The failures resume: It’s not as awful as it sounds

Yeah, you read that right: the failures resume. Not a document that you’d want to submit as part of a job application.

But developing a list of professional “failures” – programs that didn’t accept you, awards you didn’t win, funding you didn’t receive – can be a helpful exercise, even if not shared publicly. (Inspired by an effort by Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer, detailed here in a Washington Post article.)

A resume is not very different from a social media profile. Different audience aside, these spaces enable us to curate a portrait of our lives. While some may be prone to overshare tidbits that may not be seen as terribly positive in the context of our social profiles, the decisions we make for both our social and professional profiles are deliberate. We filter out the unseemly details: just as the Instagram post of shot you captured from a seaside cliff doesn’t let on about the argument you had with your partner on the drive to said cliff, the resume you post on LinkedIn or send to a hiring manager doesn’t describe the late nights spent on a project scrapped by an executive.

While not a misrepresentation, the person portrayed in our social and professional profiles, through resumes and CVs for the latter, has encountered tremendous experiences that have afforded plenty of lessons. Listing those “failures” can remind you that those moments provided lessons learned, helping you get to where you are today and wherever you’ll be tomorrow.

So what’s on my own failure CV? Some patterns, specifically re: the University of Oregon, some flakiness, and a lot of rejection.

Listing failures also diminishes the power of these failures. In line with my argument in a previous post about the silver linings in the jobs you didn’t get, these missed opportunities may actually be bullets dodged. When I think about the cost of living in Seattle on a graduate student stipend, boy am I glad I was rejected from the University of Washington’s program and instead pursued my master’s degree in a tiny, relatively affordable town in western Oregon.

Some of those failures may not seem like a big deal with some perspective. All of my essays submitted for contests/publication when I was 22 didn’t do so well. Because no writer has ever been rejected before me. I also remembered that I never won any awards as a journalist, but even if I had, I still wouldn’t be pursuing that line of work.

Of course there are things I still need to routinely practice: proofreading, preparing for presentations and meetings, fostering professional connections. Reviewing those items is a reminder that I don’t have to continue making those types of mistakes that I generally have quite a bit of control over.

Let me be clear: I’m not an Ivy League academic. I’m not a published author, other than what I’ve published as a journalist and freelance writer. I’m not an executive of a company. I’m not the founder of a startup or blog rolling in the cash. My failures don’t compare to those of someone seemingly more successful than me; my highs and lows may not seem as spectacular as those of others. However, I feel comfortable where I am professionally at the moment, and the missteps I’ve made and failures I’ve endured were painful to experience at the time.

Overall, my failures resume is a reminder that my professional life is a journey – and that while one chooses to show only what’s positive to others in the form of a resume, one can also choose how to look upon success, mistakes, missed opportunities, and what can be learned from all.

Gail M. Cole

Academic programs that did not accept me:
  • Clark Honors Program (undergraduate) at University of Oregon (technically, I was waitlisted)
  • Master of Arts in English programs:
  • University of Washington
  • University of Oregon
Score on GRE, for which I barely studied:

Not good.

Publications that did not accept my creative work:
  • Oregon Quarterly (was told I was in second place, but it turns out there was an error and I was only to be honorably mentioned. That one stung more than it needed to. Foiled again by University of Oregon!)
  • Oregon State University Provost’s Undergraduate Essay Contest
  • All submissions to OSU’s literary and arts quarterly magazine (I was even friendly with the editor, dang it!)
Zero Awards for:
  • Any news reporting
  • Any academic term papers
  • Either undergraduate/master’s thesis
General dishonors:
  • Misspelled the word “education” in the subject line of an e-newsletter
  • Reports I painstakingly compiled thoroughly ignored by self-serving higher-ups
  • Awkward, stilted master’s thesis defense for which I didn’t prepare enough
  • Way too many misspellings and other errors to count while as a reporter
  • Too many classes skipped as an undergraduate
  • Many professional connections not maintained

How do you learn to trust yourself?

