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Your questions on office small talk, new commutes and changing careers

Trish Pickelhaupt/NPR

If you're working (or job searching), you probably have a stack of questions you'd like to float to the HR department ... anonymously.

We asked two Life Kit experts to answer those anonymous questions for you: Kimberly B. Cummings, a career and leadership expert and author of Next Move, Best Move, and Lorrissa Horton, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Webex Calling and Strategy.

Read their advice below, and submit your own questions (about anything) to Dear Life Kit, here.

On opting out of small talk at work

Dear Life Kit, I'm hoping to learn some tips on ending casual exchanges at work gracefully so I can get my work done. I'm a hardcore introvert who happens to be good at extroverting. I care for my colleagues, but I'm often very drained and derailed by this small talk. As a busy professional and mother of two young children, minutes matter. Could you recommend best practices for carving out privacy in an open workspace? Do Not Disturb

As an introvert in the workplace, I know these casual exchanges can be a little difficult to maintain during the workday while still getting work done. Number one, I really recommend you see if you can find a quiet place to work. I've heard of colleagues who go to a different floor or go to the cafeteria during off-hours so they're not distracted by their team, or better yet, your team isn't reaching out to you.

Workplace communication is needed though, so if you have to sit around your colleagues, try and find ways to say things like 'Hey, I'm working on an urgent project now. How about we grab lunch later?' Or 'How about we grab a coffee at 2 pm?' So you can still make sure you're connecting with your colleagues while getting all of your work done at the same time. — Kimberly B. Cummings

On graduating during COVID

Dear Life Kit, I graduated right as the pandemic began, and I'm already feeling so burnt out. Do you have any advice for those of us entering the next stage of our life at such a hectic time? — Coronavirus Graduate

My main advice for folks like you is to really look at all of the opportunities available. I've said to many folks that I've mentored before: Now is the time to look at every opportunity — not just where you live, not even just in the industry that you're working in, but across the world. I think now more than ever, people are so open to changing the way things are working — changing the type of people they're hiring, as well as hiring from absolutely anywhere. That to me is the most exciting part, and hopefully, there's an opportunity out there that excites you out of that burnout stage. — Lorrissa Horton

On asking for what you want before you quit

Dear Life Kit, I've worked for the same company for 10 years now, and I love it. The problem is that I was promoted to another location last year while we were working remotely. Now we're expected to go back to the office, and it's going to mean a three-hour commute every day. I'd hate to leave, but there's no way I can do that drive. What should I do? — Promotion Commotion

The first thing I would recommend is to have a conversation with your employer. You'd be surprised to see how many people are feeling the same thing you're feeling, and how many employers are actually very open to having a conversation about a different type of hybrid work. I think many have assumed that we all want to go back to the office — that we miss having lunch together, that we miss the culture. But for some, that's not going to work moving forward.

I think the conversation will open up a lot of doors. And maybe trying it out for a while will prove that you're more than capable of doing your job, and actually even growing in your job, while remote. This is a trend that is happening worldwide, so I definitely recommend you have the conversation before looking elsewhere. — Lorrissa Horton

In the videos below, Cummings and Horton take on more questions for Dear Life Kit.

On how to handle a low GPA on job applications

On speaking up as a woman of color

On exploring a new career path

Have a question you want answered by Life Kit? Submit it here.

We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at

For more Life Kit, subscribe to our newsletter.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Becky Harlan is a visual and engagement editor for NPR's Life Kit.
Bronson Arcuri is a video producer at NPR, where he directs the "Planet Money Shorts" video series and helps out with Tiny Desk Concerts from time to time. He also produced "Elise Tries" and "Ron's Office Hours" along with the "Junior Bugler" series, which he still insists was "pretty good for what it was."
Trish Pickelhaupt