So, you’re going through a rough patch and your friend asks, “How are you doing?” And you reply, “I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.” But your friend knows better. She does something simple, like give you a hug or smile, letting you know she’s there and that she’s in on your secret—you’re really just putting up a good front.
Today’s blog is about such friends—and how we often find them at work.
It’s my turn for the package.
The small flowered box arrived last week, 60 days post Hurricane Sandy, and I knew immediately what was inside. My eyes filled with tears as I read the note atop the stack of cards. It was signed, “Feel our love and hugs—All the Skirts.”
So, who are the Skirts?
We met as a newly hired group of female school administrators in a district with mostly male leaders, “The Suits.” In this sometimes challenging culture, we bonded and developed a relationship borne of respect, collaboration, and trust which ultimately led to enduring friendship.
We have a supportive tradition that goes like this: When one of us is dealing with a stress (loss, illness, dissertation, hurricane), we rally. Our traveling T-shirt, with the picture of an upside down cow and the words, “Really, I’m fine…” is mailed to the struggling Skirt, accompanied by a card with words of encouragement. Over the course of nearly two decades we’ve each been the keeper of the box and the collection of cards that provide the narrative of our shared stories.
We bonded over workplace conflict.
Conflict and stress are a natural part of the workplace landscape. Friends, who serve as trusted sounding boards, can allow us to gain clarity and be vulnerable. This enables us to not only get through the day, but to thrive. I can still hear a Skirt friend’s clarity-seeking question as I struggled with an issue, “Is this the mountain you want to die on?”
Loyalty is not to be underrated—it’s essential to know who we can count on. When we knew a Skirt was putting up a good front—we had that Skirts’ back. An example I’ll never forget was when a scathing article about me appeared in the school newspaper. One Skirt swooped through the school scooping up and tossing out as many copies of the paper as she could find. Thankfully for me, this was in the days before the Internet! When I was newly divorced, all of the Skirts listened to my dating dilemmas without judgment, and with a bit of a vicarious thrill. One Skirt was my boss and we managed to navigate that dual relationship with care and integrity.
We were committed to helping each other succeed in our diverse administrative roles. My leadership grew as these friendships deepened. Our countless conversations helped me to make sense of this new world of leadership—and to lessen my feelings of isolation.
We move on from the job and friendship remains.
I treasure the friendships that have endured from the Skirts as well as the rich friendships from other stops on my career path. Where we used to have workplace challenges to bond us we now have grand-kids, travel, rich lives, and our shared memories.
This gift is only discovered when we move on to another position and see which of our workplace friendships stay with us. When we were daily work colleagues our conversations were often accidental. Now, living in different states, our conversations are intentional. We make the effort. We connect. Sometimes plane tickets are involved. We go the extra mile to nurture these relationships. And we pick up the thread of our lives as if we had never been apart.
What has your experience been when it comes to forming friendships at work? Do you seek them out? Do you nurture them? How do they help and support you? Is there someone in your workplace who knows what you mean when you say “I’m fine, really, I’m fine?”
I’d say that the friends we make at work are the glue that helps us to manage to be fine… really. What would you say?
If you enjoyed this post about friendship here are two others you might also like: