spacebabeImagine walking into your church/synagogue, parent’s night at school, the garden club, or a yoga class and you don’t know a soul. Not one face is familiar. No smiles, no nods of recognition or eye contact. How would that feel? But more importantly, what would you do if you were the “New Girl in Town?” I gave a lot of thought to this after an experience I had at my gym.

I was on an elliptical machine chatting with my friend, Lynn, who was on a machine two down from mine. An unfamiliar woman got on the machine between us. Her ear buds hung around her neck, and she could easily have listened to music or watched TV. Instead she introduced herself. In no time at all, she very appropriately got involved in our conversation.

Lynn and I learned that Jen, her husband and her teenage children relocated here two years earlier when her husband got a new job. “It’s hard to make friends,” Jen said, “especially when your children are older.” This was her first move and she’d left a full life back “home”. “I’ve made some nice friends,” she told us, “but I’ve worked very hard to make it happen.”

Worked hard, we wondered aloud? How exactly? Jen said that she constantly had to go out of her comfort zone to be outgoing and friendly. Jen observed that many women had little interest in making new friends, preferring to stay within the comfort of friends they had known for years. Sheepishly, Jen shared that back home she was one of those women. We even joked that at “home” at the gym, she would have said hello to us and then put on her ear buds.

It occurred to me at the time that had Jen not transformed out of necessity, Lynn and I would have missed the opportunity to meet this lovely woman. Curious, I asked if Jen was glad that she had moved. “I still miss my friends back home very much,” she said, “but I’ve become much more confident since I moved here.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about Jen’s transformation, and in contrast, perhaps my own comfort “status quo.” What opportunities do I miss out on as I comfortably go through my days? What would I do differently if I were suddenly transported into my world as a newcomer? Who and what am I missing out on?

Meeting Jen has really left an impression on me. How different am I, really, from those women who preferred to stay within the comfort of old friends? I never would have talked to Jen if she hadn’t joined in on our conversation. Maybe I am not as open and inclusive as I think I am.

That night, I requested Jen’s friendship on line. I added a personal message telling her how nice it was to meet her. The next time I saw her at the gym, I went on the machine next to her. Not surprisingly, we had another great conversation. I asked her what us “old girls” could do to make it easier for the “new girls.” Her answer surprised me. She said that many people are nice when you run into them but very few take the next step and invite you to get together socially. Even fewer introduce you to their friends or spouses, and include you in larger gatherings where you can make new friends. That really stuck with me.

In a perfect world, I would tell you that I invited Jen out for lunch, that our husbands hit it off and that we all became best friends. In reality, Jen has made a rich and full life for herself. She is no longer the new girl in town because she challenged herself, and us, to step out of our comfort zones. Still, she has opened my eyes and has changed the way I now connect with the other “new girls” I meet in the course of my personal and professional life.

Most of us will live through life transitions that might make us feel like The New Girl In Town. Whether our experience is like Jen’s, and we move to a new community, or whether we’re thrust into a new life through divorce, widowhood, empty nesting, a new job or retirement, what I learned from Jen is that it is important to notice and engage with the new opportunities that are all around us. Jen has stretched those muscles and it’s paid off for her. She now has the confidence to know that she has what it takes to embrace transitions and a slew of new friends. What about you? How would you do as the new girl in town?

Here are a few simple changes you can make to challenge yourself, stretch your comfort zone, embrace new opportunities and feel more confident.

  1. Go to an activity that interests you without a friend.
  2. Make an effort to talk to two new people every day.
  3. Consciously sit with different groups in the lunchroom or at community and educational events.
  4. Make an effort to seek out the new girls in town and help connect them to your friends.
  5. Spend an hour or so a week embodying how you would like to behave if you were “the new girl in town.”

Let us know what new experiences you have as you live your life as The New Girl In Town.

Barbara Wasserman will be leading a workshop at SHE DID IT/Boston on March 24, 2014 at Babson College in Needham, MA.  For more information on SHE DID IT/Boston, click here

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