The inspiration for this post comes from Dear Sugar podcast episode “How do I find the courage to be my own guide?” and, perhaps more indirectly, from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. This topic is relevant to so many areas of life but I’m going to consider this question in light of creative pursuits.

I’ll admit that I feel like a fraud for this post.

Why? I don’t know if I do trust myself very often, especially when it comes to anything requiring abstract creativity. I’ve made the wrong choice in decisions relating to my career, friends and family, academics, and especially writing.

Lessons can be learned through any of our choices, but the difference between a not-terribly good decision (“I can’t afford this dress and have no occasion to wear it, but damn, I need to have it!” “I should probably stay at this shitty job so that my resume doesn’t make me look like I have a spotty work history.” “Our roommate won’t mind if we open her half gallon of shitty rum and accidentally drink it all before we go out tonight.”) and painful experiences is the intensity of the feeling of shame. The more vulnerability involved in a decision, the more humiliated and filled with self-doubt we feel when we find that we didn’t take the best course of action.

Mistakes happen, but sometimes the weight of the wrong choice clings for years, letting it influence our choices so that we don’t make that apparent mistake again.

I’ve realized that I’ve associated moments of vulnerability during times when I felt uncertain about my life – when I felt like I had made the wrong decisions – with creativity. This lead to incredibly self-limiting beliefs, mostly that I couldn’t trust myself to create anything worthwhile. It’s OK to nod along, I know you’re out there.

The culprit incident that lead to me having zero confidence in my creative abilities occurred during my first term of graduate school. I left a full-time job, one that paid shit and added an obscene amount of stress to my life but to which I hinged my sense of identity, for the life of a full-time student. I went to grad school to get out of that shitty job, to qualify myself to be a college-level writing teacher (which I thought I had wanted to be), to figure out the next steps in life, as many a 24-year-old is wont to do.

One of the courses I signed up for that first term was benignly named “Advanced Composition.” I took the undergraduate equivalent at the same university, a creative nonfiction writing course, and the instructor for this graduate course was a newly hired creative nonfiction professor. Still, I enrolled, even though this course barely fell within the parameters of my program. Part of me thought this course would bridge the gap between my undergraduate work (I got an English degree but mainly focused on creative writing and the study of contemporary fiction and nonfiction craft), my professional work (journalist and copywriter), and my long-term goals (I assumed that I wanted to be a teacher so that I could write on the side, because all writers are either journalists or teachers, obviously) and help me forge an academic path forward; I’d have to write a thesis on something, after all. This particular class would likely have Master of Fine Arts students in it, which gave me pause – these were students from a completely different program than mine – but I had dealt with future MFA-ers in my undergraduate classes; I could deal with this new crop. To assuage the hesitation I felt in the days before the start of class, I emailed the professor to confirm that I would be the right fit for this particular class. Indeed, this was a creative nonfiction-writing class, but the professor gushed: of course I was invited and welcome.

Nope. Not accurate.

The other 11 graduate students gathered in that room for a once-weekly, three-hour evening class were teaching assistants, except for me, meaning they all had a connection as brand-new or second-year composition teachers. Enter the outsider. I’m naturally introverted, at times obscenely, but in these types of new situations I am eager to be friendly to strangers even if it gives me mild anxiety. For the first several classes I fished for conversation. I tried to jump into group discussion. I forced smiles. No takers. I couldn’t help but feel completely excluded from this new group. Of course no one was actively plotting against me, excluding me, but a first-year, non-creative writing student who wasn’t teaching the same first-year composition class as everyone else didn’t seem to have a place in this space.

As the class unfolded over the term, I felt more and more excluded. The points I’d occasionally bring up were quickly contradicted or followed by silence from my classmates. I stopped speaking. Better to stay silent than invite discomfort. The enthusiasm for tackling creative writing projects on the ideas rattling around in my mind soon faded, too. I stopped writing for the love of it, but because I needed to finish my assignments so that I’d be closer to the end of this awful class.

