don’t even know how I’d segment my life if not by moves.
I like this about myself. I feel adaptable, flexible, adventurous. But I’d be pretty naive if I didn’t acknowledge the downsides.
What if I feel compelled to always change for the sake of change, without improvement? This is fairly harmless when it comes to hairstyles or go-to brunch spots. But it’s not okay when it comes to relationships, and it’s not smart when it comes to jobs.
What if life gives me exactly what I want…and then I’m bored with it?
This hasn’t happened yet. I’m ridiculously happy, and far from bored. But I start to worry when I look at a consistent, fulfilled life like my great uncle’s, and can’t even imagine how I’d go about living it. There’s something so enviable about deriving pleasure from predictability. And something a little worrisome about craving uncertainty.
Maybe I read Oh the Places You’ll Go one too many times as a child. Or maybe this is just a symptom of being in my twenties, watching people my age begin to put down roots, and wanting to do the exact opposite.
Last week, another voice entered the ongoing debate about why there are so few female entrepreneurs in tech. In this case, the voice actually belonged to a female entrepreneur – Penelope Trunk, who attempted to spell out how VCs can address the “woman problem.”
Many explanations have been offered for why there’s such a shortage of female entrepreneurs. Some thoughtful, some surprising, and some plain uncomfortable.
But none have made me angry. Until now.
Penelope’s intro is overly simplistic. Basically, women don’t do startups because women want babies. And even when we’re in our pre-baby making years (late twenties), we’re too busy being happy. The happiest we’ll ever be. And happiness and startups are, apparently, mutually exclusive.
Whatever. That’s not the part that bothers me. The baby thing is legit, but it’s a consideration for every maternally-inclined career-driven woman. So that doesn’t go far enough. The happiness argument is just plain dumb, so I’m ignoring it.
But I can’t ignore Penelope’s recommendations for VCs, which are straight-up offensive. If VCs really want to encourage women to get into the startup game, she says, they need to “change the equation.”
Changing the equation apparently means changing (increasing) the salaries doled out upfront. Why? Because women love to shop. It makes us oh-so happy. So if VCs want to cater to female founders, it means less bootstrapping…and more shoe shopping?
If this were true, there wouldn’t just be a lack of women in founding roles, there would be a lack of women in startups, period. If we’re optimizing for shopping sprees, we’re far better off taking that higher paying, lower risk gig at a large, well-established company. Besides, our Manolo Blahniks would, like, totally clash with the jeans-and-t-shirt startup dress code.
Regardless of whether or not you have a Y chromosome, you don’t join a start-up for the money. You join a startup for a chance to make a disproportionate impact on something you think is important. You join because you love the idea that your role will grow and evolve in entirely unpredictable ways as you try to keep pace with growth of the company.
And to keep pace, you have to move fast. Which is why Penelope’s second recommendation to VCs is so absurd. Sorry, but if you want to bankroll women, you’ll have to say goodbye to speed.
Startups don’t move quickly because of personal style or some gender-based preference. They move quickly because expansion is usually essential to survival. If you’re exploiting a gap in the market, or taking advantage of some new technology, you generally don’t have the luxury of time. The competitive marketplace is gender-blind, and even if VCs were to make speed concessions for women-run companies, customers surely wouldn’t.
Maybe I’m just naïve. I haven’t started my own company. But I do work for a startup with four female execs, two of which joined early on. My sister works for a startup with a female co-founder, who happens to be pregnant with her second child. Yes, that’s an exception to the rule. And yes, there’s a very real shortage of female entrepreneurs. But saying that women don’t start companies because the early payout isn’t conducive to our shopping needs is just jaded. And suggesting that women should be allowed to grow their companies more slowly so that they can take longer breaks in the summer implies that women really aren’t in it to win it.
This is an important discussion to have, so let’s have a real one, please.
Okay, rant over.
Earlier this summer, I read a post that I’ve been meaning to respond to for awhile: 3 Reasons Workplace Friendships are a Lie. As the title suggests, we’re told that it’s best not to form friendships at work, and that the friendships we do form aren’t real ones. Which I couldn’t disagree with more, for reasons that are emotional, practical and philosophical.
Before I launch into my rant, let me start by saying that everyone – everyone – should hope that the logic behind the “3 Reasons” piece is faulty, including its author. For better or worse, work is where we spend the majority of our waking hours. To declare the workplace a no-fly zone for any real friendships is one of the saddest suggestions I’ve ever heard.
That said, I can totally relate the concerns that drive this argument. I went to high school with the co-founders of my current company and I was (still am) even pretty close friends with one of them. When I started, I was terrified about how that connection might negatively affect success in my new gig. Would my coworkers assume I didn’t deserve to be there? Would our non-work history make it hard for them to give me candid feedback? Would I feel weird pushing back?
Going to work for and with friends was one of the best decisions I ever made. Since joining, I’ve formed many other friendships that I would challenge anyone to call a “lie.” We hang out on weekends, know the non-work details of each others’ lives, and even go on trips together. And it’s not only my social life that’s gotten a boost because of it – I do my job better because my work relationships are work friendships, and I’m pretty sure my coworkers would argue the same.
The best analogy I can think of is that of a sports team. Believe it or not, I was a hardcore jock back in high school. I rocked warm-ups at school at least three days a week, and wore my hair down about once a year (for realz — I didn’t even know I had curly hair until I went to college because it was always in a ponytail). Anyway, no one would have ever, ever questioned the legitimacy and value of the friendships that were formed between teammates. We supported each other, challenged each other. The inherent camaraderie in sports is visible all the way up the food chain, from tee ball to the MLB. It is an indisputable tenant of team sports that you are better individually and as a group because of it.
The same dynamics are at work at work. You share a common goal (let’s WIN the market, dammit!). You offer support, advice and even criticism. You push one another to bring your A-game, every day. Hell, even a measure of competitiveness is healthy if you’re all competing to have the biggest impact on overall success. It isn’t zero sum. Everyone is a champion when the team wins.
Sure, it is way more personal if it’s a friend telling you that what you did wasn’t good enough, or that you need to try harder. But work should be personal. If I fail, I’m not letting my job description down, I’m letting my colleagues – and myself – down. And if those colleagues also happen to be my friends, I’m going to work even harder to make sure I’m delivering my best. When it comes to performance, we’re not motivated by our paychecks. Nor are we driven by checking boxes on arbitrary quarterly goals. We push ourselves to earn self-respect and the respect of our peers. Friendship merely amplifies this.
And lest you think my experience is all rainbows and unicorns, I’ve also been in work environments where friendships have drained – rather than driven – energy and motivation. Coworkers who bitched so much about their jobs that it was impossible to enjoy mine. People I counted as friends who were happy to throw me under the bus. But these are the symptoms of a toxic work environment, not its causes. Strained friendships reflect broader organizational and cultural problems, just as healthy connections mirror organizational and cultural awesomeness.
I am excited to come to work every day. My abs are rock solid from nonstop laughter (okay, that’s a lie, but they should be!), I make “that’s what she said jokes” at meetings — but I also work harder and with more passion because I really care about the people I’m working with, and because I’m having fun doing it. Especially in a role where you’re sacrificing that elusive “work-life balance,” having an actual life at work is essential. I’m having more fun now than I was in college, and it’s not because I’m getting a paycheck (although that’s nice, too).
Hopefully, I will always be lucky enough to work with and for friends. Only four-or-so years out of college, I’m blown away by what many of my friends have already accomplished. Imagine where they’ll be in five years? Hopefully I’ll be there with them.
And if that form of friend-nepotism is wrong, I don’t want to be right.