I’ve been at my new job for two full weeks now, and in that time I’ve met so many new people that my social anxiety skyrockets as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.
I thought working retail forced me to interact with strangers, but I’ve discovered that it’s nothing compared to what I’m doing now in human services.
With retail, I had a prescribed set of interactions—greeting people, offering to help them, ringing them out, etc. It was easy to get into a robotic mindset where it wasn’t really me interacting with others, just my role. Now that I’m not able to hide behind a register, I’m reminded of how terrifying it can be to try to carry on a conversation with someone I don’t know (or with dozens of people I don’t know).
If my workplace were a party, I would sneak off after a few hours and go home to hide under covers with a book. Unfortunately, in this instance I don’t have the luxury of deciding my social meter has maxed out and that I need to get away.
Somehow I needed to find a way to make meeting people interesting and exciting rather than terrifying and draining.
And being the imaginative person that I am, I couldn’t go with a typical solution (those never work anyway). I had to try to make it magical, which I discovered was rather easy.
At some point this past Monday, I realized that my social anxiety wouldn’t exist if I were meeting elves and gnomes rather than humans. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time reading Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Maybe this is just an indication of how obsessed I am with fantasy worlds…but I suddenly knew how I needed to approach my own world.
My first week at my new job, I was just meeting people.
The second week at my job, I was meeting mythical creatures! (It’s okay to be jealous)
With each new person I met, I would try to see which race or species they would be if they came from Tolkien’s, Rowling’s, or Pratchett’s worlds. And it actually worked! This past week, I’ve met some really delightful personalities.
So far, I’ve come across a hobgoblin who certainly wouldn’t be someone I’d go hunting to find but who has proven to be adorable in her unconventional way, a troll who is rather gentle and lovable despite the thick skin and somewhat obtuse point of view, and a couple of elves whose artistic souls peak out of their shy, distrustful eyes.
There’s even an orc. I’m equal parts terrified and fascinated by him at the moment, but I comfort myself with the idea that a single orc is probably far more scared of my fairy power than I am of his gnashing teeth.
My game has allowed me to look beyond the human mask that tend to be so terrifying and uncomfortable to see the beauty of their souls. Connecting people with mythical creatures keeps me mindful of the fact that they have a history, a story, a personality, even talents; and being mindful of their histories, stories, personalities, and talents reminds me to look for them rather than getting lost in my own anxieties about whether they will like my history, story, personality, or talents.
It hasn’t taken all of the stress out of my interactions. I cried during week two of my new job only slightly less than I cried during week one. But bringing magic and myth into my workplace with me has helped me find an enthusiasm for meeting new people that I never thought I would experience. Dare I say I’m even looking forward to meeting more creatures from my magical world? I may have to drop the label of “introvert” if I keep having this much fun with humans!