I think that we can all agree that the past year and a half has set us back in just about every way possible: we have forgotten how to study for in-person exams, how to juggle a tight schedule filled with back-to-back classes and extracurriculars, and how to make room somewhere amidst all the chaos for whatever makes us truly happy and fulfilled. With the world slowly starting to show signs of returning to normal--or at least, a new version of normal-- we are expected to go from 0 to 100 in everything that we do.
What all of these challenges have in common is the necessity to connect with people on a personal and professional level; after so much time spent six feet apart and unable to see half of each other’s faces or shake each other’s hands, this connection is not as easy as it once was. Forming relationships with our classmates, our professors, and our possible future employers are made even more difficult by our lack of exposure to this simple but halted reality; as reluctant as we are to admit it, getting back into the swing of things and regaining lost social skills that are imperative to us as college students are harder tasks than most of us expected.
Journalist Celeste Headlee reminds us that “Social skills are, after all, skills.” By this logic, our ability to socialize has to constantly be used and refined, or else we may feel out of practice and become too wrapped up in the steps taken backward, rather than in looking to take steps forwards. Women, in particular, are conditioned to present themselves in social and professional settings in ways that men are not. We are expected to meet certain standards pertaining to our appearance, intellect, and character. When talking about the gender gap in corporate America, clinical professor in entrepreneurship Waverly Deutsch explains that “The role of women’s socialization and how women approach their careers … is one of the elements that might cause that gap to be persisting.”
This reality puts a lot of pressure on us without the added challenges that come with living through a global pandemic. As college students, we are only beginning to navigate our way through the world of networking. It feels as though years of learning things like how to collaborate on group projects and give presentations to the class should have sharpened our social skills and prepared us for this moment. However, everyone was set back by months of isolation and almost two years of social distancing. So, how do we dust ourselves off and regain our lost skills?
Well, Headlee reassures us that humans are built to socialize; particularly when it comes to networking for jobs and internships, our instincts kick in and we remember what is at stake. Naturally, we all doubt this ability from time to time, especially coming out of the era of “six feet apart.” So, here are a few helpful tips for keeping yourself energized and confident during socializations with peers, professors, and future employers:
1. Remember that the pandemic is not going away. A study by the American Psychological Association reported that half of Americans are still uncomfortable with in-person interactions, whether they are vaccinated or not. We are more aware than ever about ways to keep ourselves and others safe, and sometimes this means making sure we check ourselves before we go in for that handshake or assume that a meeting will take place face-to-face. Move mindfully through your interactions while we are still phasing out of COVID-19 protocols, and don’t be afraid to voice your own concerns, either! If you are uncomfortable, the other person will pick up on it. Ensuring that both parties feel secure is of the utmost importance during times like these, so remember to make both your health and the health of everyone else a priority when engaging in in-person socializations.
2. Practice coping mechanisms for when you start to feel overwhelmed in a social situation. Using techniques for controlling your breath or for talking at a normal pace can make all the difference during a conversation or an interview! It is normal to be nervous when meeting with a professor or potential employer, and our nerves are most definitely heightened after the past year and a half that we have endured. Simply googling strategies for calming yourself down during an interaction can make all the difference in your self-esteem during a meeting, and this boost in confidence will definitely show!
3. Embrace the new normal! While going back to face-to-face conversations, meetings and interviews are daunting, look on the bright side. You can convey so much more to a person when you are sitting right in front of them than when you are sitting behind a screen. Bask in being able to show off those new pants you just bought because you no longer only have to worry about what the camera can see. Take advantage of the opportunity to face your social fears while you are still young enough to learn from them. Take in the energy from those around you that you just cannot feel over Zoom. Those long March days spent sitting in your bedroom waiting for the chance to socialize again are over, so find the joy in being able to put yourself out there again.
Jumping back into “normal” life is a challenge for everyone. Losing over a year of regular social interaction is no small thing, especially at this stage in our lives. It is imperative to remember that everyone is trying to get back to where they once were, together. Seek help and encouragement from those who you are most comfortable around, and never give up on your abilities to engage with and impress those around you. Going from 0-100 is not realistic; take it day by day, and know that this learning experience will better you both personally and professionally.