Business or Pleasure?


This evening I made my last trip of the semester downtown for supervision. I can’t say I was sad to see it end either. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, that fortunately ended on a high note. My biggest challenge… Letting the doctoral student I was assigned to help me grow as a human being. Week after week, I would go to supervision wanting to talk about a challenging case, learn new interventions, or gain insight on how to improve my counseling skills. However, my supervisor and I couldn’t have been more out of sync. When she zigged, I zagged. Every time I tried to talk about a client, she did everything in her power to make sure I talked about myself. How did supervision feel? How did our process in supervision parallel/mirror my work with clients? Why was it so difficult for me to receive personal feedback?

I work in a strange profession. The personal and the professional are often blurred. At my last job, coworkers became like family. Throughout my time as an RD, I have discovered I do the most powerful work with students when I “get real,” show them vulnerability, and come to our interactions with a posture of humility.  Despite the crucial role being relational has played, my job requires an insane amount of balance. Getting too personal or informal and losing the professional edge will be the downfall of any RD. Without the personal/professional balance students will either see you as a cold-hearted machine or a fellow student who can’t be respected. Both are catastrophic. Though I have hardly perfected it, I have come to pride myself in walking this tightrope at work. Transforming into a counselor has posed its own set of challenges as I attempt to maintain that personable, empathic vibe while not making my work with clients all about me while falling into a trap of self-disclosure.

My work in supervision, with clients, and in higher education has sparked a recurring conversation across all the settings I find myself in the recent months. The conversation goes a little something like this… Is it possible to be great at your job, but be a horrible person, or an incredible person who is awful at their job? To this I have been offering a resounding YES! It happens all the time! We’ve all heard stories of the supervisor, coworker, or assistant who we wouldn’t want to spend a second with outside of work, but we have to acknowledge he or she gets things done on the job. We’ve also experienced the inverse, thinking to ourselves, “I might really enjoy your company if I didn’t have to work with you.” In fact, we probably confront these scenarios more often than we’d like. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, kind people are not magically blessed with competence.

While I will argue to the death about the fact that being mean shouldn’t disqualify you from certain jobs any more than being friendly should get you the job of your dreams, that downtown, doctoral student may have made a larger impact on me than I’d like to admit. We aren’t fragmented people. Work leaks into our relationships with friends and family while our personal life trickles back down into our work. Particularly in the helping professions, business vs. pleasure get cloudy. Caring people are often promoted just by sticking around long enough to woo the right people and other times when mistakes are made and a relationship is fractured whether inside or outside of the work environment, the ripples that follow are far easier to feel among coworkers.

I want to work hard and be seen as capable and competent in the work environment and I want to be seen as a kind and caring person at home. I don’t want the fight I got into with a friend to impact my work any more than I want the mistake I made on paperwork in the professional environment to infiltrate my personal relationships, but it isn’t always that easy. We pack home into our lunchbox and make our way to work each morning and stuff our professions into our coat pockets before heading back home. If we’re honest, we have to admit that hating our job has a tangible effect on our happiness and stress at home makes our heads spin at work. Our personal stories help shape our professional narratives and vice versa.

True balance will never be achieved. When we grow as a human beings, we grow as daughters and sons just as much as we grow as bosses and assistants. People were created to be workers, pouring their life and heart and passion into their vocations almost as forcefully as into family and friends. How else would productivity and a job well-done be one of the best ways to boost self-esteem? My hope is that I’ll rest in that reminder as I seek to let work and home make me lighter somehow, rather than bogging me down. All the while, striving to be better person and a better professional…