Which brings us to the moment when my essay was workshopped. I’d participated in many workshops as an undergraduate and knew the drill: hand out printed copies of a creative piece of writing to your classmates at the end of one class, and at the following class, they’d spent a chunk of time critiquing the work. Eventually you’d receive your printed copies back with comments, questions, and feedback, both positive and negative. While the experience is painful due to the exposure of your work to a wider audience than just you and your professor, the result is often helpful. A few deflating comments can be absorbed when you ultimately can walk away with helpful feedback to put toward improving a specific piece and your craft overall.

This workshop, however, was different. Silence dominated what should have been a conversation among the class. Bless the heart of the professor, who tried to force discussion (I wasn’t allowed to talk, as this was a bona fide creative writing workshop), but hardly anyone wanted to contribute anything to the discussion. A few said relatively unhelpful things. A second-year fiction writer flipped through a few pages and sighed with just enough impatience to make me want to call the whole thing off: “I feel like this is like my writing in my first year, where I assumed things would just come together.”

To be fair, that workshopped essay wasn’t good. I don’t have the file saved anywhere and have long tossed the printed workshop copies of the piece, but from what I remember, the essay was some clusterfuck about three of my family members and their own individual connections to the Vietnam War, with my own relationship to the war in Iraq sprinkled in. Politics. Family. Big topics that required a lot of space, longer than 10 or 12 double-spaced pages and a few weeks of sporadic, undisciplined writing and revising.

Part of me knew that essay wasn’t great as I worked on it, but rather than scrapping it and focusing on improving one of the other essays I’d begun in that class, I cobbled together something I was far from proud of, something I knew I probably wouldn’t work continue to revise. Something that wasn’t worth the time of my classmates, though I don’t think that was part of my intentions at the time.

I sat with patience through that awkward, painful sham of a workshop, a tedious experience for all no doubt, then collected the copies of the essay that others had scribbled on (weeks later I looked at their notes, which were so much more sparse, textually and emotionally, than what I’d been writing on others’ workshop drafts. I pulled back on my own reading and feedback on others’ essays after that), waited for that class to end, and went on my way.

Four years since the end of that class, I hadn’t written a single thing that could be considered “creative writing” until very, very recently.

That perfect storm of changing career paths, from something that structured my identity to something that I wasn’t sure I even wanted, combined with beginning a graduate program that I could already feel myself doubting was right for me, and being surrounded by new, unfriendly people in a class that wasn’t right for me, simply deflated me creatively. Of course that crabby second-year MFA’s comments about my essay not having a deliberate narrative thread running throughout – that I can’t assume a reader is going to clearly understand my argument without some damn work on my part to make that argument understood – was legitimate feedback and helpful advice. But her tone and the overall disdainful vibes from others made me wonder what the point was of such creative vulnerability. I dropped my dreams of being a writer.

I don’t know what’s caused me to open back up, just slightly, to writing. Maybe being in a new place yet again. Maybe it’s having more time on my hands than normal, with there being no side projects and a nonexistent commute to work. Maybe enough time has passed, some emotional maturity has occurred, some relative career stability and self-confidence has developed.

I wasn’t wrong to have such a negative reaction to that experience, but the time has come to drop my association of creative pursuits with major life upheaval and the insecurities that come with this.

We, and that includes myself, have to learn to understand that there will be struggles and disappointment and failure in whatever we do – that struggle can particularly searing when it comes to our creative efforts. And along the way on our creative journeys, there will be feedback of all kinds: the good, the bad, and the good masked as bad. And there will be radio silence.

But we also have to learn to trust ourselves, to live in the truth of whatever it is we so deeply desire to do. A small amount of faith in our abilities and dreams can carry you farther than you would have gone otherwise.

