I have been many things across several careers, including writer, historian, computer programmer, high school science teacher, corporate technical trainer, martial arts instructor, and planetarian. I love the diverse types of work and hope to have two or three roles overlapping during any part of my life, partly because they inform each other, but partly because it means I have a much larger family.
I had a dear friend recently contest the idea of work environments being like homes and colleagues like family members – “family can’t fire you or lay you off or hold back your bonus.”
Yeah, but I think they can though. Flip open your device and browse through the news of child abuse (and worse) among family members. Or just plan your Thanksgiving with all parts of your family, especially those who cast votes for the opposite political party.
The flip side is that if you try hard, work at it, and get lucky, you can find the best friends of your life at work. Mentors and supervisors can become like big sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, or cousins. Some become even closer. A select few can become chosen family.
One of my colleagues at Morehead Planetarium & Science Center just retired this week. She’s Mickey, the one smiling at you from the 7 o’clock position in the picture above. Wait, really look at her again:
Mickey is about the best role model I can think of when it comes to sharing tricks of how to teach science to anyone willing to listen. She’s mesmerizing, even when talking about branches of science I’m not “super into” (don’t judge me) because she’s relentless, subtly adjusting her approach to find the one right way to meet you on your own ground.
She notices everything around her, then acts to fix what is broken and help those who need help. She’s got decades on me, but has twice the energy I had ten years ago. Best of all, she’s a great role model for how to care deeply–about everything: politics, justice, science, education, children, old people, plants, wildlife, rivers, and even aliens if they are out there.
In the picture at the top, I have other dear mentors and friends, people from just one of my life-roles right now. They are people I would be crushed to lose contact with because they belong to one of my several families. One has changed the course of my life, a story for another day. Another has made it possible for me to write books, another story for yet another day. To quote David Wilcox, the American folk singer, “relationships are hard work. but it’s good work if you can get it.”
Some colleagues will always stay colleagues. Some are not able to have honest conversations or to treat you as an equivalent being with equal worth. But with all the others, your brave attempts to reach out can make many of them into far more than mere cohabitants within a place of toil.
How you strive to connect with your work family is just like any other endeavor–if you relentlessly foster kindness and caring, you cannot lose. You cannot lose because it is true and good and worthy of your effort, no matter what response you get.
Mickey, congratulations on your retirement. I can’t wait to see you at my house next week for an episode of From the Earth to the Moon. Glad you are still in my life!