By Joni L. Miller, Ph.D.
As a Lenten practice I'm sending 40 letters of gratitude to people who impacted my life. This is Week 2 of 7. For whom are you grateful?
Work. The people we work with can be a source of aggravation or joy, often in the same day. We usually spend more time at work than we do anywhere else so it makes a big difference to your job satisfaction if you work with good people. I spent years absolutely hating what I did for a living. I didn’t know what else I should be doing and I was paid well, so I just kept on working. I spent most of my years in business working for federal government contractors preparing proposals. Proposals have can’t-miss deadlines, leading to some crazy work schedules, tension between team members, and being on-call 24/7 for tight turn-arounds for modifications. It’s rather a peculiar thing that I both (a) hated my job and (b) worked nonstop. My only explanation is that I was good at what I did and I care deeply about doing a good job, regardless of what I’m doing. The only things that kept me sane during that time were the wonderful people with whom I worked. People who became my friends, sometimes friends for the season we worked together and sometimes friends for life.
This is a story about a friend for life. I’ll call him “Bill.”1 Bill and I worked together for a decade, from shortly after I was divorced until I left the business world to go back to school to study counseling. We went through a lot of wild work experiences together and our relationship was both aggravating and joyous. We supported each other, laughed a lot, argued a lot, and tried to survive in a chaotic and unsupportive work environment. If I think hard I can remember times at customer meetings, or the odd bosses we had, but the image seared in my memory is of something else.
It was about nine years into our work relationship. I had gone on an interview during my lunch break in my seemingly never-ending quest to find work that was at least tolerable to me. When I returned to work I saw I had voicemail messages. I put my phone on speaker and listened as I got settled back in for work. My mother had called, not something she did often. She said in her message that my niece had been killed in a car accident. Killed. In a car accident. I started hyperventilating. Loudly. Someone who sat in a cube near my office ran in to see if I was okay. All I could say was, “Get Bill.”
Bill came in, curious. I was the steady one, so he knew something terrible had happened. I told him. He held me as I cried. Then he said, “What do you need me to do? You’re leaving, of course. Who do you need me to call? Can you drive? I’ll drive you home or wherever you need to go.”
He did talk to everyone I needed him to. And he and Robin1 (another friend for life) made sure the work got done in my absence. Okay, that was mostly Robin but Bill was the one who told her what happened so that counts as him helping. They both kept the annoying corporate people at bay so I could focus on my family and not think about work.
Care. Compassion. Understanding. Friendship forged through work but continues because of affection.
I’m sure Bill would rather me tell other stories about how funny he is or the costumes he wore when we had Halloween parties (the too-tight Batman costume was my personal favorite). He’d probably tell stories about me dropping the book of Federal Acquisition Regulations on the floor in a fit of anger while on a conference call, or about the time I swore a blue streak at him at 3 am when we were staying up all night putting together a $2B proposal. But this is the story that matters most to me – Bill taking charge with compassion and understanding when I needed it. Although we don’t see each other or correspond much now, I have no doubt if I asked Bill for a favor he would be there for me. Just leave the Batman costume at home, please.
What about you? How have your work colleagues impacted your life for the better? For whom are you grateful?
1Names may or may not have been changed. You decide.
By Joni Miller, Ph.D. © 2019
Photo by Lukas Horak on pexels.com