It’s not always easy to find your people – and I would know. I spent most of my school years and a good chunk of my twenties trying to find a place to belong. That need to find my people took me on adventures – I was fortunate enough to study, live overseas, travel and work in jobs with people who were vastly different to me. Ultimately, I found that belonging is less about where you are, and about who you are known by. And while I expected to feel isolated during COVID-19, I instead found belonging online, and then in person, with groups of people who were in similar life stages to me. People who have also experienced bulling, trauma, or rejection in the past and know how awkward it is to be human.
I certainly don’t have the hard and fast solution to creating – or joining – a community. But I’ve learned a few things from many people. Some are still in my life, and others were only around for a season. Here are four keys to creating a community you can truly belong to.
I am an introvert with social anxiety, and the idea of going to a party puts me in a tailspin. When I do, I often leave early! So I have found friends by going about my day with openeness and honesty. I lead with honesty – there is no time or energy for facades – but try not to go too deep too fast. People have to earn my trust first, and that’s okay. What I’ve found is that people who I click with, even if it’s over a hello or similar interests, are open to hearing about me and I, them. Over time, this creates depth to the relationship. I saw this happen when I befriended a neighbour who walked his dog around the block during COVID-19. I’m obsessed with dogs, and after bumping into each other multiple times we learned each other’s names and started hanging out. Today he is one of my closest friends – and I get to dog sit whenever I feel like it. It’s a win-win.
It’s easy to think you are broken, or too weird, loud, quiet or (insert negative comment here) to befriend. And when we enter a new community (or try to!), it can seem like all these qualities disqualify us from new friends. I need to tell you this – you are stuck in your head. You are worthy of being loved and known, so don’t count yourself out and assume you are rejected before you step through the door. Instead, try to make friends who are like you! Enter community groups and events that interest you so you have common ground. Start conversations. Invite someone to coffee or dinner. See if you have any connection and if they reciprocate. This process is as brutal as dating, and it can be hard to continue. But try to remember that in the vast majority of cases, people aren’t against you and they don’t hate you – tou just haven’t found the right people yet. If you think the people you are trying to connect with are toxic or are bullies, try somewhere new. You don’t have time for that.
A healthy friendship involves an equal amount of give and take, and creating healthy community means playing our part while also setting boundaries. So take the initiative and connect with people, but also observe who is willing to connect with you. Note that some people won’t be able to connect as often or as quickly as you would like – their stage of life, work load or stressors can limit their time. Sosee how and when you can connect, and if they are willing to also prioritise this. Once you have solidified the friendship, let it grow organically. It could be about a weekly text, setting up a fortnightly dinner (I do this!), a monthly coffee, or just seeing them during a community group event. Stay committed to that connection to the best of your capacity. This isn’t a sprint – just stay consistent.
When I have connected with people, it has been through commonalities. Sure, initially it’s a dog, a cause or similar values. But eventually, we find commonalities in our story that gives us depth. We know what it means to face anxiety, to work through marriage or family issues, or we have similar dreams. When we struggle or go through hard times, we can share it with our friends because they also share theirs with us. If life is hard for you, and you trust your new friends, ask them for help. Create a culture where you support each other with a meal, a text, a hug…being honest with people who you trust and respect gives them initiation to build a deeper connection with you.
Are you looking for strategies to build a community? Do you feel anxious or unsure about finding friends? Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now.