From the beginning, almost a decade ago, I pledged to keep this separate from that, to keep the personal and professional entirely independent of one another. This blog would be my personal space, for personal things, walled off from my professional work. It was an outlet, a hobby, a lark. My professional life would, in turn, be off limits for my personal writing.
Occasionally, though, I have written about my work-work. I’ve offered, here and there, some lessons I’ve learned along way of my meandering career path. In those writings, current personal knowledge has grown out of past professional experience, and that learning is something I can now share in my own voice, disconnected from any company or employer.
I did write, once, to encourage volunteer blood donation (still something I hope you’ll consider), when I worked for the community blood center and my friend and colleague Doris died. Doris was a bridge between my private and professional lives, and I felt no conflict writing about her.
I’ve also written, more specifically though infrequently, about my work of the past five years, leading a turnaround at a 35-year-old organization dedicated to enabling healthy relationships between parents and children, between intimate partners, and within families. I have written about the family and parenting part, about resources for intimate partners, about therapy and coaching – about things from my work that have directly or indirectly, but personally, intersected with my life. I have not written about the turnaround part, about what it’s been like at the helm. That boundary line I’ve held true.
It’s a distinction ingrained in me for my entire professional life. Career success, in America at least, has long required denying personal life. Keeping professional business out of personal discussion or pursuits was, likewise, expected behavior. Separation of church and state, as it were.
But maintaining that false firewall has always been exhausting and, ultimately, destined to fail.
Pandemic life has, thankfully (if messily), pulled down the curtain of pretense for so many professional people – men and women – who transitioned to remote work over the past 18 months. In the before times, taking a call from a child or a partner during a critical team meeting meant certain career death. Then, as many have written: POOF! There we all were, in our homes, with partners and children and dogs and family members erasing a boundary that was nothing more than a betrayal to begin with. We suddenly had tiny little rectangular-shaped windows into one another’s humanity. It was stressful, and awkward, and liberating, and – to me – quite glorious.
As has also been written by others, we’re now at a point of reckoning. Will we resurrect those territory markers between home life and office life? Should we? Will professional culture, in the months and years ahead, return to the default dysfunction of the past, or will we let the curtain stay down, try and find – as one says these days – a third way forward?
I was listening today to a story about how many mid- and late-career women are currently unemployed. The numbers are stunning. Forty percent of women in this age group have had job interruption due to the pandemic. Of those who are still unemployed, 70% have been without work for six months or more. Thirty percent took on care and home-schooling of children or grandchildren during the pandemic. Forty percent are caring for another family member in some way.
What happens when, and if, these women return to professional careers? Who will do the care-taking at home, for children or other relatives. There’s a critical shortage of workers in home health, education, transportation, food service, hospitality, and so on.
Perhaps the people (mostly women) who’ve spent years trying to hold a clear distinction between work and home, between professional and personal don’t want to go back to that hellscape duality of a life. Taking care of people, and being cared for, feels better than denying one world in favor of the other. Nurturing feels better than greed.
I’m incredibly lucky at this particular pandemic-time juncture, and I know it. My work-work has remained steady and growing. There’s never been a better time to be in the therapy business, especially in the business of helping parents, partners and families. I’m back in my office now, five days a week, working very little from home any more. That’s one reason these daily writings get later and later. All of the things that were lifted temporarily – the self-imposed pressure to stay in the office, the drive time, the mental transition – are back now, splitting my world again into separate camps.
Where things go from here, I can’t yet say.
This post is 52/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.