The Things We Get Used To

Recently, my sister and brother-in-law brought their kids over to play with mine in the yard of our new house. Sounds normal, right? Except the kids were in masks. And they couldn’t share toys or hug. And my baby had to stay six feet from everyone not in her nuclear family because she’s too little for a face covering. We ordered burritos because that’s a food that is naturally individual sized, had bottles of beer, and didn’t share the accompanying chips. And we had… fun? We did. We had fun. Because we’ve gotten used to this. We’ve grown accustomed to a global pandemic that has utterly overturned the way we used to live, with no end in sight. It’s been months since I’ve hugged my sister or my parents. Nobody from my husband’s side of the family has even met our 9-month-old daughter. But here we go, one foot in front of the other. And some days are even good.

What does this mean for you at work? It means that we can get used to almost anything. And my fear is that a lot of associates get lulled into submission to unhealthy and unfulfilling roles. I certainly did. I had a boss once who allegedly threw a computer. No, not a laptop. A desktop computer. She is said to have thrown it at another associate who had not cite checked a brief. There are people who have been at that firm – with that boss – for years. It has become normalized, but it is not normal.

I met with an associate last year who asked if there were firms where she could have an hour off in the evening to have dinner. Another associate was emailing the partner she works for (and not about handing work off) while she was in active labor with her second child. I spoke to a male associate who is a dad, and he told me that he covers childcare in the morning, which includes remote school, then he works in the afternoon and after his children’s bedtimes, usually until about 3 a.m. He does this on a daily basis, rising again at 7 a.m. That’s unhealthy and unsustainable.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We CAN get used to things that are scary, toxic, unhealthy. We’re doing it right now. But in a world where there’s a choice, we don’t need to. Many associates have taken this time to assess what is and isn’t working at their jobs. But if you haven’t taken a walk with this thought exercise as a goal, do that now. Think about the elements of your job that aren’t working for you, the ones that are, and weigh them out. Examine it. Acknowledge that staying where you are is a choice. It may or may not be the right one.

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