When I started my first real full-time job, I was a new mother at 21. While my friends were still sitting in lectures, writing papers and probably partying a bit in between, I had entered the workforce, all the way downtown and everything. Having lived my whole life within a 10km radius, I found myself immersed in a foreign culture of more variety than my young, sheltered, suburban mind could wrap around. I remember encountering my first Jewish and first openly-gay co-workers almost as clearly as where I was on 9/11. (I worked at Church & Wellesley, by the way.)
Feeling unaccomplished professionally and horribly unqualified as a too-young mom, I made a conscious decision not to form friendships with co-workers that stretched beyond the cubicles. I marveled at my cousin’s extracurricular social life with her office mates and was wowed when my sister stood as matron of honour for a friend she met at work. But I couldn’t do it. My immature heart couldn’t handle it, and this arms-length behaviour that feared judgment and rejection continued throughout the next decade, with a few glimmers of hope, but nothing lasting that would warrant even – gasp! – sending a Facebook friend request.
Then I started working at a company that was like none I’d ever experienced. Or, rather, in the company of people I’d never experienced. And that’s when the party started. This place was like a family. I found myself going on lunch-hour shopping escapades, helping out with social events, and allowing myself to open up to these now-friends. But it was slow-going and still very cautious.
When our office relocated my partner and I were seated at the border between two departments, and my manager now sat only steps away. And that was when this small collection of women drew me out of my insecurities and introduced me to the idea of allowing my authentic self to exist in the workplace. I was 34, for goodness’ sake. They arrived right on time. Two years later, we are all on the cusp of new beginnings that beg us to choose whether we are casualties of evolution or newborn trailblazers. And by the end of the summer, almost all of these women will no longer be a part of my daily experience, swapping recipes and housekeeping tips, sharing in our personal and family triumphs and sorrows, planning lunch dates and holding mini-parties, bouncing reflections about faith off of each other. Instead, we are now being prompted to elevate our relationships to real friendship, the kind that is voluntary and isn’t boosted by a shared parking lot.
My excitement for each of us is not properly expressed in my mid-commute blubbering; my heart really is bursting in anticipation for this next chapter in each of our lives. As for my own, I’ve already learned a couple of lessons. First: friending people on Facebook is not going to kill you. But they now have access to the crazy videos and pictures you make with your husband and kids. Second: personal, supernatural affirmation aside, I know that God loves me and has good plans for me. Because in His daily pleading for me to be a bright light in a dark world, He speckled my corner of it with living examples to greet me every time I swivel my chair.