How to befriend anybody (even if you’re an introvert)

create a spark

I am a journalist and an introvert.

My job requires me to talk to a lot of strangers—including, sometimes, strangers who don’t want to talk to me—and my very nature dictates that I’m often perfectly content to keep to myself.

The challenges and pleasures of being forced into conversation with people I might not have much in common with has taught me a lot about befriending people in everyday life, and meeting new people has become all the more enjoyable for it.

The secret to befriending anybody? It’s not so secret: you just have to ask questions.

We introverts typically don’t require large groups of friends to feel happy and fulfilled. In fact, many of us prefer to have a handful of close friends and wouldn’t be sad if we hardly ever went to parties.

But what many of us do value is having meaningful conversations and making one-on-one connections. You can have those connections with almost anyone you meet, and you don’t have to suffer through small talk to do it.

Good conversation is a skill that can be learned. Before an interview, young journalists often will come up with a list of questions written perfectly neat in fresh notebooks and will cling to those notebooks for dear life, hardly straying from the order of their list. But the more interviewing experience they get, the more comfortable they become having conversations that flow naturally and asking smart follow-up questions.

As I’ve developed those conversational skills, I’ve gotten better at listening and picking up on the things that people will open up about, if asked. I’ve seen people’s eyes and body language become more engaged and less defensive by showing my genuine interest and endearing myself to them. You know what always does that trick? Asking someone to explain what they do: Not just “what do you do?” but “how do you do that?”

A few simple questions to keep the conversation going:

  • What do you like to do?
  • What is that like?
  • How did you learn to do/become interested in that?
  • That sounds challenging. (Not a question, but a good way to get someone to elaborate on the challenges of their work or hobbies – everyone thinks their job is hard.)
  • How did you two meet?
  • I’ve been meaning to check out new [books/restaurants/running routes]. Do you have any suggestions?

Of course, the more you talk to someone, the more specific-to-them questions you can ask!

If you assume the mindset of an interviewer, at the very least, you’ll learn something interesting about whoever you’re talking to, and chances are, they’ll automatically warm up to you. And if you’re talking to an equally thoughtful person who reciprocates the interest, you’ll have an engaging two-way conversation that you both can get something out of—possibly even friendship.

This method is good for anyone, and introverts especially will love this style because it puts the focus on the other person and on having a genuine dialogue. You’ll come off as outgoing and engaging by simply asking questions.

What tips do you have for making friends? What are some of the most surprising connections you’ve made as a result?

 

 

 

What I learned in my first semester of grad school

What I learned in my first semester of grad school

The dinosaur to the far right is me, yes. (Photo by Alan Middlestaedt)

I can’t believe it. I’m done.

Well, a quarter of the way done, anyway. That’s right—I survived my first semester of grad school. You know what they say, time flies, etc. But truly, when I look back over the past few months, I can’t believe how much I’ve done. Just within the first few weeks, I was interviewing Slash, navigating downtown Los Angeles court rooms, and writing more in a short period of time than I had all year. Since late August, I’ve also developed a backbone and video editing skills, not to mention a clearer focus on what it is I want to do when I’m a student no more.

To be honest, I went into this program with some reservations. Maybe more than one should have when going into serious debt for said program. But then, that serious debt was the main reason I had reservations. The other, of course, was just self-doubt.

In any case, I’m so glad I stuck it out. The opportunities I’ve had would’ve been much harder to come by had I gone with a more grassroots approach. Not that any of these things would’ve been impossible had I done that instead (that’s the thing about journalism—you don’t need a degree to do it), but I’ve definitely benefited from the constant kicks in the butt that being enrolled in a rigorous program gives you. I needed someone to give me assignments—especially difficult ones.

So what have I learned?

I’ve learned that self-doubt is absolutely part of the experience. At least, to start. After a while though, you’ve got to shake it or at least fake it. (You know, until you make it.) Grad school is as much about becoming confident in your footing as it is studying the methods of those who do it better. You want to be like them? Act like them.

It’s up to you to make the most of it. Just like anything else in life, graduate school is what you make of it. Yes, you might go into it expecting one thing and end up realizing it’s entirely different from what you pictured. (I was so confused during orientation. Why are they giving us camcorders? Don’t they know I want to write for, like, those magazines made of trees?) But grad school is not the time to be narrow-minded. Embrace the challenges. Go beyond the minimum requirement. You’re wasting your money if you don’t take full advantage of all the resources available to you, no matter what the field. Graduate knowing you got everything out of it that you could.

Friendships form fast. I couldn’t believe how quickly people were forming into groups even during orientation back in August. For an introvert, that can be overwhelming. (Especially if you’re an introvert who’s still getting her bearings in a new city.) But even if you’re not quick to form friendships, they will establish over time. Having every class together—and suffering through seemingly impossible assignments together—dictates that. It’s so funny to think back on how different my cohort seemed in the first week of classes. By the end of the semester, it was a tight-knit unit with weird inside jokes. (As evidenced in the photos above and below.)

what I learned in grad school

$100 to the person who can figure out what we’re trying to spell. (Photo by Alan Middlestaedt)

This is, of course, based on just one person’s experience, and grad school experiences obviously vary greatly depending on what you’re studying.

