Cultivating Your Peoplehood

We all have our people. You know, the friends and/or family members that just…get it. Those people who understand and accept you as exactly who you are. Those people who you can be totally open, and honest, and raw with. The people that will hear you without judgement, and allow you to be your most authentic self. My friend and I have a word for this group of folks that you surround yourself with. More than just “mates” or people that you just happen to know. Not necessarily family either, though not explicitly excluding those individuals. An all encompassing term we coined to describe your tribe/friends/soul mates all in one. We call them your peoplehood.

I’ve had many different groups of friends in my life. School friends, long distance friends, work friends. Some people I have associated with purely due to circumstance, and others that I have grown fond friendships with after meeting in completely unexpected ways. There has certainly been cases of friendships based solely on proximity, that end without animosity when the situation changes. Friends I had at one job, that I lost contact with when I changed jobs, for example. I’ve had friends that I thought I would have forever – like the group of girls I went to highschool with – that I have grown apart from. I suppose you could easily sum it up by saying that I have had different people along for the ride in different times in my life, and many were in my life for only as long as they needed to be. Hey, the Universe works in mysterious ways, what can I say.

Now, it’s no secret that I don’t particularly like people as a whole. I’m an introvert at heart, and largely impatient and easily frustrated by humanity. However in recent times, I have come to realise that I actually have a much wider group of friends than I had ever really considered. This realisation, and indeed, reality, is at odds with my overwhelming misanthropy. But, at almost 28 years old, I have long since learned that it is not about the amount of friends you have (be that a large or small number) but about the quality of those relationships. And reflecting upon my close group of friends – my peoplehood – and the wider circle of friends I associate with, I have to say that I have succeeded in surrounding myself with some truly stellar folks.

I think it is important – nay, essential – to make sure that the people around you are good people. And by that, I mean people with whom you are comfortable, and safe, and happy. People who support you and raise you up, instead of dragging you down. People who you can turn to, and who can be comfortable turning to you. A relationship in any measure is, after all, a joint effort. It is also important to recognise when a relationship is no longer a healthy one. Toxic, unhealthy relationships not only affect you on a base level, but on a spiritual level too. It can sometimes be hard to step away from something, and see it without rose coloured glasses, but being able to do so will benefit you in unimaginable ways.

The message here is essentially that you need to find your people. Spend time with folks who make you happy. But more than that, surround yourself with people who understand you, and who light your soul on fire. Your time and your energy are precious commodities, and wasting them on people who bring you down, or leave you feeling drained will only hurt you in the long run. I’ll say it again for the people in the back; cultivate, and nurture your peoplehood. You’ll thank yourself for it, and you will get back as much as you give, every time.

Forgotten Friends

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately, about the people in my life, and the people who aren’t in it anymore. As a self confessed hater of people, it’s not unusual for me to quietly remove myself from the lives of people I once knew. People with whom I have not had a conversation in a year. People that I no longer share common interests with, or who I can safely say I don’t even know anymore. People with whom I have simply mutually agreed not to talk to anymore. There are a lot of reasons why people come into our lives, and a lot of reasons why they leave.

I was thinking first of my school friends. I don’t recall the last time I really saw or spoke to any of them. Where once we were as close as family, I see the occasional social media post from these girls and realise, I have no idea how they got to where they are, or what they are currently doing with their respective lives. Sure, there have been halfhearted attempts to stay in contact in the years following high school, but those attempts have long since stopped entirely. And there’s certainly no malice in it. It’s not that I’ve had any kind of falling out with them. It’s more that a distance has grown between us, as happens to school friends as you get older. I bear none of these girls any ill will, and would hope that they feel the same way about me.

Then I think about people I used to work with. Friends who, at the time, felt as close to me as any person I had known. But, as happens, jobs change and people change and all of a sudden you realise it’s been months, or years since you last saw those people. And in a way, I’m saddened by that. I have made friends through work that I thought I would have forever. I’ve shared great times with them, and now I think of the people I worked with and I feel separate from them, in a way I didn’t realise would effect me quite so much as it does.

People live their lives in different ways, ways that take them in different directions from friends and family. Sometimes it’s worth holding onto friendships, and sometimes it’s better to just let them fade away into acquaintances. Then, of course, there are those people who it’s better to just walk away from altogether. More than once, I’ve ended a relationship (in this case, both romantic and non romantic relationships) bluntly and with no possible hope for reconciliation. When something is done, it’s done. And I’m all about letting go of the things that hold you back or drag you down.

