Working while friends

I’ll start with a not-apology for taking last week off; I was in the mountains and didn’t feel compelled to drag my laptop with me (even though the WiFi is better where I was than when I’ve been there in the past). Unapologetic sample photo of weekend activities here:

Prior to heading off for my R&R, I had been inspired by this HBR podcast on the benefits of work friends. I suspect it’s one of those things that many of us know but find challenging to articulate- while we don’t go to work with the explicit purpose of making friends, it’s a bit like school when we’re younger; it’s where we spend most of our hours, and those hours certainly go easier when we’re around peers who “get” us.

And, as one does, I started contemplating my work friends. From residency, there was an obvious choice. We spent almost every evening on the Shoreline Trail walking her dog, having those discussions you can only have with someone else who is surviving the indignities of surgery residency (especially under Old School Dinosaur Rules). When we both took off for our fellowships, we had regular phone calls because it’s hard being in a place for just a year and not having an actual peer group during that time.

Some 21 years after we first met (and 5 kids and a husband later for her!), it’s not possible for us to adore one another more. The best part? We’re only about 2 hours apart right now, something neither of us take for granted.

And, of course, when I went back to Utah, I was fortunate to have a mentor who became a dear friend. We worked closely enough with one another that we absolutely understood the other person’s challenges, but not so closely that we were in each other’s business. We had often been roommates at meetings when I was as resident (budgets, you know), and as faculty we continued that tradition. At one point, one of our colleagues pointed out to us that we didn’t have to stay together for budgetary reasons anymore, a comment we thought was hilarious mostly because it showed that they didn’t understand that it was about having time to catch up with each other, and we would often use the quiet time away from “regular” life to work on shared projects.

And then…we hired my junior practice partner, who is affectionately referred to as my “little sister.” When schedules permitted, we had opera and ballet nights, when they didn’t because of clinical service my Mom would feed us dinner, we supported each other with struggles, and somehow I even convinced her a trip to Cuba would be a good idea last year. I’m that friend…the one who convinces you to do the things you wouldn’t do on your own, but that are so good for you to do.

I’ve been fortunate to have had some tremendous work friends over my career, and particularly so since we’re all still on speed dial with one another. The pandemic has been hard on work friendships due to the loss of proximity. And sometimes work friendships go really, really wrong if someone has more needs than you can meet. I don’t want y’all to think that work friendships are perfect because they aren’t. But when done well (and with the right people) they make work life infinitely better.