Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go AKA Work Friends

You can’t spend 40+ hours a week working and not forge relationships with people. Some of those relationships sputter and spurt and remain completely professional. Others take root a bit deeper and friendship develops.  Like mom’s group friends, some stick and some didn’t.  I feel that each job I have had gave me at least one amazing friend that stuck. Someone that I remain connected with at some level; someone whose presence in my life – regardless of how often or how small – I value.

Working at a nonprofit is a lot like being at college, there is often a dorm-like atmosphere that fosters friendships deep and fast.  I even fixed one of these friends up with her husband –though I wasn’t completely honest about her fixation with ice hockey.  She and her husband sat with me in an emergency room in the early stages of my pregnancy – and held my hand through that scary night.  Her husband was one of the first to call me when we learned my mother was dying.  It was while working in nonprofit that I met one of my Big Susan’s, T.  We met through my boss and within days were taking a work-related road trip and bonding over Carly Simon sung at the top of our lungs while getting lost en route to Richmond.  I will never let her forget that despite her current impeccable wardrobe and appearance, she was wearing shorts kept closed with a pin.

I learned a lot working at a mental health organization. A whole lot. It also brought me some terrific friends.  P, a dear soul who lives around the world and still has a kind word – just the right word - when needed.  And M, who is hard to describe. My inability to share of myself annoyed the crap out of her and was hurtful.  But, she’s still my friend. We’ve followed each other cross country and spent more than one Yom Kippur together – observing this serious Day of Atonement while talking about food.  We talk family in all of its imperfections – endless chats about about how much they annoy us and why they are so important.  I’ve been thinking of M a lot lately and missing her a great deal.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my great friend, G.  He was a volunteer where I worked. He took me under his wing and has kept me there ever since.  He treats me like a queen (and he should know), knocks me down a peg or two when that is needed and had the chutzpah to take me on my first (uh, and only) camping trip.  He’s a brave soul who has seen me at my worst and made me better.  I know my house won’t be fully decorated until he puts on his personal touch.

Work now is different. Most of us have outside families and obligations so daily happy hours are not the norm though we grow misty that the days of a 2-martini lunch are gone.  I’ve met some really great folks and can’t imagine my work days without them.  Sometimes, our work friendship has filtered into the off-hours, sometimes it has not. Regardless, we celebrate milestones – both personal and professional, we have supported one another in grief, where titles and locations drop away and you simply do what is right and what needs to be done.  I remain touched that A called to share the news of her mother’s sudden death.  Despite distance – both geographical and emotional – she reached out to me in a time of grief, knowing I would understand and that no words were required.  I hung up the phone and cried for her. 

Another work friend and I regularly schedule “Break Bread Wednesdays” where we are determined to try new places to eat monthly.  Some of us go up to the café every morning to get ice, water, coffee, etc.  We rarely talk work.  We trade recipes, encourage each other to really go home when we’re sick and check in on one another when we’re having “one of those days.”  We send snarky emails or instant messages.  We talk about our pets. We loan each other books and pass along kid toys.  We vent.  We make fun of what people consider work appropriate clothing.

Many work friendships have slipped away. Time, distance or the loss of that common bond? I don’t know. I miss many of those friends. Some I remain Facebook friends with so at least we know what’s going on – even from afar.

For some of my work friends, I don’t know their home phone number nor have I been to their homes.  It doesn’t matter. For 40+ hours a week, I’ve had work friends make me laugh on the worst of days and act as sounding boards so other days don’t get so bad.  They have been and are my work family.  They make Monday’s less blah and punching the time clock a hell of a lot more fun.

Thanks work friends. See you around the water cooler.

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