Look Back, Look Forward: Part 3 – Best Friends Forever

University is where you make some of your best and closest friends for the rest of your life.

original photo by Incase.

original photo by Incase.

You may be sick to death of hearing stuff like that.  But it’s true.  I know it’s a cliché, but so many students forge lifetime friendships and make bestest buddies during their uni years.  Maybe even bestest westest buddies.  It’s that good.

But friendships are strange things.  When you go your own ways, many delicate issues that don’t even revolve around the relationship can upset the balance.

Who’d have thought you’d be so concerned about the state of your mates?  Let’s explore some of the uncertain questions.

When your student experience comes to a close, how do you keep in touch with everyone after you leave?

  • Keep as many channels open as possible. Facebook, phone, text, letter, visit, instant messaging…it’s all open for you to use.  Don’t feel restricted to one or two methods of contact.
  • Don’t worry about it. Most relationships sort themselves out without much hassle.  Even if you have an overflowing address book and a Facebook profile with enough friends to fill a small stadium, it doesn’t matter.  As I discuss below, different types of friends become apparent, if they haven’t already.
  • Think quality, not quantity. Speaking to someone once in a while isn’t less special than speaking to someone every day.  The situation itself is where the goodness comes from.  Concentrate on creating wonderful situations, not multiple ones.

What effect does the end of uni have on the relationships you’ve built up?

  • Distance – Your closest mates can move hundreds of miles away from you.  The relationship doesn’t come to an end, but the dynamic does. Distance isn’t a barrier to anything but constant face-to-face banter.  And it’s great when you don’t see someone for a year and you meet up again as if it were the next day.
  • Personal circumstances – Career, family, romance, money…all sorts of things change.  The shift from student to graduate brings uncertainty.  You’ll find some previously close friends who fade away in the whirl of life outside higher education.  Don’t take their personal circumstances personally! Unless it’s obvious there’s a direct reason for the breakdown (i.e. they tell you), it’s rarely because of the friendship itself.  Life throws us around.  There is more than enough technology available to stay in touch, but personal situations still make it tough to engage with others as much as you’d like.
  • Casual friendship is exposed – Once you move on, you’ll realise that you don’t know much at all about some mates.  You shared the fun, but not the personal details.  The question is now whether you naturally lose touch or build things up further in your new situation.

Do you have time to deal with all your contacts now life is moving on?

  • Be brief, but care with every word. We’re busy people.  A few typed words thoughtfully written can be appreciated equally as much as a hand-written essay.
  • Keep an up to date address book and birthday calendar. Keep physical copies, as well as electronic ones.  A book of information in your hands gives you more focus than relying on Facebook or a mobile phone to tell you when it’s someone’s special day.  You’ll find it easier to manage all contacts with this information to hand.
  • Don’t forget about all the amazing people you’ve got to know.  There are people I love to bits and haven’t seen in ages. It happens. Their absence doesn’t stop me thinking about them all the time.  While the amount of contact changes in a click of the fingers, the strength of your feelings change more slowly and may not fade at all. Don’t be afraid to get in touch and let them know you’re thinking of them…however long it’s been!

How will all those friendships work out? Common groups of friends you’ll end up with include:

  1. Those you continue to share almost everything with – The core group of people that make life worth living, no matter how infrequently you get to see them.  Enough said.
  2. Christmas/Birthday card list fodder – People you want to stay in contact with.  But due to distance or career or family or a combination of things, contact is rare.  You don’t worry if contact breaks once in a while, but you try to make the effort to send cards and the like.
  3. Hardly any contact – You’re happy to check in on an irregular basis, but rarely go beyond that.  Don’t be surprised if years go past until you speak again…still happy to catch up though.
  4. Random stumbles through a mutual ‘closer’ friend, or through living in close proximity – Just because you’re no longer in direct contact with a person doesn’t mean you won’t bump into them from time to time.  You may talk about uni days, catch up on a more formal basis, or spark a deeper friendship outside the confines of the student experience.  Hey, this could be the start of another beautiful friendship!
  5. Fairweather friends – What seemed like a match made in heaven turned out to be a situational convenience.  Cut your losses…
  6. Facebook only – Facebook is like a link many past graduates had to go without.  Our ability to connect casually can’t get much easier.  You don’t need to lose contact with anyone now!  Mmm, good thing or bad?  You decide.
  7. Instant loss of contact, not even Facebook – Okay, some people do slip through the net and don’t even appear on your Facebook list.  Maybe they aren’t on Facebook (WTF? Srsly?) or you never connected that way (yeah, that’s more likely).  Once you leave uni and you don’t have a single way of contacting the person, you probably aren’t bothered about making contact now.  But if it’s an oversight, you need to do three things.  One, call yourself a muppet. Two, ask your mates and Facebook contacts how to get hold of the person.  Three, hope one of your other friends can help!

