When is it ok to take work home?

This is part 3 in my series on lessons for young professionals from recent movies.

3. Total objectivity is impossible and overrated.

I need to start this post with a disclaimer: Boundaries between teachers and students, therapists and clients, and other parties in professional relationships are important.  In the examples I give in this post, the professionals in question respect the legal and ethical boundaries while allowing themselves to become emotionally invested, to a healthy degree, in the people they are helping.  Philosophers and psychologists tell us that complete objectivity is impossible; we all bring biases and baggage to whatever we approach, including our careers.  That’s not a bad thing, and in the two examples below, I hope to prove that it can even be beneficial under the appropriate circumstances.

First, we return to Anna Kendrick.  In 50/50, she plays a mental health counselor to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, who has cancer.  At first (and I think this has a lot to do with how young she is, and feels) she is overly vigilant about maintaining professionalism, which makes the counseling sessions tense and awkward (and, admittedly, very funny).  A breakthrough occurs when she gives her client a ride home and he gets a chance to see her as a real person with a very messy car.  At this point, she begins to open up about some of her own personal worries, which allows the therapeutic relationship to become natural and unforced.  Ultimately, the counselor learns just as much as the client does, and in the end (AFTER the counseling sessions have ended, I must stress) she gets a really great boyfriend out of the deal.

A similar principle is at work in The Woman in Black, in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a widowed lawyer with a young son.  (If you’re having trouble picturing that, remember that this is a late 19th/early 20th century period piece–people died earlier back then, so they had to get started earlier.)  I believe that his grief for his wife’s death and concern for his son’s safety, far from interfering with his work, endow him with the emotional intelligence and perceptiveness necessarily to solve the spooky case he gets caught up in, which involves the death of a woman and a young boy.

In the next post, we’ll begin to look at some negative examples.

3 thoughts on “When is it ok to take work home?

  1. Couple of points about work as a “young” professional, from an “old” professional

    1. “Taking work home” is completely different in the context of today’s mobile work environment, where everything a professional needs to do their job (computer, access to networks and data, cell phone, phone conferencing) is available anywhere. Basically “home” and “work” aren’t defined by geography, but context (not “are you in the office?” but “Are you working now? [no matter where you are]”. So, for the 50/50 example, the counselor could be just as much at work in her car as she was in her office. She was just learning the rules of engagement of working in the car (just like we all had to learn, for example, to mute the phone if we went to the bathroom in the middle of a conference call, or if our aural work space was invaded by a child or a pet).

    2. I have always said, and can back it up with 30 years of work experience, that an employer will take everything that an employee offers and accept it with no reward. So if you think you have to give your employer 50-60-70 hours per week, under hard conditions, doing impossible tasks, then by all means do so, but be aware of the deal. The employer will take everything you give and accept it with no reward. Don’t expect more than that just because you gave your time and effort. Set your own boundaries and maintain them. Since “home” and “work” are no longer defined by geography, those boundaries in your own mind (and explicitly with your manager/employer when the boundaries are questioned) are all the geography you have to defend, so choose wisely..

  2. Good advice, Dad! But what if your aural work space is invaded by creepy rocking chair sounds and an angry ghost?

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