My perspective is also shaped by the fact that I took “off” a couple of years between undergrad and graduate school to get some experience under my belt. And even though at the time that job—where I worked among a truly special group of people for two years—was not what I wanted to do in the long-term, I’m so glad I took that time to work there, learn a bit about an industry I didn’t know anything about at first, and save my money while I lived rent-free at home. That time of my life helped make this time of my life possible.

That time was also when I really started pouring into my blog, because my job wasn’t something I took home with me at night. (Journalism is so totally the opposite.) And thank God for this blog, because between the writing and the photography, it gave me a creative outlet I so desperately needed. The fact that I haven’t abandoned it since starting grad school is something I’m very proud of. Turns out I’m not terrible at this time management thing.

So I’ve learned this much. I look forward to seeing what else I learn over the next year and-a-half.

Fellow academic scholars, aspiring graduates, and students of life—what valuable lessons have you learned lately?

If you really knew me

wittycassiehere

…You’d know:

It takes a couple drinks to get me dancing. But once I start dancing, I don’t wanna stop.

“Theme from Jurassic Park” by John Williams is my go-to whistling tune. I wish I could stop.

The first time I sold a story, it was to then-chief editor of Baltimore magazine. He offered me $2—I brought him up to $3. I was six years old.

I don’t sing karaoke often, but when I do, it’s a Bon Jovi song. Because once upon a time (not so long ago), I had a major thing for Bon Jovi.

Speaking of Bon Jovi, I once got on a Walmart conveyer belt and belted out “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I was sober. It was a dare.

My picture appeared in the first issue of Seventeen magazine with a boy on it (Teddy Geiger). It was my 15 minutes of fame in high school.

Before I got into school for journalism, I was convinced I’d end up getting an MFA in creative writing. Part of me still wants to.

Indecisiveness is my biggest downfall. The smallest decision stresses me out, and sometimes I wish someone else would make them for me.

I wish I were a more musical person. I played clarinet for years and loved it. I played guitar for a few years, too, and regret putting it down.

Uprooting my life and moving to California has given me a serious travel/adventure bug. Not knowing whether I’ll stay here or move for a job once I graduate is exhilarating.

 

What should I know about you that I might not already? What are your greatest accomplishments, proudest moments, biggest fears, fun secrets?

Stepping out of the comfort zone

broadcast outtakes

Last week, I had a huge undertaking ahead of me. I had what’s called a package due for my broadcast journalism class. The package had to be a two-minute story that tackled a national issue at a local level. I changed my topic to the recent LAX airport shooting at the last minute. I was nervous and stressed. I’d only edited a couple of very rudimentary videos for homework, and I had no interviews lined up. (The airport police spokeswoman just about snorted when I asked for an on-camera interview. Needless to say, they’d been bombarded with media requests and weren’t anxious to help out a student with her homework.)

So I hustled. I ran out to LAX with John to get some b-roll footage and travelers’ reactions to heightened security. One very nice woman I interviewed turned out to be an actress. A man I spoke with made the dubious claim that he intended to become President of the United States. Sometimes cameras attract people like that. Often, they repel people, too.

Broadcast has been one of the biggest sources of my anxiety since starting school. Not only do we have to write the script and conduct the interviews, we have to shoot all the footage and edit the videos, too. That lovely collage of outtakes you see above? That was me trying to come up with a reporter stand-up that would be used in the script I hadn’t even written yet. I did 20-plus takes. I didn’t use any of ’em.

But it all started coming together when I did a little searching for one of the shooting victims, a high school teacher named Brian Ludmer, online. I contacted him, and a day or two later, he responded that he’d be happy to do an interview, and sorry it’d taken him so long to get back to me. (Seriously, the guy was just shot in the leg and undergoing multiple surgeries but apologizing to me for not responding immediately.) Suddenly, the gravity of this story hit me. I wanted to do it justice to honor this kind teacher, the other survivors, and the one man who was killed.

I was nervous going to the hospital. I felt awkward about shoving a camera in the face of someone confined to a hospital bed—someone I’d never even met. But once I had my shot set up, we pretended the camera wasn’t there and just talked. The next day, I went to the public memorial service for TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez, who was killed in the shooting. He had a wife and two kids. He would’ve turned 40 last week. I got teary-eyed when the chorus sang “I Believe I Can Fly.” If journalists are supposed to keep their emotions in check and be stone-faced in emotional moments like that, I don’t want to be a journalist.

After hours of editing and one sleepless night, I’d produced a story I was proud of. It’s not perfect. I’ve identified all its flaws, trust me. But it’s my first real try and success at a broadcast piece that pushed me way out of my comfort zone and showed me I was more capable than I’d originally thought:

Will I enter into a broadcast journalism career once I graduate? I’m not ruling anything out this early on, but let’s just say I’d rather stay on the print/digital side of things. Still, now that I’ve accomplished this, I realize I might very well continue to surprise myself with what I’m capable of. And the more any of us step outside the confines of our comfort zones, the more likely we are to surprise ourselves.

 

Information about the memorial fund for Gerardo Hernandez can be found here.