The good news for today’s students is that networking is easier than ever.  Many of us are big on networking without noticing we’re doing it.  It comes naturally.

Therefore, no matter what graduate life throws at you, you’re in a good position to keep your relationships in great shape.

Age is no barrier in social networks: why you need to ignore the statistics

I’m fed up with talk of Gen Y vs. Gen X.  I’m bored with hearing how young people are ignoring the past and building their own future.  I groan every time I see a report that says young adults shouldn’t use social networks because they’re for old people.

It’s all nonsense.

photo by 1Happysnapper

photo by 1Happysnapper

Social networking features on websites we all know about: Facebook, YouTube, Myspace, Twitter.  The list goes on.  And on.  We participate in conversations, follow events, state our opinions, collaborate and create.  So much of what we do online is now about us.

I don’t appreciate reports that suggest how pointless a service is because a particular group of people don’t use it.  In the US, all social media is apparently dominated by people aged 35-44.  Time and again, we’re told that Twitter is not used by students and that it’s an older person’s hangout.

The average age of a Twitter user in the US is 39.1 years.  What’ll surprise you are the average ages of some other popular services:
Myspace31.8 years
Facebook38.4 years
LinkedIn44.3 years

Not one social network studied showed dominance amongst the 18-24 age range.  On every occasion a different age range reigned.

You might have been put off by Twitter in the past after reading that the average user is seemingly so old.  But I expect you already have a Facebook account.  What student doesn’t?  Will you stop using Facebook now you know the average user is nearly 40?  Exactly.

In fact, there are so many mature students going into Higher Education that they may soon outnumber those who traditionally go to university straight after school.  Does that make you want to drop your course because you think it’s not so relevant for your age group?  Didn’t think so.

So just for a moment, ignore the averages.  As Sheamus on Twittercism says, “the ‘average person’ has one testicle and one breast”.

Age should not be the reason you do anything in particular.  No matter what the averages are, there are people from all age groups spending time on social networks.  They have different backgrounds, different experiences, different expertise, different reasons for being, different interests, and so on.  Age (and any statistical average) shouldn’t matter a bit.  If you feel you can only associate with a certain group of people on a service, use more than one service until it covers everyone you need to speak with.

While Facebook doesn’t particularly go beyond ‘real-life’ friends, other services reach much further.  For instance, the majority of the people I follow on Twitter are not people I’ve met in the outside world.  I speak to people younger than me and older than me.  These are amazing people that I wouldn’t have found based on statistics or a brief five minutes playing with Twitter.

Understanding how to make best use of a tool takes time.  But it’s time well spent.  No matter what statistics are thrown at you, there’s no way of telling what use it could be to you unless you try.  The information would have to be strongly against you wanting to bother…and even then the information may not be supportive of your own unique position.

Anyone who refuses to talk and network with people outside their own age is crazy.  It’s not how people go about life.

So the next time you see someone ridiculing a service based on the average age of users, or any other irrelevant statistic, consider the possibilities beyond that.  Many important business people, academics and student leaders are avid Twitter users.  So are many rising stars in pretty much every field.  They are keen to engage with you and help you learn, develop, and move on.  And they’re keen to engage with you to help them learn, develop, and move on.

Are you happy to pass by offers like that?  Right now, people all over the world are listening and ready to help.  Ignore that at your peril.

20/20 – Day 9: 20 hints for living with others

There’s no such thing as a perfect housemate.  I certainly wasn’t perfect.  Neither were the wonderful people I lived with.

But we listened. And we worked together. And we didn’t shy away from talking about problems. Much. 🙂

While yesterday’s post was aimed at finding accommodation, today’s post is about how to have a relatively stress-free time once you’re living in it.

Staying in private accommodation is a different experience to that of living on campus.  While some issues remain the same, it’s a whole new world.  Whoever you’re moving in with, be they best of friends or practically strangers, it’s best to be prepared.  Welcome to Day 9 of 20/20.

