Living in the Community Where you Work

I live in the same city where I work.  This presents a few problems, the main one being that I run the risk of running into clients, or opposing parties, wherever I go.  I feel like I can’t go out to bars, I can’t go for a run, and I can’t gossip loudly about my clients at a dinner table at a restaurant.  

I really shouldn’t do the third thing.  I keep things very general, and well within the ethical limits, but people ask me for examples of the kind of work I do, or my husband asks how court was, and I tell them.  

Anyway, I know police officers who won’t go out to bars in the same areas that they patrol, and teachers that won’t go out to dinner in the town where their school is and plenty of other professionals who do not like to mix business with pleasure.  I remember a woman judge saying once that she felt like she couldn’t have a glass of wine at a restaurant because somebody would see her and then rumors about her having a drinking problem would start.  

The income disparity takes care of some of this, theoretically, but my clients do not have to be income eligible for my services, and some of them make more than I do.  Some of them are employed as waitstaff at restaurants I go to, some work at shops at the mall.  Sometimes they might be taking their child to the local aquarium while I’m out for a run.

So how do I be a part of a community while still working in that community?  Does anybody from small towns have any advice?  

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Living in the Community Where you Work

  1. I can see living in the same community as you work to be more of a boon than a handicap (unless of course you *do* have a drinking problem and like to make scenes). I think being visible as a person helps to build community rather than create a division.

    The ability to be part of a community is why I wanted to live in a small town. It can be difficult to maintain dignity all the time but if it’s something I wouldn’t want a client to know I do, I probably shouldn’t do it. (Given, in the Silver Valley, those limits are probably much further afield than for a lawyer in Baltimore.) I think being human is important.

    • vadoporroesq

      I don’t think my clients don’t see me as human though. But I don’t want them to see me as disorganized, scatterbrained, or easily upset. So when I’m at the grocery store with my husband and I’m having a total meltdown over the checkout machine not working, it would be particularly humiliating to run into a client at that moment. I also wouldn’t want to run into a client at the grocery store generally. I feel like while it’s important that my clients see me as human, they also don’t need to know what I eat or what kind of toilet paper I buy. Same with when I’m out running or swimming somewhere. It’s important that my clients see me as human, but they don’t need to see that much of me, and I’m not going to cover up and sweat to death just because I might run into somebody.

      • Interesting. Maybe it’s because I don’t work with clients in a personal capacity (figuring out how much of an economic metal is in their rock samples just isn’t like helping them through legal troubles) but what I buy at the grocery store isn’t much of a concern to me.

        Now the running and swimming and covering up bit? THAT makes a lot of sense to me. I’m way more comfortable running in less in places where I don’t know ANYONE than I am doing so around here. (Which also has something to do with the fact that I’m the only one who ever runs through town so there’s no accepted “fitness” dress.)

  2. Jo

    This is super close to me. I’m a social work student, and I’m probably going to be working for children service’s. I’ve had lots of jobs that were “up in people’s business” jobs in small towns. It is HARD.C really, really wants me to not work for CSB in our town; in large part because our house butts right up to the daycare that many CSB clients use. As in they can see in our backdoor and backyard when picking their kids up. We’re already working on the hedge for this, but we live in a decently small town and I use the Y and we will run into people.

    One thing I do is not ever talk about clients in specific, and I don’t ever speak even in general out in public. This can be really hard socially, and has been alienating for new acquaintances, but it keeps my ass covered legally and ethically. I also am very up-front with clients about keeping their secrets and respecting that I will not acknowledge them in public unless they acknowledge me.

    Where it comes to my drinking and being seen in less than professional attire, I see where C is coming from. I also get nervous because I might have less than enthusiastic clients, and I don’t want my house trashed, my pet killed, or any of the other negative things that might happen. So I’ll probably prioritize looking for stuff out of county.

  3. M

    Oh man, have definitely had a glimpse at how there can be a downside to living close to where you work. No actual problems, thankfully, but I live on the same street (or around the corner from) many of our customers. It feels awkward to leave work (many stay up until the very minute we lock the doors), get on my bike, and then pass them as they walk home.

    I ran into one of our… more troublesome regulars… at the grocery the other day and actually ended up “hiding” in another aisle until he’d left. I didn’t really want to have an interaction w/him outside of work or on any kind of personal, private-life level. I see him walk by my apt. often, but hopefully he won’t realize that’s where I live. Nothing against him (erm, yet ;)), I’d just rather he not have that information. Some of our… odder regulars can be QUITE chatty, and I try to limit the amount of info I reveal. It makes me feel weirdly vulnerable.

    I’m not overly concerned with how I look outside of work, because I’m not in a high-profile positon; there aren’t many (any?) expectations for how I should conduct myself on my “off hours,” really. But I do glance around first, if we’re out to dinner and I want to share a story about how so-and-so was annoying me.

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