Reflections on a COVID-era company holiday party

Last Friday, Leff had our annual holiday party. For weeks, I’ve been planning to write a post–holiday party blog. I assumed it would be something BuzzFeedy like, “Five tips for throwing the best company holiday party you’ve ever been to” in which I reflected on the great times we all had and how wonderful it was to all be together and what an incredible job everyone did in planning it and pulling it off.

All of that’s true. We had delicious cocktails, the food was some of the best catered stuff I’ve ever tasted, there was a live freaking band, and one of my colleagues gave a speech that might have rivaled the one I delivered a couple of years ago. Over the course of the night, I laughed a lot—evidenced by the hoarseness of my voice the following day. And the event kicked off with an announcement from leadership thanking all of our colleagues with an unexpected bonus. So, truly, it was a night to remember.

But that’s not the blog I find myself wanting to write. Because all flashiness and fanfare aside, when I crawled into bed that night, the overwhelming feeling was—believe it or not—grief.

So much has been lost in the past year and a half it’s hard to recall it all—and I’m not sure I want to know the full scope of it. One of the earliest losses I felt in the spring of 2020, privileged as I am, was for my colleagues. Like most working people, I was used to spending 40 hours a week with these people. And I genuinely liked them. We chatted easily and ate lunch together and had inside jokes and bought each other coffee on our way into the office and bemoaned difficult projects—and each other’s music selections on the turntable. We worked hard, and we worked together.

Of course, in the past 18 months, the absence of these things has come to feel normal. I have my new routine, and I’m quite attached to many aspects of it. I love the extra time with my daughter. That my days are a bit simpler and less frenzied, without the commuting and bouncing around. That I can open my fridge at lunchtime and whip up whatever sounds good. That I can go for a midday run. We all know these perks, and we’ve talked about them often in recent months.

But these perks coexist with a loss—a feeling I was reminded of on Friday. And now, because we’re a fast-growing company, there’s also the question of how to form those same relationships with the new people we’ve hired in the past year—and those we will hire going forward.

After 30 minutes in the office with all these people I was exhausted. So much talking! So much catching up! So much getting to know each other! And at the same time, the whole day and evening weren’t nearly long enough. What conversations do you have with someone who you might not see again in-person for 12 months? (Why did I spend ten minutes talking to Ross about my dog who died three years ago??) What do you want them to come away with about you? What do you want to understand about them? How can you make lasting memories and inside jokes and forge bonds and grow closer in a handful of hours?

It was a tornado of feelings, Friday. I was eager and anxious and lonely and the opposite of lonely and enthralled and grateful and overwhelmed. I now think back on the night fondly and have enjoyed laughing with colleagues about, for instance, when we discovered the women’s toilets at the venue had mirrors on the ceiling above them. But I can’t shake the grief either.

Like all lessons in grief, this story probably ends with acceptance, change, growth. After all, who wants a world in which things never change? Where everything is always what you expected it to be? Certainly as soon as I adjust to what this current reality feels like, it will shift again. Some new surprise will come along (perhaps not a pandemic next time…please?). And I am excited—and maybe a tiny bit terrified—to see what it is and where things go. To see how we all continue to adjust to our reality and find new ways to create memories and work together.

I’m grateful for Friday—for the whirlwind of catching up and getting to know and crying (yes, crying!) and laughing and sharing. And I’m wishing we all had more time to be together.

Annie Mullowney

As a senior editor, Annie focuses primarily on developmental editing and drafting, helping clients sharpen their stories and tell them in a compelling way.

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