Friends? Colleagues? Where's the Line?

Group HugSeveral months ago, when I was first jumping into Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, I shared this question on LinkedIn:

“For what do you use which of these spaces?”

A young man sent this response:

“While I agree that a colleague can be a friend and vice-versa, I do think that it is better not to mix these two spheres.”

His response came to mind as I watched a chat on Twitter tonight about the same subject – the line between the personal and the professional.

And that reminded me of something I posted to a listserv several years ago, in response to a question raised by a colleague (who also happens to be a friend). Her question was this: “When it comes to the personal and the professional, where does each of us draw that line?”

My response three years ago to my friend’s question grows more accurate every day.


Thank you so much for raising this.  Because in a profession where all we have is what’s inside our heads and hearts, I have stopped looking for the line between what is personal and what is professional.  I have one life, and everything informs everything else.

Some of my closest friends in the world are people I met through my work.  I have former clients who call to tell me of a new professional hurdle – 5 years after they stopped being a paying client – and similar clients who send me email jokes, or just call to go to lunch.

We took a 100 mile detour off a business trip a few months back, to pay a surprise visit to a former client who has not been a client since 1997.  I will probably remember forever his smile and outright giggling-like-a-kid upon seeing us. Was that business?  Was it pleasure?  Does it matter?

More to the point of the question, does it inform our work, our professional outlook?  Will I perhaps recommend to a client that if they want to see their resources grow, they might pick up the phone and call someone they haven’t spoken to in a long time, just to say hi?  So was that side trip personal or business?

When I am writing my next book, and I need folks to do peer review, will I head to those I neither know nor trust? Or  will I instead ask the same people who have watched me go through good and bad times, have been there with me throughout, and whom I know and trust both personally and professionally?  And isn’t the only way I can maintain that professional bond to also maintain the personal bond?

If I am in Chicago and I go to dinner with you – a friend who is a friend because you were a colleague first – and we talk about life, the universe, and everything (and perhaps it is snowing and the food is great, as it was last time…) – is that business or pleasure?  When it is time for my next book to come out, is it likely I will ask you to be part of the peer review team, just as you asked me to do for you? The trust we share will not have come from watching each other’s  listserv posts as professional observers.  That trust will have been built through visits and phone calls and LAUGHING a lot!!  So is that business or personal?

And doesn’t one inform the other, simply because we are not a “work” person and a “play” person but just one person? Isn’t that what helps us grow overall, which of course grows our business?

I don’t stamp out widgets for a living.  I live my life, pursue what interests me, and somehow make a living from that. So where is the line?  I prefer not to have one.  Sometimes that means I work my butt off, 24/7, because I am energized by what I am working on.  Sometimes it means I take 2 weeks to hide away and write.

Sometimes it means, like today, that in the middle of the day I will take my 82 year old mother to the movies.  And I will see something in that movie that will inspire me.  And I will scribble it down on the way home, so I don’t forget to send a note to a client / friend.  And we will laugh about that tomorrow, that I can’t even see a silly movie without my mind going in a million different directions.

So which part of that is personal vs. professional?  I can tell you definitively that our business prospers almost entirely because I don’t have a line – that each informs the other, as it is all just one life.

So here’s to my meeting each of you over a long dinner one of these days when we are in the same city.  And here’s to our raising our glasses in a toast to friendship and the amazing interconnectedness that makes life worth living and makes our businesses strong, all at the same time.


What about you? Where do you draw the line? Or do you draw a line at all?

9 thoughts on “Friends? Colleagues? Where's the Line?”

  1. Hildy, thank you for sharing this, and published before the chat was even over! Impressive! I loved what you wrote about business vs. personal; I have similar experiences and relationships with clients and former co-workers; and SM has allowed me to reconnect and keep in touch with the best of the best of all my previous lives in a way I never could have before. The combined energy of these connections sustains me. Thanks

  2. What an eloquent and insightful way of presenting this topic of where to draw the line between personal and professional life. When and why in history did we decide that these were two separate worlds anyway?

    Many years ago I worked hard at keeping my peronsal life away from work. Part of it was fear of rejection from my co-workers and bosses. I also didn’t like some of the people that I worked with anyway. Then I changed my mind and started to let my professional and personal live blend into one. It actually made my life better, richer and much more enjoyable.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hildy,

    Just found you via friend and colleague @christineegger ans so happy to make this connection. I too find it hard to draw the line between the personal and professional – especially when it comes to social media – so I don’t even try! It is simply too hard and artificial to sever the two. While I can see areas where this becomes a serious challenge (like client-based services) for the most part it makes sense to be who you are both online and offline. You have stated the case beautifully, thank you.

  4. I agree with Hildy that there isn’t really a line. In my case, that reason is multiplied by the fact that I run a community center in a small rural town. My children come to work with me often, and have attended programs here. The people I hire as staff, who I recruit for the board, who attend programs, all come from the same community – I see them at the grocery store, the beach, the outdoor concert, the farmer’s market – at events I sponsor and those others sponsor. I used to find that a bit stressful – I felt I had to be “on” all the time. Now I don’t worry about it – I’m just “me” all the time. The professional me and the personal me are the same me. (I hope that doesn’t mean I’m ever inappropriate, just authentic!)

  5. SO. TRUE. I wouldn’t change a word of this, Hildy. You expressed what I’ve tried to explain to others for years.

    A perfect example is my recent job search. I found a job in only three months thanks to innumerable lunches, coffee meet-ups, phone calls, etc. Everyone asked what my secret to successfully networking was. Was it Twitter? Facebook? Job sites?

    Nope. My big ‘secret’ was being genuinely interested in other people’s lives and passions, and getting excited about the same things they did. There was no line; there was only me (similar to what Jenny said).

    I don’t think it’s a matter of introversion or extroversion either. If you do prefer to draw a line between personal and professional, that’s fine — the principle still applies. Caring about other people leads them to care about you, no matter the context, and the virtuous cycle keeps going.

    Now, that’s the kind of phenomenon I can get behind. 🙂 Thanks again for a post well-said and well-shared, Hildy!

  6. Hey Hildy,
    One of the reasons I love reading you is that you are a deep thinker (and we are often thinking the same things :)). Hoots and I are completely with you. We recently “came out” as married for some of the same reasons you describe–our professional life and personal life have very smudged, indistinct lines. BUT we are thinking there are concentric circles of familiarity. The closer we are to you the more you’ll know about us. New friends on FB wouldn’t know as much as friends we hang out with professionally, etc. Are you thinking the same?

  7. I agree with all of the previous comments about interconnectedness and authenticity in our whole lives. I do find that the people in my life are drawn to connect in different ways. Long time friends and family tend to congregate on Facebook because more of them use it. Some friends and colleagues prefer LinkedIn or Twitter while others join in the Facebook fun (yes, the quiz says I am truly a loyal Hufflepuff).

    They why’s and where’s of our connection don’t matter as much as the fact that we share our lives, our philosophies and our vision (with healthy doses of laughter thrown in for good measure.)

  8. WOW! Thanks to each and every one of you! The amazing thing I noted both here and on Twitter & Facebook, as I’ve tweeted & posted about this post: The number of responses and RTs and FB comments are HUGE when the topic has to do with our interconnectedness.

    It goes beyond our needing each other; we ARE each other! We are like cells in a single organism that is this earth, this life.

    Thank you all so much for being part of my life!


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