Reflecting back: on work connections and the magic of memories

A couple of weeks ago I had my last day at Transport for NSW, a large State Government agency that I had been working within for over 9.5 years. This was a milestone for many reasons: not only was it the first government organisation I’d worked in, it was the first time I’d worked within an organisation’s in-house Learning & Development team (my previous L&D experience had been on the ‘supplier’ side); and it was the first time I’d stayed in an organisation for that length of time.

When making the decision to leave an organisation that you’ve had a long tenure in, you are thinking forwards for a long time in the lead-up to actually leaving: when, how, and why you will leave; whether you should actually stay; and what you will do afterwards. But then, when you actually do it, you do a great deal of looking back on the experience: reflecting on all that you learnt; the things you could or would have done better; the things that you will take with you, and the things you will leave behind.

One of the things that did surprise me about the ‘leaving’ experience though, were the people who responded to my LinkedIn post about the milestone: some of these were people I had worked with, (or had conversations about working with) up to 10, and even 15 years earlier; from a past life that I had rarely thought about consciously in recent years. But what was interesting, was that when I went to respond to their comment, the memory of that person, the work we’d done together; and in particular, the interactions and conversations we’d had (the circumstances, even where we’d had them; what it had felt like) – came flooding back, easily, and clearly. And, it was lovely to revisit, recapture, and hold the memories of those moments in my mind’s eye again for a little while. Moments that I thought had been and passed, never to return again.

What I realised from this, was that what you remember from work – the things that stay with you – the most salient memories, are not the quantifiable achievements (the things one might put on the resume, or talk about in a job interview); but the conversations; the interactions that sparked a lightbulb moment, or paradigm shift in your thinking, or that planted the seed that slow-burned into a life changing decision years later; the comradery formed from working together to solve difficult challenges; the giving up of personal time to stay back together to meet a crazy deadline; the acts of unexpected kindness form workmates or managers when fragments of your personal life come crashing unexpectedly into your work sphere and need to be dealt with – not after you finish this work thing, but Now; the tens of hundreds of compromises that you make with, and for, others in the pursuit of work goals, and that others make for you….the feelings that you felt in those moments, and the trust that you build in those relationships as a result; that enable these relationships to live on (even as loose ties) well beyond the time you work together.

These, the moments that you seemingly forget about or tuck away deep in your subconscious or unconscious mind after they happen, when you both move on to the next interaction, task, project, team, or job – these matter, because they form the building blocks of trust and respect, which are so critical to productive and constructive working relationships. What surprised me was that memories associated with those moments remained so salient (at least for me), after so many years, and in some cases, despite little to no contact with the person in those intervening years. And although I’m sure it’s not experienced in the same way, and/or to the same degrees; that this must also be felt in some way for the other person too. But perhaps best of all, this ephemeral ‘thing’, bond – whatever it is, whatever you might call it – can be reignited; re-experienced; re-imagined by some spark of memory of the connection. It reminded me of how some plant’s seeds lay dormant, and only germinate when exposed to fire. Seemingly magical (because our rational minds don’t fully understand it…), but undoubtedly life affirmingly, soul enrichingly, universally important, and just…good. Something to be appreciated, held onto, and wondered about, if even for a few moments.

Banksia cone
A Banksia marginata cone opens to release seed after the plant is burnt by wildfireTindo2 – Tim Rudman

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