Erica. Relationships

posted April 1st, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Erica to tell me about the relationships in her life which she believes had the greatest impact on her and in particular on her work life and career.

Erica believes relationships in general have a big influence on the careers of women (and she thinks that it’s probably the same case for men!)

Boyfriends and What They Teach Us

Her first example of a relationship which impacted her was one with a boyfriend she had in university. When Erica first went to university, she dated a lot of guys but didn’t like the pressure of always going out with different people, so she settled into a relationship with a fellow who had a very domineering personality and because she was just kind of floating along it was great for her… at first. However, over the longer term, she realized it wasn’t so great for her because she actually sees herself as having a similar domineering personality style, which meant they would argue a lot. However, his strong personality taught Erica to be tough and learning to be tough really helped her in her business life.

Erica believes this toughness allowed her to go and ask for raises or if someone at work got on her case in public she could deal with it. In the latter case, she wouldn’t object to their comments at the time but she would always have a talk with the person afterwards and ask them what the intention was behind their remarks. In a male dominated work environment, she would just call the individual into her office and say “I am not sure what you intended there but this was the impact on me and I didn’t like it” and in her experience, they would never do it again.

She learned to behave in this way, in this type of circumstance, from this early relationship. The same boyfriend was also a good student so she says she learned some good work habits from him. Erica’s schooling had been very unstructured because in her view, very few teachers offered any structure in the ’70s. And she believes a student needs structure to do well in school. Her boyfriend had a structured education and he taught her some good study habits and organizing techniques which she found very helpful.

You may recall from the story about her early years, Erica loved organizing events, things, people and her early organizing tendencies continued in later years. In fact, structure may have been important to Erica because it represented a form of organization.

Erica says she likes getting people organized and compares herself to a shepherd or a sheep dog, except she herds people. She does recognize you can never truly get everything buttoned down with people because they don’t work that way. In her experience, people tend to wander off following their own path and she expects them to do so; she doesn’t expect them to march in order. However, when it is required she is happy to coral them back in like a shepherd.

She likes to have things organized too, for example, papers in binders, projects in steps etc. Although, she claims she is not like this in everything she does, she admits this is what works for her with certain things.

Finding The Ideal Mate

Erica says her husband had a huge influence on her. He was quiet and calm and went through life, very effectively and without a lot of drama. He operated on a very even keel emotionally which was new to her. She had always been with very volatile people, including her family which she describes as very loud and dramatic. It was a learning experience being with her husband. She discovered she liked calmness. She had never had it before, so she never knew how much she liked it.

She was looking for this when she met him. She was very specific. She had gone out with someone during MBA school. It was not a deep relationship and he was a “two timer”. So when she broke up with him, a male friend asked her what she was looking for in the next guy. He kept asking her: “What are you looking for?” And her response was that she just wanted somebody who was simply going to be her boyfriend and be loyal to her and think she was everything he needed to be satisfied.

And when her husband came along, she recognized he was exactly what she wanted because her friend had forced her to describe what she wanted in such rigorous detail. When she met him, she could see very clearly he was a very caring person and she said to herself, “this is what I’m looking for!!”

The Importance of Squash Lessons

The other friend, the male friend who challenged her to describe what she wanted in a boyfriend had an influence on her too!! They dated a little bit but in Erica’s words “it didn’t really take” and they became very good friends which was odd for her. They played squash together. In fact, he taught her how to play squash.

Initially, when they played squash she was not very aggressive and he told her when she played, she needed to be aggressive. For example, if her opponent was at the front of the court she needed to hit the ball to the back, so they couldn’t get it etc. He explained to her: “And then one thinks to oneself… ha ha!!” For her this was a very male way of thinking and she found it very helpful to her in business. Erica says she thought of it so many times!!

When working with a group of men at a very difficult juncture in her career, she could see they were trying to “hit the ball to the back of the court” when she was at the front and she played with them, like a game of squash. Her earlier squash lessons came in handy. She didn’t take their behaviour personally. It was a game. For Erica, business is very much like a game of squash. At certain times, one tries to get the other person off balance to achieve one’s objectives!!

In the relationship context, I would be remiss not to mention the importance to Erica of her three children and her family. When I asked her in a later part of our interview what she considered her work of greatest significance, she did not hesitate to say her family. In her words: “For sure. Nurturing the three kids. Getting them launched, to me, that’s the most significant thing I do.”

What strikes me?

Relationships and what we learn from them can have a big influence on our careers

The impact of clearly setting out what we want in terms of looking for a mate

How critical it is to learn from the lessons life offers us

How lucky Erica was to find a wonderful, gentle soul with whom to share her life and to recognize this treasure when he appeared in her life!

Key words are organizing, toughness, gentleness, calm, nurturing and family

What strikes you?

Please add your comments.

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