Thanks, Me, For Looking Out For Me

Dear Mommy,

I work at a creative tech agency. This is the first office job I have ever had and I’ve had a hard go acclimating to the professional atmosphere over the last year. I’m pretty severely introverted and antisocial and coming to work everyday in an environment where everyone dresses to impress and is always on their A-game has proven to be very difficult for me. I often feel like I’m saying or doing weird things, look like an unprofessional slob, or just sound slow and stupid.

There are lots of non-paid work functions that are supposed to add to the “culture” of our company and be “fun”, but to a person like me these functions make me feel as if I’m working a double without getting paid because of the emotional/social effort they require. Many times I’ve said I would be at one of these functions and then flaked out. I’m worried not going to these functions makes me seem like less of a team player, or sheds some sort of negative light on me as an employee. More specifically, I was recently hand chosen along with a few of my other co-workers to participate in a promotional photo-shoot, which was to take place on a Saturday, unpaid. I tried to wiggle out of it but my co-worker was pretty insistent about me being in it because my scene was very important to highlighting the company culture.

There were a few things that I was irked by – like them wanting me to wear high heels, which I would never do of my own free will – but as some time passed and I learned more and more about what my scene entailed I became pretty disgusted and ultimately flaked out the night before at around 8:30pm. Basically, I was supposed to wear pigtails, which I normally do, but against a backdrop of a bubblegum dispenser and a lamb statue while chewing bubble gum and blowing bubbles and wearing red heart sunglasses. LOLITA ANYONE? I messaged my coworkers and told them that I felt uncomfortable with the “Lolita-ish” vibe and didn’t want to represent that as a professional woman. Ultimately, I think I made the right decision but I can’t help but think that this is just another one of those things that is going to stir up a bad reputation about me being unreliable and flaky. What do you think?!

Ah, the world of young professionals. Since my day job regularly involves getting puked on, it’s a hard world for me to imagine. But as a sort of weird person whose idea of dressing to impress involves wearing pink sneakers and a dress that a 7 year old would covet, and whose idea of fun on a Friday night is listening to the entirety of Jagged Little Pill alone and watching Legally Blonde for the 500th time, I gotta say…I doubt I’d go to those fun (read: unpaid) work functions either. It sounds like a very hard place for an introvert, and my heart goes out to you.

You asked me what I think about all of this and the first thought that came to my mind was, “This woman is brave and impressive.” Girl! Do you know how hard it is to speak up about something that makes you feel icky as a woman in any situation, let alone in the WORKPLACE, when you are ALREADY having anxiety about fitting in with the company culture? I’m certain you do, because you just did it! Wow! Take a moment to place a warm palm on your own shoulder and say, “Thanks, me, for looking out for me.” At the risk of sounding like a poster hanging up in a 9th grade classroom, ~being true to your self~ and ~standing up for your beliefs~ are the most powerful of small, everyday victories against the culture of FUCKIN’ DUMB BULLSHIT that often surrounds us. It acts as a bulwark against the forces desperately trying to pound us all into a single shape who question nothing and accept everything. “You go girl” is essentially what I’m trying to say.

It sounds like your job is the sort of job that is looked at as a career, and though that distinction remains fuzzy to me (and most of us, probably), maybe a career involves a certain level of commitment to something other than just showing up and doing your job for eight hours. Things like “contributing to company culture” and “playing the game” start to matter. Since I have little experience in a working world that doesn’t involve preparing things to eat or taking care of children, I’m not sure what can be done in your situation. I happen to believe that what should matter when you go to work is your work and how well you abide by the rules of basic common decency. But in your job, your willingness to engage in the unpaid labor of “contributing to the company culture” and building a reputation as a team player may matter. Do you feel like it does? Is it a job you want to keep? Then maybe you do have to play the game a little and force yourself to show up for these shitty work functions. I totally hear that it’s a lot of work as a person with anxiety to go out and fraternize with work people, but you know what also is a lot of work? Worrying about your reputation because you don’t ever go out and fraternize with work people. Maybe if you show up to some of these things, some of the anxiety will cancel itself out and you’ll feel better. And maybe if you do bite the bullet a few times, you may find that you have gotten to know your coworkers a bit better and it will all feel a little less like work. That said, even if you do decide to play the game a bit, you are still allowed to have boundaries and pick and choose when to engage in all this unpaid work disguised as fun. Finally, have you thought of just being honest? Being real and saying you’re not gonna go to a thing because you’re usually tired after work or want to spend your weekends at home is a lot better than saying you’re going to go something, flaking out, and then worrying about what flaking out says about you. Make it a rule: say you’re not going if you’re not going to go, and when you say you’re going to go then you have to go. Even if you never go, being upfront about not going might help cultivate a reputation as someone with a rich life outside of work, instead of a flake. Good luck, friend.

Love, Mommy