My second full time job out of school was at a major law firm in a large Indiana town. My job as the firm’s receptionist made me the first impression for 14 lawyers, 10 legal secretaries, six paralegals and one office manager. I was a 19-year-old who painted my nails colors they didn’t understand and wore my hippie wardrobe that I had to find a way to subdue. I had to improvise with some somewhat-lawyer-appropriate attire.
These people intimidated me! They were the movers and shakers within the world they traversed. The halls of this prestigious firm birthed an ambassador to Ethiopia and the attorneys for both the county and city! There were high-powered litigators, large corporate attorneys, and trust and estate planners. They worked with the wealthiest and most influential residents of the community they served.
I was attending my first Christmas party for the employees of the firm and it blew all semblance of propriety clean out the window. Again, I was 19 years old, so partying was not a foreign concept. I had done my share. But this season I was working on reorienting my priorities and figuring out what was important in life. So, that night partying was the last thing on my mind. Survival of “adult insanity” was.
So, being a quick study, I learned a few lessons that served me well that night:
1. Make sure you arrive on time to tell your superiors you appreciate the thoughtful Christmas bonus you’ve been given. Do this early, as they will recall very little of what transpires as the night wanes.
2. When the legal secretary that works at the desk behind you begins to dance on the table, gently take her hand and get her down before she hurts herself.
3. Eat the food, but drink nothing that’s handed to you. You really don’t know what they’ve mixed in.
4. Be willing to listen patiently to the tales told by loosened lips that never would have shared the depths of their hearts in any other setting.
…partying was the last thing on my mind. Survival of “adult insanity” was.
5. When your drunken boss attempts to take you into an uncomfortable embrace, run to the food buffet and grab a plate of something to place in his hands (even if he doesn’t want it). Can’t hug when you’re holding onto a plate.
6. When the party ends, have a line of taxis waiting. None of these folks should be on the road.
7. And finally, under the importance, influence, and prestige, remember, these are just people. Ones that don’t always make the best decisions—especially when there’s alcohol involved.
This 19-year-old grew up a bit that night. Not just by walking away relatively unscathed from this bit of craziness. But with the realization that the people I worked with were much more human than I thought. I viewed them differently, not necessarily badly, just as more real.
It gave me a unique opportunity. Since this was the season of life where I began resetting my priorities, I was able to talk to them about resetting theirs. Something this 19-year-old hippie would have never done before the event—the night of my eye-opening company Christmas party.
For more on living out your #gritandgracelife in the workplace read Can Female Bosses Be Nice and Successful?, 3 Tips for Working in a Man’s World, and How to Get Your Dream Job.
You will also enjoy our Podcast on your commute to work, consider starting with Episode 014 What You Need to Know About Sexual Harassment.