Don't Be Shy

Why you should talk to strangers

You’re teetering on the edge of the wooden dock, hands clutched beneath your chin, shivering, squealing, trying to muster the courage to jump into the frigid water. In truth, it’s not the water that you fear, what you want to postpone is the initial shock of cold that launches through your body upon first submerging. You know that in a few minutes you will be fine, but oh that dreaded icy shock.

That’s what “putting yourself out there” feels like.

The phrase itself sounds laughably cryptic; “out there” …out where? It’s a cannonball into a murky abyss. And just like jumping in the lake, we hate stepping out of our comfort zone because of the chilling jolt that follows. Except this time, it comes in the form of awkward introductions, potential rejection, or worse…endless small talk.

I recall one summer vacation as a child which my family went on without our friends who usually joined us. I bemoaned the fact that I wouldn’t have any friends to play with, and my mother wearily said that I would just have to make new friends. In retrospect, I think she was referring to my four siblings, but God forbid I would hang out with them. So, on the first day at the beach I marched up to a girl who looked about my age and demanded she be my best friend.

And while my approach has become more tactful, I have not stopped talking to strangers. I go to events where I don’t know anyone, hang out with people I only know from social media, and have even met some of the most rad girls using Bumble BFF. I know this sounds strange to some (or most) of you, and maybe even like the recipe for perfect torture, but I will forever swear by this practice as the best way to keep life exciting. So here’s how, and why, you should definitely talk to strangers.  

People aren’t going to show up at your door.

Unless you’ve met my ten-year-old self (in which case I apologize). For the most part, however, people aren’t going to approach you and demand for you to be their friend. So, stretch your neck; look up from your phone and see (actually see) the interesting humans around you. Because…

Everyone is interesting

Everyone. I’ve said for a long time that I’ve never met a boring person, and if you disagree, change your definition of interesting. You can surround yourself with people who are all cookie cutter versions of yourself, or you can approach people with the thought that everyone knows something you don’t, and has something to teach you.

They won’t think you’re a freak

I mean, if you slink up next to them and breathe an awkward “hey” in their ear they might. But slap a massive, extra toothy smile on your face, confidently stride up to them and create interesting, meaningful conversation, I guarantee they will walk away impressed rather than repulsed. And if they still think you’re a freak…well…aren’t we all.

People love to talk about themselves

This tip is actually transferable to nearly any type of interaction…dates, interviews, you name it. It’s actually been proven that talking about yourself releases good endorphins in your brain, leaving you recalling that interaction fondly (wooow science). In that case, if you’re terrified of those awkward silences, be ready to ask questions! Pick a detail they mentioned and ask them to elaborate on it. Or my favourite, instead of saying “How was ____?” which can lead to short answers and dead ends, say, “Tell me about ____!”. Of course, don’t be afraid to share your own experiences and stories as they fit.

Practice, kid. Practice.

Just the other week I chickened out. I was going to a small church event (and what’s more welcoming than a freaking church event?), commuted half an hour there only to turn around and go home. I knew I could waltz in confidently with a big smile and chat the night away, but I suddenly didn’t want to – it was just too much work. And that’s okay. I chatted with the bus driver on the way home to relieve my pent up extraversion, and knew that there was always next time.

The moment your toes leave the dock is always scary, as is the first timid step beyond your comfort zone. The icy shock is always there – as are those first few minutes of internal screaming and panic, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that people aren’t scary, and the water is just fine.

Katrina Martin