Relocating halfway across the country right out of college for a job is terrifying but absolutely worthwhile. I highly recommend it to any young professionals stepping out into the adult world for the first time even if you do turn homeward in a couple of years. You will learn so much more about what you’re capable of by going out on your own than you ever did in school.
As a shy, awkward college graduate with a metallurgical degree and no family within 1,000 miles I was determined to make friends when I began my career in the steel industry. I realized very early on that life is only as fantastic as you make it. If you move to a new place with the mentality that it will be temporary then it will be. If you start a new job purely for the sake of paying the bills, thinking that it will be a constant tedious uphill slog, then that’s exactly what you’re signing up for.
However, if you approach these major life changes with open eyes, you might discover there are some interesting people in your office who are more than happy to join you for drinks after work or for a Saturday game night. I know first hand how petrifying meeting new people can be especially when you’re the new kid on the block. But showing up really is half the battle. People want to help and make you feel at home. So the next time one of your coworker invites you to a backyard BBQ don’t scramble to fill your calendar with something else. Just say yes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is possible to love your job and appreciate your coworkers while still wishing you could smack them upside the head from time to time. This is a natural and nearly inevitable feeling which stems more from spending the eight most wakeful hours of your day everyday to spend time with these people rather than a true ill will toward anyone in particular. While such measures provide comedic relief in cop shows, they’re sure to land any reasonable, non-fictional person a pressing phone call from HR at the very least. There are three magical words to resolve almost any workplace irritation without involving Human Resources. Tactical Laser Tag.
Few things are funnier than watching fully grown adults that you spend your entire professional life with dress up in military gear and run around like five-year-olds. Ideally it is best to bring enough of your work buddies to field two teams. That way you get that little jolt of pride every time you work together to achieve the laser tag objective while also having the satisfaction of getting off a good shot on that guy from the office two doors down from yours. You are relieving stress and pent up frustration while simultaneously supporting a sense of comradery among your coworkers. You might even have so much fun that you’ll all decide to grab a beer or dinner together afterwards. This is the correct order of things. DO NOT go out for food and drinks before entering your nearest tactical laser tag facility as laser tag is first and foremost a physical activity and you will definitely regret that plate of Thursday night wings. Save it for after.
Such was the wonderful and exhausting experience that I had at Team Combat Hobart just a short drive from Valparaiso. My lack of regular exercise and deep passion for food and sweet things was brought into sharp and painful focus. However, despite being incredibly out of shape, I’m looking forward to the next laser tag adventure with bubbling anticipation. It’s so refreshing to meet people all over again in new settings, especially when you’re all wearing army vests and shouldering some mean looking laser guns.