Trying to Network as an Introvert

“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know” says the salesman father to his straight-A-student and introverted daughter.

I used to think I was outgoing, once upon a time. Then I went to a summer camp in Chicago with no one I knew and realized I am not that person.

I hate networking. It all seems fake and I’m terrible at small talk. I’ve only successfully networked once. I don’t even really remember how we met, but he ended up recommending me for a job before we ever met in person. Let’s call him Joe. Very nice guy, and probably the closest thing to a mentor that I have.

Joe and I get together every time I’m back at my Alma Mater. He understands some of the painful parts of my job that I hate. He knows a lot of people in the industry and in the business world in general. Any time I mention any potential company I might want to work for, he seems to know someone who works/has worked there. I picked a good person to network with.

Joe works for the university, and because he works with students trying to find a job, he encounters a lot of people like me. Young professionals, out there in the world trying to figure it out. So occasionally I get emails where he tries to connect me with these people – people with their first real job, in my general metro area. Which seems great, right? So I reach out to the first few all “hey let’s get coffee!” and got nothing back. So I stopped trying to reach out.

I just recently received a LinkedIn message from one of these people Joe suggested (months ago) I connect with. Which is sort of great, right? Even if it’s months later, she’s still trying to connect. But between the phone tag I’m playing with her right now, all I can think about is: wtf am I going to say to this person?

I know what to say to random recruiters when they call. I know what to say to people who are asking me for help finding a job. I know what to say to lots of other strangers that I have to interact with.  I have scripts for a lot of situations. I have answers ready to the questions I expect them to ask. But this is a new thing for me. And I haven’t had to put my fake bubbly face on in awhile. Then again, do I have to? I’m not trying to impress this person like I’m interviewing for a job. She’s just a person that’s nice to know, right? But still: wtf do I say to this person? What do we talk about?

Hopefully she’s outgoing and extroverted and good at small talk and this will all be okay. It’s all about who you know.

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Respect

I used to have this stepdad. He was ex-military and still looked the part: close-cut hair, bald eagle tattoo on his calf, and preferred to wear his correctional officer uniform even after he left the prison for the day. If not for his rounded, aging face and worsening posture, you’d think he just got back from basic training. He wanted to treat my brother and I like we were part of some sort of boot camp where periodic, unannounced room checks were the most annoying part of this weird role playing. And he liked to talk about “respect.” How he just wanted to earn our respect, how we were always disrespectful to him, how he respects us and our space but he just wanted the same respect in return.

And it was always bullshit. My brother and I talked back to this stepdad a lot, that much is true. But we were teenagers and we already had a dad who didn’t try to treat us like recruits so I’m not sure what this stepdad expected. My brother and I did not appreciate him coming into our lives and trying to change our routines, our lifestyle, our relationships. So we made that known to him, and he found it “disrespectful.”

This stepdad never actually did anything to earn our respect. He only tried to bribe us or win us over – and he failed. He would let us have something that mom wouldn’t, maybe, but then “our little secret” became a twisted form of double-sided blackmail. He tried to teach me how to drive, I think. He let me drive his truck on back roads before I had my permit. Unfortunately for him I’d been doing that with my actual dad since I was probably 10 or 11. I wasn’t impressed.

These things were supposed to make us like him, but they never worked and definitely didn’t make us respect him. If anything, we respected him less for trying to earn our trust in cheap, cliche, stereotypical stepdad ways. He didn’t respect us or our intelligence enough to understand that we knew what he was doing. Not only did we know what he was doing and why, but we exploited it as teenagers (especially those with divorced parents) tend to do. So when he yelled and screamed about how disrespectful we were, my brother and I just laughed and lost even more respect for him.

Long after this stepdad has gone from my life, I still have little respect for people who demand respect without earning it. Respect isn’t something you can just demand, like a child with a temper tantrum. Respect is earned, not handed out. Just because you got a promotion, just because you’re older than me, just because my mom decided to marry you – these things don’t mean I’m automatically going to give my respect. I might be polite, but respect takes time. And the more you demand undeserving respect the less polite I will become.

