Fitting in at Work: What Environment is Right for You?

I have often called myself a chameleon, someone who can blend in under almost any circumstance and in any situation. It’s mostly because of my diverse interests, open mind and go-with-the-flow attitude. I’m just as comfortable in a dive bar as I am in a snooty nightclub; I’m a little bit country and a whole lot rock ‘n roll; and I’m a liberal-conservative, Filipino-Canadian living in America.

But a couple of years ago, I found myself working at a company where I just didn’t fit in and it was one of the biggest learning experiences in my career. I was the editor of the alumni magazine for school that wasn’t my alma mater; a conservative, Christian university that prides itself on its values-centric education.

If you have never worked for a university, it’s a world unto itself. From my experience, they are very bureaucratic, strictly business-casual with the dress code, and many employees work there for years, if not their entire life. Most employees are students, alumni or parents whose children are enrolled, and at faith-based universities, many are members of the church. At ours, we prayed before luncheons and our monthly meetings, something I just wasn’t used to. But the weirdest thing about where I worked was that the office emptied at 5 p.m. I mean, 4:59 p.m. and people poured into elevators and out of the employee parking lot! My room mate tells me this happens at the university she works at, too. They aren’t kidding when they say 8 to 5.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that type of work environment; it just wasn’t me. Mind you, I had just stopped working for a Hollywood nightclub so it was a complete 180 degree flip, but I just couldn’t figure out where I belonged and who I related to. I wanted to work at a place with less red tape, where casual Friday was any day of the week and religion wasn’t as much of an issue. Most of all, I wanted more flexibility with my schedule and at least one person who I could consider a friend. I experienced a lot of hard, “poor me” days until my then-boyfriend reminded me that I was just in transition and not a “lifer” at the university. That’s when I finally stopped stressing out, accepted the job as a stepping stone and never got too attached to anything or anyone. I learned as much as I could, excelled at my job, and was friendly with my supervisor and coworkers, all the while searching for my next opportunity.

Until then, I never thought about the type of work environment I wanted to be in. I always figured I could adapt or create my own space but you don’t really want to have to do that at work, a place you spend more time in than your own home, and with people you see more often than family. It was a critical lesson to learn and interestingly enough, it was because of those pity parties, uncomfortable moments and feelings of alienation that I was able to define what I wanted in my career and who I was professionally. In the 1 1/2 years since then, I’ve pretty much landed in my ideal work environment, which I feel confident in saying is because I knew exactly what I wanted and kept working toward it.

Fitting in is over-rated. Choose something because it fits you instead.


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