So put trust in yourself by finishing a small piece of writing, art, or music you’ve been working on. Put trust in yourself by sharing a draft of your work with someone whose feedback and honesty you trust. Put trust in yourself by submitting a piece of work you’re proud of into a competition without any certainty that you’ll win. Put trust in yourself by feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment in your work. Put trust in yourself by opening yourself to honesty and knowing that great art follows vulnerability.

Trusting yourself, an ongoing exercise, takes practice and deliberate action. But know that you’re not alone – and know that I’d love to hear about your journey.

Step away from the news. Consider a regular news detox.

In this post, you’re probably going to figure out who I voted for at the top of the ticket. OK, I’ll tell you: Hillary Clinton. For those of you who take issue with that choice, spoiler alert: don’t care.

It’s tempting to make an continuous effort to stay informed, to read commentary from multiple perspectives on a regular basis, to engage with others on news topics in a civil manner. But when the information, regarding a specific event (i.e. a mass shooting) or something more broad (uh, our new presidential administration) elicits a particularly negative emotional response, ignoring it and focusing on something else isn’t always easy or possible. (Post-election stress, anyone?)

So I propose the news detox. Give yourself the opportunity to step away from news media and random articles and commentary for an hour, half the day, a whole day, a weekend… however long you need to recover from the bullshit so that you can continue to think critically and re-engage with your work and life.

You’ve probably heard of a digital detox, a treatment for the information overload caused by a constant barrage of push notifications, alerts, messages, phone calls, and material shared of this day and age. A digital detox requires an individual to completely disconnects from her digital devices so that she is able to reconnect with and gain a new perspective on the world without the lens of social media and digital distractions. Ditch your devices and the disturbances to your attention that they lob, and after a period of time (a day, a weekend, a week, etc.) you’ll find yourself more clear-minded.

But we can’t all participate in the somewhat drastic digital detox on a daily basis when we want to scream upon hearing about yet another executive order. I need the internet to do work, damn it!

A news detox in action:

  • Don’t read news articles or commentary.
  • Don’t listen to or watch the news.
  • Keep your phone on but don’t dick around on social media or news apps.
  • Manage your push notifications so that you’re not bombarded with alerts.
  • Don’t engage with others on these topics during detox time.

This concept came to fruition for me personally on Nov. 9, when I could not handle the world. I normally listen to NPR for much of my workday and get news from the media outlets I follow on Twitter. Engaging with either seemed counterproductive to my anxiety levels when feeling so overwhelmed and hopeless in the aftermath of that election cycle. So instead, I:

  • Listened to podcasts that aren’t overtly political (come back soon, #girlboss Radio!)
  • Cranked classical music from the local public radio station
  • Found aspirationally healthy recipes for meals that I may or may not one day prepare
  • Did some wedding planning, the is the time suck of all time sucks. The wedding industrial complex is good for something. (Note: I’m not engaged. More on that later.)

I am in no way suggesting that through a news detox, you completely disconnect with news media indefinitely so that you make all decisions on purchases and civic engagement based on hearsay and the questionable advice of others. Clearly enough of that happens in this world. We absolutely need to stay informed about so many topics at all times, particularly in this period of dysfunction. But your mental health and stress levels don’t need to suffer as a result.

I’ve slowly begun to listen to NPR again, but now am more aware of when I need a damn break from the bullshit. The voice of Sean Spicer sometimes sends me into the kitchen (located seven steps away from my desk because I work from home) to grab a handful of carbs to shove down my trap between exasperated sighs and swears. Some days, my elevated stress level force me listen to Spotify’s “old school metal” playlist rather than read the Washington Post. And then other days, I am civically engaged.

If we’re going to be productive, well-informed human beings, we need to be deliberate about our news consumption. That includes taking a break when necessary, and accepting the fact that we do at times need this break in order to strengthen our ability to think critically and determine necessary next steps to effect positive change.

Bad decisions will continue to be made by elected officials, bad things will continue to happen in the world, bad things will continue to be said – and reports and commentary on these topics will be there when you come back from a news detox.

