Whirling in new directions

I emailed a distant friend last month asking for a favor. We hadn't been in touch for some time and I felt a bit guilty sending a request wrapped in a hello. The reply came back a few hours later.

“I’d do anything to help you. Yes, of course.”

I couldn't stop thinking about it for the next few days. I didn't even reply right away as I tried to put those words into context: I'd do anything to help you.

We met through a web startup and have since shared a few calls and met for drinks and conversation. I wouldn't hesitate to call them a friend.

But there are many different types of friend. There's grab a drink friends and email friends and ask for help in the middle of the night friends. Social networks have made a certain type of friendship easier than ever, but also shifted the meaning of the word.

Though every friendship matters, this short email reply made me realize that there was an altogether different sort of friendship in my grasp.

This moment arrived as I was thinking about the year ahead. I don't focus much on resolutions, but I usually have things I'd like to do (or do differently). I might set a goal to read a certain number of books or learn something new.

But now, all I could think about was friendships. What matters more than deep, meaningful friendships? If I could fast forward to the end of the year and find myself with a single new friend of that sort—an ask anything, share life, challenge my assumptions, trusted, and treasured friend—I would consider that an amazing year. In fact, I can't think of a goal or resolution I would place above it. Those friendships change the course of your life.

They also take a lot of work. There's a time when they seem to just happen naturally. Being at work or in school certainly helps, placing you in close proximity to potential friends and providing common ground to build on. But the more we change jobs and cities (and work remotely), the harder it is to make those connections. And so many trends, from the designs of our neighborhoods to services that bring everything to us right where we are, make it less likely that we regularly encounter new people.

Uncommon was actually created out of a desire to do something about that. Every online network begins with an edict—Add your friends!—so we replicate our existing friendships in each new destination. The heart of Uncommon, though, is introducing you to new friends, through prompts, favorite things, Table for Six conversations, and actual introductions. There aren't filters or followers; everything is shared with everyone.

These new friendships have been a great joy of the past three years. I realize now, though, that any friendship of one sort has within it the potential of friendship of another sort. It's not that it must; a wide range of friendships is an unalloyed good. But what an incredibly special thing it is when it happens.

So, I decided to stop thinking of close friendships as something magical and random (and out of my control) and instead, something to be pursued. I thought of the people I would love to be more deeply connected to and how that might come to be.

What it takes certainly isn't a secret. Lending a hand and asking for help; inviting often and saying yes when asked; being there and fully present; reading the book they recommend and commiserating over professional or relational unpleasantness; celebrating the smallest triumph and providing perspective on any setback; laughing at every opportunity.

It also takes risk. Not every friendship is meant to be and the moment when you realize that is never fun.

Now and then, though, something new and profoundly meaningful takes root. Those are seeds worth planting and nurturing every single day.

Take a chance this week on a casual friend becoming a close friend. Send an invite, write a note, lend a hand, stop by unannounced, or send the perfect, heartfelt emoji communiqué. Plant a seed.


The last dispatch asked, What memorable invitations have you sent or received? Just a few days later, I was lucky to receive one such invitation when Drew invited me to have a drink during a brief stop in Austin. He has been a huge part of our community for over three years and I am so grateful that we finally had the chance to meet. Thanks, Drew!

Here are some of the wonderful stories you shared...

Katie wrote:

A co-worker (and friend) invited me to lunch ... with his wife. Not with him and his wife, just me and his wife. Complete strangers. We joked that he was setting us up on a blind date. But in reality it was an invitation ... to one of the most amazing, enduring, comforting, encouraging and truly delightful friendships I have ever known.

Brad wrote:

Not to be too obvious, but I remember distinctly the humbling verbal invitation to join this adventure to build Uncommon together. Brian and I were sitting in the Gowalla offices during that company’s final days when he invited me to imagine what wonderful community might develop around the simple idea of your ten favorite things in the world. The possibilities!

Read the rest of the replies from Carie, Brendan, and other fine people.

Uncommon reads

Alison Flood on the Tokyo bookshop that only sells one book at a time:

With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, the choice of what to stock can prove bewildering for booksellers. The owner of one small bookshop in Tokyo has taken an unusual approach to the problem: Morioka Shoten, located in the luxury shopping district of Ginza, offers just one title to its customers. Owned by experienced bookseller Yoshiyuki Morioka, the store opened in May, stocking multiple copies of just one title, which changes weekly.

Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate by Adam Grant:

What I discovered was that in every creative project, there are moments that require thinking more laterally and, yes, more slowly. My natural need to finish early was a way of shutting down complicating thoughts that sent me whirling in new directions. I was avoiding the pain of divergent thinking — but I was also missing out on its rewards.

Your turn

What are your best tips for making friends?