You're Leaving Me?
May 20, 2014 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Work BFF gets a new job and I don't know how to take it!

I've been at my current job for 3 years (I'm a middle school teacher) - when I was hired, another woman and I were the only new employees on a staff of about 15. We clicked immediately and became good friends; I went wedding dress shopping with her, we went on many vacations together, talk all the time, etc. We spend every lunch period together and chat every day before, after, and during school (thanks, gchat!). Her husband and my boyfriend adore each other, so we spend lots of time as couples, too.

She just got a new job, which is an opportunity she really desired. I'm happy for her on the one hand, but am feeling bittersweet. We have extremely high turnover at my school, and I'm now the senior employee (I've been working at the school longer than anyone else on staff, including administrators). My school is a bit of a training ground for young people who then go on to "bigger, better" careers in policy, grad school, etc.

My question is two-fold:

1) How do I keep myself from feeling left behind professionally? I've had other opportunities, but I really enjoy teaching. However, I feel stagnant in this position and it sucks to watch all of my coworkers "bypass" me, professionally.

2) How do I make new friends at work when I've been there longer than anyone? If I were new, it seems like this wouldn't be an issue because I could introduce myself. I'm not sure how to spend my lonely lunches now.

Hopefully those two things aren't too disconnected for this question to make sense. Feel free to respond to one or both. Curious how other people have dealt with similar situations.
posted by brynna to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really sorry - it's hard to lose your work best friend. There are actually a lot of studies that show that people who describe themselves as having a "best friend" at work (rather than just "friends at work") are also happier and more satisfied at their jobs in general.

1) I think you have to decide what you want your professional trajectory to be. That doesn't mean that you have to choose between policy and admin - it can simply mean that you want to be the best teacher possible...which in and of itself would probably mean adding some new goals into your practice. It might be that your professional trajectory would be starting a new mentorship program for all the new teachers at your school - something the school would really value and that would allow you to see yourself as a leader, taking on a new role. Maybe it's something else. But I think that in a job like teaching (full disclosure: I'm a teacher) that doesn't have many built in "career steps" it's important to create those steps for yourself in some form or another.

2) You have to reach out to people. If your school continues to have high turnover, you should have new people to reach out to this coming year and next. But don't ignore the people who've been there for a year or two - you may not have connected with them yet, but that could just be because you were spending all your time with your BF. Go have lunch with other people. Stop by their rooms to ask how their weekend was. Go ask somebody else's advice on dealing with a student issue (2nd and 3rd year teachers would be really flattered if you asked them). Basically - do the work to make new friends.

Lastly (sorry, this doesn't address your question directly) - long-term I do wonder if you're going to be happy working at a school that sounds like it has a bit of churn-and-burn. I'm not sure I'd be happy working at a school that went through people that quickly, particularly if I wanted to make a long-term teaching home there. It might be worth thinking about whether you'd be happier at a school that has more stability - I think it leads to a better sense of community and a stronger sense of the importance of teaching itself. But that's my bias - feel free to disregard if it doesn't apply.
posted by leitmotif at 7:54 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wonder if you would be able to combine both one and two, in developing yourself as a mentor. My boss here at work, I often joke that if she were to leave, I'd be out the door behind her - not just because she's an amazing mentor but also because she's my friend. (Which is a fine line to tow, but we make it work.) I'm now in a position to mentor a new hire, and honestly I'm finding it incredibly rewarding on top of my regular duties, and then looking forward to having a new work friend.

I know what you mean though - my work BFF is actually a guy, and when he left to another part of the company I was crushed. It's a great move for him and I understand the importance of that to his family, but what about me? ;-) The thing that helped us both through the transition is technology - we still "chat" (so see if her new job allows her to Gchat still) and are FB/Twitter friends, as well as hanging out with our spouses occasionally. If your friendship is truly valuable to you both, make sure it's something you hold on to, even if it's not being joined at the hip anymore. Make a point of a standing brunch date, things like that.

Good luck!
posted by librarianamy at 5:10 AM on May 21, 2014

A separation like this is always harder on the one who is staying. The person leaving is leaving for something. The person left is left without something.

I don't have any real advice expect to say that your feelings are totally legitimate and even expected. But like any major change in life, you will adjust, and new dynamics will come into play to help fill the vacuum. Just hang in there!
posted by The Deej at 6:45 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

It probably won't be too hard to make friends with the new staff. You have seniority but you're not "senior", all the new hires are still more or less your age (i.e. it's not like you're the middle-aged lady with grandkids among a bunch of fresh college grads). So just plan on being as outgoing as possible, arranging to sit with people at lunch in an "oh, you're new, let me welcome you" kind of way, etc.
About other coworkers who aren't new this year... it sounds like maybe you're worried that by being BFFs with the woman who just left, that you neglected your relationships with those other people, and you are afraid that they won't want to be friends with you. Yes, they may already be "buddied up" and turning a pair into a cluster of friends can be difficult - but totally worth trying! Don't decide for someone else that they're too busy to be friends with you, just give it a shot and let them decide for themselves.
posted by aimedwander at 7:03 AM on May 21, 2014

How open is the administration at your school to innovation and projects? Perhaps if you can take the lead in implementing a new program at your school that would give you a) the opportunity to connect with other/new staff and b) the opportunity to develop project management skills and c) feel like your professionally developing by taking on additional responsibilities.
posted by brookeb at 11:26 AM on May 21, 2014

To answer your first question - How do I keep myself from feeling left behind professionally? I've had other opportunities, but I really enjoy teaching. However, I feel stagnant in this position and it sucks to watch all of my coworkers "bypass" me, professionally....

Speaking from experience, several of the past jobs I had which I enjoyed the most were really only enjoyable because of the people I worked with, and were not particularly good for my career trajectory. It is easy to settle for mediocre jobs because the co-workers are great. We often hear that is an enormous factor to consider since we spend so much of our lives at work. But as the years have passed, I have realized that a job is pretty dreadful if you are only staying for the people, and virtually all jobs have unpleasant co-workers once you have been there long enough and have gained enough "power" in your position to be someone's target (and sadly I have seen people become unwitting targets of their supposed work friends).

Based on the above, I would suggest that if you want to succeed at your question #1, you will have to make your question #2 quite literally a secondary consideration. Making friends at a workplace where you feel you are stagnating will only prevent you from realizing how unfulfilled you are in the current job. Honestly, it is not hard to make friends when you are a new employee, so why not go wherever is best for your career and start fresh? My only advice about how to make new work friends is, when you do move on, avoid being too cliquish with one person and make sure you share your lunch times with a variety of different people. I say this because I have noticed the biggest troublemakers at work can also come on the sweetest when you first encounter them, and if you choose your new work friends too quickly, before noticing all the little tensions and non-verbal cues in the workplace, you may find yourself needlessly alienating yourself from your peers.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 7:16 PM on May 21, 2014

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