The Art of Taking Up Space

The world gets so much bigger when you stop trying to be small. I had this fabulous epiphany during my second week in the steel mill where I currently work. The first couple months of employment were a string of safety trainings and shop floor tours with a small group of fellow new hires, five of us in total. It being a steel mill, I was the only girl. While attending a rigorous engineering school I became relatively used to this ratio and it wasn’t any surprise when I reported for work. However, it did feel like a clean slate and a chance to do a few things differently. 

In school I tended to float on the edges of conversation, afflicted by the lack of confidence which comes with a bad case of impostor syndrome. That feeling never totally went away and it still haunts me from time to time. But when I started my new job I decided that the rest of the world didn’t need to know that. Here are some tips I picked up when I chose to take up space.

  1. The Stance – The simple act of physically occupying more space can completely change the way others act around you. I noticed this right away and the difference was mind blowing. A good rule of thumb is to set your feet comfortably shoulder width apart in a relaxed stance. If you cross your ankles or stand with your feet touching, people tend to squeeze in around you until you’ve been shuffled to the back of the pack. In my case this was particularly problematic as most of the guys in my tour group were at least six feet tall. When I planted my feet just a little wider there was an almost instantaneous change. I believe the boundaries of one’s personal space are largely defined by their foot placement. 
  1. The Posture – Much like widening your stance, standing up straighter and taller helps to assert your presence in a group by taking up more physical space. The purpose of this is not to dominate the conversation. You aren’t trying to take over. You’re simply showing everyone that you deserve your spot in the circle by acting like you do. Of course, don’t overdo it. This should be a relaxed but alert posture indicating that you are fully engaged in the conversation and that  you belong there. 
  1. The Arms – If you can’t decide what to do with your hands, rest them loosely into your pants pockets. While widening your stance and standing straighter both help you to occupy more space, crossing your arms does just the opposite. It often causes you to hunch your shoulders and appear small. Many people subconsciously hug themselves as a self soothing mechanism. While it might make you feel more comfortable, it has a drastically different effect on those around you and should be avoided whenever possible. 
  1. The Eyes – It’s all about eye contact! As a general rule, roughly three seconds is an acceptable amount of time to hold someone’s gaze. It is long enough to make you appear interested and engaged without getting you into trouble for staring. This was one of the most difficult pieces for me to master. I constantly worry about what people are thinking, afraid that someone might get the wrong impression from one look. However, it’s far worse to never sufficiently lock eyes. You’ll come across as shifty and nervous. Trust me. 
  1. The Voice – Take a deep breath and take your time. Give yourself a few seconds to collect your thoughts before diving into your sentence and don’t be in a hurry to get to the end of it. It’s not a race. No one is going to cut you off at the buzzer. If you don’t value the words you’re saying, how can you expect anyone else to? Speak like you deserve to be heard; slowly, loudly and clearly. 


POTD: Music in the Plaza

The Valparaiso summer concert series is back and in full swing! With all the Corona closures it was a treat to be able to kick back at the Central Park Plaza surrounded by families munching on picnic dinners and listening to Rosie and the Rivets lay down some of my favorite retro Rock and Roll. As it occurred on a week night and having no one to go with, it was such a struggle to force myself out the door to make it to the event. However, I arrived well before the show began to claim a comfy spot on the grass safely six feet away from everyone else in attendance. I spent nearly an hour quietly reading on my little square of lawn and checking the time on my phone every ten minutes. 

However, my hesitations at my solo picnic experience vanished when the band took to the stage. Nothing helps you cut loose like a little old time Rock and Roll and I wasn’t the only one loosening up. Couples bounced and twirled to the band’s lively beats all evening and every foot in the audience was bobbing in time. I look forward to many barefoot summer nights of music in the plaza. 

Own It!

You’re really weird. Own it! 

I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time analyzing every social encounter, replaying it in my head for hours, years in a few cases, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when I messed it up. Surely there must have been a misplaced chuckle or, more likely, a butchered punch line. I’m prone to those. I made a point to explain each and every one of them, justifying my unfortunate knack for shutting down a conversation and attempting to fix it by apologizing profusely.