Impress me, and I’ll respect you. Help me when I need it; do something I can’t. Make possible the impossible. Give me your respect. You can’t treat me like some sort of object or inferior being and in the same breath whine about my lack of respect. Learn some manners. I can respect manners.

If you’re my “superior” that’s so deserving of respect, then why don’t you help me and answer my questions when I have them? The people I respect the most are the restaurant managers that help bus tables, or the prestigious university professor that’s willing to individually tutor a struggling student. The people who are willing to help people below them, even if it isn’t their job. Just because they know what’s needed, and they know what it’s like. The ones to get to the top just to be lazy and yell at other people to do their job? They’re the worst kind of people. I won’t respect those people.

homecoming

A couple weekends ago I went to my alma mater’s homecoming. The air was cold but the sun was warm, and all the right people were there. The game was so lopsided (in our favor) I only stayed for half.

The food was good, the drinks even better, and it turns out I missed some people I never thought I would. I saw most of the people I expected to – the types that never leave. There was one or two people in particular I wanted to run into, but didn’t think I would. I know them and enjoyed my time with them in school, but we were never very close so we didn’t keep in touch very often.

One of these people – let’s call him Andy – did happen to be at the bar I went to. He was a friend of a friend that I had a few classes with senior year and I always loved hanging out with him. We did the usual “where are you now/how’s the job” bullshit type of conversation that you’re supposed to have. To everyone who had asked me this, I didn’t even try to mask that I wasn’t overly happy at my current job. When I expressed this to Andy, he said something to the effect of:

You’re too smart for that! I found a job I like, you just have to keep looking and keep networking. You’re so much smarter than me and you deserve to do something you love.

This was followed by the usual “I love you/I miss you” drunken conversation, but those words stuck with me. “You’re so much smarter than me, you deserve better”.

Andy is someone I barely know, who barely knows me! Yet, he knows and believes I deserve better (and he already has a girlfriend so it wasn’t like he had ulterior motives). Maybe I’m reading too far into a slightly drunken encounter, but how does this acquaintance of mine have more confidence in me than I do? I think that was the part that stuck with me more than the words themselves. If certain friends of mine had said this, I would have brushed it off as “oh they’re just being nice”. But because we don’t stay in touch, because we barely know each other, that somehow made what he said mean more.

On that note, I started applying for jobs again. I also turned down my first ever interview this week, because it would have been another job where I’d be unhappy in six months or less.

Finally, I got someone’s attention with some old writing samples. I’ll hear back next week if I get to interview with this tech company in a tiny nearby suburb I adore. The fact that it’s a tech company is terrifying, considering I don’t understand half of what their website says, but I’m excited about the fact that I would get to work on things I enjoy. Or at the very least, I could expand my knowledge and actually gain valuable skills – as opposed to what I’m doing now.

If someone I barely know has faith in me, at the very least I should have some faith in me.

