Work/ Life

On Looking Over Your Shoulder

Since starting my new job almost two years ago, I’ve gone to a smattering of various forms of the work event with alcohol and important people. There’s something that happens at every single one of these events that really gets under my skin.

I will be in the middle of (what I think is) a good conversation with a new acquaintance and instead of looking at me or actually engaging in conversation in any sort of meaningful, human way, they will look around the room for someone else they could be talking to.

I get it. When you’re at a work event, you’re sort of on a mission to talk to, and connect with the most important people there. Both to expand your own professional network and further the goals of your organization. I also get that at this point in my life I’m pretty low on the professional totem pole. I’m only twenty-five and I look even younger. Do not take this as false modesty when I say I’m a nobody at these things.

StockSnap_MUUFPYI14D

But, you know what else? I think I’m a pretty cool person.

I’m friendly (especially one G and T in). I dress well. I don’t smell. I’m a good conversationalist. I think I’m pretty freaking nice and generally “good” at parties. Sure, I’m not the person to talk to to get your think tank funded, connect you to top political consultants, or get your oped placed in the The New York Times.

But I will be someday.

And when I am, I want to be the kind of person that talks to the communications assistant the same way I talk to the hedge fund manager. Life’s too short to constantly look over your shoulder for something better.

Here’s to Bar Food

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.

View from inside a convention center.

View from inside a convention center.

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.