This time of year always brings back memories of my first semester in college and the social adjustment I hadn’t anticipated. As a small town guy who knew everyone, being surrounded by a sea of strangers instead of my “regulars” was a brutal reckoning that life would never be the same. In those days, we lacked technology to keep us connected, and phone calls were simply too expensive. I remember resorting to writing letters to my friends who had scattered and were experiencing the same case of the “lonelies.” Then, like now, simply being surrounded by loads of others didn’t make me secure… any more than having 1,000 Facebook “friends” does for people today.
The good news is that new environments offer a great opportunity to make new friends, some of whom may prove more durable than the ones we left behind. Sure, it’s a “trial and error” thing, but provided we approach it with the right attitude and methods, we can develop a new layer of friends and support system.
Borrowing from What I Wish I Knew at 18, here are our best ideas for winning great new friends in new places and avoiding poor choices that often derail college (and other) experiences:
- Set a high bar. In the young adult years, peers can have a tremendous impact on our lives. So, be choosy and only surround yourself with people who: 1) share and respect your beliefs and values, 2) lift you up with positivity, 3) enjoy similar interests, 4) allow you to be your authentic self, and 5) demonstrate motivation and trustworthiness.
- Consider your current “BFFs.” Your best friends aren’t your best friends by accident. Your relationships developed over time and with testing. Take time to reflect on what, specifically, you value most about them. This, together with the first point, will allow you to create a “friend filter” in your mind that you can apply to new acquaintances.
- Be uncompromising about values. So often, our friend-making mistakes come when we hang out with people who don’t share our values. This is especially common when we’re lonely and want companionship. One way to prepare is to review the Positive Traits and Values list that you can find here. Which qualities are most important to you? They’re important to include in your friend filter.
- Remember, it’s all about quality. Quantity matters in many areas, but when it comes to friend-making, it can’t compete with quality!
- Be patient. It helps to remember that your current best friends were made over a lengthy period of time. Resist the temptation to rush it. Relationships develop in a progression (at LifeSmart, we describe it as going from acquaintance to prospect to friend to VIP). Most of the people we meet in life will stay as acquaintances, and that’s fine.
- Seek out “common denominator” settings. One way of making a big place seem smaller is to find opportunities to meet people with similar interests. In the college scene, you can find them in specific courses, clubs, organizations, intramurals, the arts, and various affinity groups. What do you enjoy doing most? Are there organized opportunities to meet similar-minded people to give you a head start?
Finally, as important as it is to make new friends, it’s even more critical to avoid destructive people. Often, these are folks with a different value system and who attempt to lure you into comprising yours. In the college scene, there are many students who are clearly not there for the academics—even if the price tag is expensive! Be sure to take the following story to heart:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Be choosy, be patient, and enjoy your friend-making journey.