From one introvert to another: I know what it’s like to struggle to break out of your comfort zone and meet new people.
I know what it’s like to move away to college and desperately want to find “your people” but not know where or how to go about it.
I also know the steps that are necessary to take in order to push past your insecurities and find those life-long friendships and new opportunities.
I know because I was forced to learn and take those steps.
They were baby steps, yes. But for me, mentally they were huge hurdles I needed to overcome.
During college, I learned something valuable that goes against what popular culture often tells you about your time at university.
It’s not so much about “reinventing” or “finding” yourself. Your personality isn’t necessarily going to change at this point; you’re you, and there isn’t a reason to go altering the very fundamentals of who you are.
It’s more about realizing what has and has not worked for you in the past and making a promise to yourself that you’ll try to do better.
Once I realized this, I made a decision. I was going to make note of past behavior that got me nowhere…
…and I wasn’t going to do it again at college.
What do I mean by that exactly?
Well, when it comes to the idea of moving past my comfort zone and meeting new people, I knew I had been the one thing – the one person – holding me back for most of my life.
When faced with the possibility of joining a group or community setting, I balked. Adamantly refused to join in.
I was too afraid, too shy to make friends.
I told myself that I was too awkward, not witty enough. If I met new people, they wouldn’t like me.
I’ve been painfully shy my whole life, but I was determined to break this pattern during my college years. I was tired of believing the lies I was telling myself, about myself. They weren’t remotely true. I actually made friends fairly easily and was well-liked.
There was no reason for me to be so shy around new people.
I wanted college to be some of the best, most fun years of my life. I wanted to push myself to do more and be more.
I basically dared myself to do things that made me uncomfortable.
When I first moved into my dorm, I was anxious and uncertain, but still determined to break out of the timid mold I’d unintentionally made for myself.
Thankfully, because I transferred in as a junior instead of enrolling as a freshman, I was placed in a transfer group with other students who had also transferred in from other colleges around the country.
This turned out to be a huge success and was the first place that I met one of my best friends.
Join a social group immediately
There are so many groups that pop up on college campuses – too many to name! Find one and join in the second you step foot on campus, before you even have time to think about what you’re doing.
Inquire about some of the groups on your college campus and learn where you might fit in. Are you a Netflix junkie? I can almost guarantee there’s a group for that. There was at my school. Or maybe you love reading in your spare time and want to meet people for book recommendations? There are groups for almost any interest.
It’s not so much about the specific type of group you join. It’s more about tackling that initial first baby step, that first hurdle and actively doing something that stops your fear in its place. Taking the first step makes you more likely to keep going.
Since I was majoring in journalism, I was required to be on the newspaper or yearbook staff. The first semester, I joined yearbook because I loved the design aspect. I didn’t know anyone on the yearbook staff at first, which was good. These weren’t the same people who were in my transfer group, so it organically widened the pool of people I was around.
Join an academic group
Naturally, this won’t be for everyone, but I do encourage you to learn about a few of the academic groups at your school and see if any pique your interest.
In my case, an academic group didn’t include the same type of people with whom I was used to interacting.
Before you say anything, you don’t have to do anything as nerdy as joining the newspaper or yearbook staff. If you love to sing, join chorale or an a capella group. Just find something that interests you and keeps your schedule full.
As a bonus to meeting new people, becoming involved in extracurricular activities looks great on a resume. Win win!
Introduce yourself to (literally) everyone you meet
I transferred to a school where I didn’t know anyone – no childhood friends or high school buddies. As a result, I introduced myself to anyone and everyone I bumped into on campus. Even if I didn’t think we had anything in common, I said “Hi” and went from there. I don’t remember what was said; for some, I don’t even remember their names! But I do remember feeling less apprehensive and more socially capable day after day.
When you first arrive at college, each person you meet is a stranger but also a potential friend (sorry to sound like a cheesy greeting card). No one knows anyone, and everyone is on an equal playing field. You will meet dozens and dozens of new people every day; there’s no pressure to form a solid relationship right from the start. It’s fun, casual, and just an experience to be enjoyed instead of agonized over.
I met so many random people and had lunch in the school cafeteria with a huge variety of students. A lot of them I never talked to again, but it was a blast just meeting people and exchanging stories.
Go to events – by yourself
The first college event I went to was a mixer for freshmen. It was held the same day I arrived at school. My roommate (whom I had just met that same day) wanted to go, and since I was all about that whole “get out of your comfort zone” thing, I went with her. Unfortunately, she had to leave pretty soon after we got there, so I was left to fend for myself. The old me would have left immediately, gone back to the dorm, and spent the rest of the night watching Netflix.
Related: GOMO is the new YOLO
I’m sure you can guess what happened.
I walked up to the first group of students I saw and started up a conversation. Was I still shy? Yes. Was I nervous? Yup.
But I’m still friends with one of those students I met that night, and I’m going back next year to attend his graduation and cheer him on.
University life is an intimidating place for many reasons: hard classes, uncompromising professors, and sharing one bathroom with way too many people.
For a shy student, worrying about making new friends can add to the uncertainty of college life. Branching out doesn’t come naturally to everyone – especially for us introverts. But don’t think it’s not something that can be learned if you’re willing to put in the effort.
So let me ask you something.
Are you happy with your past choices? Are they choices you’re willing to repeat in college? Or are you ready for a change? Do you want to do something different in the hope of achieving different results?
Now you know what my choice was, and if I can do it, I know you can, too.
You’ve got this.
What are your ways to branch out in college? How do you make new friends?
Bria McKamey is the founder and blogger behind Monday Rebel, a lifestyle, career, and educational resource for 20-something women. Just think of it as your mama’s advice, written by a fellow girlfriend. Monday Rebel is a quickly growing collection of sarcastic life advice and tips for young adults emerging onto the “live-on-your-own-pay-your-own-bills” scene. Connect with Bria on Twitter and at www.mondayrebel.com.