Finding opportunities right in front of you

My friend invited me along last summer for a weekend of drinks, food, boating, and revelry in Pittsburgh with a group of friends I hadn’t spent much time with before that point. That weekend happened again two weeks ago. We ate savoury foods, wandered the hills of Pittsburgh’s suburban ring, and cruised the greenish waters of the Monongahela in the basking sun. Three guys in the group I knew well, and two I didn’t know so well.

 

During the trip last year, one of the guys I didn’t know so well got to chatting about how underrated his current city of Cincinnati is. Being the traveler I am, I was intrigued. I’d never heard anyone brag about Cincinnati. I’d written it off as a small town with a few sports teams and maybe homicide or two. But, I told this guy I’d visit. This guy I’d only met once. We conversed a bit on that original Pittsburgh trip and I knew we had a few common interests. I was intrigued by the idea of Cincy and was determined to make a trip happen.

 

Here’s what I did differently than everyone else did. I didn’t spend 5 years talking about how I heard “Cincinnati was a cool town” or how “I’d go there someday.” I waited 8 months until it was reasonable to start planning for this summer’s travels, and I started chatting with this new friend online. I pushed us over a possible weekend, which I based partially on dates that had reasonable flight prices. I bought the flights and confirmed the time with my new friend.

 

This is simple in concept, difficult in practice. People love making excuses not to travel and not to expand their friend circle. Excuses someone might make in my situation:

 

  1. It’s weird to visit someone you’ve only met once.
  2. It’s a long flight and traveling is annoying
  3. I can’t get off work
  4. Cincinnati probably isn’t as fun as he says. It’s just a third-tier city.
  5. It’s probably dangerous
  6. It will be “awkward”
  7. I’m so busy and have so much to do at home.

 

We make time for important things. We weather the storm for things we really take joy in. If people genuinely don’t want to travel, or even if they can’t, that’s fine. But don’t be the person that constantly says how they “wish they could go visit Europe but just don’t have the XYZ right now.” If you have the resources, make it happen. If you don’t, then fine, accept that and make the changes in your life to make it happen. Don’t have the resources at hand to make something happen but never do it. This is an expression of dishonesty, laziness, and an admission of ineptitude. You and others will view your statements as wishes, not guarantees. Your language and verbal declarations of desire can be more than wishes.

 

The trip ended up being amazing. My new friend is interested in food blogging. I met a ton of his friends, bounced around business advice, went to a packed pool party, played soccer with his co workers on the Bearcats’ home field, ate at 7 new restaurants (I’ll do a non-emailed post on that), and wandered around the Kentucky hills overlooking the Ohio. This was way better than an average weekend at home. All because I took action and made it happen.

 

Two lessons:

  1. The best way to make connections with new people is through people you already know. Surround yourself with good friends, ask them to introduce you to other friends. Be willing to try new activities and enter new social circles. Chances are you’ll find surprising opportunity there. Two books come to mind. Connected gives a sociological look at the power of real-life social networks and the penetrating and two-way impact our lifestyle choices have on one another. Did you know your verbal decision to vote statistically determines whether or not over 10 other people in your social network will vote? The other one is Never Eat Alone. The author explores how the way you arrange your life with your social network will change the way you see the world. He has an insightful podcast commentary on how he arranges his dinner parties here. Socializing comes natural to some people, for others it doesn’t. But don’t feel like if you’re an introvert that planning and structuring your social interactions is manipulative. People genuinely want to meet you. They want you to take the effort to talk to them and visit them. It took Harvard 80 years to figure out that happiness is greatly attributable to the quality of our relationships. Don’t let it take you that long.

 

  1. Don’t be a person who publicly makes excuses not to go to events or travel or try new things. If you prioritize other things (like time with family, exercise, alone time, work time, significant other time), then make that clear to your friends. If you don’t want to go, politely decline. Your friends and acquaintances can’t help you grow if they don’t know what you want. This is especially true if you say one thing but mean another thing. Stop “wishing you could” and start taking action. Figure out the steps you need to take to get yourself in the position to do the things you love or think you might love. Find reasons to do things. Learn to convince yourself to do new things by reminding yourself of the positive aspects a decision to take part in something with new friends might have. Be resourceful. Tony Robbins is right in emphasizing that most of Western society gets unhappy not because we don’t have the resources, but that we don’t have the resourcefulness. What are we telling ourselves subconsciously when we constantly wish we could travel? Or how much we want to lose weight but just can’t? Or save money but just have too many bills? Or find a healthy relationship but can’t take control of an unhealthy situation? We’re telling ourselves that we are a victim to our circumstances and current resources. Is that something we want to be telling ourselves?