Thursday, May 26, 2011

Making Meaningful Connections

As Distance Learners, it is not uncommon to feel that you are at the mercy of your computer and at times, you may find yourself neglecting the social connections that are necessary to keep you feeling renewed and recharged. By viewing your social life as a “Social Potpourri” with a variety of social contacts that you can access, you will feel less isolated and more energized to further your academic and professional pursuits. Furthermore, diversifying your social contacts will renew your perspective in a variety of ways. It is a known fact that interactions with several different types of people can strengthen your immune system and enhance your success goals. Below are some tips for maintaining a diverse social life and keeping yourself energized to reach your academic and professional pursuits:

Don’t berate yourself for not being as outgoing and gregarious as other people you know. Sometimes, it’s OK to sit on the sidelines and observe what is going on at social gatherings, sharing pleasantries and smiling. There are all types of people out there and you will attract friendly people through your friendly nature; this does not necessarily mean that you have to be the life of the party.

Recognize value in the smaller interactions. Even people who are “consequential strangers” can bring new insights into your life. Maybe a conversation you had with a neighbor about travelling to a foreign country inspired you to think about future travel plans that will bring you a new and area in which to explore. Believe it or not, conversations with “consequential strangers” can propel us to reach beyond our current selves. You may learn about new social opportunities going on, professional networking opportunities and/or a new hobby that you want to try. From there, you can get involved in a future group such as knitting or community theatre.

Extract positive qualities from your connections to bolster the variety of the types of people you need in your life. For example, if you have met a friend or neighbor who is several years older than you, he/she might have some words of wisdom or advice when it comes to buying a home. If you meet someone with an expertise in helping others, he/she may be inclined to refer you to the right places if you are seeking volunteer opportunities.

Value differences. Be open to meeting people of various backgrounds and life experiences. We tend to learn more from these types of people than those who are similar to us. If you tend to be more introverted, meeting an extrovert who engages in a lot of social activities may in turn motivate you to open up more socially and engage in more frequent social opportunities that will in turn increase your social repertoire.

Look to achieve a common ground. As important as it is to meet people with diverging interests, it is equally important to interact with those with whom you share a common footing. If you both have an affinity for understanding the ebbs and flows of relationships or an activity like tennis that you are passionate about, you will find a deeper level on which to connect.

Access the Internet for social contacts. There are a number of social networking sites such as Linked In or that provide many opportunities to communicate based on common interests or a new area that you would like to explore. For example, perhaps you would like to change careers and investigate career options in a new field. Seeking people out on professional networking sites gives you a resource for which to investigate professional opportunities and profiles. This will give you more insight into the profession that you are seeking to change and what is required. Additionally, joining social groups in an area that you would like to learn more about will keep you learning and growing as you tap into new areas that you haven't explored before.

Make it a goal to diversify your social connections . Remind yourself everyday of the kinds of connections that you would like to make and seek them out . Sometimes, just making it your intention to meet certain kinds of people can set the course for your day or week. For example, if you would like to meet more outgoing types of people or those who share a common interest, make it a goal every day to seek out meetup groups or talk with friends and neighbors about possible venues. Maybe you like to go on walks or hikes and would value having some company to join you. Start a walking club in your neighborhood and check websites that already have walking clubs established.

Remember, making the effort is the first step. Students have so much on their plate when it comes to school, jobs and other responsibilities that it can be difficult to find the time to make social connections. However, these connections are a necessary way to nurture and recharge your spirit so that the stressful times become less so, with the comfort in knowing that you have a variety of supports out there to encourage you and keep you moving forward. Dedicating as little as an hour per week toward fostering new social connections will further your social goals without taking too much time away from other weekly responsibilities.

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