Brenda asks: I started a new job in September. My company is having a Halloween party and I don't want to go. It's considered mandatory I guess, since it's during work hours from 3-5 on Halloween day. They are giving us wine, beer, soda and sandwiches which is nice, but they asked us to bring sides and desserts and said we could dress up. I like Halloween, but I hate coming up with something for a potluck, and I don't feel comfortable enough around my new coworkers to socialize with them while in a costume. I could use a sick day to get out of it, but I don't want to waste one. What should I do?

Annie answers: Hooray for mandatory fun! If your attendance at the Halloween party is required, become a ghost. Be seen, but just barely. Toss on a black dress and try to blend in visually without wearing a costume. For the potluck, whip up an easy snack mix. Buy a bag of popcorn, a bag of chocolate candy, combine it all in a bowl, and now you can be seen contributing to the buffet without much real effort. At the party, simply pick a table and stay planted until the ordeal is over. You can shake it all off and celebrate Halloween any way you want later that night.

Ah, but why not embrace the interesting opportunity you have here? Bring your ghost out of the shadows! You are going to be trapped in a room with your bosses, your co-workers, and an open bar? I say, grab a bowl of your popcorn candy mix, open your eyes and ears, and let the games begin! There is a quote by Ram Dass that says, “The quieter you become the more you can hear”. While this quote certainly speaks to a deeper truth, it is also true that Debbie from Marketing will happily be spilling her guts about your new workplace after drinking a few red plastic cups full of wine. Listen up! Don't gossip. Just appreciate the spectacle. Be bold and let your ghost float around the room a bit too. Everyone will be feeling more chatty than usual, and you will be their new favorite audience! Pretty quickly, you're going to get a sense of the allies, the enemies, the challenges, and the dynamics of your new company. You can even use these tidbits to your advantage in the future. Whether you have your eye on a different position, a promotion, or just want an easier way to navigate the work waters, the information you gather from this party could be helpful for your work life. Look at it as a long-term strategy. If your employer is going this far out for a Halloween party, you will also have Christmas and New Years to look forward to. Let this be your mindset for all of the mandatory fun to come. Embracing these events as a form of entertainment can become a brain game to occupy your mind, hijack your anxiety, and help you maintain a sense that you are controlling the situation. While everyone else is digging through the bean dip, you are quietly enjoying the show!

Have a question for Annie? E-mail askannie@mail.com. Please note: Annie has a BA in English and makes a mean bean dip, but is not a licensed counselor.