How to go into (adult) society again
January 31, 2014 12:16 AM   Subscribe

Any tips to start socializing and living again after a long period of being anti-social/irregular life?

For the past 2 to 3 years, I've made unemployment or finding a job the biggest part of my identity (per my question history). It was all I'd talk about with friends, and even when I wasn't talking about job stuff, I was talking about distractions such as kpop rather than myself. I developed bad habits that I want to break now. Bad habits such as:

1) Avoiding real conversation and talking about my day/ what I do
2) Feeling like I don't deserve to go out/have fun unless I'm earning money. This is true.. but it seems like wasting life to not live because I'm unemployed.
3) Being negative/ judgmental -- at first to myself, then to everyone else

I'm really scared that I won't find the positive/lighthearted part of myself back. It will take time and work to get rid of the bad habits. I think I'm going to start a new job soon.. how will I interact with coworkers/bosses professionally? How do I stop judging myself and others?

The other thing is that I've been a student, so I'm not sure how to interact at work. Maybe I'm overthinking. Just be friendly, polite, and show courtesy/interest in others? I'm a bit scared because I've had bad experience with workplace politics and coworkers in the past.
posted by ichomp to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh, honey. Why isn’t conversation about your day and what you do “real conversation”? I think it counts. Small talk is an important skill. Talking about KPop is fine, too.

Free things are often the best things. This might depend on your city, but in mine there are lots and lots of happening cheap or free events, parks, etc. to go to.

Most of all you need to be a friend to yourself. You know all that fear you have that other people won’t like you? Imagine yourself from an external perspective of a really compassionate friend, or even a compassionate stranger. This thought experiment has done wonders for me and my self-esteem. You typically forgive your friends their petty tics, and feel bad for them when they’re down, and enjoy them for their positive qualities, yes? As another thought experiment; forgive me if this is morbid, but when I was seriously depressed in the past I had some suicidal thoughts, and what really gave me an epiphany one day was that I realized killing a human is a crime. It’s a terrible act in most societies, unless in self-defense or in other mitigating circumstances. When I thought of how absurd it was that some random person could murder me and I would think it was horrible for my family and deeply unjust and wrong, but I myself could do it and I somehow had convinced myself it was right…well, I had a breakthrough that maybe I wasn’t really being objective or fair to myself. Maybe it was really time for me to stop hating myself. And stop trying to control everything from the temple of me. This applies to all sorts of other injustices and crimes as well, not just my rather extreme example. Really get outside yourself and see yourself as a legitimate part of the human race whether you like it or not, because you are.

You are a human person. Compassion is incomplete until it includes yourself. Friendship is incomplete until you treat yourself like a friend. Human rights for everyone includes you, too.
posted by quincunx at 1:18 AM on January 31, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: You're definitely overthinking. You've already got it. Be friendly, polite, and show courtesy and interest in others. In addition to that, show respect to yourself and others. Respect is important, because it's about a lot of things, including empathy and boundaries. But really you're on the right track. And the secret, I guess, is fake it until you make it. Everybody puts their foot in their mouth or has a bad day or gets cranky once in a while. It might be that you have a string of these problems as you get used to being around people and putting yourself into social situations. That is okay! People around you will be (perhaps to you) surprisingly forgiving. They will be learning how to interact with and respect you at the same time you're doing that for them. There will be missteps. But you have to persevere, and before you know it you won't be faking it anymore.

Things like kpop are perfectly valid conversational topics. Just look at Metafilter. Do you not think that many of the things on the front page are interesting? There's so much interaction and interest there - that's because people like talking and learning about all sorts of things. I understand that being in the habit of judging things and pastimes as worthwhile or not can be a very hard habit to break, because I do it too. But while you're judging, first of all try to keep it to yourself, and second of all take a minute to see why other people might think it's worth their time. Try to see things from their perspective. Even if you don't always get it, the practice of empathy will make it easier for you in the future, more automatic, when you're interacting with someone who has a different worldview from you.
posted by Mizu at 1:58 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Once you start your job, it may well be hard and stressful at first. But you'll get the knack. Once you're working with people, there is usually plenty of work stuff to talk about and small talk isn't a big issue. Work hard, and be as good as you can at your job. If you are good and reliable, people usually won't care much if you're weird.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:23 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Shrek and Zorro have a lot to teach you.

One of the best lines of all times from a movie is: Ogres are like onions.

Work friends, new friends, even your new organization - everything - everything is like an onion. Everything has layers. Peel slowly, focus on the outer shell before breaking to the next layer... Not all layers should be peeled right away. It is inappropriate to key in on your new boss's personal problems - even if they present themselves to you. Likewise, it is inappropriate to share and over-share a lot about yourself. Take your time. With a new job, you are potentially the new toy. Take advantage of that and let yourself be shown off a bit. Take the time to meet people and to establish some small informal business relationships with people. Ask your boss if it is okay to interview your co-workers and other parts of the organization which you'll have contact with. You want to ask questions and understand where you are in your larger organization. You want to unpeel your organization one layer at a time, and you want to unpeel yourself to your organization one layer at a time.

Then there is Zorro (Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins variety). Zorro started out as a drunk bandit hell bent on revenge, but he became a cultured nobleman and an extrodanairy swashbuckler. Zorro had lot to learn. to get from where he started to who he became. When Anthony Hopkins begins to train him, he trains him with the critical skills first - hyper focused on the basics, and slowly he expands his world. This is why Zorro has to master one circle before he's allowed to move to the larger concentric circle.

Skill wise, focus on the basics. Get familiar with the small talk. Focus on asking questions about people instead of answering them. Focus on the duties of your job before you expand and take on too much. Make things second nature before you are trying to juggle too many problems at once.

So yeah... if you are bored this weekend, watch a little Shrek and Zorro, and then Monday, or whatever day you start, take your time to peel the layers - making sure you temper that with mastering the basics of social skills before you take on the world.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:49 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, the single best tool I've found for having conversational topics in my back pocket is to listen to a ton of NPR.

If you can use ten minutes (or an hour) of commute time to listen to a podcast (I suggest fun informative ones, not the ones about war), you're likely to hear something that comes in handy socially at some point. It might be a fun fact you can share during chitchat, or maybe your conversational partner heard the same podcast, in which case you now have a small thing in common. And you'll be talking about something that isn't your troubles.
posted by jessicapierce at 2:09 PM on January 31, 2014

My husband just came to the end of a years-long job crisis. I was a mess at the end of it. I didn't want to see anyone and hear about their happy lives, I didn't want to do anything, I didn't even enjoy my children very much. It felt very difficult to try to make casual conversation with people.

I thought that when the job situation was sorted I'd immediately feel wonderful, and I was surprised to find that it took me several weeks to sort of reassemble my thoughts. The most helpful thing for me was spending time away from home. I think when you've had so many sad hours in a place, it helps to just get away for a while. (I don't necessarily mean a vacation, maybe just a trip somewhere in your city you've never been, or something.) And then all the typical things helped me: exercise, sleep, good food, etc.

I think being friendly and polite at work is all you need to plan to do. Probably as your life starts to feel more secure you'll start to feel more comfortable being social with people. Personally, I wouldn't worry too much unless you find that it's not getting better and easier over time.

And congratulations on your job!
posted by gerstle at 11:13 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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