Permission to remove people from your life
Protect your peace.
When I was in college, I loved a good fight. I volunteered for many local political campaigns, which inevitably led to heated discussions and clashes with opponents.
I began my first real, grown-up job with a very mild temperament. I wanted to please my employer. And being a star employee meant “easy to get along with” (in my mind).
But I was surrounded by people who didn’t act that way. They were harsh and rude. I maintained my composure when dealing with angry customers, but eventually realized that I needed to push back to hold my ground in a sometimes-hostile work environment.
And so I matched the temperament of my colleagues. Even better: I had words on my side. I could type a brisk or scathing reply quickly. It was easy, in a fully remote environment, to keep a conversation’s volume really high since I rarely communicated with my colleagues face-to-face.
This type of virtual shouting was frequent. Sometimes I would get up from my computer, furious, my heart pounding. But I never backed down. Because no one else backed down.
The pandemic made me tired. I had no energy to fight with anyone at work. But the people without children at home pressed on. They weren’t dealing with the intense and unrelenting pressures of remote learning and 24/7 parenting without a break.
The work environment — which I now call toxic, but that word was barely on my radar back then — was one of the many reasons I left. I needed to find a more peaceful existence.
Professional courtesy has limits
Social media has blurred the lines between professional and personal for a long time. As different platforms rose in popularity, most people had to consider the advantages and disadvantages of connecting with colleagues. Was refusing a connection from a co-worker an affront? Or maintaining boundaries?
I worked with someone who used a pseudonym on Twitter and used to shitpost during meetings. It was like an inside club that only a few of us were aware of. But, ultimately, public (if anyone figured out her real identity).
Another colleague would routinely block every coworker on Facebook — whether he liked the person or not. His manager complained to me in passing, thinking it was odd (or anti-social). I shrugged and said, “He’s made a decision to keep work and personal separate.”
LinkedIn has evolved into an odd hybrid of professional and personal. I’ve been on the platform since the early days, when it served as nothing more than my professional Rolodex. I connected with people — even people I didn’t particularly like — because it seemed like a professional courtesy. It’s always been a low-drama platform compared to its social media counterparts.
But how far should professional courtesy extend? People have talked for years about blocking people on Facebook and Twitter. It’s natural: they’re an invasion of your personal space. We’re used to “playing nice” on professional platforms, but that overlooks the fact that some people were truly harmed by an employer, an individual within a company, or both.
It’s not worth the strain
Sometimes, access to your former colleagues can give you a bit of schadenfreude. A friend of mine admitted that she keeps tabs on people at her former company, wondering, “So, did they actually get their act together?”
In other cases, seeing former colleagues — especially those who caused actual harm — can be a trigger. Or perhaps the person wasn’t all that bad, but they’re a reminder of a toxic situation.
One relationship with a former colleague soured after I left. To this day, I don’t really understand the reason, but we stopped talking almost two years ago. I’ve moved on and our paths really don’t have any reason to cross.
Then recently, LinkedIn informed me that she had looked at my profile. It was like I had seen a ghost. And I found myself feeling panicky, like, “What could she possibly want? Why is she checking up on me?”
The reality is that it was probably innocuous. But seeing her face on the platform (and my subsequent reaction) brought up feelings that I didn’t want to feel. I’d left the company for a reason. I wasn’t connected to her anymore; there was no reason for me to Feel My Feelings if she decided to peep on my profile in the future.
And so I blocked her.
If you’ve ever hesitated about blocking a professional contact, I’m hereby giving you permission to run out and do that right now. You don’t owe professional courtesy to anyone. Protect your professional life in the same way you would your personal life.
You can also follow me on LinkedIn for more insights about work, or on Twitter for spicier takes, and Medium where I write about fun stuff like productivity and creativity. Or catch up on the personal side of my life on my blog.
Not gonna lie, I’m seeing more and more reasons to leave Twitter. Substack Notes might be the answer.
Notes is a new space on Substack for people to share links, short posts, quotes, photos, and more. I’m not sure how I’ll use it yet — still trying to figure that out — but committed to exploring it.
How to join Substack Notes
Head to substack.com/notes or find the “Notes” tab in the Substack app. If you’re a subscriber of my newsletter, you’ll automatically see my notes. Feel free to like, reply, or share them around! You can also add Notes of your own.