Pas de Deux into Solo

Loosely defined, a pas de deux is a duet between a male and a female dancer. In ballet, it is structured: an entree, adagio, two variations, and a coda, similar to the sonata form. The loosening of the definition of a pas de deux has the ballet world riled up. The regal has crossed the line into the normal. The line is blurring. And slowly, it will disappear.

This is how I feel about my professional and personal life. Some of my friends and colleagues will have already chuckled by the end of my last sentence. “What personal life? She has one?” Touche, guys. I do work all the time. But even then, I have always maintained a strict line and code:

  1. I don’t talk business in front of my friends unless asked. Even then, I keep it very short unless they keep it very short. People who know me well know that I don’t like to talk business in my spare time precisely because I don’t much have spare time.
  2. I don’t hire or co-found with people who are already my friends. I prefer to hire strangers or acquaintances and then become friends with them throughout the process of running a business.
  3. When networking or needing an intro for business, I tend to go through my colleagues and working connections before tapping into my “personal” connections, i.e. my friends. That said, if the intro is for personal reasons, I do turn to my friends.

Yet now that I’ve been a working nomad for the better of the past couple of years, the perfect line I had drawn between my professional and personal life is decaying rapidly. I go to the same house parties as my clients on weekends. Abroad, my business partner and I party together (although in the States, we don’t). Building partnerships involves working with my friends as they work at the partner organizations. The term “warm contacts” take on a much personal twist. The small size of the expat community abroad and the fact that most expats are in the same space are also catalysts to this decay. Because most of our target client organizations are run by expats or locals educated in the West, we essentially have the same friends and colleagues. And for most of us, we are defined by our work. The fact that our work is us and vise versa makes it more difficult to distinguish our professional from our personal life. This is such a common phenomenon that one of my friends (whom I met because we initially thought our two orgs can partner) in Nairobi has coined the term “frients” to describe clients who are also friends and who he hangs out with in his personal life.

I don’t really know how I feel about the blurring of my two lives. It’s just…strange but a feeling I can’t rid of. While it is great to get to know colleagues outside of work and be a part of their everyday life, I am reminded of g.Maarifa and how much work I haven’t done but should…on Friday nights and weekends (as if I am not already obsessed with it). I think that is why I like going back to the States, even if it is for business, because I get to spend time with people who are not in the same space as I am. My really good friends back at home are scientists, dancers/circus performers, fashion bloggers, and nerdy grad students. They take my mind off the whole entrepreneurial lifestyle. Yet there is an argument to be made that the reason why I came out here in the first place is to do work and grow g.Maarifa. Being with people who understand the process and business is refreshing as I don’t have to explain as much. They know what I am going through.

I compare this to a pas de deux. A pas de deux is the crowning dance of theatre and operas as it is complicated and requires intense cooperation on both dancers but breathtakingly beautiful when done right. When a pas de deux is taken apart, it becomes a solo piece with some unfinished movements that make it seem like it is missing an integral component. The overall storyline is still there but it intricacies are lost. The blurring of the line between professional and personal life is analogous. It becomes a solo piece that leaves behind a weird taste and a longing for the whole. The new is not necessarily bad, but remnants of the former still linger. I guess it just takes time to adjust to the new.

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