By Allison McWilliams (’95), Ph.D., Assistant VP, Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
One of the unexpected challenges that all young professionals face is how to create new relationships, as well as maintaining some of the old, when you’re out of college. For the first time in your life, you are thrown into a situation where you aren’t surrounded by people your same age all day long. You may find yourself spending 8, 10, 12 hours a day with people who have polar opposite views and beliefs than your own, who are married with children, or whose idea of an exciting Friday night is watching movies alone on her couch. And, let’s be honest, the way that you spend your own time has changed, now that you’re out in the working world. How are you to find friends, or a potential romantic partner, when you have limited time and limited access to a broader network? And, what do you do with all of those college relationships that once seemed so critically important to you, now that all of those people are scattered to different places?
These are important questions. Work matters. But so do relationships. And how you approach your post-college relationship-building will have as much impact on your career and life decisions as the work that you do. So here are a few tips on how to create and maintain those relationships that will impact your life, right now.
Reflect on your values. The nice thing about being a grown up is that you actually get to choose who you let into your life. But in order to make those choices from an intelligent and intentional place, you have to do some work reflecting on who you are and what’s important to you. What are those five key values or non-negotiables that you choose to live by? Who are the people who support you in living out those values, and who draws away from your ability to do so? Where are you missing people?
Be a joiner. One of the best ways to meet new people is to build your universe of possible options, and that means you’re going to have to join things. Unfortunately, no one is going to swing by your couch and ask you to be friends. Think about those hobbies you had in college. Were you a runner? Look for a running group. Did you do a lot of service? Look for opportunities to volunteer. Were you part of a church community? Find one in your new home. Is you college having an alumni social or networking event? Go. You’re not going to make great friends and build deep relationships at everything you go to, but you are going to increase your chances that it will happen.
Seek diversity. Make sure that as you’re joining things you’re not just surrounding yourself with like-minded people. If all you ever do is go to college alumni events and go to bars with your college friends, then you can expect that your network will only be filled with people you probably already know. Look for spaces and opportunities to broaden your network, to challenge your thinking, and to get outside your comfort zone. Again, joining groups or organizations that reach beyond your current friend group or work environment is a great way to build that network.
Be OK with letting go. Finally, you need to come to terms with the fact that not everyone with whom you had deep, meaningful relationships in college will continue to serve in that role. And, it’s OK. Some people are meant to be in our lives for particular spans of time, and then move on. It’s OK to have your college friends, your first few years out of college friends, your married friends, and so on. To let some of these people go along the way doesn’t diminish or cheapen the experience that you had together. It simply acknowledges that you both are moving on and moving into new spaces in your lives. You only have a limited amount of time to invest in other people, and that time will only diminish as you get older. Be intentional and choose wisely how you spend that time and with whom you choose to spend it.
In the first years after college it is natural and normal to focus most of your attention on your work goals as you start to build your career. But do not disregard the importance of building adult relationships, as well. This is how you build a life.