Stay warm, dudes
August 9, 2014 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Adulthoodfilter: How can I stay true to myself and make real friends when my job seems to demand me to be professional and distant all the time?

I'm not sure how to phrase this, but I have been working at a bank for the last two months and I feel like I'm changing into someone more guarded and cold and calculating already... I don't smile at work all day, and it makes me feel disconnected and sad especially because the hours are sometimes crazy and I haven't been able to reach my friends as much since starting work. And I see all the people at the top of this career ladder and I don't want to turn into them. This is one of those oversimplified/confirmation bias type situations but my question is basically:

(1) how do I stay true to myself and a genuine warm happy person when I spend all my time with people who seem a bit insincere and never laugh?
(2) also, how do I make sure that I keep my friends from my pre-work days when everyone has a busy schedule
(3) how do I make friends when everyone is always acting professional ALWAYS

Or am I just at the wrong job? I'm thinking of changing tracks and going into a more 'insulated' career path, or getting into academics.

(4) I'm looking for jobs that allow me to make a difference, is competitive/attracts talented and intelligent people, and allow me to feel connected to others. Do you guys have any ideas?

This is really bugging me and I guess I'm looking for reassurance that having a desk job doesn't mean the end of my social life or the end of having a sense of humour or the end of real connection and colour (because it's been 2 months, but that's what it feels like). Help mefites! HELP!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What you are describing is one reason why I turned down a job offer at a financial institution and started working in casual, laid-back internet companies. I'm really, REALLY bad at not being jokey about work. Workplaces where you are expected to keep a straight face all day long and wear fancy pants and where bursting out laughing in a meeting is consider a faux pas are just not for me.

No, you are not doomed to live out the rest of your existence in a humorless, friendless void. Every job will be slightly different, but the style of workplace really depends on the industry. Move to another industry but stay within your field and see how that feels. Most likely, you will like and dislike something about the next job. Use that information to inform your decision about the third job. And so on.

Jobs always kinda suck. But if you have some negotiating power (i.e., you are able to get another job across town doing something similar) then you can make some decisions about what kind of workplace you want, then weigh that against pay, location, etc. It's never going to feel perfect. I really like my current workplace and my coworkers, but there are tons of problems with that place.

Make sure you stay in your position for at least a year, though. I know that seems impossible, but especially if this is your first job, you want to avoid a needless mar on your resume. Use the time to scope out other job options or see if you want to go back to school.

Good luck!
posted by deathpanels at 12:57 AM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well, if your job only seems to demand it, and you don't really seem to like the job in the first place, fuck it, be a warm happy person who genuinely laughs while you're there. Even if the majority aren't down with that I think you'll be surprised that some of the others will want to befriend you.

(I have no idea how to answer #2)
posted by mannequito at 1:07 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sounds a lot like you're in the wrong job for your personality/temperament/outlook-on-life. I worked in banking for 6 years and I hated it, in part for reasons you describe. Best thing I did was leave.

In saying that, one night at a work social function, where we had all been drinking, a couple of my co-workers confronted me (not in a mean way; it was just an alcohol-lubricated social situation) with their view that I was some kind of uptight, hard-nosed and humourless corporate type.

The incident made me wonder if I was 'projecting' my bias against these people and over-playing the corporate/financial services stereotype. I became friends with one or two of them after that. But I'm not friends with any of those people now.
posted by evil_esto at 4:05 AM on August 9, 2014

First, don't assume that because you don't see human connection among your co-workers, it doesn't exist. Two months isn't necessarily enough time to get dialed into whatever social structures there are in your workplace. Have you tried asking anybody to go grab a quick lunch with you? As mannequito says, there may be perfectly nice people there who are just ripe for the friending.

And second, there's a wee bit of implied judgment in your question, like you see your more-serious co-workers as cold, soulless drones or corporate tools ("a little bit insincere"... "I don't want to turn into them"), which is part of what's making you afraid that you'll lose your own "warm" identity by adopting this workplace demeanor. It's worth considering that banking (whether retail or not) is an industry where you deal with people's life savings, the money they need to retire with or fund their kids' college educations or survive on in the case of a serious accident. Banking really is work that's important in a human sense, and to a certain extent, a relatively serious, focused manner is a way to be kind and respectful to those real people whose resources you're handling.

Not to say that you couldn't be warm and smile while working, but nobody really wants to walk into the place where they've entrusted decades of savings, and see clowning around and office hijinks. I wonder if reframing professionalism as "being respectful" vs. "being cold" might help you come to terms with it a bit. You can be a genuinely caring, connecting, joyful person while still mostly keeping a straight face.
posted by Bardolph at 4:16 AM on August 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

Leave your job at work!

