Meeting new people is hard. It’s bad enough when you have to get to know someone because they’re a friend of a friend, they’re suddenly your co-worker, or you’re at a party and have no one else to talk to. Under those circumstances there tends to be enough context to allow a conversation to grow. And if the conversation remains stunted despite all reasonable efforts then you can just escape by pretending you need to go to the bathroom.
But there is a type of introduction that is worse than all the others. I call this type of introduction institutionalised self-introductions, and I’m certain they were invented by the devil to increase earth’s levels of general awkwardness. Institutional self-introductions occur when a group of people meet in a formal setting. They are more common if one person is in a position of power and able to say, “Right, let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves, shall we?” without having things thrown at them. The process of an institutional self-introduction is to tell the group your name and some other ‘interesting’ facts about yourself. The category of these facts may be pre-determined by the person in power.
Institutional self-introductions tend to happen in university classes at the beginning of semester. They are usually dull, awkward or both.
In my undergraduate degree this was annoying, but it was bearable because we were not asked why we chose the degree or what our career plans were. No one poses tricky questions about LIFE PLANNING and CAREERS in a Bachelor of Arts. Everyone knows that a Bachelor of Arts is not about those things, and besides, no one wants to hear twenty versions of, “because I hate having money,” or, “it’s just to put off my inevitable career in fast food service.”
Instead we had to play mind games to get to know one another. In the most popular game you have to tell another person three things about yourself. Two of these things are true and one is a lie, and they have to guess which one is the lie.
I hate this game. It’s always awkward.
Unbelievable right? That alien hates chocolate.
But now that I’m doing a real degree I get asked real questions, and “what made you choose this career pathway?” is the favourite. The problem? I don’t have a good reason.
See, when it came to deciding upon a career I imagined myself doing the job and then assessed how I would feel about myself and life at the end of a year. The hypothetical year usually ended with me stapling things to my forehead.
Teacher was an exception. I would not staple things to my forehead after a year of moulding young minds. I would staple things to the foreheads of my students.
I did not include a picture of this because I thought it might cross a line. Stapling things to your own forehead = valid comedy. Stapling things to children = ILLEGAL AND BAD. I would probably get put on lists and be banned from playgrounds for the rest of my life. And I like playgrounds.
But I did manage to come up with some jobs that I thought would make me happy.
I couldn’t find any job listings for these professions, and I was eventually forced to concede that books, games and television had been lying to me for years about the levels of awesomeness I could expect from life.
There was, however, one last dream profession. And it had job listings.
So with that reasoning under my belt, I began a postgraduate degree in library and information management and a new hell of institutionalised self-introductions began. And they always ask the dreaded question …
“What made you choose this degree?”
I do have answers: because I would like to learn how to navigate L-space, because I would like to be able to play the piano with my feet and because I think that all the other available professions will destroy my soul. But I felt intuitively that my reasons would not be acceptable. I would probably get funny looks, especially from people unaware of Discworld (not that these people really count). So I had to think of a clever lie as a cover.
This is what I went with and how it turned out:
This happened twice before I gave up. For my next introduction I led with the little fact that I hate introductions. It got a bit of a laugh, but the lecturer’s laugh sounded forced and I had the nasty feeling that this had happened:
Another failed introduction. One day I might be capable of a decent introduction that earns the respect of my fellow peers/students/collegues/whatever. Or even just one that makes people laugh. That day is a long way off. Perhaps a more realistic goal would be to introduce myself without predisposing the lecturer/boss/whatever to dislike me.
As it is, the most successful institutionalised self-introduction I have seen occurred when someone managed to tangent their introduction facts to this:
This was genius. I bet no one screwed around with her in group assignments. I bet she didn’t end up doing all the work. I bet people listened to her ideas. That’s what I call a success.
Also, it’s the only institutionalised self-introduction I remember. I have forgotten everyone else in the time it would take a goldfish to swim from one end of its bowl to the other. No offence to those people. I’m sure they’re all interesting and awesome. They would have all forgotten my introductions too.
It’s just that institutionalised self-introductions don’t work. Not really. Everyone says bland, boring things, and everyone forgets everyone else straight away. There are more important things to remember on your first day at university, such as where the closest pub is.
Besides, you don’t gain a real understanding of a person by believing what they say about themselves. Some people are too arrogant, some people are too modest and some people just value different character traits to you.