Being an Adventure Treks instructor for the last seven years has taught me many things. I’ve learned to be more confident, believe in myself, and how to make any situation fun. I’ve also learned that it’s OK to show some vulnerability, that conflict is a healthy thing, and that giving a genuine compliment feels better than receiving one. Adventure Treks has helped me become more of the person I want to be, but there’s one thing I’m really thankful for: how to make friends.
Growing up, “go make friends” was a fairly common phrase I heard at any social gathering where parents and children were present. As a young person, I clung to my parents and did not look forward to mingling. “Go make friends” makes it sound so easy. As if all I had to do was introduce myself to a stranger and we magically became friends. As it turns out, it doesn’t get any easier as an adult. Trying to make friends can be pretty daunting, and it can leave one open to rejection. I am fairly certain that word (rejection) sets off alarm bells for most of us.
So what can we do? How does one make friends, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult? Below are some tips for making friends that I have acquired while working at Adventure Treks.
This one is the simplest, yet may be the hardest skill to execute. Adventure Treks instructor orientation is an intimidating social scene at first. You walk into a group of roughly 60 people and often do not know more than one other person there. For years, I had to put myself out there. I introduced myself to everyone. I said “Hi, I’m Joe” too many times to count. Fast forward: I have now introduced myself to literally hundreds of AT instructors. It actually does feel simple now. Like anything else, it takes practice, but you cannot make a friend until you know his or her name. Adventure Treks has helped me build the confidence to introduce myself to anyone, and now I take pride in making the first move.
Find something in common
Most of us are pre-programmed to make small talk once introductions have been made, and it is a good way to avoid the awkward silence. The next step, I believe, is to begin finding things you have in common. We do this at Adventure Treks on our day hikes and first backpack. We have students find three things they have in common. This is a great way to begin to build a connection while also driving conversation. Take those three things and match them up with two other people. Continue this process until the entire group has one thing in common. That small thing does a lot of work in bringing people together, and I have used that strategy to make friends in my personal life. Our commonalities get us speaking, and the awkward factor drops to acceptable levels. Which brings us to our next tip.
Ask questions about your new acquaintance
Someone once said “everyone’s favorite topic of conversation is themselves.” I won’t take credit for it, but it has been an invaluable lesson in building relationships. While working for Adventure Treks, a huge part of the job (and probably the most important next to maintaining safety) is building relationships. So after I introduce myself to students and find a few things we have in common, I try to learn about the new person in my life. I try to cover all the bases, like favorites of all categories: food, movies, books, video games, sports, classes in school, music, and television shows. Then I ask about their families and siblings: what their parents do, if they have pets, how they spend time together, etc. As we build our relationship, I may ask what they want their future to look like, or who are people who have really impacted their lives, or what their greatest fear is. The key to all of this is listen and remember. If you spend all of your time asking questions but cannot recall any of the answers, you have no credibility as a new friend.
Be open and honest
Making friends is a two-way street, and while our tips thus far have us taking charge of the situation, we have to be prepared to answer questions as well. I have always been surprised by the questions that my students ask me throughout the trip. Many are insightful and thoughtful, and are honestly better than questions most of my adult friends have asked while getting to know me (sorry, everyone). Being at AT has taught me that it is acceptable to be myself all the time. That’s been one of the most liberating lessons Adventure Treks has taught me, and it has translated to my new friendships. When folks ask me questions, I am now able to simply tell the truth. Yes, I am a grown man, and yes, I own a gameboy. Yes, I enjoy comic books. You wouldn’t know it from looking, but one of my favorite artists is Lady Gaga. My students have always shown me their true selves, and as a true friend, I reciprocate.
It takes time and effort… do not give up
Friends are not made instantly. What I would give to have the instant friendship of every student and co-instructor! A few years ago, I moved to a new town to work at a ski resort. I didn’t know anyone in town, and the thought of making new friends felt pretty overwhelming. I tried to think about my new job as one of my AT trips. I made sure to introduce myself to everyone I met, and that helped me feel a little more at ease. It’s a bit like ripping off a Band-Aid—if you just get on with it, it feels better. I found my commonalities (we all liked to ski), I did my best to learn about everyone, and then came the scary part: I was myself around everyone. I’ll admit that I may have scared some prospects off with that last part, but it felt right to be myself. Then I moved into step 5: I asked folks to hang out… All the time. I did not let “I can’t that day” or the “I’d love to, but I have plans” slow me down. I went back to that mountain for my fourth winter, and I truly felt like a part of the community. Our communities on our AT trips do not happen overnight, but by the end they are strong, healthy, and meaningful. AT time is kind of like dog years: One AT summer counts for seven years of regular friendship. So if you’re looking to make a new friend, stick with it, and let it play out, and I bet it will all work out in the end.
Making friends can be daunting, but hopefully these tips will help you out anytime you’re in a new social situation, whether it’s joining a new soccer team, moving to a new school, or coming to Adventure Treks for the first time.