  1. Set meetings. The frequency and formality is up to you, but make sure you all get together on occasion and talk about any issues regarding the rental.
  2. Don’t be picky. Everyone’s different. They can’t all be perfect in your eyes. If it’s not a big deal and it’s not bothering you, let it go.
  3. Try to share items so you don’t all have to buy the same stuff. This works especially well with more expensive and less frequently used kitchen items.
  4. Respect the house rules. You don’t want to hear your housemates music at two in the morning. They don’t want to hear your music at that time of night either.  If you need to go as far as writing down some house rules, have a meeting and write them down. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
  5. Getting up earliest or coming back latest, remember to be quiet!
  6. Understand boundaries.  Your housemates probably won’t expect you going in to their room either, unless you’re invited.  Even if you have an open door policy that extends to when you’re out, others won’t.
  7. Tidy up after yourself.
  8. Communal cleaning should be done as a group, or on a rota.  Agree to one and stick to it.
  9. Each housemate take separate responsibility for a utility bill (electricity, gas, water, phone).  You all get practice, you all get a bit of work to do. Fair and reasonable.  Unless one person specifically wants to do the work (as happened in my 2nd year).
  10. Pay up on time whenever a bill comes in.
  11. Respect differences. No matter how similar you and your housemates are, there will be differences.  There’s nothing wrong with that.
  12. Don’t hog resources.  Be fair when you use the bathroom, the oven, the house phone, the living areas, and so on.  People may not speak up when you spend 2 hours on the same thing that takes them 20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean you should carry on regardless.
  13. Don’t allow guests to outstay the welcome of your housemates. Let’s say your partner visits. One or two nights is usually fine, although it’s still best to ask or have a prior agreement regarding guests.  If you know the stay will be longer, make sure everyone is happy with the situation.  When guests stay longer than expected, don’t ignore it, let everyone in the house know and explain why.  Remember, guests use resources too, so they’re costing the house money.
  14. Only hold parties and large social gatherings as a whole house. If it’s specific only to you, make sure you have explicit agreement from housemates that it’s okay.  Make sure boundaries are set and safeguards are in place.
  15. Don’t turn the heating up or down loads without coming to an agreement first. This is one that often gets overlooked. But if you’re always freezing while the rest of the house feels warm, they’re not going to appreciate the extra heat (or the extra cost)!
  16. Set up an area for messages, information, and so on. Just a fridge door will do.  Find space to get key information together that everyone can quickly check.
  17. Keep a list for phone calls made.  Mobile phones take away the urgency for a student house to have a phone.  Even if you have a phone because of broadband, there may be little use for the phone.  No matter how little the phone is used, keep a book by the phone and note down all calls that are made.  That way, when the bill comes through, you’ll know who needs to pay for each call.
  18. Speak up.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Unless you explain what difficulties you’re having, people may not realise.  However, instead of moaning, discuss the situation sensibly.
  19. Discuss the need for a TV Licence. Some students can’t be bothered to watch TV.  Others watch it whenever they’re in, no matter what they’re doing.  Not everyone wants to pay for a licence, because TV isn’t going to be a part of their student life.  If they don’t contribute, don’t complain if they suddenly watch the odd show. Life’s too short.  On the other hand, if they veg out every day in front of the box…
  20. Prepare to compromise. You can’t have everything your own way.

Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: original by San Sharma (cc)

20/20 – Day 3: 20 reasons to listen

It’s good to talk. It’s better to listen.

Want to know why? Listen up:

  1. Listening is a decent, respectful thing to do. And it gets you more respect in the process. Win/Win.
  2. Because people like to talk.
  3. People like to confide in a good listener.
  4. You’re automatically given more credence as a good communicator.
  5. You have more chance of learning something.
  6. Listening doesn’t require much work, but the rewards are plenty.
  7. When you listen, you care about a person’s opinion.
  8. When you listen to someone, that someone is more likely to listen back.
  9. When you hear, you’re aware of the problem.  When you listen, you can discover the underlying causes of the problem.
  10. To listen is to examine.
  11. To listen is to question yourself gladly.
  12. So long as someone knows you’re listening to them, they know you haven’t given up on them.
  13. You can give so much when you offer advice. You can give so much more when you listen.
  14. It’s less arrogant.
  15. It’s more thoughtful.
  16. In a stream of many voices, listening to a single voice is so relaxing.
  17. If you don’t listen, you can’t empathise.
  18. When you listen, you exercise self-control.
  19. It’s often easier to forgive others if you truly listen to them.
  20. People are happier to forgive you if you listen back.

As mentioned in Point 9, listening is about more than hearing something. You have to give thought to what you hear. Digest what’s being communicated to you and react to it positively.  It’s true that listening doesn’t require much work (Point 6), but that doesn’t mean you can be lazy either. A vague nod and a smile won’t cut it.

Thanks for listening. What points have I missed? Please comment below so I can listen to your suggestions too.