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Five Steps to Flourishing Friendships

Friends are the greatest gift in life! They bring love, comfort, joy and celebration. When it comes to attending a yearly conference, meeting, reunion or camp, one has a unique opportunity to create friendships that last a lifetime and bring us joy over many many years.

Feeling excitement about attending a yearly gathering, especially when it’s our first time, is natural. However, listening to many people speak about their experience once they arrive at the event, I frequently hear, “I was surprised how difficult it was to make friends.” Sadly, its true. Going into a large group, even though you have an overt or strong commonality, doesn’t insure making friends will be a snap. Unfortunately, it can still be challenging to make connections that grow into long-term relationships. Having triumphed over this difficult task many times myself, here are five steps to help you create lasting connections and flourishing friendships!

Be Bold

Walking into a room with full of people, most of whom you have never met before, can be daunting. Despite this fact, you have in front of you a golden opportunity — a multitude of people with whom you have something in common — to meet, get acquainted with and develop long lasting friendships. To make best use of this rare (and often intimidating) opportunity, I suggest being bold: taking initiative to reach out and make contact with others. For example, you can start a conversation, ask the person next to you some compelling questions, or invite another to join you in an activity. This type of bold behavior will bring many more chances for connection and many more opportunities for building relationship.

Being bold is especially important if you’re a newcomer to any group. “Cliques” are notoriously the cause of many hurt feelings at gatherings where the same group comes together year after year. Keep in mind that years before you arrived on the ‘scene’, long standing friendships and ‘gangs’ have been formed and solidified between annual attendees. Making inroads into these groups can be tough—as they are usually busy among themselves. But this bump in the road can be overcome by mustering up your inner strength and confidence, and taking the first step, to politely greet another already associated with a “clique”, or to start a conversation. If you’re a bit shy in your everyday life, here’s a great opportunity to step out of that pattern and let yourself be seen, known and loved. Be bold!

Love Yo’self

Most people think that the process of making friends is all about getting other people to like them. But the truth is: the first person you need to convince you are lovable is yourself! Once you have accomplished this, it’s quite easy to enlighten others to your genuine lovability.
For most people, entering a new social group often triggers memories from grade school or other early life experiences where we they felt teased or rejected. To help get through this common challenge, we can practice silencing any negative voices you hear inside your mind. Pay attention to your inner dialogue. When you hear the voice of self-criticism or disapproval, command that voice to stop. Silence it! Then take a deep breath in. The exhale and let go of all the tension. Expand into the place of self-acceptance. Remember that because you are a human being you are precious, beautiful, and valuable– completely lovable. Feel that truth inside your body. Walk Tall! And you’ll probably notice people who love themselves are quite easy to love.

Open Your Heart

I think we’d all agree that living in the world brings many challenges … and pain. Our personal and global difficulties often cause one’s heart to shut down. As our hearts close more and more, our sense of isolation and emotional pain seem to increase. Keeping one’s heart open is not easy. However, it is also a choice — a choice that can bring true riches. Opening your heart is opening the door to real, authentic and meaningful relationships- life’s greatest joy! It can be scary as it necessitates vulnerability, yet the rewards far out weigh the sting. And it’s simple to do. It just means being open, not closed — accepting, not rejecting. Opening your heart means showing kindness, being sensitive to others and responsive to their needs. It means reaching out to someone who might be in pain, really listening, and letting them know you understand. When you see someone on the sidelines who might be too shy to join in, include them. All of these practices help to build the capacity of loving and being loved. Open your heart and enjoy the true richness of life!

Not Taking Stuff Personally

“Whether someone likes me or not has nothing to do with me.” I don’t remember who said it, but they were right on! It’s true. Whether someone likes you, or not, is really about them, not you. When you are able to not take others’ reactions to you personally, you gain a certain power–a power of freedom and attraction. However, it’s quite challenging to not take things like rejection personally. Difficulties happen in relationships and we feel hurt. That’s a fact. The best thing you can do is remind yourself, “Whether a person likes me or not, really has nothing to do with me!” Then celebrate the people who do love you, hang out with them, and stop wasting your time lamenting over people who don’t. It’s healthier and easier to just say: “Next!” and move on to developing new relationships with people who gladly, easily love you. There are an infinite number of possibilities for wonderful relationships out there. The more you remember that and how beautiful, precious and valuable you really are–the more you love yo’self–the easier it will be to not take stuff personally.

Clarify Your Values

Alignment determines proximity. Huh? What this means is the more you have in common with some one, the easier and more fun it is to hang out together. Finding your appropriate relationship or proximity to another is vital in developing “healthy” friendships, and is best accomplished by discovering if what’s important to you is shared, or aligned, with your potential/developing friend. Two steps are necessary. The first is being clear in yourself about what’s really important to you. This process may take some time reflecting, writing in your journal or talking to a close friend. As honestly as you can answer the questions, “What’s most important to me? What do I truly value?” Once you clarify your own values, you can move on to step two: asking powerful questions to your new friend so you can find out what really matters to her/him and access your degree of alignment.

Time at annual group gatherings is short, and it goes quickly. Make haste. Ask people you become interested in direct powerful questions that help them reveal what’s really important to them. Once you find someone who shares your values, then work to build the relationship. Call, chat, text, do stuff together, continue asking poignant questions about who they are and what they value. As you access your alignment, you can adjust your appropriate proximity or closeness.

If you’re trying to decide whether to enter into a serious romantic relationship with someone, you may find it extremely smart and helpful to discuss and clarify values that are irreconcilable, such as having children and monogamy. Getting clear on these and other important issues – in yourself and in others – can save you a lot of time and heartache.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that coming to an annual gathering is one of the most extraordinary and enriching social experiences one can have. To say the least, it is magical. The opportunities for making friends and building life-long relationships there is golden! To greatly increase your success in creating flourishing friendships: be bold, love yo’ self, open your heart, don’t take stuff personally and clarify your values. Then you’ll surely enjoy the icing of life – life-long friendships!