Each of the little families I have visited have what I would call “seat politics.” It’s the exact formula that dictates who sits where in the car. Each of them is a little different, but during van life I’ve learned that most add up to me sitting in the front seat.
One calculation is long legs – I’m usually taller than most people. For others, it’s “you’re our guest,” or the most common one, “kids don’t get the front seat.” Even on their birthday.
One of my first stops in Atlanta was to see Chris. We were on our way to pick up her daughter from the airport. I insisted I would sit in the back. “It’s her birthday,” I said. “I have to let her sit in the front seat.”
“No,” Chris insisted. “My children know they get the back seat if anyone is with me.”
I wasn’t supposed to be with her that morning, though. I was supposed to be on to my next stop. But I couldn’t think. I couldn’t focus. Someone in my family died the night before and that morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being rattled to my core by this loss. I needed to rest.
“Stay as long as you need, Kat,” Chris said with an extra squeeze when I asked to stay one more night.
Like family would.
In some ways, I’ve always felt like a burden. That I was taking up too much space. I don’t want to ask for anything. Going into van life, I was worried that I would feel like I was bothering everyone.
That hasn’t been the case. The way I was embraced by Chris and into all of these little families along my path has been a surprise and delight I never imagined in this van life. These families have let me experience their real lives – whether it’s snuggling a baby while they go on date night, the first softball practice, playing light director for a 6 year old’s musical theatre, or sitting on the floor in a hallway talking to a teenager about testosterone. My people have brought me into their worlds and it’s teaching me a whole new definition for how family feels.
Family hasn’t always been a positive topic for me and I’ve done a lot of work to grow from that. However, doing a lot of personal work is just one half of healing from a family (or workplace) that isn’t always filling your cup. The other half of that equation, I’m learning, is a series of little families and experiences that add up to a new definition of family. Love that heals the parts of our heart that won’t just fall in line no matter how hard we try after it has been broken by someone we love deeply and unconditionally.
For anyone who has a tense relationship with family, I hope you’ll lean into the love you get from every other angle. Lean into the mentors, friends, and family figures that fall into your life. Most importantly, let them love you. Let them embrace you and involve you. Show up. Check in. Don’t distance yourself from their love because you want to find a safe harbor from the pain you experienced from losing people before.
Let them love you. Like family would.
I joke that any company who says they’re like a family is instantly off my list. Why? Well, if anyone treated me like my family, I would sue. I’d win, too. That’s why this week’s blog breaks down the cliché language in your About Us that we pretend is making us stand out, but really doesn’t matter to candidates.
Katrina (Kat) Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.