I realized recently that all of these sticky, seemingly inevitable situations are only as awkward as one allows them to be. Accept ownership of your fabulous oddities, not blame for everyone else’s silence. Do not allow yourself to become someone that others associate with uncomfortable conversation lulls. It takes two and you’re not as bad at it as you think you are. If you convincingly fake a laid back, easy confidence no one will ever question the strange phrases you’re known to spew from time to time.

Have you ever been engaged in conversation with someone so visibly uncomfortable you felt bad for them? That small figure at the very end of the table hugging themself and looking anywhere but the faces of those present, clearly terrified of being accused of staring. That was me once, with a quivering voice borrowed from the most timid mouse, cracking with every other second-guessed sentence. 

I’ve since vowed to never again use my small mouse voice. Don’t be the person in a conversation that others feel sorry for. They won’t remember the shy words you stuttered but they will remember the swell of sympathy they felt when you went the color of a ripe pomegranate immediately following your fumbled sentence. For the most part, the accidental words that fall out of your mouth don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do. If you shrug it off others will too. Maintain an appearance of unrattled ease and it won’t matter that every emergency siren and panic light is blaring in your brain.

You are who you are. It needs no explanation. Stop wasting time justifying your personality to people you just met. You should never ever apologize for those little moments in life when you don’t quite fit in. How boring would life be if you were just like everybody else?

POTD: Date Night (Pizza in the Park)

Don’t ever be afraid to celebrate the good moments in life with food and cheer, even if you’re ordering for a party of one. Such was the case for me when I enjoyed this mouth watering masterpiece from The Rolling Stonebaker. Savoring this Italian tomato, mozzarella, sausage, woodfired pizza while people watching at a picnic table in Central Park Plaza was just what I needed after a long work week. 

Parents rocking strollers kept a watchful eye on the kids playing hopscotch on top of the water jets on the plaza’s central splash pad. A few teenagers took turns practicing jumps and flips on their skateboards at Urschel Pavilion. Couples of all ages meandered along the sidewalk or lounged on park benches, waiting for their own pizza orders to be ready. 

I was happy observing all of this while digging into my new favorite pizza and chatting with my parents over the phone. Although they weren’t physically present it was still nice to enjoy a little familiar dinner conversation while immersed in the hum of downtown activity. Once I’d relished every last bite of my dinner and licked the residual oil from my fingers I set off down the street toward Designer Desserts for a cupcake. After all, it’s not a celebration without dessert. 

Likewise, it would hardly be considered a date without a romantic evening stroll through Ogden Gardens Park. I couldn’t resist snapping a few flower pictures. Even in the fading light, the flower beds were a riot of color. I stayed long enough to see the fireflies twinkle to life but headed for home when the mosquitos started biting.

One thing I’ve learned during this pandemic is that you don’t need to rely on others to make plans. If you wait to go out until you have a group to go with, you’ll never leave your apartment. What are you doing for date night?

POTD: Middle Man

As someone who has always hovered on the threshold of conversations and floated on the outskirts of social chit chat, it was an incredible shock to realize just how often I find myself in the middle of activity amid my new life in Indiana. That’s not to say that I was actively antisocial in the past. I was simply more comfortable as an observer and happy to let other more outspoken people enjoy their well earned spotlight. 

But here, in an effort to adapt and make friends, I inadvertently fell into the role of host and planner. Of course, at work events specifically designated for networking, everyone brings their game face to mingle with superiors and wide-eyed interns. However, for other more casual get togethers I feel like I’ve become someone that knows everyone (or is at least acquainted with most). That is something that I would never in a million years have anticipated. When the new hires go out for dinner, I somehow end up in the middle seat rather than at the end of the table with the other polite listeners. 

