Today, at the age of 25, I enjoy the social life I think everyone’s meant to have. If I want to check out a new restaurant or see that movie everyone’s talking about, my friends are just a text away. There’s always someone who’s up for something.
Flashback five years, though, and it was a different story. My weekends were spent alone trying to figure out my place in life and why I felt so misunderstood. I stumbled a lot along the way, but I learned some valuable lessons about making and keeping friends.
Maybe I can save you the time and trouble I went through by sharing the biggest discoveries I made on my own journey.
1. Small Talk Has Big Benefits
I looked down on the idea of small talk, thinking it was for people who had nothing interesting to say, when the opposite is true. Small talk is the quickest, most efficient way to gain insight into someone’s personality and find shared interests.
Starting a conversation with someone doesn’t have to be complicated. You can take your cues from your surroundings to come up with questions. For example, when you end up next to people you don’t know that well in school or at work, get to know them by asking simple questions, like what they are up to and what they do on their free time. Like anything else it gets easier and more natural with practice, and the bonus is that the more you do it, the more people you’ll meet.
2. Share Time Pursuing Shared Interests
When you’re a kid you can make friends by just “hanging out”, but when you become an adult that’s no longer a good option. Cultivating an interest will get you involved in activities where you’ll meet others with whom you already have something in common. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship, and many of my close friends are like minded people I’ve met through business networks.
Whatever activity you choose should be something you’re genuinely interested in. You’ll either get bored and quit or your relationships won’t go anywhere because they have no solid ground. As you get to know people through your interest, you’ll eventually find opportunities to meet for other activities as well.
3. Make Friends with the People You Want To Be Like
We all have a tendency to subconsciously seek approval by mirroring the appearance and behavior of those we spend time with. That’s why the old saying stays true: You will become the average of our five best friends.
Seek out others who have qualities that you want to develop in yourself. If you want to improve your social skills, make friends with outgoing people. If your career is important, develop relationships with those who are successful. The best friends are ones who challenge you to improve and become your best self.
4. Making Friends is a Long-Term Investment
Once you turn 30 you’ll find it harder to develop new friendships. It’s part of the natural cycle of life as we marry and start families that take most of our attention. At that age we also have more fully developed values, making us more selective about those with whom we spend our time.
Being in my mid-20s, one of my goals is to make as many friends as I can. As time goes on it becomes easier to maintain close friendships than to make new ones, so I look at it as an investment in my future social circle.
5. Never Try to Prove Yourself
Does this sound counterintuitive? You may be asking yourself how you’re going to make friends without showing how interesting you are. The truth is that your accomplishments aren’t the reason why people will like you.
Think about someone you know who’s always talking about their great vacation or expensive new car. Do you enjoy spending time around them? That behavior tends to make people feel inferior, which then causes them to become resentful. Instead of making yourself look important, make others feel important. Take a genuine interest in them and what they do. That’s what will make others like you.
Making friends doesn’t have to happen by accident. What strategy have you found useful for making friends?