When I worked as a science writer and editor for an online tech publication, my work and my social life were pretty separate. I did make some lasting friendships—I even met my husband at that job. But the lines between professional and personal were pretty clear. We did after work happy hours maybe once a month and when I got dressed up to go out it rarely involved work.
Fast forward six years and things sure have changed. I now write about fashion and lifestyle and have a blog, and the lines between personal and professional are often blurred. I'm invited to lots of events—the type I dreamed of attending back when I was writing about stem cell research—and all of them are work related.
But they feel so … friendly. And therein lies the problem. I see many of the same bloggers and fashion writers at parties around the city, and they're all very nice and ask about my daughter and sometimes we go grab a bite afterwards. Maybe it's the small town girl in me, but it took me a while to realize that while we are friendly, we are not necessarily friends.
To be honest, I always think of people as friends first. I don't like doing business or socializing, even if it's a professional event, with people who are rude or mean or otherwise make me not want to be friends with them. So if you're a cool person and we hang out, I am probably going to assume you are my friend. That just seems normal to me.
But it's not normal to everyone. Some folks can be pretty opportunistic and calculated in their professional relationships—anything for more Instagram followers or write-ups or bylines. They may even use the F word (friend), only to disappear once you change jobs and no longer have the potential to benefit their career.
So it's up to you to determine who you can actually rely on when your cat dies, or you break your ankle, or you're having relationship problems. Friends will graduate from text to voice call late at night, or bring you a pint of ice cream IRL.
I see two ways of making this determination: you can be like me and give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume the people you seem to be getting along well with are your friends. That can lead to hurt feelings when that turns out to be false, but I can't help it. Or, if you're smarter than me and prefer to avoid feeling spurned, you can try to get really good at identifying a real friend before that happens.
Demetria Irwin puts it thusly in Clutch magazine:
I work in media and I live in New York. There are a few people in this industry who I consider to be actual friends and there are even more people who I like as people and professionals and I immensely enjoy their company, but we’re not friends—just friendly colleagues. And that’s fine as long as we both treat each other as such and do not conflate being friendly with being friends. The list of folks who I can enjoy brunch with on any given Sunday is quite long, but the list of people who I know will take a call from me at 3 am is much shorter.
It's tough when everyone has a personal brand. It's basically everyone's job to be friendly. And so many people work from home those days, so events are a way to not go insane in your pajamas. And to get more social media followers. They can also be a way to make friends! May all of yours be the real kind.
[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]