A day in the life of a permanently remote worker

I consider myself very, very lucky to work from home: I’m a permanent teleworker, part of a growing population of the workforce. Up to 37 percent of workers in the U.S. have worked from home at some point in a given month. Considering teleworking? Curious? Here’s a few components of telework life – actual work-related content removed.

Sweatpants.

Jeans.

Decisions.

Coffee.

Alarm clock and snoozing.

NPR.

Smart podcasts.

Wedding planning podcasts.

Intense focus.

Tea. Then more coffee.

Breakfast timed perfectly to limit snacking.

An early lunch to limit snacking.

Snacking on fruit to limit mindless carbs.

Mindless carb snacking.

Frustrations over technology.

Praise of technology.

Meeting prep.

Telecons that I don’t participate in.

Telecons that I do participate in.

Telecons that I lead.

Phone calls.

Instant messages.

Emails.

Deleted emails.

Unanswered emails.

Intense focus.

Cat harassing.

Dog petting.

Animal feeding.

Dog walking.

Staring out the window.

Staring at my computer.

Googling of celebrities that come to mind/are mentioned on NPR.

Pushups.

Calf raises.

Cuticle picking.

More carbs (how old are these potato chips? They taste fine, I guess).

Intense focus.

A sense of complete loss.

Being out of the loop.

Being persistent.

Being obnoxious.

More emails.

Logging off for the day.

Logging back in to check emails.

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2016 in review

collage of 9 images

Goal setting. Personal growth. Professional development. I don’t know about you, but all of my social media feeds are full of how-to’s on how to better yourself for the new year.

Before hitting 2017 hard, why not take stock of all the great things that happened in your life – personally and professionally – in 2016?

Taking a cue from this article I came across in December 2015 on The Muse (and had all intentions of pursuing a year ago. Whoops.), I developed my own 2016 in review using Adobe Spark Pages and hitting on a few broad topics:

  • Biggest wins
  • Skills
  • Notable events
  • Lessons Learned
  • Personal
  • Goals for new year

Include what you want in your project. Quantify your achievements. Exclude personal details. Capture this in a webpage, in a document, in images, in video. Share, or don’t share (although I’d argue that you do share your accomplishments particularly if you hit on professional achievements on whatever networks you use for business, or even via email to your network – it’s a great way to let your connections know what you’ve been up to and brag about all of the great, specific things you’ve done lately).

The exercise in itself will help you articulate what you’ve accomplished and enable you to focus on what you want to do next in 2017.

For example… I’ve done a lot of writing, in terms of blog posts but also in my

9-to-5. Why not expand that skill set by taking on more freelance work this next year? Clearly I’ve managed to organize my time in a way that makes room for writing. Maybe I’ll focus on finishing other writing projects I’ve been working on of late as well. I also will need to figure out how to meet these goals using time spent on planes and in airports, as I’ll be taking many trips to visit my family this year.

Do you regularly complete a year-in-review? How has this helped you? What have you learned about yourself?

Don’t go to your 10-year high school reunion

Do you have a milestone anniversary of your own high school graduation coming up next year? Have you periodically Googled “should i go to my high school reunion” several times since it occurred to you that you have, in fact, been out of high school for a curious amount of time?

If you’re approaching the 10-year mark and a reunion event is in your future, let me offer a suggestion: don’t go.

25 years? Sure. 50? Hell, yeah. 70 – do it. But don’t go to your 10-year reunion.

high school graduation throwing capsA lot can happen in the time span between your late teens and late 20s: higher education obtained, children born, careers launched, opinions shifted, dreams evolved. People certainly change, even if just by small increments.

But that decade-long march of time away from the emotional landmine of high school is really not far enough.

“So far as I have been able to discover, nobody, regardless of station, gets over high school.”

I graduated high school in 2006 and ultimately chose to skip the reunion held this past summer at a winery outside of Cleveland renowned for its party atmosphere rather than its wine. Said winery also happens to be located in a cornfield (read: inaccessible to Uber).

