The other day I was catching up with an old friend over the phone. He’s one of my friends from USC and the last time we talked was on graduation day, six months ago.
We started out talking about work and how different life has been after college. Then he started telling me how moving back home with his parents has been a pretty difficult transition for him because for the first time in his life he’s been having trouble figuring out how to meet new people.
Unlike in college where you’re constantly surrounded by people, once you graduate there are much fewer opportunities to meet new people in your day to day life – unless you make an active effort to look for these opportunities.
So the fact that he was having this trouble for the very first time was making him worried. He said it felt “forced” and he didn’t know where to go to meet new people.
I was actually a bit surprised when he told me this because, in my opinion, he’s a pretty sociable guy.
I think it’s a good reminder to think about how easily we can fall into this trap of wondering how certain skills, like people skills, can come so easily to others, yet are so difficult for us.
I used to wonder all the time why I couldn’t just be a “natural.” The thing is, sure there are people who might have more advanced skills than yourself (whether it’s people skills or any other skill), but often even the people who we think are “naturals” have spent years struggling with the same things we’re struggling with too. We just don’t see that part. We only see where they are now.
That’s why there’s no point in comparing yourself to others, because you don’t know how long it took them to get to where they are at. You don’t know their history. The only person we should compare ourselves to is ourselves. As long as you’re improving, you should feel good about yourself.
Anyway, one thing my friend said he’s been doing that has been really helpful for him is looking for opportunities to meet new people who he knows already share common interests as him. For example, he told me that he has joined an intramural ultimate frisbee league. He’s also a part of a Christian group and volunteers regularly.
I’ve said before that you probably share at least one common interest with every person that you meet. But, starting a conversation with a stranger that you have no connection to (or don’t know if you have any connection to) is more difficult than starting a conversation with someone who you know already shares a mutual interest with you.
If you go to communities that are built around mutual interests, you know that from the beginning. For example, if you’re into ultimate Frisbee and you sign up for an ultimate Frisbee league, chances are that everyone else in the league likes ultimate Frisbee too. So if you show up to the first event not knowing a single person and don’t know what to talk about, you’ll always have that predetermined shared interest to fall back on as a topic of conversation.
This is all pretty common knowledge, but aside from meeting new people and making new friends, another thing my friend said he’s been having hard time with is keeping up with old friends–which made me realize something incredibly important that I feel is often overlooked.
Why Is It So Difficult To Keep In Touch With People?
I find this fascinating, because even when I originally messaged my friend earlier that week about wanting to catch up, I felt a little bit of hesitation.
But why? He’s my friend. Why would anyone ever hesitate to reach out to a friend?
Once you graduate, and everyone has their own thing going on, it’s just easier to not make the effort to keep in touch. And, as my friend explained, it becomes this weird thing where you’re wondering, “who should take that first step?”
I understand the struggle with striking up a conversation with a stranger.
- “I don’t know who they are…”
- “I don’t know if they’ll be interested in me…”
- “I don’t want to interrupt them…”
- “I don’t know what to say…”
But when it comes to our friends, people that we’ve already established relationships with, why would there be any hesitation? Why is it just as easy to talk ourselves out of starting a conversation with an old friend, as it is with a stranger?
It makes no sense. They’re your friend! You know who they are. It doesn’t matter what you say. They would love to hear from you, just as you would love to hear from them, right?
You have to change your mindset and stop thinking that people are always going to come to you. Because at the end of the day, everyone else is also caught up in their heads, just like you are.
You might not even recognize how often you think about reaching out to someone, but then decide not to. Because you don’t want to bother them, or you don’t want to waste their time, or whatever excuse you tell yourself. Maybe you’re just lazy.
That has to change.
The next time you think of reconnecting with someone, tell yourself, “This person is my friend. They would love to hear from me, just as I would love to hear from them.”
And, by that same token, the next time you see a stranger you want to talk to, tell yourself, “This person could be a future friend. There’s only one way to find out.”
In either case, you have to be the one to take that first step.
Don’t make a big deal about it. Do both yourself and your friend (or future friend) a favor, and reach out to them. Do it because you care about people, and because you know will feel better after.
Obviously, you don’t have to keep in touch with everyone. There may be people that you don’t want to keep in touch with. People’s interests change and not all friendships have to last forever. Maybe you never really “clicked” with that person to begin with.
But for those people that you do “click” with, and that you do want to keep in touch with, make that little bit of extra effort to send them a message every now and then to see how they’re doing.
This might not be as relatable to all of my readers, since I know many of you are still in college. But even then, I remember how easy it was to lose touch with my high school friends when I was in college. Fortunately, we did keep in touch, as infrequent as it was, and my high school friends are still some of my best friends to this day.
(The image above is me hanging out with some of my closest friends from high school and was taken during my senior year of college–and none of us went to the same college.)
The thing is, as we get older and older, I think it will only continue to become more and more difficult to make and maintain close friends. If you’re like me and you just have a hard time remembering to keep in touch with people, you might want to check out the system I use for managing my relationships. I show you exactly how to set it up here.
I’m all for meeting new people and making new friends, but I think we often forget how many friends we already have.
If you’re struggling with meeting new people, it might be a good idea to take a step back and work on improving the relationships you already have in your life.
In business, it’s a well-known principle that customer acquisition is more difficult than customer retention. It pays to keep your current customers happy and coming back, because the cost of losing a customer and having to find a new customer is significantly more costly.
In our personal lives, the same principle should apply. It’s great to make new friends, just like it’s great for businesses to create new customers, but not if it’s at the cost of losing old friends. At the end of the day, it’s worth putting in the extra effort to maintain those existing relationships, and it’s actually significantly easier to maintain those friendships than it is to create new friendships.
So just be a better friend to your current friends, and check in with them every now and then. Or maybe if you just met someone recently that you’d like to become better friends with, make a point to follow up with them.
I used to think it was weird to “follow up” with people. The term used to have a negative connotation in my mind, similar to the word “networking.”
But now I’ve realized that networking is really all about building and maintaing genuine relationships—friendships—with people, and that there’s no way to do that other than by regularly keeping in touch with people (AKA “following up”).
To Do Today
- Reconnect with at least 3 people. Like I said, it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Keep it simple. Just send them a quick text or Facebook message, “Hey Bobby, long time no talk. How’re you doing? Would love to catch up sometime when you’re free.” From there, hopefully you’ll be able to set up a time to meet in person or at least chat over the phone.
- In the comments below, let me know if this is something you struggle with. Do you do a good job of keeping in touch with old friends, or is this an area you think you could improve on? How valuable do you think it is to maintain relationships with old friends vs creating new friends? Would love to hear your thoughts.