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SFU Co-op Student

Sonya in an office setting
These coping strategies allowed me to continue to exist in certain environments, without having to struggle.

Can an office be “too quiet”? Is that even a thing?

After weeks of feeling unusually tired, and having trouble concentrating, I finally approached my coop advisor, and discovered that my new office was just too quiet for me.

WHAT A SILLY PROBLEM TO HAVE! After years of complaining about noisy trains, libraries, and roommates, was I SERIOUSLY now being disrupted by too much silence?! Turns out that this is a real thing.

I wanted to write this blog post for future students (extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts alike) who are still discovering and accepting their workplace preferences. Realizing that you have needs can be frustrating, but it is only by accepting them that we can adapt and succeed. 

I promise that it will lead to good things!

Tip 1: Struggle & Denial

The first thing I experienced was a few solid weeks of internal struggle, and I think it’s important to let this happen. Listen to what your body is telling you, and adjust accordingly. I definitely have the bad habit of “toughing it out”, as many of us students do.

I am here to tell you, it is ok to accept and explore your discomfort, and I promise that it will go away if you let yourself feel it! A small amount of discomfort is a wonderful thing, in that it can lead you to answers and move you forward.

My advice: 

Drink lots of water, get more sleep than you think you need, and try starting a daily journal. Starting a journal can give you the space to explore both your physical sensations and your thoughts in a no-judgement environment. You can later refer to it to look for trends. This helped me be more honest with myself, and reflect more deeply.

Tip 2: Me-Search

You knew this was coming. Research your personality and work preferences. By doing this, I learnt that extroverts can feel physically drained by their environments too. While my introvert friends recharge with alone time, I needed community and collaboration to recharge. Without it, no amount of “toughing it out” could re-energize me. With this, I discovered that working in a more individualistic office environment was draining for my personality.

My advice: 

I started with the classic Myers Briggs test, and other similar personality tests like: 16 Personalities, or  Communication Styles. A good place to find more of these is on the career services website, or any career related blogs.  I also simply googled “work environments”, and “communication styles”, and skimmed through career books (which I found for free at my local library) like “What Color Is Your Parachute?” and “What Next”.

Tip 3: Reach Out

Personally, I find it very helpful to hear other people’s career journeys. While books offer some of this, finding people to have a back-and-forth with can be extremely beneficial.

After doing the research, I was more equipped to clearly explain what I was going through, and ask for advice accordingly. I had coffee dates and informational interviews with close friends and family (who I felt most comfortable with), with other coop students (who I contacted through canvas), and finally with industry professionals that I either admired or related to. My super supportive boss referred me to a “speed mentorship” session in Vancouver to listen to more professional journeys, which was really helpful.

Finally, I sent an email to my co-op advisor, who offered a much needed dose of encouragement, along with a variety of helpful tips and resources. Definitely reach out to your co-op advisor if you are feeling stuck. They know all about how employees find gratifying work, and can help send you in the right direction.

My advice:

When reaching out, make sure to keep the conversation solutions-focused. Express briefly what you are going through, and ask if they have experienced anything like this before & what helped them get through it successfully. Try googling “informational interview questions” and collect a series of questions that resonate with you.

Also, an important note is to make sure you are reaching out to people who are having a positive influence on you. If you find that one of your interviews does not serve you, or feels discouraging, just thank them for their time, and move on to the next one. As my wise father once said: “Everyone is going to want to give you advice, but it is up to you to choose which advice you take.”

Tip 4: Coping

Once you’ve figured out what is missing, find a way to meet that need. Take all the information from your me-search and reaching out, and make a list of actionable items (Anyone that knows me, knows I have a deep appreciation for lists and actionable items). Just because you are in an uncomfortable situation, doesn't mean you need to stay uncomfortable. Take all your new-found knowledge and make the situation work for you!

My advice:

Personally, I started by looking around the office. Who were the other extroverts around me, and how were they thriving? I noticed that other people in the office were wearing headphones. So, after checking to make sure it was alright with my supervisor, I brought in my headphones, and listened to news programs, audio books, podcasts, even just whale sounds, while I worked. This was a GAME CHANGER for me. I was shocked that it actually helped me work faster, and feel more focused. It was clear that background noise was an important environmental need for me, something that I had never noticed or appreciated before.

I also dedicated some after-work time to touching base with friends and connecting with my community. I read that extroverts struggle with “unplanned alone time”, and this really resonated with me. On days where plans got cancelled, or nobody was available, I found ways to “extrovert independently”, by going somewhere where lots of people were talking. I would usually take my book to a coffee shop or a pub downtown, and enjoy the ambiance of people.

These coping strategies allowed me to continue to exist in certain environments, without having to struggle. This is what coping strategies are: ways to make small changes that allow you to thrive without having to completely change your environment.

In closing, be who you are! Embrace both your needs and your preferences, because they will lead you to a fulfilling life. I hope this helps you in your career journey. Just remember, you are a ROCKSTAR, who is learning more and more every single day!

SFU Co-op Student
Connect with Sonya on LinkedIn and Twitter!
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May 23, 2019

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