So this past weekend I had the incredible opportunity to spend the weekend with my youngest son at his college Accepted Student Orientation in North Carolina.
Not only was it awesome to spend some alone time with him, which I rarely get to do these days as he is a highly independent high school senior, but it was also a great way for me to get in touch with what is going on in higher education.
I had forgotten just how exciting it is to be in an environment where learning, opportunity and possibility are all around you. And I’ll tell you, there was a small, yet I should really admit a large part of me, that actually got jealous listening to all of the students and the incredible opportunities that are available to them today.
At any rate, my son’s step-brother on his father’s side is a senior at Elon University, where my son will be attending, so, when we got there, he promptly told me that he would be staying with his step-brother and going out both nights with him, which I was thrilled about. However, it left me alone to explore North Carolina and the area around the university by myself.
I was quickly reminded of how important it is to step outside of our comfort zone and open ourselves up to our own opportunities, whatever stage, age and circumstance we find ourselves in.
I found myself with both Thursday and Friday nights alone with no plans and absolutely no connections in the area. So, I decided that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I did a little research online and found a couple of places that I thought looked interesting, and that had a seemingly vibrant bar/restaurant atmosphere; and I decided to take myself out on the town.
The first place I went to was so crowded that I couldn’t even get through the door, not surprising given that it was an orientation weekend for parents of incoming freshman students, so I moved on to the second place I had put on my list.
When I got there, I realized that it was the middle of March Madness and Duke was playing, so this informal, fun bar was packed with basketball fans all having the time of their life. Normally, I would sit at the bar and have myself a glass of wine and some dinner, but the bar was completely full, so I found myself sitting at a large table in the center of the bar. It was a long table seating about 12 people, and there were two seats available at the end.
I asked the group of men and women (who were around my age) if I could join them, and they said “absolutely”. I sat myself down, ordered a beer and a salad, and began to watch the game. As this was clearly a favorite local establishment, it was clear that I was in the midst of a group of “regulars”; and a group of friends who were extremely welcoming of my presence. They immediately began to talk to me, and it was not long before they had completely embraced me and extended an invitation to join them for the rest of evening.
I have always been, as many of you know, the type of person who has been comfortable in stepping outside of my own comfort zone and taking myself out, but it had been a long time since I had done that in a new state and environment.
I have always found that when I did, the act of being alone was an invitation for those around me to engage with me.
What many of us forget is that when we are out with friends, it can be intimidating for those we don’t yet know..those who might want to approach and talk to us.
Both men and women may feel intimidated. For men it can be difficult as it takes a lot of courage for them to approach us; and it becomes far more stressful to approach us when we are already engaged in conversation and laughter with a girlfriend or a group of friends.
And for women, despite the fact that we all secretly want to engage with new people, we often times don’t have the courage and feel insecure when approaching and making new friends at this age. Being alone this weekend, I was reminded of how open and vulnerable it makes us when we take ourselves out alone and put ourselves in situations where others are able to approach us without the “protection” of others.
As it turns out, I met an incredibly nice group of men and women my first night. In fact, had I wanted or been open to it, I might have found myself asked out on a date the following night. But the best part was that I made a couple of new girlfriends who want to continue our friendship and see me when I come back down in August to drop my son off at school.
I want to encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and put yourself in front of as many opportunities as possible to engage with others.
If you are single and seeking new love in your life, going out alone, while uncomfortable, will increase the chance that those around you, men in particular, will embrace an opportunity to talk with you. And if you are seeking new social opportunities, new friendships, or even new connections and community, being out on your own makes you far less intimidating and sends an invitation to those around you to introduce themselves and engage you in conversation.
It is hard to make new friends at this stage and age of our lives. It is not the same as when we were five years old playing in the sandbox and decide to share a shovel. Approaching “strangers” is a much more fear-driven experience, and when we take the time to venture out on our own, it shows that we are not only comfortable in our own skin and with ourselves, but that we are willing to step outside of our comfort zone and open ourselves up to new experiences, new relationships, and new possibilities.
So, I now have friends in North Carolina and am looking even more forward to returning in August and continuing with those friendships both online and off.
If you find that you struggle at all with finding the courage to step outside of your comfort zone, put yourself in a new situation or open yourself up to engaging with new people, let’s hop on the phone so we can talk about what steps you might take right now in order to make that a more comfortable experience for you.