Whether you’re a web worker, an overworked corporate employee, or just a homey sort, you’ve probably heard the refrain: “Get out more!”
Yes, you could take a walk, take to drinking alone in a seedy bar, or drive around looking at billboards, but it’s likely that just physically getting out of the house isn’t all you need. No, those people who care about you are telling you to go out and meet some people, to be a little bit more social.
Being social is good for you, of course. As social animals, our emotional and even physical health depends on social interaction. Our social relationships can help us deal with depression, stress, and plain old loneliness. Having a strong social network can help you find jobs or clients (some 70% of jobs are found through personal contacts, usually friends of friends).
But some of us have a hard time figuring out how to be more social. Maybe you’re introverted and are pretty comfortable in your own company, most of the time. Maybe your job keeps you away from people – you work at home, or your work ties you to a PC screen all day, or whatever – and you just don’t have a lot of ties to other people to get started with. Maybe you just moved to a new city and don’t know the social landscape very well. Maybe you’re just too busy to get out much.
Here are six ways to get started, ways to put yourself into a space where social ties are made. You’ll have to take the next steps, of course: showing up regularly (when appropriate), approaching people, speaking out, and so on, but if you put yourself into a situation where such social interaction is expected and normal, you might well find that the rest just follows.
No duh, right? Yet American civic participation has dropped sharply over the last few decades, and other countries’ rates aren’t that far ahead.
There is a club for almost every possible passion, from anthropology to zoology. Like to dress up in animal costumes and flirt with other similarly costumed folks? There’s a club for you. Enjoy collecting Japanese war memorabilia? There’s a club for you. Into gardening, feminism, or farming history? There’s a club.. well, you get the picture.
The question is, is there a club for you near where you live? Check out your local alternative weekly’s “events” listing; many of the ongoing events will be club meetings. Check your library district’s website, too. And your local Parks and Recreation department might have listings for clubs. Or Google national associations related to your interests and see if they have a local chapter.
If all else fails, and you’re feeling entrepreneurial, start your own club. Contact your local library, place of worship, or community center and see what you have to do to reserve a space (they’re usually free for community groups), put up a free website, call your local alternative weekly’s events desk and see about getting listed, and you’re off.
If a club sounds a little too… well, “clubby” for your tastes, maybe you’d be happier at a meetup. Meetups are semi-informal gatherings of like-minded people, often at a bar or restaurant, who get together to just chat and get to know each other.
Meetup.com is the place to go to find meetups in your area. You can search by topic or by distance from your zipcode; I recommend the latter, since you might find groups devoted to topics that you wouldn’t have thought to search for. If you’re in a reasonably large metropolitan center, you should find dozens of local meetups on all manner of topics, from blogging to politics to knitting.
The typical meetup group meets once a month, either at a fixed location or by polling members to decide on an appropriate venue each month. You might be asked to pay a couple of dollars to help defray the organizer’s costs – Meetup.com charges a few dollars a month for listing and administering the group.
Whether you choose a traditional, semester-length class at a community college or university, a short-term workshop series through your local adult extension, or a one- or two-day seminar through an organization like Learning Annex, taking a class is a great way to meet people – while learning something new at the same time.
Unless you’re under 22, my advice is to take evening classes or adult extension classes; these courses are most likely to include a large number of adults taking classes for their own professional development or personal improvement. While younger students can be incredible people, you may find that you have very little in common with them, and that they really don’t understand the kinds of pressures you face as a working adult and possibly parent. (And they can’t get into bars, which cuts out an excellent site for post-class camaraderie!)
Nothing is more social than sharing your own hard-earned knowledge with people who can benefit from it most. Community colleges, adult extensions, and local government organizations (such as Parks and Recreation) are always on the lookout for people to teach either full-blown courses or shorter workshops. Pick up a copy of your local college’s catalog, or check out your city government’s class offerings online, to get an idea of what kind of courses they tend to offer and what you might be able to add to their line-up.
The pay is often not very good, but that’s not the point. Think of it as something you do a night a week, where you meet interesting people and help them to advance their lives and careers. Or think of it as a chance to build up your professional presence: while you shouldn’t promote yourself in class, it can’t hurt to have a couple dozen people or so who know you’re a web designer or writer or marketing expert or business consultant or whatever – they have friends! And it looks pretty good on your resume.
Most of all, though, you’ll be in the company of interesting adults once or twice a week, and while you want to be careful about too much fraternizing if you’re giving grades, the in-class interaction can be very satisfying. And if you’re not giving grades, there’s no reason at all not to take your students up on that offer of a beer or a cup of coffee after class – and you will
Since you already spend a good chunk of your online time reading blogs or tweeting, why not add a few local bloggers and twitterers to your feeds?
There are a number of services to find blogs by location, some based on the blogger’s profile, others on geo-tagging information added to their feeds. I like these:
If you’re on Twitter, you can use Summize’s advanced search function to find Twitterers “Near this place” (look at the “Places” box) . You’ll get the latest tweets from everyone near your chosen location; follow some and see what develops.
Of course, reading local blogs and tweets doesn’t get you out of the house, but you may well start building relationships with people who are close enough that you can get together of off-line fun and mayhem.
Some people hate conferences. I don’t get that – where else do you get to interact with dozens or hundreds of people who are all interested in the same things you are?
Seek out local conferences, take a stack of business cards, and go spend a day in the expo hall (which is usually free or pretty cheap). Hand your card out to all and sundry, and collect theirs as well. When you get home, send them each an email, or give them a call, just saying how nice it was to meet them.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, isn’t it? At the conference itself, make a point of asking vendors what their product does. Don’t waste their time if their product is totally useless to you or your company, but don’t feel like you’re intruding, either, if there’s any possible connection. Learn as much as you can – you never know what you might learn that you can use later. And that’s what the vendors are there for.
Try approaching a few of your fellow conference-goers, too. They’re all there to network with people in their industry, so go ahead.
The hardest part of being more social is usually just getting out the front door of your house. Once you’re in the right context, unless you’re painfully shy, interacting with people will be a given. Push yourself a little to introduce yourself, speak up when necessary, and generally make yourself known – we rarely end up making the fools of ourselves that we’re so afraid of.
There are other ways to be social, of course, but I’ve tried to focus on the most productive of them. Binge drinking, gambling, going to the movies or to exotic dance clubs – these might get you out of the house, but they’re highly unlikely to form the basis of lasting social relationships. What tips do others have for people looking to improve their social life and not sure where to start?
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