This has been a question that I’ve gotten for years. I always find it funny because sometimes I don’t think I’m very good at meeting people. Although I’d say I’ve been successful at meeting some of the best people throughout the years, I generally feel not that great at the actual act of meeting them.
It’s one of the stories I use the most to illustrate how much the blog has helped me throughout the years and it’s particularly applicable to this concept, but until about five years ago, I’d say my social anxiety was pretty crippling. It wasn’t just that I hated to talk to strangers, I couldn’t. For the most part, I would just avoid it as best that I could, either leaning on friends to break the ice somewhere or just completely holding myself back in general. The one thing I think illustrates this fear the most was that I legitimately couldn’t order food at restaurants. I’d point to the menu or have someone else order from me. I’m sure I missed an unbelievable number of opportunities to meet incredible people over the years.
My blog eventually forced me to meet people, and now I find it nearly unbelievable that I’m the same person as I was years ago. It blows my mind that I can walk into a meeting without batting an eye to sit down with someone to pitch my brand, that I can stand in front of a classroom and give a lecture to fifty students I’ve never met, or that I can just grab dinner with someone I’ve never met.
And trust me, if I can, so can you. As I’m sure you can tell, it doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have picked up a few tricks that help:
Go places, do things // The best way to meet people is just to be getting out there and doing things. You don’t have to do “all the things,” but if you’re sitting at home on the couch wishing you had more friends or more business contacts, that’s probably the problem. You’re sitting at home on the couch. The more things you do (the gym, volunteering, group trips, college classes, etc.), the more paths you’re going to cross. When I think about all the experiences I’ve had, I realize that even now so many of my close friendships stem from them. Between the states I’ve lived in (Georgia, Massachusetts, Florida, DC, New York, and now Connecticut), the schools I’ve gone to (Mitchell, Wilson, Plant, Georgetown), the conferences I went to as a student (journalism and SADD)… I just feel like I’ve had a TON of opportunities to meet with people and I bump into them from all these different experiences at the most random, amazing times. The president of SADD when I was in middle school and I ended up in DC at the same time, I’ll run into people on the subway, I’ll end up working with old friends from high school, and the list goes on and on.
See the good // So one problem that I think holds people back is that you don’t have to be instant best friends with someone. You don’t have to walk away from a business meeting feeling like you completely nailed it! You don’t have to walk away from a date with a second date in the bag. As long as you’re seeing the good in people and keeping an open mind, that’s success.
“Have an open mind” was my motto during my freshman year at Georgetown, and I still rely on it. It helps remind myself that you never know what a relationship is going to be or going to turn into. Especially with social media, it’s way too easy to have a preconceived notion of someone, even though you technically haven’t even met yet. Don’t forget that people can surprise you.
Get in the right mind space // The one thing that changed the game for me in meeting people was being able to go into meetings as “The College Prepster” and not Carly. Even Beyonce used “Sasha Fierce” as an alter ego to help her perform her best. I think it’s something a lot of people end up doing, even if they don’t have a name/character. Now I visualize turning on a “switch” inside of me to kind of push away those old social anxiety fears.
Maybe you don’t have your own Sasha Fierce, but if you need a strategy to get in the right headspace, try this: visualize yourself successfully meeting someone. Run through in your head, your ideal introduction, the perfectly firm handshake, give the pitch of your dreams. See it in your head and really believe that you can do it!! (Or try, I know it’s easier said than done, trust me I know.)
Put your phone down // I use my phone as a crutch all the time. All the time. I use my phone as a distraction from awkward silence in an elevator; I use it when I don’t want to talk to anyone while waiting in line; and (I hate to admit it) I even use it at parties when I just want to melt into a puddle. Putting my phone down is the first step, or rather cue, to letting people know I’m open to talking, to meeting.
Reach out to people // You can definitely reach out to strangers, but if you’re trying to ease into meeting new people, work with the Rolodex you already have. Shoot that girl you went to summer camp with 12 years ago a message on Facebook to let her know you just moved the city she lives in. Have your cousin do an email introduction between you and her friend who works at the company you just got a job at.
Think beyond the circumstances you’re in. Realizing I could be friends with people outside of Georgetown was a major eye-opener for me, and I still can’t believe it took me until my senior year to figure that out. You can be friends with someone ten years older, ten years younger, from an entirely different background, from an entirely different industry. Most of my friends are not like me, and that’s what makes our friendships so interesting and fun.
I also realized, pretty late in life, that I could be the friend I wish I had. Instead of waiting for someone else to make plans or to set the meeting up, you should do it.
Put it out “there” // This sounds insane. I think if I didn’t truly believe it or witness it working out all the time, I’d think I was a lunatic. But I swear, putting it out there (into the “universe”) can work. If there’s someone you’re dying to meet or hoping your paths will cross with, say it aloud, visualize it happening, and have a great attitude about it coming into reality. Have faith that you will make new friends in your new city (you will!) or that you’ll build great relationships for your side business venture (it will happen!).
I also feel like this is important to say, but I still really don’t like talking to people I don’t know. I can do it and I’ve gotten significantly better. It’s been years since I started practicing and I still feel like I have to push myself every day to not fall back into old hermit habits.