I think a lot of us buy into the idea that ‘friends for life’ are the only kind of friends worth having. And certainly, when we meet and become close with someone, it’s difficult to imagine that there may be a time when that closeness is gone. No one likes to consider the possibility that a relationship might end, especially one that both parties get a lot out of. I know myself that I have people in my life that I can’t imaging being without. But you can’t predict the future (or at least, I can’t), and nothing is set in stone. And anyone can be a friend, regardless of whether you know them your entire life, or just for a week. We need to let go of the idea that we have to maintain failing relationships. Of course I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, but there comes a point when trying is futile. Letting go of useless or toxic people, might hurt initially but it’s going to be better in the long run.

As I got older, I came to realise that it’s not about the number of friends you have, or even necessarily about the amount of time you spend with them. I have two best friends, both of whom I mostly see at work. I have a very close friend that I talk to at least weekly, and a handful of friends I see semi regularly, or whenever we’re able. I have very few close friends, but those I have I am extraordinarily fond of. And even if something happens and my friendships with these people disintegrates over time, at least I can say that the people I have in my life at any given time, are the people who are meant to be there.

How Do You Make Friends (and Only Alienate People if They Suck)?

I meet people every day. You can’t work in customer service and not meet people. But they’re not the kind of meetings I’m particularly interested in. Unless I get regular customers, who then turn into friends, customer meetings hold no real appeal for me. It’s just business. But it poses the question; how do you meet people? More importantly, how do you meet people when you’re a perpetually angry, misanthropic introvert who is awkward in social situations and feels acutely uncomfortable meeting new people? There’s a Friday afternoon riddle for you.

As you may have gathered if you read my blog even semi regularly, I pretty much think people are the worst. But the flip side of that, is that my life consists almost entirely of work and home, with no real social interaction to break the monotony. And so, as loath as I am to admit it, I think the time has come to break free from my introvert shell, and make an effort to introduce new people into my life. The problem I face however, is that not only do I have very little time to hang out with theoretical people, I don’t even know how to meet them in the first place.

The shop I work at is smack bang between a supermarket and a big chain store. So the people I see every day are either too busy or too far away to try and strike up (probably incredibly awkward) conversation with. And in addition to that, I work on my own, so I don’t even have any work mates to develop a friendship with. I don’t have the time to fit anything more into my schedule, so signing up for a random class is out of the question. And my circle of friends in the city isn’t so large that I’m being invited to parties every other weekend.

I know there are dating sites, but is there such a thing as a friendship site? You know, like a dating site only without the sexual innuendo and expectation of any kind of romance. I’m sure there is, and I just haven’t really considered the notion before, but if there isn’t, there should be.

Look, ideally I would like to be browsing in a bookshop and have a rad stranger approach, tell me they love the book I’m holding, and end up having a long and interesting conversation that turns into a spur of the moment chai date and a friendship begun on the foundations of books and geekery. But let’s face it, my life isn’t a movie, and in reality I would be too wary of a complete stranger to do anything more than politely smile and turn away. But hey, it’s a very pretty fantasy.

Seriously though, I put this to you, because I am in grave danger of only knowing the same three people for my entire life; how the hell do you meet people? Inquiring minds want to know…or at least, I do. Come on, guys. Help.

On Customer Service, and Building a Rapport

I usually don’t bother trying to make friends, and as a general rule, I have no particular interest in making a super nice first impression. But there are, as with everything, exceptions to that rule. And my major exception is customer service people. It doesn’t matter how grumpy I am, how bad a day I am having, or how much I really want to punch people – as a whole – in the face. I will always make more of an effort to be friendly with my fellow sales assistants.

There is a reason for this, of course. I have worked in customer service for a very long time, and so I completely understand what it’s like to be having a bad day behind the counter and having to maintain a pleasant facade when all you want to do is scream. We customer service people can be incredibly good actors, at times. I must have given at least one or two Oscar worthy performances in my eight or nine odd years of customer service. And so I make it a personal goal to be polite and friendly to anyone that I require a service from. Now admittedly, I am a little less smiley to the ones that have no interest in being good at their jobs on purpose, but other than that, bam.

