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Letter to my daughter: save the drama for your mama

In this letter to my daughter, I share the complexities of interpersonal relationships at work, maintaining professionalism without being mean, and saving all of that drama for mama.



Dear daughter,

You are weeks away from your first days as an upperclassman in high school and just a few short years away from entering the workforce. You’re going to read a lot of books in college and on your own that will help form your identity as an employee and later as an employer, but those books aren’t going to tell you everything. That’s where I come in – as your parent, I am willing to be honest with you and help you navigate the waters based on my experience and the experience of others.

You know the saying, save the drama for your mama, right? Of course you do, because you’re a genius. I was thinking yesterday about how difficult it is to balance your work life and your personal life and if you’re nearly the workaholic as I am, your work will BE your personal life and vice versa, because you’ll love what you do. Not only is that balance difficult because of passion levels, but because you’re told that in order to get a job, you have to be yourself, be genuine, be sincere, and be personable.

So how do you maintain balance, and why would you want to anyway?

Many people make friends at work, and with your outgoing personality, you’ll be drawn to everyone you work with and you’ll want to be their friend. Most people also are called to be liked, so you’ll want them to want to be your friend. Being friendly is good. It really is. It’s you, and like many empathetic people like you, you’ll even be drawn to help your coworkers when they’re in need – Joe came up short on his house payment, so you privately slide him a $350 loan, Susan is thinking about leaving her husband, so you offer a listening ear and counsel her to follow her heart and mind, and Janice noticed you’ve lost weight and wants to know how you did it, so you give her your nutritionist’s guide and workout plan.

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But what happens when Joe can’t pay you back, and needs more money next month and Susan leaves her husband because she thought that’s what you were counseling by not telling her to stay, and Janice adopted your meal plan but is gaining weight because her body type is different? Resentment. They all resent you and that warm fuzzy feeling goes away.

What could you have done differently? If they were your friends and you didn’t work with them, you’d hug them, do what it took to get them on their feet, and move on with life. But at work, there is a dynamic pressure between you and the hierarchy, and climbing the ladder is more difficult when people hear gossip that you encourage divorce, fatness, and debt – all you did was help, but it gets twisted and you’re a monster.

With coworkers, remember that they’re your coworker first, and friend second – go to happy hour with these people, feel free to listen to their problems, but keep yours close to the vest so they’re not twisted, and try to keep your opinions to yourself. When Joe comes up short on cash, empathize and let him know you’ve been there before and wish you could help but know it will work out. When Susan complains about her husband and asks you what you think, put it back on her and ask what she thinks. When Janice wants your meal plan, let her know it changes every few weeks, but here is your nutritionist’s email address.

Additionally, you’ll feel friendly with people at work and want to confide in them about your personal drama. Didn’t get a raise? Fighting with your boyfriend? Can’t make your car payment? Save that drama for your mama and keep your focus at work.

Keeping an arm’s length between you and coworkers will keep your reputation safe and help you maintain your professionalism. You’ll feel mean at first, but so long as you do it empathetically, you can maintain your passion for your job, but not allow personal life and work life to blur into a place where you are vulnerable. Your coworkers are friendly, but you’re all competing and you need to remember that.

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So save the drama for your mama – along with your father, I’m always here to listen and guide, and most of all to protect.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. doodlebug2222

    August 4, 2013 at 2:55 am

    Here is what I have told my five daughters as the grew older… “When things go wrong, consider how much you played into this and impacted it – even in small ways…and then next time… try to handle these small things before they snowball into big issues.”

    I also remind them that we all have bad moods… “and when things are just too much for you.. call me or a friend and just… tell us about it”…

    I think the biggest piece of advice was to “remember that time changes all things, including your focus and priorities.. and it is okay to get excited about something – talk about it and mentally try it on… and at the same time, it is fine to decide to go another way… no harm, no foul. Just be honest with yourself”.

    We talk.. communicate often and I think what I have learned most about my daughters in all of these years is… that they see me as a person, not just a mom but an individual. I remind them “when people get on their nerves, see this about them also… and don’t take their anger or frustration personal… and rise above it.”

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