Work Spouse

On October 26th, 2016, I had the privilege of addressing friends and colleagues as we honored Dr. Kelli Esteves as the 2016-2019 College of Education Guyer Chair. Here, I share my thoughts with those of you who couldn’t be there:

I’m so excited to stand before you this evening as we honor my friend, my colleague, and my work wife—Dr. Kelli Esteves.

Now, you may be wondering why I just called Kelli my work-wife, but I can assure you that having a work spouse is a real thing. A “regular” marriage is a public declaration and recognition of a special union two people willingly enter into and a work marriage is pretty similar. When you have a work spouse, there is a recognition on the part of other colleagues that co-workers have a special kind of partnership. Working with Kelli has been a special kind of partnership. And, by the way, there are academics who are actually doing research on this phenomenon so it must be a real thing, right?

Dr. Debra Major, for example, is a professor of organizational psychology at Old Dominion University, and some of her current research focuses on work spouse relationships. Dr. Major contends that the work spouse relationship is the best kind of partnership. It is a sort of relationship that is pared down to the relationship core. The psychological components that we appreciate most about being in a relationship with another person whether that’s shared values, compatible personalities, or shared interests are there too in a purer form and it’s pretty great that there’s no need or cause to argue about bills or dirty dishes in the sink. Another scholar from Creighton University, Dr. Chris McBride, says that that the best part of a work marriage is that it’s characterized by trust, reciprocity and support. He says the trust piece is crucial because both professional satisfaction and professional success are at stake.  After all, work—for better or for worse–comprises nearly 90,000 hours of our lives, and if we are very lucky, we sometimes find a co-worker to share those 90,000 hours with who supports us in sickness and in health, in good time and in times of uncertainty. We find a confidant, a co-conspirator, and a kindred spirit. We find that trust, reciprocity, and support we need to make our work meaningful. And, when Dr. Kelli Esteves came to Butler in the fall of 2010, I found that.

When Kelli was going up for tenure and promotion, I wrote her a letter of support. Prior to writing that letter on Kelli’s behalf, I had only written two other support letters, and both had been for former professors and mentors—women I admired and in whose path I wanted to follow.  As I sat down to write this letter of support for my friend and peer, I wondered what I could share about Dr. Esteves’s strengths that would best support a colleague I admire and walk next to on this professional journey.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that many of my own best moments on this path and the contributions I’ve been able make to our college so far have come directly from the times when I’ve been working right next to Kelli.

She has been a very significant influence in my own professional development and successes as well as my personal growth and adventures.  Professionally, every time I’ve stretched myself, Dr. Esteves has been by my side whether that’s been in our co-facilitation of the Time to Think retreats, co-presentations at conferences, or co-taught blocks of the Core II over the last 4 years. It’s been at A-Team where we trust that we can count on each other when navigating the grid and grind of scheduling and faculty load assignments. It’s been on search committees and at my kitchen table with our 4th Year Review materials spread out before us. Personally too, Kelli’s been by my side when I’ve stretched myself to take a risk or go on an adventure. She’s been with me on the High Ropes course where challenge-by-choice took on new heights. And mostly recently she willingly and enthusiastically let me—my whole family, actually–go with her to England to study children’s literature. We traveled by planes, trains, tubes, and broomsticks.  We kayaked in a freezing lake with it’s own monster during a storm. We survived a 4-mile march into oncoming traffic to make the pilgrimage to Beatrix Potter’s home and got into a bit of a jam with the very large bus on a very narrow road. We stormed castles in Scotland and raised a pint in the dark when the restaurant lost power. In short, we had a grand adventure and a trip that I’ll never forget.

However, the most important thing that my work with Dr. Esteves has yielded is a relationship I deeply value–one that is the best kind of partnership because at its core, it’s built on trust, reciprocity, and support. With her support, I’m a stronger faculty member of our college.

Kelli exemplifies what it means to be a truly collaborative colleague.  While I say Kelli is my work wife, the truth is that she gives all of her colleagues the same trust, reciprocity, and support that she gives me which is why our senior colleagues have recognized her as the next Guyer Chair. And while a clock is the gift traditionally given in celebration of the first year anniversary, this particular clock given to Richard Guyer for outstanding service to Butler University is passed along to the newly named chair at his or her installation.  So, Dr. Esteves, I entrust this to you now as it continues to keep count of our next 80,000 or so hours.  I extend my gratitude and my congratulations, and I look forward to many more anniversaries!

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