I consider myself to be an independent person. But I was a little anxious about a five day work trip to a massive convention with no wing man or company. When you’re awkwardly waiting for an event or talk to start, there’s comfort in knowing you can turn to someone for some easy small talk. The solo alternative tends to involve some awkward half smiles at strangers and using the go to line of, “So, what brings you here?” to fire up a conversation.
There’s a misconception about extroverts: that we never have social anxiety. I draw energy from being with and talking to people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get the stress sweats when I’m in a new place with new faces. I think that’s just being human. I told myself heading into this trip that even though it might be uncomfortable, I would talk to every person I sat next to. Whether it was sitting next to someone at a panel instead of finding a seat by myself or going out to get dinner instead of eating in my hotel room, I’m really glad I made the effort to barrel past any angst and just connect with people.
On my second night, I didn’t have dinner plans so I wandered over to the closest restaurant and grabbed a stool at the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and watched CNN on the bar TV. Then an energetic woman in her sixties with a flannel shirt and great jewelry sat down on the stool next to me. She commented how good the flatbread I was eating looked and I riffed that the restaurant’s menu was the size of a phone book. She laughed and we started talking. We talked about our love of northern California and the TV show This Is Us. She shared that she lost her husband five years ago and she has a daughter who’s married with a little boy. I told her about my family and my work. We talked for over an hour. Before I left, she gave me her card and wrote the address of her beach house on it. She told me to come for a vacation anytime.
On my last night, Bernie sat next to me. He’s a CVS district manager and was in town for training. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and has been in management his entire career. He told me he was a manager of several Staples stores in Manhattan on 9/11. When his assistant told him a plane had hit one of the World Trade Towers, he didn’t believe her. He told me how strange it was to board an almost empty train into the city a few days after the attack. We talked about healthcare. How the Affordable Care Act has affected the pharmacy industry and private doctors like my Dad. Before I left he gave me his card and said if I ever have any problems at my CVS to give him a call…definitely a good get given my CVS habit 😉
I really like my co-workers. But if I’d been traveling with them, I never would have met Art or Bernie, or any of the dozens of interesting people I met at the conference. It’s not easy to push past insecurities and connect with strangers. But I’ve found you can meet some really great people if you try.