My novel, Don’t Try to Find Me, comes out in July. Between now and then, I’m going to need to make plenty of good first impressions. And it got me thinking how that’s not so different from job interviews, or meeting an online date, or a party full of strangers–any place, any time, where you really want to control what people think about you.
Paradoxically, that desire to control is where we often get into trouble. Managing social anxiety and expectations is important, which is why I’m tackling this subject in a mental health blog.
Here are some things that might be helpful to keep in mind as you enter any situation that feels high stakes.
1) Think what you like about yourself. What do you have to offer in a given situation?
Remind yourself of these qualities en route to the event.
If you have trouble praising yourself, ask a good friend. Maybe that same good friend could give you a pep talk on your way to the event.
It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make in the level of confidence with which you enter a room.
2) Rehearse a little, but not so much that you make yourself more nervous.
What I mean is, think ahead of time about how you’d like to present yourself. Have a few talking points in mind (for example, at a job interview, what skills would you like to highlight?)
But don’t give yourself an entire script to follow. It’ll just make you more anxious, feeling like you have to get all your lines right.
3) Remember that other people are nervous, too, and that often, initial small talk feels awkward. It’s not something you’re doing wrong, but rather, a natural progression.
When we first meet people, we’re feeling around for what we have in common. They’re doing the same. So don’t get down on yourself; think of it as a conversational stage you’ll evolve beyond if you just keep at it.
Also remember that others are just as concerned about how they’re coming off. Even in a job interview where the interviewer seems to hold all the cards–you’re interviewing him, too, to see if it’s a good fit, if you WANT to be a part of what they’ve got. That interviewer wants to make a positive impression on you, too. And if he doesn’t care what you think, then why do you want to work for him anyway? You’ve dodged a bullet on that one.
It comes down to knowing we’re all just humans, and humans are naturally self-conscious, self-absorbed beings.
We’re also social creatures who learn through repetition, and that’s why you need to keep at it. Keep putting yourself out there, and it’ll get easier. It’s a muscle that gets stronger through flexing.
4) What’s the worst that can happen?
It’s actually quite freeing, once you confront this question. Usually, the answer is nothing too dire.
For example, if we’re not a hit at a party, what consequence does it really have? If we don’t connect with an online date, there will be others. If a job interview goes poorly, we’ll find a different job.
Even if we fail, each new situation is basically fresh. Our other online dates won’t know what happened at the last; neither will a job interviewer.
5) Evaluate the experience afterward, and figure out what you can learn.
Give yourself credit for what went well, and what you want to replicate in the future. Critique what didn’t go well, taking care to avoid self-flagellation. The goal is to improve for the future. There will always be more opportunities.
Handshake image available from Shutterstock.