By Allison McWilliams (’95), Assistant Vice President for Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
We all need personal and professional networks, a community of engaged, supportive friends, colleagues, advisors, and wise counselors who can provide support, guidance, feedback, access to connections and opportunities, and sometimes a push in the right direction. These individuals come in the form of strong and weak ties: strong ties are our close friends and family, people whom we know well, while weak ties are more like second and third degree connections or acquaintances. Strong ties are people who love you and support you no matter what, but sometimes because of that closeness these people have a hard time giving you objective feedback. Weak ties, on the other hand, provide diversity and reach to your network which gives you access to more opportunities than your strong ties alone can provide.
Building a personal network is all about building personal relationships. Unfortunately, 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 we encounter when we 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. 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.
- 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. 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.
- Join a group. This can be hard, especially for those of us who are more introverted. But it’s also 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. But take the time to check these groups out and figure out what works for you.
- 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 use it and share it.
- Continue your education. If you’re not in graduate 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, learn how to knit, play a new musical instrument, or do some creative writing. Seek out interesting speakers and cultural events hosted by book stores, libraries, and art centers. Not only will you continue to feed your intellectual well-being, you will have the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people.
- 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.