Stagnancy is hazardous

A very, very close friend of mine got married last weekend and after his honeymoon he’s headed back to his new home in Denver this week. One of my coworkers just announced her first pregnancy. A new but semi-close friend of mine returns to California today; he graduated college so now he’s going to take some time to figure out what to do with his life.
And then, me. I’m just… here.
I don’t want to get married or have babies quite yet, but after more than a year at the same job I feel stagnant. And not just in a “this is real life and you don’t get a promotions every six months the way you change classes every semester in college” sort of way. It’s been a year and I don’t feel like I’ve learned all that much with this job. Everything I learned in the first 3 months is all I’ve learned so far. And it may be all I will learn for another year, at least. I’m not moving forward and I think I might even be moving backwards in some ways.
And ok, so I have things like this blog. Like my coaching, like the instagram I made for my dog (yeah, it happened, I’m not sorry). Weird side projects that I can’t even fully commit to – just look at how often I update this! It started as a weekly thing and has slowly drifted to more of a monthly pace. Which is fine, probably. Maybe I was too ambitious with the weekly goal in the first place.
But seriously –
What.
Am.
I.
Doing!
I went to a new dentist for the first time today, and my hygienist – who’s probably in her late 40s or early 50s – is telling me how she sort of wants to look at new career options. The problem is she’s even more stuck than I am. She’s been in her position for 20 years, her two kids are about to start college, and her retirement is looming on the horizon. She can’t see how it would make sense to go back to school, so what else can she do? Many of her friends, she tells me, feel the same way she does. They aren’t really happy in their careers but they’ve waited too long and it doesn’t make financial sense to make a drastic change. So they just wait to retire.
That’s exactly the position I don’t want to be in 25 years from now.
There are days where I’m totally comfortable in all the limbos. My dating life makes no sense, I don’t know what I want to do with my career, etc. Then the stagnation gets to me. It’d be fine if I didn’t know what I wanted, but was still moving in some direction. Any direction! Not knowing and not moving though? That’s too much to deal with.

Ignorance is a bully

I’m not sure how to classify the “clique” I was a part of in high school. My high school was small; many of the cliques sort of blended together. The stoners were also the jocks. The popular girls who dated the stoner-jocks weren’t cheerleaders but more stereo-typically athletic “jockettes”. There were the dropouts, who supplied the stoner-jocks. The smart kids were usually the same ones who played soccer, rather than football.
I floated between cliques a lot. I dated a jock once. I was friends with all the soccer guys. I was in all the advanced classes. One of my best friends was one of the artsy girls. I was nerdy, athletic, and nice to the kids most people ignored. I guess if it was a census, I would have checked the “Other” box.

But ultimately, I was never bullied and I never was the bully. There were a few guys who played football who probably were considered the “school bullies”. But I usually told them off and made them look stupid when I could. If I made fun of anyone, it was them.

Turns out, there are bullies in the real world and they’re so much worse.

Maybe “bully” is the wrong word. And maybe I’m a little slow because I only just now figured it out. But I am disappointed; I expected better of these people.

I expected better from those who live in urban or suburban areas, who have been exposed to greater diversity than I was. I expected them to be more open-minded and accepting. To give the new girl at the office a chance. To appreciate her prior experience and to use her failures and mistakes as teaching moments. Instead, at the first wrong word or minor error they immediately write her off. They judge her when she comes into work on her phone speaking Spanish and they assume she’s doing it to show off. (She’s from Colombia. You assume she talks to everyone in English? Or, maybe, just maybe, she speaks Spanish so fluently she doesn’t give any thought to what you would think about it.) These people, they rebel against any change in routine, any attempt to break the monotony. They “hate reading” or “don’t own books” or some other phrase I’ve always found ridiculous. They barely even read their emails, only skim. Any knowledge of the world outside their homes or cubicles they only know from the insanity that is TV News. If they do read anything, it’s only from one of those “happy news” websites because CNN makes them “sick” or “sad.” They don’t understand how pronouns work for those who don’t follow gender norms. They’ve always been comfortable. They’re still surprised by interracial marriages and they avoid talking about or reading about anything controversial.

Once upon a time, I was blatantly politically incorrect and I was proud of it. Even if it wasn’t out of hate for any particular group, I was just in a rebellious stage where I didn’t care what I said. Then I went to college and grew up and realized I was a feminist and that political correctness is real for a reason. I realized how uneducated and uncultured I was. I was humbled by it all. Stupidly, I made the assumption that any other college-educated adult went through this same humbling process. I was wrong. Every day I’m surrounded by these people, these closed-minded bullies who attack anything out of the ordinary like a bunch of antibodies on a virus. These are the same people who judged my solo adventures. The ones who try to turn “creative brainstorming time” into the least creative process.

Maybe they just make fun of everyone and everything and it’s all in good fun. Maybe I’m just becoming too sensitive and need to relax.

These people who decided I was worthy enough to be part of this in-crowd used to be the reason I loved my job. They’re fun-loving people. But now, I’m just growing to hate them (and my job) more and more every single day.

