I don't schmooze well. I do good friends and quality time, but not strangers and uncomfortable shoes. Unless I'm working, and then I love it. Purpose. It's all about having a purpose. A topic. More to say than, "Hi! How are you?" "I'm Julie. It's nice to meet you."
Saturday night, I was not working. I finished for the day about 5:15. Everyone else in the office was getting on their 'cocktail attire' for our private VIP party, hosted by the company. I had worn black dress pants and a red sweater to work, so I was somewhat under dressed. I debated just going home, but someone mentioned that the ice sculpture was amazing so I decided to take a peek.
Fear of the unknown is the catalyst for so many negatives in our lives. I had seen the guest list, helped create it in fact. Sometimes it's hard to remember that CEOs and presidents of major companies, and elected officials are people too. Their title replaces their humanity somehow and they become larger than life, even though I've never met them. This guest list was 95% larger than life and I wondered who I would talk to. Of the five hundred or more who had received an invitation, I would know less than fifteen in the room. Of those, only two would be able to 'hang out with me' if I stayed. The rest would need to be working the crowd - or at least they would know so many people that the crowd would work them.
I decided to go. Something about that ice sculpture.
I arrived with folks that had been in the intimidating category - until I met them. Then they just seemed awfully nice. We rode an elevator to the third floor and spilled out into a room with concrete floor and black curtained walls. To my left a company was checking coats. A video of the project was playing on the wall straight ahead. Three or four food stations were set up and people in fancy dresses and nice suits were already grazing.
There is a certain uneasiness about arriving at a party like this without an entourage of friends. I left my name tag on to give an appearance of being official. It made me feel better, even if it was completely unnecessary. As I entered the second, and main party room, I was awed by the ice sculpture. It was huge and stood on a table in the middle of the room. Light snow fell from the ceiling as it began a very slow melt. It had been carved into the likeness of a tree, trunk and branch stumps only. It was quite stunning. The circular bar encased it and I watched as the attendants quickly filled the wide variety of drink orders.
Soon I spotted a familiar face by the wall of windows that faced the river, so I crossed the room. We were all there to see the lighting of the boats. At precisely six, they would light up and then parade down the river and back. It was five thirty-five. After ten minutes of idle chatter, I decided to walk out on the balcony for a better view.
From the balcony you can see the bend in the river that leads into the city skyline. Many of the buildings are outlined in lights and it is a stunning view. I staked out a place along the rail and snuggled down into my fleeced cape. It was cold but not bitter and there was little wind. I stood still as couples came and went. I listened as people told their friends and acquaintances what they knew about the project - sometimes accurate, sometimes not. I watched the official photographer take pictures and the organizer fret about the countdown to someone on her cell phone. I laughed as three small boats drifted into each other bounced off. I marveled at the beauty of the river and smiled because only a few of us knew that recent rains had turned it disgustingly brown with mud and silt. I shivered but determined to stay for the lighting.
In the end, there was no countdown. Somewhere around six, a few lights came on and then the rest followed suit in random fashion. It was a bit anti-climactic. But the boats were great. They were every bit as tacky as the houses we visit every year! There were palm trees, santas, flags, and polar bears. I walked back inside to get warm. Over the next twenty minutes I said hello to every person I knew. I met parents and boyfriends. I got pinned against a brick wall with no one to talk to and no way to move.
And I watched the people.
Turns out, most people act the same way I do in such situations. They gather with the folks they know, get a drink in their hand, talk non-sense, and pretend that it's marvelous fun. They spend most of the time scanning the crowd for other people they know, so they can say hi and then stand together awkwardly until one of them is pulled away or finds reason to move on. The food is good, the drink is good, dressing up can be fun, but the actual event is really a bit pretentious.
It's not just about this event I attended. Every time you go to a large party where you don't know 50% of the invitees, you encounter these same situations. Purpose. I need a purpose for being there. Let me serve. Or greet. Or answer questions. When you know the guests, it can be fun to work the room. When you don't, it can be uncomfortable.
No one insisted I attend this party. And no one forced me to stay. I had worked a full day and needed to get home, though, so I left after forty-five minutes. But I left happy. I saw my first ice sculpture. I met a friend's parents. The boats were tacky and the city skyline amazing. But most of all, I realized that most everyone else acts just as awkwardly as I do at these events.
Remember that when you're standing uncomfortably at your spouse's work party this year.