Will Bamberg | Updated
Reaching out is the primary bottleneck of human connection.
You might hit it off with a stranger, but fail to get their contact and you may never see them again. You can get along swimmingly with someone in a group setting, but you won’t start a deeper friendship unless one of you initiates more. Without reaching out, relationships cannot be built.
Reaching out is hard! It takes significant activation energy. Putting yourself out there is vulnerable, and the potential for rejection is scary.
But crossing this bridge is half the battle! Relationships grow out of one-on-one interactions. Learn to reach out, and connection will follow.
Reaching out is not optional
If making friends is important to you, you can’t rely on others to reach out to you. It’s simply a bad strategy, because the deck is stacked against you.
The reality is, most of the people you could be friends with won’t reach out to you first. This isn’t personal—we’re all busy, we’re all preoccupied, we’re all hoping for others to reach out to us. We’re all making do with the limited bandwidth we have. Don’t assume lack of reaching out equals disinterest or guarantees rejection.
In the grand scheme of things, our paths cross with one another only briefly. Connections are precious because of how narrow these windows are: two people, in the same place at the same time. Without reaching out we’re like ships passing in the night, left wondering at what could have been. The potential for connection is limitless, but reaching out is what makes it real.
I reiterate: there are many people you could be friends with, if and only if you reach out to them. I’m not talking about one-sided relationships here. Reciprocity is important, but “first contact” will always be asymmetric. If you’re unwilling to step up and initiate, then for all of the reasons above, you’ll miss out on people.
I don’t mean to be grim, but to illustrate the power of reaching out. Reaching out to someone shines a light in the dark, giving them a beacon of interest to respond to. Reciprocating interest is much easier than offering it—you know where the other person stands, you just have to meet a yes with a yes.
Ask yourself this: how many acquaintances would you accept a spontaneous lunch invite from? Probably more than a few! Don’t underestimate the power of a direct invitation; you never know who will be open to connection. You have this power, you need only to use it.
“You miss all the shots you don’t take” is just as true of friendship as it is in dating. Reaching out is the cost of admission.
Reaching out is a skill
Reaching out is easiest when you ride the waves of your impulses. Sudden urge to invite someone for coffee? Text them. Desire to catch up with a friend? Call them. Compliment rises to your lips? Speak it. Act, before you can second-guess yourself.
You already have these sparks of interest within you. Reaching out is just a matter of learning to act on them. Don’t try to force something that isn’t there, channel what is there. When you sense the potential for connection, open yourself to it. Follow your curiosity.
Like any skill, reaching out becomes easier the more you practice it. As you get better at short-circuiting self-doubt, it takes less energy to send that text or call. Make a connection or two, and you feel empowered to be bolder. Experience the rejection you’ve been so afraid of, and it loses its power.
Beneath Fear of Rejection
Let’s zoom in on the fundamental obstacle to reaching out.
Some fear of rejection is natural. We all want to be liked, and rejection isn’t exactly pleasant. But debilitating fear of rejection is a sign of deeper psychological blockage. It suggests that you may need to face an inescapable truth of life: not everyone will like you. Some people you want to like you, won’t like you.
Until you make peace with this, you’ll suffer. If someone doesn’t like you, it must be your fault. If you’re rejected, there must be something wrong with you. Stop doing this to yourself! You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, just as not everyone is yours. Rejection may sting, but it shouldn’t threaten your sense of self.
Here’s another truth: not only will you be disliked, you’ll never truly know what other people think about you. The opinions of others can never give you certainty or stability. Long-term happiness necessitates that you learn this eventually. Rely on others for self-esteem and you’ll always be wanting.
These are hard pills to swallow, but they’ll set you free. Stop fixating on what people think about you, and you’ll realize you don’t need anyone’s approval to create your own happiness. Quit looking to others to decide how you feel about yourself, and you’ll realize there’s more within you than you knew, you just weren’t paying attention.
Make peace with these truths and fear of rejection will subside. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks to be rejected. It feels bad when someone doesn’t want to be friends with you. It’s scary to put yourself out there without knowing the outcome. But put things in perspective: you can live in your head, always wondering, or you can reach out and find out.
Open Yourself to the World
Reaching out is as much internal as it is external. It’s an act of opening, of loosening your expectations and accepting your lack of control over reality. To see beyond your walls you must lower them. To extend your hand you must relax your guard. The vulnerability of showing yourself is what makes connection possible.
Reaching out is a way of relating to the world. It’s an ethos that says “I will be responsible for my life, I will use my power to seek connection with others.” It means not waiting for love to stumble upon you, but sparking it yourself.
Rejection will inevitably happen on this path. Although it may sting, it’s a price worth paying to find the right people for you. Don’t let the stories your mind spins about how others might perceive you imprison you. Pull your attention inward, and follow your intrinsic curiosity and aliveness.
Reaching out is a gift, thrice over. First, it’s an act of service to the universe, your part in putting a little more love into the world. Second, it’s an offering to other people, a seed that they may choose to water. But most of all to yourself, it’s a claim of agency over your own fate.
Despite the fear, the uncertainty, the unknown, bravely seek the love that you deserve.