After working in various shopping plazas over the last five years in particular, I have discovered that being friendly with the surrounding shop workers can be beneficial. First of all, building a rapport with people who work around you is a good way to help pass the time. Once you establish a relationship with people around you, you will find that the conversations begin to come easily. Shopping plaza friendships are unique, in that these are people you see every day, and stop to chat to, without necessarily spending any time together outside your working hours. But they are part of an important working dynamic that can be both fun and helpful, and one that usually involves a kind of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ relationship that can work for both parties.

But hoping to establish a give and take relationship with the people you work around is not the only, or the most important reason to be friendly to them. It just generally makes the working environment a more pleasant one. The people you see on a regular basis will get to know you, and you will get to know them, at the very least enough to ask how each others’ day is going. And yet another benefit to building healthy working relationships is that you will generally discover that you can rely on them. I distinctly remember the night a creepy guy was hanging around the shop I was working in a few months back, and the people around me that stuck around to make sure I was alright and safe. There’s a strange kind of camaraderie with shop assistants, especially those who all work in the same area. In my experience at least, even if you don’t often talk to them, they will have your back and watch out for your shop, and I will always do the same.

I am currently managing a new shop, and a couple of shops down from me there is a kiosk that I get my daily chai from. I think it is especially important to be friendly with the people that are handling your food/drink. Not least because they might spit in your cup if you’re an asshat! Ok, so I don’t know if that actually happens, but it’s a legitimate fear of mine, that I might unknowingly drink the bodily fluids of my barista while they laugh about it with their co workers. In the last few weeks, I have become quite friendly with two of the baristas that regularly run the kiosk in question, a delightful young woman named Emma, and a guy whose name I haven’t actually learned yet (and feel too awkward to just ask for after chatting with him for the last few weeks). With both people, I have developed the kind of relationship where we are all comfortable enough to make a joke, or complain about how dead the shop is, or drop the F bomb without fear of offending. It genuinely makes approaching the shop and ordering a beverage less stressful and awkward than it would be if I hadn’t established a kind of rapport with them.

So in short – and I can’t believe these words are about to spill from my fingertips –  sometimes being surrounded by people is not the worst thing in the world. Ugh…just typing it feels dirty.

One Hour Friend

As you may have read, a couple of weeks ago my laptop decided it no longer wanted to cooperate with me, and stopped working. I was kind of distraught, considering I was certain I had just lost the book I’ve been working on for the last year, as well as a whole bunch of other important…stuff. So a couple of days ago, I Googled laptop repair and went with the one that had the best reviews (Geeks2U by the way, and I cannot recommend them enough). Yesterday, following a lovely phone conversation with one of the most helpful telephone people I have ever spoken to, they sent out a technician to my house to fix my problem.

The technician in question shares a name with my best friend, so to be honest I think I had a positive image in my mind before I’d even laid eyes on him. It has something to do with name association; if someone I am about to meet shares a name with someone I like, chances are my brain is going to associate that person with good things. This also works the same way for someone I don’t like. Many a potential character has had a name change on the basis of it reminding me of someone that I am not especially fond of! Anyway, that’s not the point. He came to the house, had a look at my laptop, worked some magic and I almost proposed to him when I saw that he had managed to fix it. In fact I’m pretty sure I may actually have professed my love for him a little bit, such was my excitement.

He was at the house for maybe an hour and we chatted whilst he fixed my poor broken down Atticus and salvaged my life’s work (or at least the last year of it!). The thing was, despite my penchant for, y’know, hating everyone and being somewhat anxious in social situations involving people I have never met, I was perfectly comfortable talking to him. I mean, I talked way  too much, which actually is a reaction to the nervousness I feel around strangers, but he seemed to take it in his stride. It was one of those rare experiences that made me realise that perhaps not all people are that bad. But I swear, if you tell anyone I said that, I’ll deny it and claim that this post was written by a robot or something.

I have a difficult time being around people without wanting to throw either them, or myself off a bridge. And I have a tendency to rub people the wrong way, which is why I find it such a struggle to make new friends. A combination of making a bad first impression, and not liking many people enough to want to spend significant amounts of time with them. But I think if I were to meet more people like the Laptop Rescuer Who Saved My Life(tm), perhaps I would have a better chance of making friends. Plus, not only did he seem like a genuinely decent human being, he was great at the customer service part of his job. Which, if you read my last post, is a pleasant change from the customer service people I have been dealing with lately.