In all this exciting shuffling I’ve made the most fascinating discovery. The middle is better. I can finally hear everyone! One glaring drawback of chatting with only one foot actually in the conversation is that there are snippets that get lost simply because you are too far away to catch them. There’s an entire world of friendly and vibrant people with tall tales to tell and I almost missed it because of a fear of the high visibility of the middle seat. I’m finding that I actually have my own stories to contribute now, after being brought fully into the conversation.

Fake It ‘till You Make It (5 Steps to Making Friends)

There are plenty of things that you should definitely not fake; skills on a resume, physical fitness on a remote backpacking trip, sneezing at the grocery store (it’s just allergies, not coronavirus! I swear). But when it comes to confidence in social situations, all that really matters is that you adequately fooled people. Feeling like an extrovert is not a prerequisite for being one as I’ve discovered during my time in Indiana. It turns out that making friends is not as traumatic as it used to seem and it is not an activity reserved for the outgoing social butterflies of the world. 

Say Yes

The first step to making friends, even despite your imagined lack of social skills, is to start saying yes to things. When people from work invite you out for happy hour, say yes. Don’t hesitate. Don’t think about it. Don’t tell them that you’ll have to check your calendar because by that time you will have found a perfectly reasonable excuse to politely decline and you will miss the opportunity. Once you’ve agreed, you’re locked in. It would be rude not to make an appearance and convenient scheduling conflicts become much more difficult to voice after you’ve already said you’ll be there. Even if you’re invited to a gathering where you only know one person, go. If you always say no, people will stop inviting you and you’re never going to meet anyone new if you only surround yourself with familiar faces. 

Tell Your Mom

One totally foolproof way to make sure I actually do what I said I’ll do is to tell my mom that I made plans. During my first few months here, I still didn’t know very many people and dreaded each event I agreed to go to. I was shy and awkward and, not being much of a partier in college, I had no idea what was considered standard etiquette for these casual backyard gatherings. I even studied for them. There is absolutely no shame in asking Google how to talk to people. Someone else has been where you are and they wrote about it just for you. But if you tell your mom (or another BFF that you’re in regular communication with) that you have plans, it’s a done deal. As difficult and uncomfortable as it was to drag myself to these events, telling my mom the next day that I’d decided not to go would have felt fifteen times worse. 


This is dependent on what it is you’ve agreed to go to. Obviously, if you’re going to happy hour at a bar or dinner out at a restaurant, you do not need to bring your own booze. But, as mentioned earlier, standard practice for house parties and game nights was fairly new to me. In fact, at twenty one years old, my mom had to explain to me what BYOB stood for. But generally, it’s safe to assume that a six pack of beer wouldn’t go amiss. 


This sounds obvious but is something that I have to remind myself when I’m struggling to get into my social groove. Absolutely no one is paying as much attention to you as you are. You may be the new kid on the block but you are a welcome guest just like everyone else and there’s no reason for you to hide in the corner. You are not in anyone’s way and you are not intruding. Feel free to smile and laugh and even make a few jokes of your own. People are generally friendly and looking to help break the ice so take a deep breath and just have fun. 

Speak Up

This comes from someone who has spent nearly her entire life censoring every sentence that came out of her mouth (with the exception of words with close friends and family). I’ve always tended to be incredibly careful and meticulous in social settings which usually resulted in me saying very little around people I didn’t know well. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, just that I couldn’t decide how to say it. As stated before, no one is paying that much attention. You probably will bumble a few words and miss a few punchlines. You may even walk yourself head first into what can only be described as a conversational catastrophe where it feels as though you’ve managed to shove your entire foot into your uncharacteristically large mouth. The mark of many truly spectacular extroverts is their ability to laugh at themselves and brush off these unfortunate encounters. Shake it off. Don’t let it shake you. 

A lack of social skills is not an excuse for being lonely. You’re not bad at making friends. You just haven’t convinced any of them yet. Sooner or later, they’ll start convincing you. You only have to be good enough at socializing to make everyone else believe it and one day, you’ll be on your way to a game night that you actually can’t wait to get to.

These are some pivotal lessons from my first year in Indiana but the learning continues. Feel free to share any of your social tips and tricks or funny stories of conversations gone wrong in the comments below.