Several months ago, when I was first jumping into Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, I shared this question on LinkedIn:
“For what do you use which of these spaces?”
A young man sent this response:
“While I agree that a colleague can be a friend and vice-versa, I do think that it is better not to mix these two spheres.”
His response came to mind as I watched a chat on Twitter tonight about the same subject – the line between the personal and the professional.
And that reminded me of something I posted to a listserv several years ago, in response to a question raised by a colleague (who also happens to be a friend). Her question was this: “When it comes to the personal and the professional, where does each of us draw that line?”
My response three years ago to my friend’s question grows more accurate every day.
Thank you so much for raising this. Because in a profession where all we have is what’s inside our heads and hearts, I have stopped looking for the line between what is personal and what is professional. I have one life, and everything informs everything else.
Some of my closest friends in the world are people I met through my work. I have former clients who call to tell me of a new professional hurdle – 5 years after they stopped being a paying client – and similar clients who send me email jokes, or just call to go to lunch.
We took a 100 mile detour off a business trip a few months back, to pay a surprise visit to a former client who has not been a client since 1997. I will probably remember forever his smile and outright giggling-like-a-kid upon seeing us. Was that business? Was it pleasure? Does it matter?
More to the point of the question, does it inform our work, our professional outlook? Will I perhaps recommend to a client that if they want to see their resources grow, they might pick up the phone and call someone they haven’t spoken to in a long time, just to say hi? So was that side trip personal or business?
When I am writing my next book, and I need folks to do peer review, will I head to those I neither know nor trust? Or will I instead ask the same people who have watched me go through good and bad times, have been there with me throughout, and whom I know and trust both personally and professionally? And isn’t the only way I can maintain that professional bond to also maintain the personal bond?
If I am in Chicago and I go to dinner with you – a friend who is a friend because you were a colleague first – and we talk about life, the universe, and everything (and perhaps it is snowing and the food is great, as it was last time…) – is that business or pleasure? When it is time for my next book to come out, is it likely I will ask you to be part of the peer review team, just as you asked me to do for you? The trust we share will not have come from watching each other’s listserv posts as professional observers. That trust will have been built through visits and phone calls and LAUGHING a lot!! So is that business or personal?
And doesn’t one inform the other, simply because we are not a “work” person and a “play” person but just one person? Isn’t that what helps us grow overall, which of course grows our business?
I don’t stamp out widgets for a living. I live my life, pursue what interests me, and somehow make a living from that. So where is the line? I prefer not to have one. Sometimes that means I work my butt off, 24/7, because I am energized by what I am working on. Sometimes it means I take 2 weeks to hide away and write.
Sometimes it means, like today, that in the middle of the day I will take my 82 year old mother to the movies. And I will see something in that movie that will inspire me. And I will scribble it down on the way home, so I don’t forget to send a note to a client / friend. And we will laugh about that tomorrow, that I can’t even see a silly movie without my mind going in a million different directions.
So which part of that is personal vs. professional? I can tell you definitively that our business prospers almost entirely because I don’t have a line – that each informs the other, as it is all just one life.
So here’s to my meeting each of you over a long dinner one of these days when we are in the same city. And here’s to our raising our glasses in a toast to friendship and the amazing interconnectedness that makes life worth living and makes our businesses strong, all at the same time.
What about you? Where do you draw the line? Or do you draw a line at all?