It's not always an easy thing to do, but there's an endless number of jobs where people have to separate their work and home/social lives. Or they go mad. And many people do seem to manage it.

A house mate once mentioned maintaining an imaginary set of keys to the rooms where, at the end of each day, she mentally locked her clients and an imaginary key rack outside the front door at home. She'd physically go through the motions of hanging up the keys before she walked into the house. It gave her a clean symbolic break between her douche-bag clients and her real life.

Our neighbours thought she was nuts.. But part of the joy of it was that it was also a form of self training in not caring what people outside her immediate home and social circles thought of her.

There's a lot of little practices like that. Imaginary hat and hat stand. Stuffed toy that you tell the day's worst news to. And so on. Google "how do [folk in high stress jobs] deal with their horrible horrible jobs" and try some out.
posted by Ahab at 4:36 AM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't see why you can't just try harder to smile and be friendly. What about your job is incompatible with that -- other than you don't see it happening?
posted by J. Wilson at 7:11 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Off of what Bardolph said: Are you in a customer-facing job? If not, that might be a better fit: assuming you do mean "genuine and warm" rather than "clowning around", your temperament would be a blessing in a job where you work directly with customers. I know what you mean about bankers seeming cold and detached, and while I do want them to be serious - it's a serious job - I also appreciate it when they are friendly and warm with me.

Plus, then you're spending more of your time with customers than with co-workers; as a person who has always worked in public-facing jobs and has usually had weird co-workers, this can also be a blessing.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:39 AM on August 9, 2014

how do I stay true to myself and a genuine warm happy person when I spend all my time with people who seem a bit insincere and never laugh?

I think I'm maybe misunderstanding you here, but I'm going to have a stab at this anyway. You're putting WAY too much importance on other people and WAY too little on yourself. You can be yourself whoever else is around. You might want your colleagues to connect with you in a given way, but the fact that they're being aloof doesn't mean you can't be friendly and smile at them. I might be way off kilter, but I get the impression that you need to see what you're doing, working, with regards to other people and their behaviour. But other people's behaviour isn't about you. You can absolutely smile and laugh and joke whether or not other people are joining in.

Further to this, these people are your work colleagues. Not your friends, not your family, not your acquaintances. The reason you're all spending so much time together is because of money, not ties of blood or water. You can't really opt out of spending time with them like you can with your friends or other people you dislike. Given the constraints that you're in, don't apply so much value to what these people say and do. These people have an obligation to be civil and work together. They don't have an obligation to be your friends.

also, how do I make sure that I keep my friends from my pre-work days when everyone has a busy schedule

Hard work. Be the person who organises things so that other people just have to turn up. Become the social hub of your friend network and organise things so that you can keep in touch with as many people as possible. If John and Jane can only see you on a Tuesday, and Mary and Mark can only do Fridays, then arrange things for Tuesdays and Fridays so that you can meet up with people. Folk are much more likely to do something if they just have to turn up.

how do I make friends when everyone is always acting professional ALWAYS

Your work colleagues are not your friends. Like I said, the reason they're around is because of money. That's the reason the vast majority of people who work get up every Monday morning - so they can pay their bills at the end of the month. That's not to say that they won't become your friends, but you have to show them that you're someone who is worth spending time with. And even then, it's not guaranteed to work. I try to laugh and joke with my work colleagues a lot because it makes the day go faster, for all of us. But I don't want to see these people outside of work. We're work-compatible, but that's about it. And some of them are people I would actively avoid outside of work. Some of my colleagues likely feel that way about me.

Keep on being nice and friendly, and see who responds. If people don't, they're sending you a signal that they don't want to know. Spending a lot of time with someone is not a guarantee that you're going to like them, or that they're going to like you. Also consider that you, or someone else, being promoted will have an effect on your relationship with them. People can't always afford to be friends.

Try putting more energy into making friends with people who aren't financially obligated to be civil to you. Meetups, friends of friends, etc. Get out there and find some folk who will like you for you, rather than liking you because they have to pay their rent at the end of the month.
posted by Solomon at 7:40 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

(If you want a cheerful jokey atmosphere, find a job where you work around Realtors. Trust me.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:47 PM on August 9, 2014

I've run into this a few times in the past, and I've bounced back and forth trying to find the right balance - sometimes leaving higher-paid jobs to do so. If you feel uncomfortable and not yourself at your job, then you are not at the right job. Being professional around coworkers and clients doesn't mean that you can't smile and can't have fun. The best kind of job is the one that occupies your mind or body with rewarding work but also allows for your personality to shine through. if you have to hold back, or act a certain way that's not natural for you, then you will not be doing your best AT the job, too.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:06 AM on August 11, 2014

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