Dear fellow introvert,
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
This is very good advice that has, for me, been life changing.
One of my biggest regrets about the past decade of my life is that I didn’t make more of an effort to make friends of my own. I got caught up in work, in my marriage, in taking care of my family. It wasn’t until we were packing to move away from Los Angeles and saying goodbye to friends that I realized that I had really only gotten to know a small group of people in the 5+ years I had lived there.
Why didn’t I go out and do more things, meet more people? Honestly, it was because I was afraid. I was plagued by what ifs. What if I showed up at an event and no one talked to me? What if I said or did something embarrassing? What if, what if, what if…? I allowed those fears to stop me from attending events that I wanted to attend, from seeking out new friends. From living my life to the fullest.
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I thought about this as we drove across the country and moved into our new house and city, and I realized that this wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life. I don’t want fear to control me. That’s when I started to think of the above quote, the advice to challenge oneself a little bit every day, and I determined that my challenge to myself was to go out and meet people.
How I Challenged Myself to Make New Friends
I don’t need hundreds of friends. I don’t need to be going out every night and doing things. But I do need my own friends. I need to feel a connection to the community I live in.
It was about this time that Facebook events really started to take off. As an introvert in a new city, this was a great development because I could follow groups, organizations, and businesses and get an idea of what they were about before committing my time and energy to attending an event. I started going out a little bit at a time, easing myself in like a swimmer getting into a chilly pool.
Now I’ve been in my new city for almost two years, and I feel like I’ve finally started to create the kind of life I was challenging myself to live. I’m meeting people, I’m making friends, I’m putting myself out there. It hasn’t all been easy. (Happy hours in particular seem like a specialized form of torture.) It still makes me nervous to show up to events where I don’t know anyone. But I’m doing it.
If this sounds like a challenge you want to take on, I have a few tips to share:
1. Join online groups or follow organizations. Find groups of people who share your interests and join them. Check out their events and read what other members are writing about. Reach out and comment. Get to know people online a bit before you meet them face to face.
2. Find out the group’s level of obligation and socializing. Is this a group that requires weekly/monthly/quarterly participation? Or can you attend events as it works for you? As an introvert, I like to be mentally prepared for how much energy something is going to take. Since I personally find it hard to commit to a group that insists that I participate on a prescribed schedule, I join groups that are a little more relaxed.
3. Force yourself to get involved. Seemingly contrary to what I just said, once you join a group that you’re interested in, push yourself to actually go out and meet people. It can be hard to make that first step from participating in a group online to walking into an event where you don’t technically know anyone, but there are a few ways to trick yourself into doing it:
- RSVP. If you put your name on a list, and especially if you have to pay for an event, you’re more likely to actually go.
- Volunteer. If the group is hosting an event and asking for volunteers, this is the perfect opportunity to meet people. You’ll be given a task to perform and if necessary, you can use that as an excuse to get away to regroup and recharge.
- Attend events that aren’t just about small talk. Recently, I participated in a brickmaking event with a local social group. For the first half hour or so, we were all focused on the process of making bricks, and I didn’t have to try to figure out what to talk about with anyone. Once we were done, the brickmaking process itself was an easy fallback topic that led into other conversations.
- Take on manageable obligations. Once you’ve gotten to know people and you’re comfortable, think about taking on a small role or hosting an event. This makes it easier to meet new people, and it keeps you going out and doing things.
4. Know your limits. This is an important one. If you’re like me, you’ve joined groups in the past with the best intentions and then ended up flaking because you had overextended yourself. Consequently, you feel terrible and tell yourself that you’re no good at making friends or socializing in groups. But it’s not true! You just have to take steps in order to avoid burnout:
- Only stay in groups you click with. It’s hard to admit that you might not fit in well with a group that seemed interesting to you or that you’ve invested time in, but if you find yourself more drained than invigorated by most interactions, it might be time to move on.
- If necessary, set a limit on the number of social events per week/month. Start small. Set the goal of going out one time a month. Or one time a week. Figure out what works for you.
In closing, let me leave you with another quote to inspire you, this one from an artist I met while working in France. “There are two things that remain with us in life,” he told me during an unexpectedly deep conversation. “The things that we do, and the things that we don’t do.”
So I encourage you to challenge yourself a little every day in the hope that we all live our lives not bogged down by our regrets, but uplifted by our experiences.