I must admit that I put so much time and effort into my work that it feels less like a ‘job’ and more like a primary relationship in my life. I have always been like that with all of my jobs, never one to just show up 9 to 5, work and then leave. My work has always been a defining and dynamic part of my life, and like relationships, I have related to different jobs in different ways, each job presenting unique challenges and opportunities. The work relationship feels like a mutual dance, sometimes of trust and passion, sometimes filled with anger and deep sadness, and sometimes a complex mix of it all.
I have played around with this metaphor of ‘job as relationship’ in my life, identifying the kind of job relationships that I have had. Here are some of the relationship metaphors that connect to my jobs in my career:
-Boyfriend who your parents/friends think is awesome but you don’t feel the spark – my job sounded like a perfect fit and in practical ways really was, but for some reason, there just wasn’t the spark of passion that I needed
-Abusive lover – the job where I was learning so much, had all the passion in the world (fell head over heels in love with John Mcknight and Community Development) but I literally had sewage leaking through the ceiling and dripping behind my head (as well as other horrible health concerns). Should I leave, should I stay? Should I leave, should I stay? When I left, I felt very sad but it was definitely the right decision.
-Best friend and long-term partner, but not ready to settle down – The job where I could completely be myself, my values completely aligned with mission and work, I was supported and loved and learned so much. But after 5 years, I needed more, in terms of leadership challenge and new excitement. I felt too young to settle down. I wanted new experiences from other jobs. But I cried every day for weeks after I submitted my resignation.
-Parisian ‘out of my league’ love affair – my fancy job, where I learned to wear heels and power suits to fit in, to ‘corporate’ speak and act. At first, I was enamored with the confidence and speed of it, by the flashy power points and fancy lunches. The energy was invigorating, with fast-paced meetings and daily targets to meet and concrete goals to achieve. But I quickly fell out of love, when I realized that my values didn’t match, when my opinion (and the option of others) didn’t matter, when I couldn’t bear to play the ego games anymore and my feet hurt from the heels. This was the only job that I felt completely peaceful and happy when I resigned.
And my job now? Happily married. Amazing, joyful, soul-filling marriage. It took me 40 years to find my true love, but I am so thankful that I have found it. My relationship (now 5 years) is a marriage – I give 100% because I care deeply about my work and the overall vision and mission. But I am also learning that because I’m in for the long haul, I need valuable me-time, to rest and restore and bring my best self to this relationship. I am thankful, challenged and inspired each and every day. Of course, there are both good and difficult moments and times when I feel frustrated, but like any good marriage, we communicate and work out the challenges and learn from these moments. I don’t fear future boredom, because my work is dynamic and constantly changing, and there is so much for me to learn. I feel blessed.
This metaphor of ‘job as relationship’ resonates with me, because it shifts my thinking about work from being narrowly about the job or the people, but to being more broadly about relationship to organizational culture and dynamics. The metaphor also helps me to recognize that we are all at different places at different times in our lives. For example, I have wondered if my ‘awesome boyfriend without a spark’ job would feel different now, when I am older and don’t need the same kind of spark as 18 years ago. But I will never know – we can only be exactly where we are. The organizational culture and dynamics go beyond any one person in an organization – ‘vibe’ seems to seep through the walls of a building, a feeling that we feel inherently within ourselves, while we may not be able to put our finger directly on it. Do I fit in here? Can my whole self be authentic here? Can I joyfully learn and grow here? Can I trust others, so that I can innovate and take risks? My suggestion: when you can say yes to these questions, then count your blessings and put a ring on it.