Unless you’re a total hermit, you probably have one. A work-wife, husband, boyfriend, best friend, friend, sister, cousin. I’ve either seen em all, had one or been one to a colleague. I’m not here to tell you all of the science-backed reasons why having a work friend is important, but I will tell you how they’ve helped me not only personally, but professionally.
At my last job, a colleague and I used to joke that we stayed for so long and got along so well because of the trauma-bonding that happens when you work in the trenches together. You can thank him for co-opting that term from real victims of domestic abuse, and he has 10 years of corporate call-center experience to thank for internalizing that term.
There is something to be said about bonding through trauma though. When I was at Starbucks, at my second store, I had just gotten demoted there and was pretty much a pariah because no one really knew me and I’m one of those grow-on-you types. A co-workers boyfriend was killed, and in providing sympathy and support during that difficult time people finally got to know me for more than just that girl. That friendship ended up being one of the ones that lasted through multiple store transfers and me exiting the company; we’re still friends to this day and I credit her with keeping me afloat during my darkest times with that company.
When I started doing Lyft and Uber full-time, my work-friends became more than just a shoulder to lean on. They became a source of inspiration and motivation, and I can credit one person in particular for helping me change my mindset (for the most part) on how I approach self-confidence. She was one of those types who always seemed to have the best luck. She hit all the prime-time spots (higher rate of pay for Lyft), she was raking in the dough, she met a ton of cool people and made really interesting friendships, her husband even won the lotto. I thought it was all pure luck until I asked her flat out one day how the hell she was so positive and seemingly lucky. She responded by telling me about the law of attraction and all that goes with it. I’m going to be real, I was VERY skeptical and I think a part of me still is because The Secret is still unwatched in my Netflix queue. But, the idea behind it works and it worked for me both personally and professionally (got the man I wanted, got the job I wanted, got the paycheck I wanted).
Maybe its an age thing or maybe I really am just getting more emotionally intelligent, but at my last job, something changed in me. Instead of the take-take-take trend I had going with workplace friendships, I wanted to give back in a meaningful way. I had an opportunity to do this as I climbed the BPO promotional latter. I started encouraging my reports to pursue their career dreams and I offered help and support wherever I could, even if it was just as a professional reference, giving them practice interviews, or teaching them what I have come to know so far. This carried on for a while until I finally found a work-friend who not only wanted to climb the ladder like myself but was passionate about it and actually took my advice and applied it. He went off to bigger and better (and actually inspired me to do the same) and we’re still friends and meet up with a group of former-BPO workers about every month or so for drinks & dinner where we commiserate, share job leads, and talk about our current work lives.
I guess my good faith attempt at giving more than getting actually worked. Recently, my good karma returned to me in the form of an amazing job opportunity where I’m finally making six figures and have taken a real step into my career path towards Product Management (more on that later). And no, for those naysayers, the person who referred me to this job did not help me get the job. They simply provided a professional reference to back up my already accomplished resumé and also convinced me to apply since I was so against working in SF. Side-rant, I was really excited to tell my previous boss that I had gotten this job and the first words out of her mouth were “Did X help you get the job?” You can go ahead and file that under Assshole Things You Don’t Say to Your Fellow Woman Who Has Worked Hard to Get Where She’s At.
Now that I’m playing in a bigger arena, The Bay Area Tech Industry, my need for advancing my fellow career climbers has only grown. I recently watched a documentary about this person Clarence Avant, who basically is behind every black Hollywood success story and made it his life mission to help advance the careers of many talented black artists of our time. It inspired me. I want to be like him, I want to make it my life mission to help others advance their careers because if I can do it, so can you. I essentially dropped out of college at a time where a college degree is as important as a high school diploma. I went from customer service and food retail into the tech sector and seemingly the sky is the limit at this point on what I can accomplish and do. I want to inspire others like me to do the same (except you should really finish college if you’re in it now). Clarence is the epitome of what a work friend should be like in this aspect.
If you’ve made it this far, I encourage you to look at your career successes (or otherwise) and see how you can help others with those learnings. Be a good work friend. Be a Clarence Avant.