It’s been a year since I chose to leave a small staff of 5 and accept a position at a university with a much larger and close-knit community. I was excited about working in a place of faith and being surrounded by what was described as a family atmosphere. Visions of lunches on campus and early morning coffee with co-workers fueled my excitement. I felt sure of my calling, and convinced of my standing because I had been preparing for this day.
To my surprise, my first day was met with reservations and skeptical glances as I moved into my office and began making it my own. Not many came to visit, there were no lunch invitations, and except for a few polite greetings around the coffee pot, my days in community were almost solitary.
The biggest hurdle in this position has not been fulfilling my job description, but finding my niche in community. Making the task even more difficult is the fact that the position I chose to fill was emptied on a sour note. And although I didn’t know the specifics, one thing was clear – I had some choices to make if this was going work.
An introvert by nature and a team builder at heart, it quickly became clear to me that I needed to practice what I spent so many years teaching. If I was going to rediscover community in this new work place, I needed to be willing to push myself outside of my comfort zone. If I was going to find my niche in this collective, I needed a plan. And not just any plan; I needed a three-step plan.
For me, the first step became diving into intention. This meant I couldn’t wait for others to come to me, which is how I operate more times than I care to admit. It meant finding ways to engage and show genuine interest in others by doing more than the standard early morning greetings and late afternoon well wishes. Taking a few minutes to step into their lives and ask open-ended questions around the coffee pot and creating conversations around office collections and pictures and volunteering pieces of my own life soon made the strain of conversation a little bit easier.
The second step of being consistent was the most difficult for me. There were times when my efforts weren’t reciprocated or were stifled because of someone else’s comfort level. Making a consistent effort to walk by an open office and offer a greeting, and not have the same grace offered was discouraging at times.
The temptation to take this rejection inward and stamp “Loser” on my heart was a battle I never expected to fight among such a community of believers. I had to continually remind myself that I didn’t need everyone to be my community, I just needed a few. So I plugged along, every day, and as the protective layers fell away, I began to see the real people behind the titles. And they began to see me.
Looking back, I see the most important step in securing my niche in community had everything to do with compassion. Choosing to speak life into each and every conversation became my mantra. I didn’t want to make connections through complaining or comparing or criticizing.
I wanted character connections.
So I sought out moments to encourage from my own life story, and I volunteered to walk the second mile even when my heart wanted to quietly grumble. I passed on the blessing of thanks and support and prayer through e-cards because it was totally unexpected and unanimously appreciated.
And I waited for God to move. I waited for God to bless.
Now, one year later, my office is busy with conversations and laughter. My email folder marked “Encouragements” is overflowing with words from those who have chosen to speak life into my heart. The invitations to lunch and coffee are sweet graces I treasure.
And my niche…well, let’s just say there’s no place I’d rather be!