Anniversary

Today, I “celebrate” one year at my first job out of college. One year with the same company, one year of doing the same job all year long.

There’s no movement in real life. Moving forward is so much harder. Time moves differently here.

Are people excited about these milestones? One year seems like nothing, and yet it’s everything. I’ve been in a relationship with the same person for four years, I played competitive soccer for 15 years, I was in school for 17 years. I’ve done things for longer amounts of time, but I was always moving towards something. I feel like that’s stopped. And it only took a year.

Maybe it’s school. I don’t learn like I used to. I feel like I get dumber all the time, every day. Maybe I do.

I did the things everyone tells you you’re supposed to do. I graduated, went to college, graduated again, and got a job. But now what? I’m not ready for the married life and motherhood, so what do other people do once they get to this place? Wait for a promotion five years from now? Wait to retire? Wait to die?

How do I figure out where I need to be? This isn’t my dream job, but I don’t know what is. I don’t know how to find it. Is it even worth it; does such a thing exist? Are there people out there who do genuinely love what they do? Or does everyone just deal with it?

For a brief moment when I graduated high school I thought I was willing to make almost no money and be a writer. Because “if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life,” and after having had over 5 different jobs by the time I graduated, I was sort of looking forward to the possibility of a life without work. I wish I had kept writing. Maybe not made it a career, but found a way to make it a bigger part of my life, job, and daily habits.

It’s not that I hate this company – I’m actually very fortunate to work here – and leaving my coworkers would be hard, but I’m just not used to this stagnation that I’ve been in, and I’m not sure how to fix it.

But, a milestone is a milestone. I did it. I’ve proven I can live on my own, hold a job, and manage my finances enough to slowly start paying back my student debt. I’m just not excited about any of it.

The downside of Ambition (Dating Limbo pt 2)

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m terrible at this.

That’s my POF headline. It also happens to be what I say to myself – about almost anything – on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s work, sometimes it’s coaching soccer, sometimes it’s this very blog.

If I’m not the very best at something then I’m disappointed in myself. I’ve been in the exact same job for almost a year now, and because I’ve made no upward progress, I’m basically failing. I realize this trait in myself, and sometimes I can calm myself down but usually it just makes me more angry and frustrated.

I’ve always thought of myself as a perfectionist – but college taught me that I am more than okay with “good enough”. However, the combination of being ambitious and being a control freak is what might drive me to insanity. I want to have control over everything, and I want to be the best at everything – but I’m also incredibly lazy and easily demoralized by setbacks. I’m never settled or truly happy for very long. In my career, personal life, hobbies, or even physical appearance – I know I can do better, should be better, have been better once.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had the perfect relationship, or the perfect job. But I take the best parts of all my past experiences and want the next thing to be better than all the best parts. It makes dating a real pain in the ass. If one tiny thing reminds me of an ex in a bad way, I immediately want to break it off. I hold myself to an impossible standard, as well as those around me.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m terrible at this.

I’m seeing this guy right now – let’s call him Alfredo – and I can’t help but link his video gaming habit to an ex of mine. I can’t rule out all video gamers; I’d be left with maybe 10 guys in my age bracket and geographic location. Early on in my dating experiences, the minute someone reminded me of an ex – the way they acted, words they used – I immediately stopped seeing them. I’m trying to get over that. So Alfredo sometimes does things I don’t always like, has some habits I could do without… but he’s also the most fun I’ve ever had with a date-type person, even when we’re doing the simplest of things. I’ve gotten comfortable with him very quickly, and it’s just very simple and easy and wonderful. He’s more of a safe bet than some of the guys I’ve been with in the past. Yet, I’m still scared. Lately, the safe bet guys have been more scary to me than any bad-boy-wannabe. Maybe because I’ve learned that sometimes the good guy isn’t always as good as he seems.

