Komi Can’t Communicate: Komi’s Part-Time Job Explores Workplace Anxiety

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 9 of Komi Can't Communicate, "It's just a Country Kid," now streaming on Netflix.

For most of her life, Shoko Komi has struggled with human relationships as a result of her extreme social anxiety, which has also made it difficult for her to communicate with others. Since becoming a first-year student at Itan Private High School, with the help of her classmate Hitohito Tadano, Komi has committed herself to overcoming her extreme social anxiety and improving her communication skills. Her ultimate goal? Form and maintain meaningful friendships.

With the help of Tadano and his childhood friend Najimi Osana, Komi has started enjoying new experiences like inviting friends over to her house, going out to a waterpark with them, shopping for clothes with them, playing video games with them and attending a summer festival with them. While Komi has cherished all of these moments with her new friends, in Episode 9, she is pulled further out of her comfort zone when Najimi invites both her and Tadano to help them out with a gig in front of a retail store on a weekend.

On a normal day, Komi struggles with walking into a café or a fast-food restaurant to place an order, as doing so requires interacting with staff. While freezing and shaking is something she experiences in every social situation, being serviced by another person elevates her anxiety to a whole new level. In this particular case, she worries about getting the order wrong or not being understood by the employee. By finding herself in a position where she has to be the one to service other people, Komi's anxiety shoots through the roof.

In helping Najimi with their part-time job of distributing tissues to passersby on a street, Komi finds herself lacking the confidence needed to successfully engage uninterested customers. Although she decides to give it her all, her forced confidence is immediately crushed when people ignore her and walk past her, effectively making her feel like a failure. At one point, she finds herself on the brink of tears, in part because she is unable to help Najimi fulfill their quota and in part because it reinforces her internalized belief that there is something wrong with her and that she is not "normal."

It's not until a salary woman finds herself in desperate need of a tissue that Komi is finally approached by someone, which interestingly, gets her noticed by other people. Thanks to the salary woman drawing attention to both Komi and herself by blowing her nose in public (something most Japanese people don't typically do), more people decide to approach Komi for free tissues, and a single-file line is formed on the street. This helps boost Komi's confidence, as she is finally able to help Najimi fulfill their quota before the end of the day.

What's interesting about Komi's foray into working a small gig is how true to life her experience is. While workplace anxiety is experienced by everyone who starts a new job until they ease into their new role, this experience is much more intense for people who already live with anxiety as part of their day-to-day lives. While fear of making mistakes is experienced by everyone who is new to a job since they don't want to make a wrong impression or be promptly fired, that same fear is easily exacerbated in individuals who live with anxiety.

Since Komi lives with both anxiety and communication disorders, she's already fearful of getting things wrong. Worse yet, she's probably already used to people expecting her to mess things up, which sometimes causes her fears to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With support from her friends, however, Komi is able to learn to be more self-confident, which in turn allows her to push her own boundaries and try new things she otherwise would never think of trying. While helping Najimi with their gig flared up her anxiety, it also allowed her to gain a new skill for the next time she finds herself working a part-time job.

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