In the piece below, Juppie, a woman in her 20s, from Juppies Antics, writes about her experiences of working at a theme park in the Netherlands and managing introversion and social anxiety symptoms. Her account considers the rewards of working in a public-facing role in the tourism/visitor attraction sector, as well as the challenges.
I love working at a theme park. Every time my position is elsewhere; controlling the rides, welcoming visitors at the entrance, selling ice cream and drinks… There are various things to do, which makes it so much fun to work there. And when the kids are smiling and waving at me, my heart melts. There’s no other side job I’d rather do!
The only obstacle I have to face, however, is my social anxiety.
Note: I’ve never been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. The psychologist I had a year ago did treat me for related symptoms. Therefore I’d rather identify myself as an introvert with social anxiety symptoms. It’s just easier to call it social anxiety right now, instead of always saying that loooong title.
Social anxiety on the job
From the beginning, I knew there aren’t any other side jobs available for me in which I don’t have to interact with people. And the truth is, it was a conscious decision. The anxiety becomes less every time I work a few days a week at the theme park. It becomes easier to talk to strangers.
This doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling anymore. For each position I know exactly what to do, like I almost have an entire script in my head. But of course, not every visitor, ride or machine is the same; I have to improvise!
Last week I controlled the swing ride. The ride was completely full, but before I started two kids wanted to get out. The mother came, grabbed her kids, and before she left the wooden platform, she stepped on a weak wooden board. You can already guess what happened. She didn’t fall through, fortunately (there are poles under the platform keeping it steady); it was more of an “oops” for her. She walked away unharmed.
Of course I had never experienced such a situation. I had to call the supervisor, wait for him to tell me what to do, be stressed about what I had to do next, see how the people in the ride were responding to the situation, figuring out how to tell them they had to leave… As a result of all these factors making me anxious, I forgot to ask the mother how she was doing. My boss wasn’t too happy about that, which I can totally understand.
Many other things stress me out. Sometimes I feel like Janet from The Good Place. Some days I have to switch rides every half hour; from :00 to :30 I control the train, and from :30 to :00 I control the swing ride, for example. So when people don’t notice I leave one ride to go to the next, and those same people go to the same next ride, they all of a sudden meet me again. It’s like I’m everywhere, just like Janet (it’s more funny than it is scary )!
Using the walkie-talkie can be a struggle because every colleague can hear me through that. People asking me things I don’t know can worry me. Asking for a lunch break (at 15:00) can make me nervous.
How I make it work
I feel myself being drained by the hour. Still, it’s like I turn on my enthusiastic side completely, especially in the beginning. When visitors aren’t nearby, I make sure to recharge a bit. Sometimes colleagues walk up to me to chat, but usually, I can be alone. I always look forward to taking a break – also alone – and I plan to have a least one day free in between the workdays. My colleagues are also pretty understanding I think; you have to be at least a bit of a geek to work at such a theme park!
Biking to the park and back home by myself helps too. I can just listen to the music and not think too much about all the things that went wrong (according to me). When I get home to my parents or Saapjen, I can count on them to listen to my experiences. If I’m alone after work, I reach out to them online or hope my housemate is there. We aren’t close so I don’t share everything with her, but it’s nice she allows me to vent! When I’m done sharing my stories, I relax completely. I never plan anything with friends on workday evenings. I’m done pretty late anyway, but I’m like a zombie afterwards!
Do you sometimes struggle with social interactions during work? How do you cope with that? Let me know!
Lots of warm hugs,
by Juppie, Juppies Antics, June 30, 2021