A Geek Girl’s Guide to Overcoming Social Anxiety at Work

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!




Bilbo: the anti-hero hero

Saturday is Biblo’s birthday. It also happens to be the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. This week, hobbit parties are happening all over the country, including one that I’m planning myself. I honestly couldn’t be more excited. It’s like throwing the birthday party that I always wanted.

I’ve been a fanatic for Tolkien’s work since my early teens. Clearly, I’m not the only one. Seeing the activities people are planning has gotten me thinking about Tolkien’s work and why it holds such attractive power to so many fans. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for me.

In a way, Bilbo kind of feels like the first major anti-hero protagonist. He’s totally ordinary, close to fifty, not even interested in adventures, and slightly dull (albeit adorable) when we first meet him in the beginning of The Hobbit. His life is comfortable and exactly how he likes it. He has no reason to change. He’s very much like the average person.  He’s exactly like me.

But he starts on this journey, more on a whim than common sense, and finds himself leading a bunch of bumbling dwarves, outsmarting all sorts of creatures, and facing some of his deepest fears. He’s brave, but it’s not his bravery I love. It’s the unexpectedness of his bravery.

I love it because I can relate to it.

I’m not the type of person that desires change and seeks out adventure. I like my life to be predictable. I like to feel safe and know where I’m going and what’s going to happen and what I’ll need to do and what others are going to do and . . . well, if my life were a book, I would have peaked ahead to the last chapter by now.

I like to think that my fears aren’t things I’ll meet on the street, that they’re more myth than anything. I don’t want to have to face a dragon or wonder how I’m going to get home. I don’t want to start on a journey that I don’t even know if I can complete.

But every once in a while, I find myself chasing after some crazy adventure, some unpredictable change, and I think I can understand why Bilbo did. Deep down, despite the aversion to change, there is something in everyone that is just a little bit hero-like. Even the most ordinary, unimaginative person has a brave soul buried inside them somewhere. And I, for one, am desperate to hear that. I desperately need that.

The “heroes” of our world can’t do it all. No matter how much I admire them or rely on them, there are some things I know they can’t tackle, some internal dragons they can’t slay. But if I decide to be my own hero, I start out on a quest that absolutely changes me. I find a courage I didn’t know I had. I find out my skills are greater than I thought, and I find the imagination to solve my own problems.

I doubt any of us ever truly feels like a hero. When faced with danger, I bet we all wish we were back in our cozy homes, drinking a cup of tea on a warm summer evening, eating a plentiful meal. I do. Sometimes the only thing I can think when facing a stressful situation is, “I want to go home!”

While I may have to make a change in my life . . .  While I may do courageous things . . .  While I may dare to face down the monsters in the hidden crevices of life . . .  I never never never want to.

I want to hide away in a hole!

The heroes in fairy tales are often inaccessible because I am not like them.

But Bilbo—yeah, he’s totally believable and accessible. He’s everything I am and everything I long to be at the same time. He’s a living testament to the magic and richness I can find by daring to step out of my comfort zone and walk down the road that my heart tells me to follow while my brain is saying, “You’ve really put your foot in it this time, you fool.” He’s the hero that helps me realize I can be one too.