It’s also frustrating because I have no idea how dating works. And as that ambitious control freak, I want to know everything and be good at all of it. Not understanding the dating game makes me even more angry that I didn’t get to date in college. I still have text conversations with boys from POF or Tinder that I’ve met before, and I feel like I should shut those down, I hate leading people on. I hate being led on. I’ve been seeing Alfredo for a month or two and when does that become shady? It isn’t “official” with Alfredo, and I don’t even know if that’s what I want anyway. But I like his taste in music and the fact that I can be ridiculous in front of him. He can cook. The ability to cook is such a small thing, but the time it takes for me to fall for someone is severely shortened when I see them in their element, and especially when that element happens to be in the kitchen. He continues to surprise me, and makes me laugh all day long. There’s a slight chance I’m over-thinking all of this, too. Maybe I’m just scared.

I’m scared that another failed relationship means one more thing I can’t get right. Either way, I’m not ready to dive in head first, but I’m not ready to let go yet either. There’s no explosive chemistry, but there’s staying power and a level of comfort with him. Maybe that’s more important.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m terrible at this.

And maybe being lost for awhile is okay. Someone needs to remind my ambition of that.

(Dirty) Blonde Ambition

Date: How would you describe your hair color?

Me: Dark blonde… dirty blonde?

[…]

D: What would your dream job be?

M: Something more creative than what I’m doing now. I’m not really sure. Something where I could write more, I guess. I honestly don’t know if my dream job actually exists… even if I was getting paid to write, and writing stuff I enjoyed, I’d always want to find something else, something I haven’t been able to accomplish yet.

D: Must be that blonde ambition… so you like to write? What kinds of stuff do you write?

Life Advisor?

What’s the adult, real-life version of an academic advisor? Ya know, the person who tells you that you’re doing awesome, and then tells you exactly what classes to take next semester? They look at your resume, and tell you you’re awesome, but give you small tweaks to make your resume reflect that awesomeness, and make you seem even more awesome? Is there a life advisor somewhere I’m not aware of?

About a year ago, when I was sitting through Alumni Days – listening to successful, graduated alumni talk about life after college – one of them said something that just recently sort of hit me.

There are no semesters, no constant evaluation in life. There’s nothing, and I mean nothing to break up the monotony. In college – while it could be brutal – there were breaks. There were finals (brutal) but then you were done, and then you went to new classes with new people and new professors and new topics. Now, there are intense deadlines (brutal) but no breaks, and on Monday I return to the same tasks, with the same people, working on the same project. Nothing actually changes, nothing moves forward…

In college, once you pass XYZ1000, you move on to XYZ2000. You fail that class? Oh it’s cool, just take it again.

In life, you manage to complete something, and then you have to do that thing again. And again. And again. Maybe some small things are different, maybe after a year (or several…usually several) maybe, maybe, you get promoted and get to make more money to do those things. But fuck something up? You could get fired. You don’t get to try it again.

Essentially, the consequences for fucking up are greater, but the rewards are lesser. And there are no life advisors to tell you you’re awesome, or which projects to take on, or what the hell to do about your resume. Instead, the other adults just… let you flail around out there, watching you squirm. They probably enjoy it, too. Buncha jerks.

Goals?

In college it was easy. Lots of little goals, a few big ones. They were all of relative importance, S.M.A.R.T., had deadlines. Do this assignment, study for this test, pass that class, eventually graduate.

Now what?

My goals have all been met, the boxes checked. I graduated. I have a job. There are annual reviews, but it’s not the same as a grade, as a pass/fail.

I’ve been constantly evaluated my entire life up to this point. Now that the rest of my life is pretty open, I don’t know what my next goal is, that next thing I want to achieve.

But I guess there are still different tracks, like there was in high school. Some kids go to college, others start working, some start families. So I guess that’s where I am, 4 years later. Work on “settling down”? I already chose to work instead of continuing school, but I can always go back. But what if I want all of it? To be in the academic circles, to be successful in my career, and maybe even have someone to share it with? What are the small steps to reaching those goals? What are the deadlines?