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Optimum Talks Blog

When Your Personal and Professional Life Collide

by Sandra Boyd

Since the fall of 2015, my personal life and my professional life have collided.  I come from a generation that was taught to keep your personal and professional lives separate. Add in my Irish Catholic heritage that taught me to keep the family secrets locked in the closet, or the confessional, and my exceptional ability to compartmentalize, and you will understand my DNA.  However, the last three years have been an out of body experience as my personal life became a series of crises that resulted in a big, fat, messy life.

I have spent more than 20 years as a consultant and leader in the business of career transition, career management, and change management, and that time has been a source of passion and joy for me.

Early in my career, I made the mistake of expecting my peers and team members to keep their personal lives at home, and to show up for work each day with a smile on their face.  I was empathetic to a point, but the line was easily crossed. If a colleague brought a little too much of their personal life to the office, and I thought it was interfering with their work persona, I would quietly think that they needed to get it together.  Whatever that means. It was not until my own life took a series of crazy wild turns that I realized how wrong I was.

Over the last three years, I experienced several life changing events. Both my parents were diagnosed with dementia, I fell at an airport resulting in an injury that limited my ability to type for 18 months, my dad died, my sister’s marriage ended, and my husband and I cancelled three vacations because of three different crises with my parents.  And when we finally did go on a vacation to Jamaica, we were drugged and robbed.  At work, I tried to keep it all together, but it got harder and harder.

As the pressures at home mounted, I began to unravel, and as I started to share bits and pieces of what was happening in my life with colleagues, I started to realize that I was not alone. I was not the only one who was having crisis after crisis. My colleagues were also dealing with elderly parents, health issues, divorce, and children.  I soon came to understand there is an army of us experiencing our lives while trying to fulfill our career aspirations and perform every day at work.

So, I have decided that over a series of blogs I will share my messy and joyful life in the hopes that I can share what I have learned along the way about managing life inside and outside of the office.

Lessons Learned

For Colleagues and Managers of Someone in Crisis

  • Stop judging others that can’t stay late to work on a project because they need to pick up their children or take a parent to a doctor. Instead, let them know that you trust they will get their work done and they will.
  • Ask the individual how you can help with their workload and what support looks like for them. To someone in a personal crisis, it could be as simple as more flexibility of work hours or a few extra days to organize their schedule for medical or childcare appointments.
  • Let the individual know you care. A few kind words are sometimes all it takes to help someone know that even during a crisis they are a valued member of the team.

For Individuals in Crisis

  • Be honest and straightforward about your situation. This does not mean that you must divulge every detail of your crisis to your manager, colleagues or employer. Simply give them a head’s up that you may not have the capacity to take on additional projects or work late, while assuring them that you will keep them in the loop and do your best to maintain performance.
  • Do not emote all over the office. If you spend your time going from person to person with your story, you are demonstrating that you are spending more time chatting about yourself and less time using the hours you have available to maintain performance.
  • If you do fall behind on a project, immediately communicate this to your colleagues and manager and try to be proactive with a backup plan to ensure the project stays on track. Your mantra should be “no surprises” for your manager and team during this time.

In the next post, I will speak to caring for yourself first.