Rachael Lynn is an American-born author, community organizer and writer based in Dubai. Her new book At Home Anywhere is part memoir, part loving letter to anyone who finds themselves uprooted and is full of advice on how to lead a more joyful and worthwhile life. When Lynn left Toronto for Dubai, her years of experience in the world and business of self-help did not save her from what felt like a very difficult adjustment. Her advice on how to make friends and build community, shared in the following excerpt, is relevant no matter where you are living.
Creating community you need but can’t find
At the first business event for women I went to in Dubai, I heard the statement, “It’s really hard to make good friends here!” In that moment I realized I had a choice. I could choose to believe it was hard and feel defeated, as if one more thing was stacked against me. Or I could choose not to.
Of course, in all big expat cities, many people leave or move and then you have to go through the feelings of “losing” a friend all over again. I knew that I had to decide I was going to make real friends even though our locations were guaranteed to change.
I wanted to test my theory that there were other women in Dubai who were craving good friends. A few Instagram posts later, and our first Women Connect Abroad gathering at a local teahouse had 14 women. At the second event a month later, I had to turn women away because the café was full.
If you want to build a community for yourself, get clear on which parts of who you are you’d like to share and how you want to help. If you can’t find a pre-existing community focused around what you’re looking for, that means you have an opportunity to create a space where other people finally feel heard. You get to help people by going first.
Being yourself saves time
I want to emphasize the importance of knowing the core of who you are and sharing that with the world. When you’re feeling lonely it’s easy to want to make friends – any friends. Claiming we’re interested in things we’re not means we create a false basis for friendship. The emotional stress and pain we put ourselves through means that eventually, we’ll get tired of pretending.
There’s no reason to spend the emotional time creating an image that isn’t real. Allow yourself to be even 5 percent more free with who you are than before, and the people you find around you will be the best fits you’ve ever had.
Yes, but I’m an introvert
My dear, introverted friends. You are the best at building community because being introverted does not mean you don’t like to connect with people or that you’re bad at it. Your introversion is a reflection of how you re-energize yourself. And if you’re like me, that means you re-energize with some quiet time in between connection with others.
Being in a community doesn’t have to mean that you’re leading the community, if that’s not what you want. Start connecting with people in ways that feel good for you.
That can begin online through social media messages or comments. It can begin by showing up to the same yoga class over and over and finally speaking to the person on the mat next to you. Take a risk to put yourself out there and invite them for coffee or a walk in your new neighborhood.
I have said in posts online or with people in person that I’m looking for friends or that I’d love to spend more time with them. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it’s the truth! Everyone who has come to any gathering I’ve hosted told me privately that they were nervous before they came. We’re all afraid of rejection.
Be someone who helps people feel loved, within the boundaries of what you’re capable of, and your community will come naturally. You are worthy of being seen. Do not let introversion make you think you need to keep your heart from being witnessed in its glory.
Create space for sharing
When you’ve gathered a person or a few people together, the fastest way to help facilitate bonding is to create a shared experience. My favorite? Sharing stories. Storytelling in small groups allows people to connect faster than when you’re going to a networking event or business panel where the first questions are always “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?”
There are many ways to do this. You can create questions that guests randomly pick out of a bowl to answer. There are decks of cards and books and blogs that give great examples of these.
Don’t give up
No matter what you do, we need to keep showing up for ourselves and trusting that we will find our place. That place won’t be everywhere. It doesn’t need to be. Often, we can get so excited about being connected to the “right” people on paper (or social media) that we don’t check that they are the right people for our souls. Whether it’s the family we were born into or the family we chose, our communities are multifaceted. A community begins with two people. Start there.
This is an excerpt from Rachael Lynn’s book, At Home Anywhere: Feel at Home Wherever Life Takes You, available through The Dreamwork Collective.