My colleague has been going through a hard time. I don’t know all the details; I only know that a professional setback has thrown her for a serious loop.
This woman is phenomenal – smart, funny, wise, generous, kickass in so many ways. But, while we are friendly, our relationship is fundamentally a professional one. So it felt a little funny to reach out to her on a personal level.
I didn’t want to pry or blunder through boundaries I ought to respect. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to oblige her to reassure me that she is fine, at a time when she doesn’t need to take on anyone else’s worries.
Yet I wanted to support her. So I took a chance and reached out.
I told her, I don’t need to know the details, but I want you to know I am rooting for you.
I told her, I know you will continue to do great things, because you are great.
I told her, I am so grateful that I get to work with and learn from you. Because of you, I am learning and growing so much.
None of this changed her situation, of course. But she did say she was deeply grateful I spoke up, that my support meant a lot to her. I hope knowing that I am in her corner is some small comfort.
When my mother died last year, so many people offered kind words, hugs, emails, phone calls, dinners. Some were completely unexpected. And yes, I did feel a moment of embarrassment when I saw someone with a casserole at my front door. Sometimes I didn’t feel like talking about it. But mostly I felt their warmth and compassion and friendship.
I admit, I sometimes freeze when faced with someone else’s pain, especially someone I don’t know that well. It’s not that I don’t care. But awkwardness and uncertainty overtake me, and I send a card instead of call. Call instead of stop by with dinner or to take care of the kids. I regret the times I haven’t been brave enough to bridge the polite distance with a stronger gesture of kindness.
I’m glad I reached out to my colleague, glad I didn’t let uncertainty get the best of me. It reminded me that it’s possible to reach out without prying, to reveal myself as a friend without asking for reassurance (or anything else), and that while showing a little support doesn’t necessarily solve anything, it certainly can’t hurt.