Friendship and Career Transitions

“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” ~ Khalil Gibran

Friendships, like all relationships, are more vulnerable at some points than others. Our work life is one of those things that can pose challenges to our connections with our friends. From the moment we finish school to begin working until the time we decide to end our careers to retire, our work can present challenges as well as opportunities for our friendships. Going through career transitions, being promoted, demoted, let go or moving away for a job are only some ways that our work can impact our friendships.

Consider whether you’ve experienced these work issues with your friends and which were the most challenging for your friendships:

  • Having different core values towards work, different levels of ambition and/or different definitions of success,
  • Making different decisions about starting a family for example, one friend eases up on work to focus on children and parenting and the other friend focuses only on career growth,
  • Spending long hours at work, your job or business which means less free time to spend with friends and having to choose which friends you want to be with during your free time,
  • Having a job that requires travel or a move abroad and the impact of the distance on your friendships,
  • Being able (or unable) to celebrate each others successes such as promotions, landing a new job, a salary increase or bonus, new roles or responsibilities,
  • Struggling with being there and with knowing what to say when you or your friend are fired, demoted, lose a contract, lose a valued role, or decide to retire,
  • Experiencing differences or a change in income levels, different ways of relating to money or different choices about how to spend money.

Each of these work-related changes and transitions have the capacity to be points of friction in our friendships. These points of friction are wonderful opportunities to discover where there is vulnerability and strength in our connections with our friends. They are also wonderful opportunities to deepen our friendships, develop our listening and communication skills, have “hard” conversations, and practice being authentic and empathic.

If you are the one going through the work change or transition, consider the impact on your friend(s) and friendship(s). You have the choice to take responsibility for helping your friendship during this transition. Plan on having a conversation or taking some action that will keep your friendship intact and even strengthen it through the change or transition. Your friend may not know what to say, what to do or how to acknowledge the career or work change you are experiencing. Telling them and letting them know is is one way you can demonstrate to your friend that your friendship is important to you.

Consider how you feel about a friend’s work change or transition. Jealousy, envy, confusion, fear, sadness, and ambivalence are just some emotions we can feel when our friends go through their career transitions. Becoming aware of how you feel and acknowledging it to yourself, or better yet to your friend, can go a long way to strengthening your friendship.

Listen, listen and listen. Listen to your friend and be understanding of what your friend is saying. Also, listen to yourself and notice what you are sensing, intuiting, and experiencing in yourself during your friend’s career or work transition. You might realize something important about yourself in the process.

Show caring and respect for your friend and friendship during their career change. Making time for your friend when she or he is going through a work transition is a gift in and of itself. Checking in with how they are doing or inviting your friend to get together are some ways to show you value them and want to be there.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” Muhammad Ali

Copyrighted 2013 – The Smart Art of Friendship

Ruth Tamari and Amy Greenleaf Brassert

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