Four Ways to Form Authentic Friendships at College

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar

For many first-year college students, one of the most exhilarating aspects is living in the dorms.  It’s an amazing opportunity to test their new wings of independence (albeit with some supervision from the resident advisors and directors), make new friends, and be surrounded by a community of people in the same boat. However, living on a college campus comes with its own set of challenges, and we’d like to address those today.

When students leave high school and enter college or their career, peer pressure does not just simply go away. In fact, the pressure to fit in can feel even feel more intense for some college students. Living with hundreds of other young people can, unfortunately, lead to negative peer pressure, striving to fit in, poor decisions, and even loss of self.  So, here are four ways that you (or the college student in your life) can form authentic and edifying relationships while living on your college campus:

  1. Deliberately seek out friendships in areas in which you’re likely to find people with similar interests. For example, if you’ve never partied in your life, hitting up a frat house party on a Saturday night is not exactly a sure-fire way to land your next BFFL. Do you enjoy staying active and spending time outdoors? Join an intra-mural and seek friends out here. Are you spiritual? Join an on-campus religiously affiliated club or group. Are you a brainiac with a love for academic challenges? Apply for your school’s honor’s program.
  2. Step outside your comfort zone and BE INTENTIONAL. This is a tough one for all of us because no one likes to feel uncomfortable. But, this is how friendships start and you take an acquaintanceship to a deeper level. As cheesy as it may sound, don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can sit by them in the “caf.” Ask one of your hall mates in the dorms to come over and play board games. Or invite an acquaintance from your Art 101 class out to coffee. More than likely, they’ll be glad for the offer! Be proactive. You’re worth it and what’s the downside?
  3. Be aware of your (potential) friends’ core values. This is crucial, because if you fundamentally oppose someone’s values, your friendship won’t be fit for the long term. If you want to do a self-check on the values that are most important to you, you can use this free checklist Make a list of your top ten, and never waiver from them, no matter what! Remember, not everyone in the world is meant to be your friend. So, if someone’s behavior does not align with your values, or you feel you have to change in order to fit in, it’s time to kiss that friendship goodbye.
  4. Be yourself and be vulnerable. Authenticity is the key to lasting, mutual friendship. You must allow yourself to be seen and appreciated for who you really are, and give up trying to be someone you’re not.

 

When life gets busy and your days are filled with lectures, studying, and practice, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain friendships. However, remember that friendships require deliberate actions from both parties in order to stay afloat (maybe ask one of your friends to study alongside you in the library!). More than anything, be true to yourself, never be afraid to say NO if something doesn’t feel right, and don’t hesitate to rely on help from a trusted adult (mentor, teacher, parent) if you’re struggling with your friendships.

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

Parenting is a Team Sport

Last Valentine’s Day, the parents of our teenage daughter’s best friend took the girls and a third friend out to a fancy restaurant. The dad gave the girls pretty rings and a pep talk about their priceless worth and the importance of loving and respecting themselves. He had contacted my husband Doug and me earlier to ask our permission and we happily consented.  After all, he was reinforcing something we felt strongly about and we were glad for Hillary to hear it from more than just us.

Doug and I (Arlyn) joke all the time that parenting is a “team sport”—and our team extends beyond ourselves as Mom and Dad. Some experts believe the magic number is five—that every teen needs at least five adult voices in his or her life that will reinforce positive values and a healthy self-image. For our kids, these voices have included:

  • their grandparents and other extended family members
  • family friends
  • youth group leaders/mentors
  • teachers and coaches
  • parents of some of their friends

It’s been rewarding to see the different perspectives and qualities these other “voices” have contributed, especially at times when Mom and Dad were a little less popular! They offered wisdom in diverse areas like:

  • work ethic
  • integrity
  • perseverance and self-discipline
  • relationships
  • financial management
  • spiritual life (faith, encouragement, prayer)
  • practical skills like construction, painting, cooking, and car repair
  • the value of family
  • aspirations for college and a successful career
  • modeling a lifelong marriage

Do you have the benefit of other influences in your teen’s life that will tell him the same things you would? The unique value of other adults in our teens’ lives is not just the wisdom they offer, but the fact that they are listened to. So, if our voices are temporarily devalued and our influence seems to be waning, we can recruit others to “shore us up.” Plus, sometimes other adults offer unique perspectives and insights that we as parents simply lack.

For example, when one of our kids was going through a rough patch in high school, his track coach stepped in and brought some much needed perspective, encouragement, and accountability. This coach was also our son’s AP Psychology teacher. Because of that expertise, he was able to offer him unique insights that spoke directly and objectively to his logical nature, helping him better understand himself and his reactions. It ended up being a win on a number of levels.

Guaranteed: your children will stumble here and there as they make great strides. Sometimes, they will want you there to pick them up, dust them off and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it. In these instances, having those important third part voices in place will be great backup support.

If your teen is having a tough time, who in your life could become an asset for the situation? It always pays to know, and to keep them in your “hip pocket” just in case!

What do you think about the idea that “parenting is a team sport?” Who are other adults that you would consider to be on your “team?” If you need to shore this up, who are some likely candidates?

Building Lasting Friendships

Do you have a trusted confidante with whom you can share your innermost feelings; one who has your best interests at heart? What about someone who will encourage you to be your absolute best and hold you accountable in your career, relationships, and even your spiritual life? Is there someone you can turn to when life throws you a curveball? A person of your gender with whom you can connect on a regular basis?

If your answers are “No,” then this could be a valuable New Year’s resolution for you!  Here’s why: Friendship—the enduring, here-til-the-end-for-you, holding-you-accountable kind—is good for you! These friendships make you a better person and are an essential ingredient to a strong support system.

