Tonight I was in Central Square at a startup event for my friend’s company. I was with some of my favorite people, ones I love to spend time with the most. I left and walked to the T stop. I strolled along the side of Massachusetts Avenue in front of my old office where my ex-boyfriend used to drop me off on Monday mornings after a weekend together. I was always grateful for the ride to work, really thankful for his time. This will sound awful, but genuine appreciation aside, this other part of me felt relieved to get back to my weekday life, which felt more natural to me: sarcasm, work, startups, my friends, internet, the gym. Space. I wanted to want that weekend life, but I didn’t. It’s not my perfect life, and that’s ok. It’s ok.
Before I crossed the street tonight to get the necessary ingredients for my comfort food protein shake at Clear Conscience Cafe, I looked up at my old office where I met my next ex-boyfriend at a company party. I squinted at the window, noticing its fresh paint and new walls dividing the once open space into tiny separate offices. It looked a lot different. But I imagined what it used to look like, what it looked like the day I got a ZipCar on a Saturday morning to move out after we got acquired. I walked loads of office supplies and startupy knicknacks (ie, the Seth Godin marketing action figure) up and down the stairs.
I soaked it all in. It was a lot to take in. I would never come there to work again. So much had just happened.
Before I left, I stood in the exact spot in the universe where I first met him and took this picture.
I’ve reflected on this one thought ever since I first heard the recording of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2011 Barnard College graduation speech back in May.
“The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.”
I think this might be true.
Relationships can be motivating, and they can also be distracting and negative. Point blank, it’s homelife, and that impacts your mindset and the level to which you can focus on work. (For a romantic take, I strongly recommend John Steinbeck’s impossibly beautiful and timeless letter about love here.)
As I’m clearly unmarried, I don’t have much of an opinion on the stay-at-home dad discussion that Sheryl’s point often sparks. But what I do know is that who you date impacts your career in many ways, but in the simplest way because it impacts how you spend your time. Not all significant others are cool with you going to a tech networking event and hanging out with a bunch of other dudes, and not everyone thinks a great Sunday afternoon involves getting ahead on work for the week. But these are aspects of a certain lifestyle and career track. 50 coffees, right? A lot of people are less likely to achieve 50 coffees if they’re always worried about that awkward jealously argument before or after Starbucks. Dark roast, dark times. And even if there is no tension about jealously, those are 50 coffees you’re not having with the significant other. There’s only so much time to go around.
On a practical level, the relationships I admire set expectations and plan when to see each other. If you have work to do on a Saturday or have an event to go to on a Thursday, say so. But this stuff is also about compromise, right? So say when you’ll be done if you’re still going to see that person that night. It’s amazing what setting expectations can do to build trust. From the outside looking in, that seems to allow people to still pursue the things they want to as individuals (like careers, or hobbies) but not neglect each other.
Looking back even to my internship days, I wish I’d put my intentions on the table more in relationships. I wish I didn’t ask if I could go to an event or spend some time working. I wish I just presented it as something I needed to take care of. If I could go back, I would have compromised my time less and made it clear that these things were simply a part of my life. It would have been more fair to both sides.
But had I not been a late bloomer and just done this stuff in the first place, I wouldn’t be so complicated, interesting and choke-full of excuses to play this song and whatever cliche songs I want this week. Right? Right?
Anyway, let’s face it: Splitting your time with someone else flat out sucks sometimes. Single is another relationship option too if you just want to focus on your career, or just because you want to be.
To finish these thoughts, I really wanted to make a joke about hiring fast and firing fast, recruiting A-players to your team, something witty about cofounders, probably something about dating/generating leads/sales funnels and maybe something dirty about conversion rates. Then finally I wanted to find a charming excuse to link to this post by Fred Wilson talking about the importance of family – because that guy blogs like six times a day and I heard he blogs like, on his Blackberry while on the treadmill while on the subway and if an overachieving badass yet also probably workaholic like him recognizes the importance of this stuff then. well. shit. We all should.
But I’ve got nothing. Just… fellow 20-something ladies, don’t be impressed so easily. Your attention and time is valuable – not to mention your heart. Texting you back isn’t a grand gesture. It’s just asking what time you’re coming over.
By the way, someone’s reading that freaking letter at my wedding one day. Whenever that day comes.