Hard Lessons: 1. Don’t mistake colleagues for friends

Contrary to appearances, I’m a fairly private person. You might not think so from some of what I write on this blog, but I challenge anyone to read through here and find personal details like the number of my siblings who have passed away or something hurtful someone might have done to me.

Since I’m almost to 55 – both in terms of my list of things that I have learned, and in age, with my birthday next week, I thought I would break with my usual behavior and give two hard lessons that I have learned.

#52 Don’t mistake colleagues for friends

If you work with someone, you can understandably confuse a colleague with a friend. After all, you spend a lot of time together, you have common interests, you might know each other for many years. You travel to the same events. What more do you want?

In my view, a friend actually cares about you as a person.

Over the years, I have worked at a number of organizations and been on several boards of non-profits. There are people I considered good friends, who I worked well with, accomplished a lot. We often went out to dinner or for drinks together, talked on the phone. When I left that job or organization – I never heard from them again. The first couple of times it happened, I was deeply hurt. Now, I don’t expect anything else. I enjoy the intellectual companionship; I’m gratified by any achievements we have together, and when it is all over, I never expect to see them again and I am not disappointed.

As I sit here, I can think of five people in my thirty-year career that I think of as friends, but I am immensely grateful for each and every one of them. One, I met 28 years ago and I saw her most recently today. One, I met five years ago and, coincidentally, I talked to him today also.

I competed in judo for 14 years and was involved as a coach and board member of various organizations for another 28 years after that. I coached hundreds of students, competed on national and international teams with dozens of teammates, was on boards that served thousands of athletes and coaches. After 42 years in the sport, there are nine people I would call my friends. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I talked to four of them this week. All of those nine people would bail me out of jail, but only five of them would help me bury the body so that I didn’t get caught in the first place. (That is lesson number two, but you’ll have to wait for my next post for that.)

I am not complaining. I feel amazingly lucky. To have 14 friends in addition to my wonderful family is a blessing. As I said in #7, You ARE your associates – I truly hope the young man who told me we get exactly the friends we deserve is correct, because I have a wealth of wonderful friends.

My point, though, is that 14 is a very small fraction of the number of people I have met in my professional and athletic career. If I had learned earlier the lesson not to confuse colleagues with friends, I would have saved myself some heartache.

Ronda with her confirmation sponsor, my friend Jake
My friend, Jake, as Ronda’s confirmation sponsor


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  1. when my son died and i was at the hospital i said she was a friend but she said she was a co worker it hurt

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