On Friday night, I attended an overnight women’s retreat. It was a time to socialize, study, eat, drink and relax. When I first received the invitation to the event, I dismissed it as I didn’t really want to give up a weekend evening away from my family. A few days later, one of my best friends called. She, too, had received the flyer and asked if I would like to go with her to the retreat. It turns out that we really haven’t had 1:1 time together in… well… years. I agreed and it was such a treat!
My friend and I arrived at the Sheraton at roughly the same time. We dumped our luggage off in our room and headed downstairs for the first event. As we entered the room, I was struck by the variety of the participants. Women of varying ages, some who work out of the home, some who work in the home, some who home school their children, others who volunteer full time, many people who I knew, many who I did not know… the list of descriptors goes on.
As we took our seats in anticipation of the kick off, another friend of mine walked in. She came right over to us and said, “Wow. Everyone came with someone. I just signed up this week and didn’t really plan this very well.” She was uncomfortable in a room full of women with whom she was acquainted and we could sense her anxiety as she approached us. Of course, we urged her to join us and she said that she would.
Fast forward to the end of the opening session. A woman approached me who I have never met. She came right up and said, “Are you Alana? I have heard your name so frequently and regret that we have never met in person.” She introduced herself, shook my hand and we proceeded to have a delightful conversation. I was amazed to learn that we have so much in common, that we have attended many of the same functions, that we know many of the same people, and that she has lived in Kansas City for five years and we have never gotten to know one another.
On the one hand, it was my responsibility to comfort and invite in a person who felt uncomfortable. From an optical perspective, she felt like an outsider with the perception that everyone had someone. That nobody, but her, was alone.
On the other hand, I had the great fortune to have been the recipient of a warm greeting and an invitation to get to know a stranger who is now no longer a stranger. In fewer than 24 hours, I made a new contact – really, a new friend, and feel lucky for having had the opportunity.
Plus, there is a big added bonus of cultivating an existing relationship with one of my closest friends – a friend since childhood – by simply taking time to accept her invitation, to re-engage, to catch up on one another’s lives and to show her that I thought that devoting a precious weekend night to her was worth that effort.
I urge you to borrow from these experiences, from these invitations. To take them as lessons learned for yourself. When someone seems to feel out of place or appears lost – welcome him/her in, provide necessary direction. If you see someone who you don’t know in a setting that welcomes introductions, make the effort to reach out to get to know him/her with a simple greeting. And, don’t forget to maintain and grow the existing relationships that are surely your most valuable.