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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

Finding Community

Allison McWilliamsOPCD Expert Contributor – Allison McWilliams, Ph.D., Director of Mentoring Resource Center & Alumni Personal and Professional Development

The Importance of Finding “Community”

You’ve gotten the job or the acceptance into graduate school. You’ve made the move to a new city. You’ve met your new colleagues (most of whom are much older than you) and received an orientation to your new role. You’re confident in your abilities to be successful or at least that you’ll be able to figure it out as you go. This is what you’ve been waiting for and working for, right? But for some reason, it doesn’t feel exactly like what you thought it would be. What’s missing? During all of these years of work and preparation to build a career, no one’s told you how, exactly, to build a life.

This is one of the most frequent topics I encounter when I talk to young alums, no matter where they have moved after graduation. How, they wonder, does one make friends? How do I fill my time? Often these concerns are more troubling than those more directly career-related, and they are certainly no less important. Indeed, it is critical that you find a way to build a community where you live, no matter where that is or how long you plan to be there. Your community is your support network, your go-to people in good times and bad. Your community is made up of people who fulfill you, challenge you, and align with your values. In fact, one of the great things about being a “grown up” is that, for the first time, you actually get to pick who these people are! But how do you do that? How do you make friends in the “real world”?

Here are some tips on a few steps you can take, starting right now.

1. Live where you are. Even if you are only moving somewhere for a short time, say a one-year fellowship or graduate school, don’t act like you are just visiting the place. Hang pictures on the walls. Put down roots. First, you never know what will happen. I moved to Athens, Georgia for graduate school after college, and stayed for 15 years. Life and plans change, often unexpectedly. Second, acting like you live in a place will change your attitude towards that place tremendously. Take advantage of what this new town has to offer you, while you are there.

2. Join a group. I will always remember, when I was in my first professional position following graduate school, my mother telling me that I needed to “join a group.” I dismissed this notion at the time, thinking that I’m not a joiner, and that it sounded hard. Well, you know what? It can be hard, especially for those of us who are more introverted. And, it’s important. In your first year in a new place, join anything and everything. Join civic organizations, social organizations, alumni groups, faith-based groups, anything and everything that is an organized gathering of people. You don’t have to stick with it all, and in fact I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that you do. But take the time to check these groups out and figure out what works for you.

3. Say yes to everything. Again, just for the first year or so, do not turn down any invitation that comes your way. Someone invites you to coffee, say yes. Someone asks you to build a habitat house on the weekend, say yes. This is not the time to be picky. Not only will these activities fill your time with meaningful and enjoyable pursuits, they will have the added benefit of allowing you to get to know other people in a casual way. Just like with number 2, above, just because you say yes to a lot of people at first doesn’t mean you have to become best friends with these people and spend every waking moment with them. But you never know whom you might meet along the way.

4. Look for online groups. In the past few years quite a few resources have been developed for the expressed purpose of pulling people together. Why? Because a lot of other young people are in the exact same situation that you are. For example, Meetup.com is a forum for people with shared interests to connect around everything from business interests to outdoor pursuits to volunteering. And, if you don’t see something that interests you, you can create a group of your own. Chances are there is someone else out there who is interested in the same thing.

5. Think about what matters to you. For the first time, perhaps, there is nothing that you necessarily have to do. This is a great opportunity to assess what you value and how you want to spend your free time. You’re not going to be able to do everything, so what are those few things that you want to invest in? Time, in the adult world, is a precious commodity, as you will soon find out. Be thoughtful about how you give yours away.

6. Continue your education. For those of you in graduate school, you will have a slight advantage over those who are working, as graduate school provides a built-in group of like-minded people going through a similar experience together. But if you’re not in school, there are tons of great opportunities to further your education in formal and informal ways. Look for continuing education courses at the local community college. Finally learn that second language, how to knit, or how to write the great American novel. Seek out interesting speakers and cultural events hosted by book stores, libraries, and art centers. Not only will you continue to feed your intellectual side, you will have the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people.

7. Above all, have patience. It’s important to recognize that you have been in this place before, even if it didn’t look exactly the same, and all of the tools that you need are within you. When you came to Wake Forest you also had to figure out how to make friends and how you wanted to spend your time. It’s just that it’s been so long since freshman year that you’ve forgotten those first few awkward months when you had to grab someone you didn’t know and go to the Pit together. This is the same situation, with a slightly different look to it. And, it won’t be the last time, either. So be intentional and be reflective as you go through this important transition. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. And remember that life is long and this is all part of the adventure.


Category: Professional Development

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