On the surface, convenience determined this choice. The event fell on a Saturday evening at the time when I was in the process of moving 2,200 miles, from the Washington, DC area to Boise, Idaho. Sure, Northeast Ohio is on the way between these two locales, but between packing, cleaning, and schlepping, attending this thing didn’t land high on my priority list.

But of course I debated whether or not I should go. My own Google search was “should i go to my 10 year reunion.”

I even imagined my outfit: a flattering black-and-gray lace sheath with patent leather heels, likely much more formal than what anyone else would be wearing but emblematic of my experience living in a posh place like DC (never mind that the shoes I had in mind were stuffed in the drawer at my desk at work for flip flops when it was time to take the miserable metro back to my apartment in a decidedly un-posh suburb). I planned how I would style my hair to contend with what would likely be a hot, humid night so that it would still look sleek. I picked an outfit for my significant other that would coordinate with my own – no matter that he was at that point already living in Boise and most likely not able to take time off from his new job to fly to Cleveland to stand around and sweat in a cornfield (did I say “able”? I meant “interested in”). I imagined my equally stylish friends who would augment my presence (and I to theirs, I guess), even though none of my actual friends were able to attend (oops… meant to say “interested in” there, too).  

Let’s not pretend that I had a nightmare of an experience in high school that involved bullying and tumultuous family events. It didn’t. I was just a loser. Weren’t we all? I sure was. Not overweight or underdeveloped, not overly zitty and not with an abnormally painful fashion sense, but just a not-terribly memorable dork who didn’t fit in.

In line with the cultural narrative that the popular, good-looking people in high school get fat and boring by the time of the first class reunion, and the losers turn into the most interesting, best-looking people at the party, I assumed that I’d fall into the latter camp. I was a damn good adult. Back in high school, I was a loser, and those likely to attend this reunion were not. Comparing myself to them now would certainly fall in my favor.

Yikes.

Thank goodness moving across the country got in my way of attending this 10-year reunion so that I didn’t partake in what would have been a live-action comparison exercise that many of us go through regularly on Instagram and Facebook (because people of my advanced age still use Facebook): measuring ourselves – all of ourselves, the person only we know – against what others portray of themselves. Complicate this activity by taking it to an event where we’re not only comparing ourselves to others but demonstrating the difference between who we were then and who we are now, taking stock of material possessions and appearance.

Clearly my interest in attending my 10-year reunion had little to do with genuine curiosity about the lives of others and more about how I could alter the preconceived notions others had about me so that I could buoy my own feelings of self-worth. 

I rag on the 10-year reunion and not other milestone reunion events because of the issue of time. Anyone at any age can get stuck in a cycle of contrasting the flaws of your life with the highlight reel portrayed by others, but mortality catches up with all of us eventually. The likely preoccupations that many may experience at the 10-year reunion (Who’s got the biggest engagement ring? Who’s maintained the same dress size? Who drove up in the nicest car? Who has the highest-paying job?) will matter much less as the years pass. A dear family friend of mine regularly went to his own high school reunions well into his late 80s, even as these events eventually had to be combined with those of other class years because fewer people were alive and able to attend. The conversation certainly changes by that point.

On a more lighthearted note, with the passage of time also comes the effects of aging. By the time the 25-year reunion rolls around, I’ll frankly be more congratulatory than envious of anyone I went to school with who can still fit into their prom dress at age 43 and look as good as they did at age 18.

“Feel left out by the cool crowd you’ve envied since kindergarten? Imagine how regular those people will seem when they are sagging and graying alongside everyone else.”

I genuinely cannot begin to imagine what my life will be like in 15 years, when I’m in my early 40s (UGH.) when the 25-year reunion rolls around, or what it will be like in 40 years, when i’m in my late 60s (WHAT.) by the time of the 50-year reunion. I’d like to imagine what my life will be like at these points, if I’m lucky to be alive and coherent to be around to experience it. What I can hope for is that I’ll be a person who is less preoccupied with comparing herself to others, and engages with people from the past out of interest and curiosity, not for only self-serving purposes. Clearly I’m not there yet.

