On Changing from We to They 0

Photo Credit: PicJumbo
IMG 9748 Jumping from one employer to another is never easy, but doing it after over a decade with your former employers can lead to some very interesting issues. Not the least of which, for me, is suddenly finding yourself in the very odd position of moving to knowing that people you’ve considered part of your work life for years and years are no longer “we.”

Back in my days of so-called wolf-packing from one startup to another; none of us were around one company long enough to truly get the sense of “we.” Any time you approached that level of corporate identity, you either jumped ship because your wolf-pack colleagues were building up a new startup, or because the one you were in was going under. Thankfully, those two scenarios only intersected in my career once, but that was – in the general marketplace – another common reason why “we,” never really latched on to any of us. When I found a home for so many years I found not only new technology platforms we built becoming standards but other employees who were there just as long as I was, “we” became me.

It was an odd feeling for those of my generation in technology. Other verticals, like healthcare and financial firms, do tend to have folks who sign on board and end up staying in the same company their entire careers, but tech moves and changes so quickly and so often that long tenure isn’t typically even an option, much less a common occurrence. Most people I know in the field stay at one company for a maximum of three to five years, and so many co-workers come and go during that time that a collective noun just doesn’t get a chance to stick.

So, when I did finally step out of a long-standing employment gig, and into a new one, for the first time in so long; I suddenly realized that I had become part of the proverbial “we,” and more unnervingly I had to deal with the issue of that life becoming a “they” overnight. It’s not a comfortable position to be in, and thankfully my new co-workers have mostly come from the same situation and are able to help me deal with it, but it is what it is. “We” have become “They” – and I can’t do much but hope to get used to it quickly and move on.

How do you deal with that change in your work life? How can you force your brain into wrapping itself around the fact that the internal communities, political cliques, and personal relationships that defined your day-to-day are now something you exist outside of? More importantly, how do you deal with the fact that it isn’t who you are any longer? After all, melding to become part of “we” changes you to the core, and now that core is gone.

For me, the process is on-going, but I’ve found a few ways to help hurry it along so I can move on and get on with new adventures:

1 – Acknowledge that it won’t be easy. You’ve worked with these people, places, and policies for a chunk of your life. They’ve changed you, and you’ve changed them in at least some ways. Recognize that the transformation from seeing them as part of “we” to being “they” won’t happen overnight. Beating yourself up over it won’t make it any easier, and will make the whole process take a lot longer.

2 – Don’t constantly correct yourself out loud. In your head, make sure to mentally correct yourself when you accidentally say things like “We do it this way” when you meant to say “They do it this way,” but don’t immediately and constantly re-state your statements out loud. First, it’s insanely awkward for everyone listening to you. Once in a while, it’s funny and charming. If you do it every single time, it becomes annoying. Your co-workers know you’re going through one hell of a transition, they know what you mean when you use the wrong pronouns, and as long as they can still see you’re trying to shift your mindset, they’ll let the mistake slide.

3 – Do mentally correct yourself whenever you can. I find that if I’ve said “We do X this way” out loud, a quick mental note that “THEY do X this way” in my head doesn’t break the flow of my thoughts, and reinforces the desire to get the pronouns right over time. You should mentally check yourself and correct the statement in your head, training your brain to pick the right pronoun the next time you have to make the sentence come out of your mouth.

4 – Mentally note when others do it. If you’re in a situation where there are other employees in the same boat, make sure you mentally note when they use “we” instead of “they.” This is not an exercise to see who does it more, but rather a mnemonic you can use to help yourself. By noticing when it happens to others around you, your own brain can form more concrete pathways that help you also start using the appropriate pronouns yourself.

5 – Don’t go correcting others when they do it, at least not as a rule. Again, once in a while, reminding someone that it’s “they” and not “we” can be a good thing, but don’t be that guy/girl who constantly harps on it. First, you look like a douche, but more importantly it doesn’t help either of you. I have a few folks at my new company who remind me once in a while – when it’s appropriate or funny or will break tension. That has been a huge help for me and them alike. But I’ve worked in places where someone will religiously correct the new guy who uses the wrong pronouns, and they just look like assholes.

Finally, remember the immortal words of Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey, “There’s no shame in feeling homesick. It means you come from a happy home.” Keeping good memories of where you came from and who you knew there and considered “we” is nothing to be ashamed of. Over time, your brain will recognize that “we” have become “they,” and in the meantime, start finding your new “we” and you can begin to move on.