Retooling My Friend-Making Strategies

4 Dec

The other night, an acquaintance asked if I had experienced any lightning bolts of insight or earth-shifting moments since I began my year of self-improvement.  Had I become, in other words, a completely fulfilled, fully enlightened, whole new me?

I said no.  But that’s not a bad thing.  For most of us, change doesn’t happen like in the movies.  True change is slow, and hard, and anxiety provoking.  It takes time and energy.  But every day there are moments of mini-enlightenment – more like hot flashes than lightning bolts.  The earth hasn’t shifted, but I often feel it beneath my feet in a way I never used to.

So I slog on, attending weekly singing lessons, and googling – but not making – “canning recipes.”  And trying – really trying – to find new friends.

Because the gym thing has not flowered into new friendships, and because my new friend, Susan, has only so much free time for me, I decided awhile back to revisit Gretchen Rubin’s Friend-Making Strategies, and retool my approach.

I’ve been rigorously trying to Show Up, Set a Target, Make an Effort to Smile, and Say Nice Things.  All good and worthy actions that have thus far yielded bupkes.  I did have my one shining moment of success with the Friends of Friends Strategy (i.e. Susan), but my old friends haven’t sent any other new friends-of-friends my way.  That left Join a Group or Start a Group.  I am simply not the type of person who would start a group.  Ever.

So I opened my heart and my mind to joining a(nother) group.  This is not easy for me.  I love the groups I belong to, and my soul is nourished by being part of each of them.  But when someone asks me to volunteer for something – even something I really believe in – I find the word “No” coming out of my mouth even before I’ve consciously thought it.   I’m just not a joiner. I don’t have time; I’m not outgoing; whatever skills are necessary, I probably don’t have them.  My reasons for no, if anyone every pushed me on it, are all valid.  But they are all also excuses.

So when my friend Annette asked me if I would be interested in becoming more involved in Play Group Theater, I managed not to say no.  PGT, a wonderful non-profit children’s theater program in White Plains, has been a central part of my daughter’s life for several years.  One of the reasons I love PGT, beyond the warm, safe, and nurturing environment they provide for their students, is their perennially optimistic, whole-hearted commitment to being a true community, and to pulling parents into that community.  Parents at PGT are expected to volunteer to help with their child’s show – manning the box office, selling snacks at intermission, working as ushers in the theater.  That may sound like a burden, but the way PGT approaches it, it doesn’t feel like one.  Plus there’s a lot of hugging.  And everyone smiles.  All the time.

Annette was asking me for a bigger commitment than my couple-of-times-a-year box office stint.  She wanted me to join a newly formed “Marketing Outreach Committee.”   We marketing-outreach parents, she explained, would be working to spread PGT’s name and mission.  I could get behind that.

At our first meeting, the head of the committee, Ellen, outlined all of the different tasks that needed to be assigned.  She described what each involved, and what she saw as the necessary talents or skills needed for each.  After she had described all of them, she went back through the list, asking for interested volunteers.

“Newsletter,” she said.  “Who wants to take on creating a PGT newsletter?”

Silence in the room.

“I had someone in mind for this…” Annette said.

Continued silence.

Gradually, it occurred to me that the person Annette had in mind was me.

As I said, I’m not a joiner, so jumping in with an enthusiastic “I’ll do it!” doesn’t come naturally.  But a newsletter seemed like a reasonable fit.  I am, after all, a writer, and I do even have some newspaper experience in my distant and foggy past.  So I managed, to choke out, “I could take that on.”

A month later, as I was sitting alone at my desk, writing up the interview I’d conducted – over the phone – with one of PGT’s directors, I had one of those hot-flash moments of insight.  Yes, I can be in charge of a newsletter.  But putting together a newsletter, when one is a work-from-home writer, is just more of the same: me, the computer, the gently snoring dog and cat, and near total silence.  Not a great way to meet people and make new friends.

Sigh.

“Do not despair,” I told myself.  “Buck up.  Join something else.”

Almost immediately an opportunity presented itself.

I have been a member of the Hazon CSA of White Plains for several years.  This CSA was started by congregants from the five White Plains synagogues, but is open, basically, to anyone.  Vegetables grown on a farm in New York are harvested and a share of the harvest is brought each week during the growing season to Temple Israel Center.  Each year, I pay for a share, and promise to give a whopping 4 hours of volunteer time to the CSA over the course of the season.

I was bagging greens one week, to fulfill my volunteering hours, when I struck up a conversation with one of the CSA’s Core Members, Janet.  Janet is one of those cheerful, chatty people I aspire to be.  She makes everyone feel noticed and appreciated.  And she is easy to talk to.

Core Members form the backbone of the CSA.  They communicate with the farmers, supervise the vegetable deliveries, keep everyone informed about the produce, manage the volunteering system, and make all the important decisions.  They make a pretty significant time commitment to the CSA, but they are the cool kids.

I asked Janet a lot of questions about her Core Membership experience.  Somewhere along in our conversation, Janet said, “We’re always looking for new Core Members.  Are you interested?”

I surprised myself by responding, “yes.”

A few weeks later, I got an email.  There was a Core Member meeting that evening; could I come?  Visions of a potluck supper made with local veggies danced in my head.  I imagined sitting around with the other cool kid Core Members, snacking on crispy kale and roasted beets, and planning for next year.  Determining the future of the CSA.  My CSA.

But I couldn’t go that night – I had a writer’s group meeting.

“I’m still interested in being a Core Member,” I emailed back.  “Please keep me on the list.”

A week later, I got a call.

“Listen,” said Daryl, another CSA Core Member.  “There’s something we really need help with, and your name came up.  We think you’d be perfect.  We need someone to take over the CSA newsletter.”

Sigh.

Maybe I should try the Mahjong group.  They can’t possibly have a newsletter, can they?

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6 Responses to “Retooling My Friend-Making Strategies”

  1. Laura December 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    ….or perhaps the universe is telling you something…..you’re a great writer and your skills are needed!!!!

  2. Louis Greenzweig December 4, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Cathleen,

    Good newsletters are not done alone. You should be the editor. In that capacity you could write an editorial and have a cadre of reporters. At your meetings solicit people who will be your reporters and who also can take photos and/or get a photographer to cover events. Develop interesting columns that someone else would be willing to write and email to you and you do the editing. You set up the Newsletter layout, etc.
    I am the editor of the Staten Island retiree chapter of the CSA (Council Of Supervisors and Administrators) Newsletter. We have six or seven reporters that email me articles sometimes with photos two or three times a year. I do the editing, copy fitting, photo adjustments and when I have a draft copy ready, I email it (PDF) to two proofreaders in the chapter. Then it is off to the printer and then a committee mails it out. (about 200 copies). We still have members that do not own computers or I would suggest to send everyone a PDF.
    Do not despair…..Not everyone can make everyone smile that they come across everyday, I know I try…

    • Andrea December 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

      Being a Core Member of the White Plains CSA was one of the most rewarding activities I’ve done — and I made several friends, too! I commend it to you, and you to it.

    • Cathleen Barnhart December 4, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      As always, Louie, your observations are inspirational and so helpful.

  3. Jennifer Lang December 5, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    I loved it when you told it to me over the phone and again now in writing! Thanks for sharing.

  4. cobblercake22 December 24, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Good blog. Thanks for posting the link to the Friend Making Strategies book and sharing your experience! Theater is my go-to for getting to involved too 🙂 Good luck!

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