Sushi roll and avocado salad. I didn't mean to get teary-eyed but it just welled up resting in the corners. The more we talked at lunch about the times we had shared during the past four years the more it sounded like an invitation for my still water to spill over. Jeni was leaving to have her baby, complete her doctorate, and start a full time position as a leader of an exciting international organization. Of course she'd be leaving the part time job at our agency.
Same thing happened to me when Anna left for New Orleans. We had toasted Anna with a glass of wine wishing her husband well in his first full time cantorial position. I was losing someone who had worked side by side with me to figure out -any-and-every challenge that came our way. Anna knew the work inside and out because we "wrote the book together." No one could replace her. Shaina came to write the next chapter with the same vigor and partnership and when she left to be close to her twin, earn 25% more and support her life passion-Israel, I teared up again.
At work- the intellect leads. So most emotion I tend to mask or avoid. Mostly, I think the workplace has little tolerance for anger, righteousness or even too much joy. Like when you are excited with "You got the grant," someone quickly says, "Don't be too happy now you have to do the work."
I suppose these goodbyes, and others like them, give permission for releasing a feeling that grows day after day. At first blush, I'd call the emotion deep appreciation. This week I spoke to Anna about it. She called it something else. Anna said it was love.
"On most days, you spend more time with the people at work than your family," Anna said. "Yes you can work with someone you respect professionally. But that doesn't mean you care about them..or they care about you." Anna went on to explain a thesis that she's been playing with. In her own life, the difference between working with someone you respect and someone you genuinely care about adds up to love.
"Why do we work so well together?" I once asked one of the great work partners I've been lucky to have. "Chemistry, I guess" he said, and that's as far as the conversation went.
Let me try to take the conversation further. What's it like to work with people who make you cry when they leave?
More fully human. "How was your weekend? We are human beyond these walls."
Got talent. "Whatever you do, you are really good at it, and keep trying to do it better."
Safe space. "I messed up. You messed up. K try again."
In it together. "We and we and we and we and we."
Got your back: "Tough world out there. The "we" sticks in the rough."
Funny/interesting doesn't hurt. Never enough laughter.
Rebuking: "There's a better/different way to do it."
Extra mile: "I bring my best."
This past year, Jeni saw I was struggling with an issue at work. I guess I thought I was hiding it. I'm not such a good poker player, I've been told. So the the first thing worth mentioning is that she noticed what was going on withe me. Jeni cared to read me between the lines. What did she do? Talked to me about it. And then, "There's a book... We can study it together." She came to my office on a regular schedule. We'd discuss a few chapters at a time "what do you think," and "my experience," and "would you try this," approach. In the end the time with Jeni mattered and helped me deal with my struggle. Can you see it's more than respect, more than appreciation that would enable that kind of experience?
I can tell hundreds of stories about great work partners. Would you tear up when people who had intensely, kindly, and thoughtfully shared many of your waking hours left?
Would you call it love? What would you call it?