Category: Jobs


Business or Pleasure?

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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…

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The Fillmore family was on one of the vacations my parents took so much care to plan. For us, family vacations meant lots of time in the car, some tense moments, tons of laughter, mixed tapes carefully crafted by my sister, at least one movie, an educational activity of some kind that gave my mother an opportunity to gather postcards and brochures for her classroom, and a lot of going out to eat. It was during one of these meals that my sister decided to count how many times I went off on one of my impassioned rants. Sometimes she purposely brought up a subject she knew would get me riled up and then she would laugh after I took the bait, but mostly I would start one fiery speech after another without any prompting. I remember trying to hold back, not wanting to play into the game my parents and sister were enjoying a great deal, but I couldn’t help it! I had to say what I had to say and do what I had to do!

Most who know me know nothing has changed. There are many, many different ways I relate to other twenty-somethings, but there are a couple ways I just can’t. For many, some of the most prominent characteristics of the quarter life crisis are a lack of occupational direction and a desire to quit the dead end job they’re in and go on a pilgrimage in search of themselves. For me, the passion has already been ignited and I am far too “found” to enjoy the momentary reprieve of being “lost.” My mind never stops, I spin into a panic if asked to act contrary to my identity for even a minute, and my dreams are so bright and vivid that is hard for me to imagine a scenario where I don’t risk everything in order to attain them.

Now, that’s not to say that I never have moments of confusion where I lack clarity and need to ask a trusted friend or family member for advice and it certainly doesn’t mean I know exactly where I will end up when it’s all said and done. What it does mean is that I know that tomorrow is never promised and I don’t want to waste a single second wallowing in directionless-ness. I want to spend every moment encouraging, energizing, and loving on as many people as possible. Frederick Buechner, an author I was fortunate enough to be introduced to when I was in undergrad, wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Tonight, I took my final class for my master’s program. It was a huge triumph, but I still have a long way to go. I’m getting used to the sideways stares I receive when I tell people I will be spending next year working a full-time job in addition to working twenty hours per week at an internship. I’m nervous about being tired, stressed, and most likely having to say goodbye to my social life, but I am also excited. Next year is going to bring me one step closer to that place Buechner is talking about.

But you are not me and I am not you, and though I have found my passion and it is difficult for me to understand how others live without one, I’m learning to be more empathic toward those who are still in search of themselves. Whether or not you know what you want or where you want to end up, I have learned something valuable from from some of even the most seemingly clueless college students who haven’t even declared a major yet; everyone has something to offer. Every day you have a choice to learn, grow and share. Even if your future vocation is unknown, you can still take the time to enjoy beauty, give selflessly, and love people. Who knows, while you are doing all those things, you just might stumble upon your calling.

I have been asking myself that question a lot lately. Sometimes I ask it in disappointment as I question my calling and why nothing is going as smoothly as I wanted it to go; other times I ask it overwhelmed by the greatness of God and the work He is doing despite my shortcomings.

I was a very scared child. The list of things that terrified me was unending. It is funny looking back on it now, but at the time, there was nothing comical about always being paralyzed by the next nightmare creeping around the corner. There were times I asked my mother if adults were ever scared and more specifically if she was ever afraid of anything. She told me she wasn’t afraid of things like the monsters in her closet anymore, although every once and a while she would have a bad dream about ducks, geese, or chickens due to her fear of birds. Now, she feared the less tangible things like the loss of financial stability or the safety of her children. My young mind couldn’t understand how those were legitimate fears. The walking baby-spider-head from Toy Story and images I had painted in my mind of the boy from Where the Red Fern Grows falling on his axe seemed far scarier than the things my mother had described. I was sure that age was the magical cure to my irrational fears. There would be no more sleepless nights that were only fixed by crawling into bed with someone who loved you or prayers that the daylight would stay forever because you couldn’t handle the darkness of night.

Age seemed like the magical cure to my constant anxiety. I remember what it was like to be a kid and have a clear picture in my mind of what adulthood would look like. The ability to call the shots in my own life seemed so appealing. When I had the chance to choose, I would wear whatever I wanted, dye my hair crazy colors, cake on layers of makeup, and decorate my room however I pleased. Boy, was I wrong. Now, I have an apartment I have no energy or desire to decorate, a love of tattoos, piercings, clothes, makeup, and hairstyles that don’t match my career aspirations, and a completely new set of anxieties, fears, and neuroses from those I had in childhood. I thought I would reach this point where eventually I had all the answers, but each year brings more questions than ever.

I’ve never been one to buy into the American dream, but right about now it would be easier to justify. Instead, I spend my time explaining what a resident director does, why anyone of the age of twenty-six would choose to live in a “dorm” with college students, how many more semesters it will take to finish my counseling degree, how such a “cool” girl could be single for so long, and who actually enjoys driving a Toyota Yaris. There are days I am tired and want to give in to the nagging questions, the secret longings, and the image of “togetherness” I had in my childhood, but I can’t. Something won’t let me. Something still tells me that everyday can still hold the outrageous, the extraordinary, the mystery that whispers, “Keep going. In the end it will all be worth it.” So here I am stuck in the “in-between,” caught in my own personal quarter life crisis, and I’m waiting and trusting Him as I watch how it all plays out.