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Finding your corner of St. Louis

I have heard it said that, “St. Louis is a big small town”. If this is the case, I think that can allow for some folksy charm and a slightly slower pace of life but can also come with traditions or culture that can make outsiders feel unwelcome at first. While there are certainly a number of people in this town who are caught up in the “where did you go to high school?”, question and mentality, I want to make the case to those seeking community here that I know there are many interesting and exciting people here waiting to meet you. To do so, I’ll tell you a brief story of when I was an outsider in this town.

At age 24, I caught my first taste of community and intrigue away from the western suburb where I grew up. Through a desire to change jobs, I stumbled upon a number of social, professional and civic groups in the city that caught my eye and I began making trips to various parts of town, many of which I had never seen before, aiming to learn where I might fit in professionally and as I now see, seeking community.

In the first year or more, I was almost always attending functions on my own. Friends and colleagues who I invited to join were busy or not interested. I wish could quantify for you the number of times I walked into rooms where people were gathered, all seemingly in conversation, and I in turn feeling isolated. Despite the initial discomfort, my interest kept outweighing a feeling of not belonging or sticking out like a sore thumb. It didn’t take long for familiar faces to emerge. I realized most of the events and group were volunteer-lead and I decided to donate my time to plan various functions or help out with service projects. This quickly took me beyond networking functions and public events into settings where deeper and more impassioned conversations took shape. I learned the valuable lesson that it is much easier to get to know someone who you have something to either guide your conversation or a project to work on that helps cover up any awkward silences.

The work I put in the first couple of year began pulling me in deeper with some groups and introducing me to others. I was no longer just showing up but also being invited. In many circles around town I became much more of an insider. But the secret is, I had to put in work by showing up rather than it happening to me accidentally. One study shows it takes 50 hours of time before you consider someone a casual friend, 90 before a real friendship emerges and 200 to become close friends. This doesn’t even include the barrier of striking up an initial conversation to get things going.

For anyone new to St. Louis or still wanting to find their way in this town, I have a few suggestions based on my experience to meet the great people who are out there

  1. Fewer networking functions and more projects or facilitated conversations. Rather than just wander into a room hoping to strike up a conversation, attend an event on a particular topic or find a community service project. Either will take the edge off.

  2. Don’t simply ask people to coffee or happy hour. Tell them why you want to meet. "I want to hear your thoughts on [insert topic here] based on your experience.” In today’s world people often are or at least feel busy. Think about why you want to get together with this person and make that clear. I think you will be surprised how generous people are with their time.

  3. Offer to help. There are countless volunteer-lead organizations out there, most of who are looking for help. Raising your hand will take you places you never guessed.

  4. Lean into the discomfort rather than giving up. If no one is inviting you to anything just go. It might not be the most fun the first time but I promise it won’t kill you. Already attended something that was a bust? I’d suggest two things: 1) give the group another shot. Everyone has an off night. 2) Try another group or setting. “Its hard to meet people here”, is too generic of a statement and a cop-out in my opinion. I know this because I am lucky to meet new people regularly and most end up being nice and accepting people. If you’re not finding them where you’re looking, look somewhere else.

This town is lucky to have you here. If you haven’t found your spot yet I bet it is out there. Just keep looking.

Go Forth Boldly

Looking for more? Try Belong by Radha Agrawal

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