So here’s to you, my one hour friend. You saved my laptop, therefore allowing me to write/create and thus securing my sanity…for a while at least, and all the while provided excellent conversation. You sir, are a rad dude, and I thank you.

First Impressions, and the Doughnut Theory

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I’ve never been good at making friends. I have a tendency to make a bad first impression, you see. I’m too loud, or too forward, or too inappropriate, or too…weird. Sometimes a messy combination of them all. I get anxious around strangers, so I counter it by convincing my brain that I am overly confident and not in the least bit uncomfortable. Hence, making friends has never been my strong suit.

Today I met a woman who works with my friends at a bookshop. I went in to help her with some car key related questions and ended up throwing myself wholeheartedly into ‘hey, I just met you, I’m a little crazy, please don’t judge me, just call me Amy!’ (if you didn’t read that to the tune of Call Me Maybe, go away and think about what you’ve done). She didn’t seem to mind too much, just kinda rolled with it. The people who take my weird in their stride are my favourite kind of people. Though the doughnut probably helped.

See, I have this theory. Doughnuts are a wonderful ice breaker. Because…well, everyone likes doughnuts. And if you don’t, I probably don’t want to be your friend anyway. It’s a good and delicious way to sort out the people you want to be nice to from the people you don’t. And in addition to that, it’s a way to be nice without actually having to do it yourself. Buy a friend (or new friend) a doughnut, and the deliciousness will trick their brains into thinking that you’re nice, with minimal effort on your part. For me, a professional awkward person, being nice or friendly is something I struggle with. As I have explained before, I’m more comfortable spending money than showing any modicum of affection. Yes, I know, I’m broken. That’s not the point. The point is that doughnuts are the solution, to any and every problem (except probably obesity and diabetes and doughnuts allergies and…whatever).

So, I went away, returned with doughnuts for all, and effortlessly thrust myself into the life of a complete stranger without her wanting to run away, or hit me with a broom. Doughnuts will do that. So even if I was too loud, forward, inappropriate or weird (and I’m fairly certain I was all four), I was able to get away with it, without too much judgement. I can’t make a good impression, but I can buy you a doughnut, and that’s kind of the same thing.

Giving Advice to Everyone But Me

I’ve been giving a lot of advice lately. A few people in my life have had dilemmas, and have come to me to talk it out and to make me a sounding board for the things going on in their lives and their heads. I don’t mind, I think it’s nice that these people can talk to me, and that I am able to help them in even the smallest measure. Just call me Amy the Sage. All I need now is a beard that I can stroke thoughtfully and I’ll be ready to set myself up in a counsel booth!

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I can be notoriously vague and forgetful, and sometimes the silly things that come out of my mouth surprise even me with how daft they are. But there’s a clever little brain in my head, and when people need it, evidently I can spill out good counsel like a fountain. Without trying to blow my own horn here, I think I usually give pretty good advice. So long as that advice is given to someone else. See, as good as I am at helping other people with seeing the bigger picture, I can never seem to do that for myself. Even when I know exactly what the answer is, and even if I know I would give my own advice to someone else if they were dealing with a particular problem that I’m struggling with, I ignore that little voice in my head that tells me what I should do.

Isn’t it funny how we can never seem to separate ourselves from our problems until someone points out what we already know. I mean, maybe that’s just me, and everyone else in the world is better at problem solving than I am. Personally, I always go to my best friend for advice. I talk to him about things that are concerning me, or making me angry, or stressing me the hell out. And every single time, he tells me what I already know and was just ignoring. He usually gives me extra advice too, pointing out the things I hadn’t thought of, or helping me see things from another angle. And then it’s like, oh, because that advice has come from someone I trust, now I can take it. I don’t know, I’m maybe definitely pretty stubborn and maybe I don’t trust myself enough to believe I’m telling myself the right thing.

Regardless, I think it’s important to have someone – or multiple someones –  in your life that you can approach with problems and know that you will receive sound advice. Even if that advice is what you already knew deep down. And if I can play that role for any of my friends, then I think I’m doing ok.