Diary of a Postgrad Student – Things I’ve learnt about me

I have always had, what I refer to as, a front door complex.

I like to know where I’m going. Up until a few years ago this was how I coped with being terrified in social situations. I would work out where I was going (including where the front door actually was) so that I could seem calm and in control when I turned up.

It got a bit tricky when I was travelling the world, but I did the best I could to prepare for what I was getting into. Think of a swan. Calm and serene on the surface, but paddling like heck underneath.

When it came to talking to people, I just didn’t. I was the quiet one, sitting on my own, hoping that someone would come and talk to me. I certainly wasn’t going to talk to them. What would I say?

A few years ago I came across Cognitive Hypnotherapy, and started having sessions with the founder, Trevor Silvester, in Harley Street. That first session in May 2011 set me on a new path that changed my life. I gave up a 6 figure salary to become a full time therapist and gained a passion for helping people realise we are all screwed up, and we can change.

There have been so many changes in the last few years. One of the most significant ones is that I have lost my ‘front door complex’.

Starting Uni is full of unknowns. Where is room 4.34 in the Scrymegour building? Why don’t they let you know what floor you are on? Most Dundee Uni buildings are old buildings so they have a basement. It often means the first floor is one down from the main entrance. Why are there no signs to the right floor? Which set of doors take me to room 4.34?

The difference now was that I didn’t panic. I just asked someone. They pointed me in the right direction and I found the room.

Now was the next hurdle – a big empty room with only 2 people in it. What do you do?

Well what I used to do was go find a corner and hide in it. I would look at my phone and avoid eye contact. Or I would just walk out again and wait until there were more people there.

Not any more. Now I find people fascinating. There is so much to learn and they are so much more interesting than me. I know everything about me. I don’t know anything about them. I don’t really recognise myself these days. I’ve gotta say, life is a lot easier though! I still very much remember how I used to be though. So I thought I’d share a few tips for any of you that might struggle in the way I used to.

Remember, you can’t read minds. Everyone is unsure. And people are really interesting. You have so much to find out about them.

So here are my top tips for making friends/connecting with people in an unfamiliar setting:

  1. Make an observation about a shared experience. For example, in this situation I could have said: “Am I the only person that wishes they had floor numbers in this building?” or “Either you are as bad as me for getting places early, or you’ve been up all night” (turned out she had been up all night!)
  2. Try and learn something about them – not necessarily their name. Pick something that they probably have in common with you. For example: “Which Masters are you on?” Try and make the questions open, so there isn’t a yes or no answer that will kill the conversation. When they have answered the first question, you will probably have others. So for example “Oh right, why did you decide on that one?” or “Why did you choose Dundee Uni?”
  3. Try and remember to tell them your name and ask theirs. If you didn’t catch it, make a joke of it and ask them to repeat it. If you are British I think the rule is you can ask twice and then you just have to pretend you know it!
  4. Look for the people who seem to be on their own and pretending to look at their phone. Go and sit next to them. If you are worried, ask them if that seat is free. Start at step 1 again with them. There is no rule about how mean people you are and aren’t allowed to talk to.
  5. On the flip side of point 4, try and avoid starting up conversations with a closed group. This is 2 or 3 people facing each other. There is nothing worse than the feeling of standing like a muppet while people ignore you.
  6. In the early days, most lecturers will get people to introduce themselves. If you’ve not managed any of these things before a lecture starts, pay attention to everyone’s introductions. If someone has something in common with you, such as coming from the same country or living in the same halls, or having the same hobby, next time you get a break, head over to them and say “me too!” (you probably need to pad it out more than that)

It’s common experiences that make true friendships. You are all in the same place focused on that same thing. Now is the perfect time to meet people who will, quite possibly, become friends for life. All you have to do is take that first step.

I have met with all 3 other people on my Masters now and 3 of the 4 of us have already been for a coffee together and plan to do the first group exercise together.

Trust me, this is a million miles away from how the day would have played out if I’d done it 5 years ago!

Everything can (and does!) change.

Author: Dawn Walton

Hi, my name is Dawn Walton and I am a 44 year old therapist that lives in the Dundee area. I'm originally from Anglesey in North Wales, but I've lived here for 17 years. My first degree was in Computing at UMIST in Manchester. Now I'm studying a Masters in Psychological Research Methods with the aim of going on to do a Phd. I love Starbucks and Pokemon Go. So they are likely to feature in my posts quite often!

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