Career Advice: How to Keep Work and Personal Separate

work life balance

“It’s not personal, it’s business” is a memorable quote from the classic Meg Ryan film “You’ve Got Mail”. A film that captures the very real problem of when, and how, to separate your personal feelings from your business decisions. How do you stay true to your relationships but still be practical and ambitious in your career? If you want to succeed in your chosen field, you can’t always allow emotions to get in your way. It’s a business, with goals, and everything else falls into two categories. Things that help you achieve those goals and things that don’t. Separating your career and your personal life can be extremely sticky, and unfortunately there will be times when you have to preference one of the other. Which you choose in each instance is entirely up to you, but  you can’t, and shouldn’t, feel guilty in those times. Here’s a list containing some of the most common situations where personal life and career intersect, and how to handle them.

Friends that fall short

Most people make friends at work or school, it’s almost impossible not to. And it’s not always the work itself you bond over. It could be knitting, discussing your love lives or favorite TV shows. Which is great until you realize your friend is not quite as good at their job as you are at yours. And if they work with you, that can be an issue. Maybe they don’t take it very seriously or maybe they just don’t have the talent, but either way you have to treat them as you would any other co-worker. Whether you’re giving out assignments, choosing a partner for a school project, or giving an evaluation of their performance to your boss, be honest. Make choices that further the work, and remind yourself you’re not personally responsible for their actions or attitude. Hopefully, if they are really your friend, they will understand.

Saying no

Work friends can sometimes take advantage. They can get in the habit of asking you to cover for them, finish projects on your own so they can attend social functions, or expect you to always be willing to switch shifts. If you truly don’t mind that’s okay, but take a minute to consider how this behavior might alienate your other co-workers or look to management over time. Also, make sure that this special treatment works both ways. Are they always willing to do the same for you? If not, then the friendship might be coming at too great of a cost. Finally, if any of this is negatively effecting your own work, consider putting a stop to it. Learn how to say no. Explain to your friend how important your work is to you, how doing them favors is affecting you, and let them know you’ll still be there for them off the clock. Again, if they are really your friends, they’ll understand.

Leaving them behind

Ambitious people have one goal, to move up. Yet sometimes that means leaving others behind. If you’ve developed relationships with your co-workers, especially if you’ve bonded over shared ambitions, then moving up can be hard. They might resent the fact that you’ve been selected for promotion instead of them when they’ve worked just as hard, or you might be put in the uncomfortable position of suddenly becoming their superior. It can be awkward, and you might start to overcompensate by being overly accommodating and friendly to show them nothing has changed. But it has changed. You need to accept it before they can follow your example. And whenever you are at a loss for how to proceed, remind yourself that the work comes first. Not you, not them, but the work. If you do your job the best you can, while remaining professionally respectful and appreciative or your team, then the rest will fall into place. If not, you may find yourself the victim of a cold shoulder or two, but that’s just one of the many costs of success. And if you have trouble handling the new office dynamics, then maybe that new position is simply not right for you. Take a good look at your own priorities before talking to your friend.

Keeping them out

Last but not least, there is the reverse situation. When a friendship that doesn’t involve your career in any way, suddenly does. When a friend suggests you sell their handbags in your store, or wants you to recommend their restaurant to your customers. This can come out of nowhere, and because you’ve always been kind or encouraging they assume you would love to work together. Except you don’t. Even if you like what they make or do, it may not be the best fit for your business. Or perhaps you really dislike mixing business with personal matters, which is your choice. You have every right to those feelings just as your friend does to feel theirs. So in this instance, courage and communication is key. Be honest, be tactful, but you must tell your friend how you feel. Offer to help them expand their business in other ways. Be a friend, but if your career matters to you, then also be a professional.

Our lives are made up of many different parts. Home, work, family, and friends. Making them all work together is a lifelong struggle. Being honest with yourself and those around you is the first step. Sooner rather than later, but better late than never. Just try your best and you will find a way to make you work AND personal life Emma Approved.