Lessons from a Life: Love


Lesson #6: Honor all relationships.

It is impossible to love what you do, if you do not enjoy your co-workers and/or clients. In addition, if work gets in the way of having healthy relationships in your personal life, the work will eventually become emotionally, unsustainable.

Early on in my career, I tolerated working for a few bullies but since my early 30s I have had the privilege of working for and with people I admired and respected. When I was in the hospitality business, I took on sometimes rude, demanding and disgruntled guests as a sport and worked to charm them into contentment. In my current career, I work with close friends who I really love and have clients that are amazing. This shift has been deliberate and overall I am happy with the progress I have made in building a strong network and great working relationships.

My personal relationships have been more challenging. I have been in love 5 times in my life, roughly once a decade. I have never been married, and have no children. I still have hope that this may change despite my age but most days, I am accepting of my singleness. I rarely feel lonely because I love my work, learned to like my own company, and appreciate the freedom and friends I have. All that said, I still feel a twinge of embarrassment about my inability to find a mate and create a family. The word spinster kept coming to mind when I contemplated writing this blog…

The best long-term personal relationships I have are with friends, nieces and nephews. I am an OK, (but not great) daughter and sister but I do hold my own at being an Aunt and I can thank my oldest niece Katya for teaching me all I needed to learn on that front. Before she was born, I was not really into babies or kids, but that all changed when she arrived on July 8, 1992.

She was, and still is, a remarkable bright light of a human being. I proudly and tearfully watched her graduate from Smith College last weekend and receive a special award for her contributions to the Debate Society. She is a rare balance of super smart and kind and I look forward to seeing what unfolds in her next chapter. I adore her and through our journey, I have been able to savor the process of how an infant becomes an adult which has helped me develop a deeper understanding of life and a greater appreciation for all children.

This appreciation has translated with close-knit relationships with many children and young adults, who range in age from three to twenty-two. I am fortunate to have a virtual job so I can see them all for extended visits. Hanging out with them is easy for me, and I find my best-self shining through when I am with them. Over the years, in conjunction with my work with adults in career transitions, I have created and piloted two programs we plan to grow internationally. The first is called Publish Your Genius where 5 to 12-year-olds write, illustrate and professionally publish books and the second is called Dream First. Dream First is an inside-out career prep program for teens and we plan to develop it into an Ed Tech platform that can help us distribute it to kids from all economic backgrounds.

Before you launch into your next career chapter, take stock of your own relationships and who you love so you can make informed choices about what you do and how you do it. Here are an exercise that may help:

Make a list of your most significant relationships by category. Name up to ten people for each:

  • Family Relationships: Kinships with people who come from a blood or a soul-related bond.
  • Romantic Relationships: Partners that connect to that special part of your heart reserved for romance.
  • Friend Relationships: Commitments with people you respect and trust. This may include co-workers.
  • Community Relationships: Connections to people who have common interests.This may include co-workers.
  • Mentors: Relationships with influential role models such as teachers, leaders, spiritual advisers, human resource specialists, coaches, mentors and therapists. This may include co-workers.
  • Vision Thieves: Significant hurtful relationships that fall outside of the other categories. Vision Thieves are often wounded people who lash out at others because of their own low self-esteem or fears.  They usually put a lot of energy into criticizing others, and can sometimes be very subtle or devious in doing so.

1. Of these relationships, name up to three who are supporting you in your attempts to find and follow your soul work.

2. Of these relationships, name those that are challenging you in your attempts to find and follow your soul work.

3. Which of these relationships, if healed or improved, would leave you with more energy for your soul work?  For each of these people, list an action you are willing to take in healing or revitalizing the relationship.

4. How can you best nurture your significant relationships on and off the job as you move forward in your career?


I hope you will share your personal insights on this topic with me.


Laurel Donnellan

CEO and Founder, Bright Livelihoods

Laurel’s mission is to help people find their home in the world of work. She has 30 years of experience as a leader, educator and coach and has degrees from Cornell and Columbia.  To request a private half-hour coaching session with Laurel, e-mail us at info@brightlivelihoods.com.

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