It doesn’t just make intuitive sense, it’s also supported by clinical studies.  People with long-time friends live longer. They experience less stress. They are more likely to survive cancer. They even contract fewer colds! I am not kidding here, folks!

Just last year, Virginia Tech researchers took a group of students from the University of Virginia to the base of a steep hill, fitted them with a weighted backpack, and asked them to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others stood alone.

Interestingly, the students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the hill’s steepness—and the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared to them.

This principle holds true across the board. Trusted friends make our life journey smoother (especially when the going gets rough) and our experiences all the richer. They enable us to live life fuller and provide companionship and support along the way.

Granted, it takes time and effort to build a trusted friendship of that caliber. It’s easy today to be lulled by the superficial “friendship” that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and online forums offer. But, remember that true friendship takes time: getting to know each other, identifying and building on shared values, accumulating a library of shared memories, weathering conflict and crisis, and more. It’s all worth the investment, and the best part is, it’s never too late to start.

Not sure where to begin? Here a few tips to help get you there.

  1. Take a personal inventory of your interests and the qualities and values most important to you. Chances are, your forever friendships will reside where your interests and values intersect. Together with trust, they’re the building blocks of companionship.
  2. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down. People relate to others who are real and transparent. Instead of trying to appear a certain way to your friends, be your authentic self, warts and all!
  3. Ask questions that will reveal their inner selves. While it’s easy to gauge compatibility of interests, it takes time, in-depth conversation, and experiences to gauge compatibility of values.
  4. Say yes. Even if you don’t feel like getting off the couch and changing out of your sweatpants, it’s important to say “yes” to new opportunities with new friends.. You never know what might come from each new experience!  Saying yes also means returning phone calls with phone calls (and not text messages). Remember, cultivating friendships takes energy and personal engagement!

Who is your most trusted confidante? How have you invested in that relationship throughout your life? Have you been cultivating and investing in new ones?

Recognize and Release Stress


Did you know all stress is not created equal? There’s good stress and there’s bad stress. What’s good stress? Your first big job interview. A plane to catch on an exciting vacation. A first date for which you want to look your best. These kinds of stressors can keep us motivated, moving ahead, and putting our best foot forward.
 
            But then there’s the bad stress. That’s the ongoing pressure we face during hard times, like breaking up with a loved one or battling a difficult health issue.
 
            The fact is, when we go through our most painful times, we often don’t take very good care of ourselves. We may eat terribly (if at all), sleep miserably (if at all), and bottle up our pain and stress. Some people hibernate like bears, lacking the self-confidence to be in public, or become tempted to seek solace in false comforts like alcohol and drugs.
 
            There is a better way.
 
In order to deal with your stress and preserve your health, it pays to tap into your stress outlets and learn to release your pain. That’s right: you’ve got to learn to let it go.


            For starters, when going through a rough patch, it’s essential to sleep and eat well and get cardio exercise. My best physical stress outlet is running. Not only does it help relieve my tension, but it also gives me time to pray and think more clearly about my situation.  I’ve found my best thinking comes when I run and allow my mind to roam free.  That, together with the physical exertion of my exercise, really helps restore my peace of mind.
 
            I also recommend reaching out to your support system. Friends cheer us up, offer helpful perspective, and, even help us stay healthy. As mentioned in an earlier blog, people with good friends get sick less often and recover more quickly! 
 
            Sadly, people are often reluctant to ask for help, forgetting that it’s a blessing for loved ones to answer that kind of call and offer needed support. By forgoing this option, we deprive them of sharing their gifts of love and encouragement with us.
 
            You may have different stress outlets than mine—and that’s okay. The important thing is that you have them. Whatever they are, don’t forget to use them. Remember that you still need to take care of “number one” while you’re traveling through life’s inevitable, turbulent times.
 
How well do you take care of yourself—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—during times of trial? Are you open to receiving support from loved ones who would cheerfully help? Do you stay connected relationally when times are tough instead of isolating yourself? Share your thoughts and ideas with us by commenting below; we can learn from each other!
 

Develop Long Term Friendships

Do you have a trusted confidante with whom you can share your innermost feelings and who has your best interests at heart? Someone who will both encourage you and hold you accountable when your spiritual life, relationships, or actions get off track? Someone you can turn to when life throws you a curveball? A person of your gender with whom you can connect on a regular basis?
 
If your answers are “No,” this should become a life priority for you.  Here’s why: Friendship—the enduring, here-til-the-end-for-you, holding-you-accountable kind—is good for you!


If you need proof, simply check the clinical studies.  People with long-time friends live longer. They experience less stress. They are more likely to survive cancer. They even contract fewer colds! Seriously!
 
Just last year, Virginia Tech researchers took a group of students from the University of Virginia to the base of a steep hill, fitted them with a weighted backpack, and asked them to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others stood alone.
 
Interestingly, the students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the hill’s steepness—and the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared to them!
 
This principle holds true across the board. Trusted friends make our life journey smoother (especially when life hands us a lemon!) and our experiences all the richer.
 
Granted, it takes time and effort to build a trusted friendship of that caliber. It’s easy today to be lulled by the superficial “friendship” that Facebook, social media, and online gaming offer. But, remember that true friendship takes time: getting to know each other, identifying and building on shared values, accumulating a library of shared memories, weathering conflict and crisis, and more. It’s all worth the investment, and the best part is, it’s never too late.  (I agree with Professor Glenn Sparks, Communications Professor and author of a recent friendship study who put it well: “Making friends is like managing a bank account. You must make investments, and it is never too early to start.”)
 
Who among your closest friends of the same gender do you consider to be your most trusted confidante? How have you invested in that relationship throughout your life, as well as cultivating and developing new ones?


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