By Shelly Volner
You’ve felt it, haven’t you?
That knot in your stomach and overwhelming sense of self-consciousness as you enter a room full of unfamiliar faces. These are the feelings that accompany us on our first day of school, our first day of a new job and pretty much our first day of anything.
I can’t remember my initial day of kindergarten all that well but I can remember my first day at a large corporation back about 12 years ago.
The day began early with a visit to the HR office where I was handed my welcome packet (which I scanned only once to find out when pay day was), signed my W-2 and personnel forms and then was given a short office tour.
Then came the moment that every shy person like me is afraid of, being cut loose to sink or swim with a room full of people watching. I am pretty sure my knees were knocking and my palms were sweaty so I was dreading shaking anyone’s hand.
Never the less, with a nervous smile and damp palm, I was escorted to my new home, a spacious 10’ x 12’ cubicle. It came equipped with a desk, computer, file cabinets, upholstered walls and plenty of push pins – to help accommodate my gallery of Ronald and Nancy Reagan photos (and no, I am not making that up). The pleasant HR gal chirped over her shoulder as she walked away, “Get settled in and feel free to come ask if you need anything.”
It was as though my mom had just dropped me off at the first day of 1st grade all over again. I found it hard to believe that at the age of 30 I was just as intimidated as I was when I was 6. I tried my best to control the fearful voices in my head. Like, “what if I forget how to use a computer?” or “what if I answer the phone and say the wrong company name?” or even worse, “what if I can’t remember where I parked my car in the parking structure?” Which by the way, I did all of those things but stretched over a two year period.
In my head, I imagined running back to the HR office and saying, “Yes, I do need something! I need you to come with me, show me the ropes, point out all the potential pitfalls, tell me who’s nice and who’s not and while you’re at it, sit with me at the lunch table too.”
Sounds like what our kids must be thinking on the first day of school, right?
Fearing I could be written up for being such a ninny on the first day, I decided not to express my “first day insecurities” but instead took a deep breath, sat down in my new ergonomic chair and took on every female’s first day task, finding a good place to store my purse!
It wasn’t but a few minutes later that one of my managers, Dana, came over to greet me and see how I was doing.
The first thing I recall about her was her friendly smile. She had a genuine warmth about her and from overhearing her interactions with fellow co-workers, I could tell she was the “mom” of the office (be it a young one!) and very well loved.
Immediately, I felt a wave of comfort wash over me. In my head I imagined, maybe my own mom or guardian angel had sent her to me to ease me into this new and unknown environment?
From that day forward, Dana never turned me away when I had a stupid question or when I just needed to vent a fear or frustration. And no matter what, she always left me with that reassuring smile.
She helped make my first day one of many great days and shared with me something I was never going to find in a corporate welcome packet, her time and friendship. During the 2 years I was with that company, Dana and I became very good friends and a decade later she and I have remained close and see each other as regularly as we can.
Many of us whether we are deathly shy or not, have anxiety about those “first days” in our life. We are never as vulnerable as we are when we are trying something for the first time and in front of a room full of judging eyes. Let’s face it, we all yearn to miraculously “fit in.”
And even though it might have been a long time since you started in a new school or workplace, you can be reminded of these feeling as you walk into an unfamiliar exercise class, philanthropic group or as your own children make their way into a new school setting for the first time.
As the veterans of those organized groups, it is our role as good human beings to welcome these fresh faces and share goodwill. Just as Dana did for me all those years ago.
And for all of the parents out there, it is essential that we teach our children kindness and inclusion toward others.
For that timid child walking into a new school with new rules, expectations and 30 new faces staring at them, it can be a very scary place. But a warm smile and an offer to include them in an activity can act as a welcomed and calming security blanket.
The “Make New Friends” song from my grade school Brownie days comes to mind in this instance. My favorite line is the very first one as I think it conveys a timeless message that we can all learn from:
“Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
Many of us get so comfortable with our “click” that we forget to look outside and invite new people in. The next time a fresh face walks into your class or group, try to go out of your comfort zone and be that “first day friend”, you will have eased that person’s fears and in return, they just might become your silver or gold.