The introvert’s guide to making new friends

I’m a textbook introvert. I’m outgoing when necessary (normally when required by work-related situations) but there is nothing wrong to me with passing up a social thing that only promises middling amounts of fun for a night in with Netflix. Or bailing on a purely social commitment because I don’t have the emotional energy. Or leaving a party early. No shame.

wheat and sun

Now add life events to the equation: After living for my early adult life in the same small-ish college town in Oregon where I had multiple educational and work experiences that introduced me to a ton of people with little effort on my part, I moved twice, to two much different places.

Major move No. 1 was to the Washington, DC, where I lived for two years. Tip for those who have or will soon move to a new city: Don’t do what I did. I socially relied on my much more social significant other to meet people, mostly his coworkers. When he left the area to return to the west coast to finish grad school, I had those only barely loose social ties to rely on. It was easy to hide behind the business of my 9-to-5 and side work, and the financial commitments I had, than to take up the opportunities in front of me (a fairly robust college alumni network, forwarded contact information of people others’ knew of who lived in the area, etc.). And while I loved little more than relaxing with my Kindle after an overstimulating day in the office and on the metro, my minimal social effort sure led to moments of loneliness.

Now I live elsewhere, in Boise – and I also work from home. This is the first time when I’m in a new life situation without the safety net of a job or class. And it’s scary.

I’m clearly not great at meeting new people and know that part of me is fine with spending significant chunks of my time alone, so I don’t have the searing need to get out there all the time. But I know that this self-limited outlook on my social life isn’t sustainable or healthy. Friendships are important, obviously. In addition to helping you live longer in general, strong friendships can help decrease the risk for developing depression and help you feel happier in general (read more here).

But how challenging it can be to make new friends as an adult, as I and other folks I know well have found. It’s easy to insulate ourselves in our already-established relationships, and with commitments of work and family, not everyone may feel the need to pursue new friendships. For those of us new to an area, or looking to expand our social network, those distractions that keep others from perhaps being as open to meeting new people as compared to, for example, your first year in college can make the task feel particularly daunting.

As scary as meeting new people can feel, you have to embrace the fear. Get out there.

You’re not going to meet new people at home. You’re not going to meet new people spending nine-plus hours a day in your cubicle (and if you don’t work in a cubicle, congratulations). You’re not going to meet new people doing the same thing, even if the same thing is being fearful of the task at hand of meeting new people.

  • If you like to read: Join a book club.
  • If you like to workout: Join a running group or exercise class.
  • If you know a lot of things and like beer: Join a trivia group.
  • If you like skeeball: Join a pub sports league.
  • If you’re religious: Find a church and get involved.
  • If you’re way into your alma mater: Meet up with the alumni network.
  • If you’re passionate about a particular topic: Volunteer.
  • If you need direction: Join MeetUp.

These things will get you out of the house, an important first step. But it only get you halfway there: To cultivate friendships, you also have to talk to people.

Practice on folks at the grocery store, at the gym, on your commute (JK, ignore everyone), in the elevator at work. Make an effort to project a friendly demeanor. Be open to the possibilities that come when others chat with you. Learn from others about new things to do, places to go.

Be sure to introduce yourself to someone you connect with.

I know, I know. It’s hard to open yourself up to the possibility of social rejection. The vulnerability feels terrifying. And chatting with strangers is a lot easier in some places than others (DC comes to mind). But the opportunity to connect with other people will only present itself when you put yourself out there, physically and emotionally.

This stuff may seem obvious to hyper-social people, but I’ll admit that I’m still working on it. I’ve volunteered and have plans to continue to do so. I’ve joined a couple of book clubs. I’ve taken classes at the gym I signed up for. Have I developed a strong social network in Boise since I moved here four months ago? Nope. But I’m confident that things will work out.

What about you? How do you meet people? What’s been successful in the past?

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