by Brad Bollenbach

Nerd With Blow Up Doll

If you got the skin to be rejected 800 times in a row, 801 is gonna be a crazy play.

– Social Media Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, describing the Hot Girl Rule (~45:10)

Having travelled and moved around a lot in the past several years, I’ve been through a number of social resets. I like exploring the world, so my reasons for moving have a lot less to do with jobs, family, and other social connections, and a lot more to do with adventure. I am addicted to culture shock.

But my reasons for starting over have not always involved relocation. Sometimes I’ve just fallen out with a few key people and find myself, socially speaking, back at square one.

This is not an easy place to be. I think I spent my first year in Montreal just feeling sorry for myself: Why is it so hard to meet people? Why can’t I just find a girl who loves me? Why can’t there be someone out there who worries about me?

It was around that time, a little over four years ago, that I realized that self-pity is self-destruction. The reason it was so hard to meet people was because all I did was sit on my own ass and whine — to myself — about how hard it was to meet people. The reason I was single for the first year I lived in Montreal was because I rarely went out. Except maybe for a walk to contemplate how lonely I was.

Having been through this experience many times, I eventually forced myself to adapt. Blaming the world for problems I created was just not a long-term option. I realized that this feeling that “nobody cares” wasn’t what caused my loneliness. Far from it. In fact, it was only by truly understanding that nobody cares that I was able to finally make sense of my social life issues, and figure out how to solve them.

Why Meeting People Is Hard

Building your social life is a lot like building a business. The currencies are different, but the mechanics are similar.

The startup entrepreneur starts out in a war against indifference. But those that succeed at attracting customers do well because they know this: Nobody cares. Nobody cares about your architecture. Nobody cares about your website. Nobody cares that you’ve reached Inbox Zero. Nobody has even heard of the event at which you won that award. Nobody knows that you have something for sale. And even if they do, they probably still don’t care.

And the same principle applies for startup socialites as well: Nobody cares.

Nobody knows that you exist. Nobody wants to meet you. Nobody cares that you are interesting to talk to. Nobody is going to coax you out of hiding. And that bikini-clad babe who just moved in next door? Borrow some sugar? Bottle of wine? Night of unbelievable sex?

Uh, no.

“Nobody cares” is not meant to be cynical or patronizing. Rather, it is a natural byproduct of the scale of humanity. In business, your potential customers just have so much stuff to choose from that they can’t possibly notice more than the tiniest fraction of what is out there. They might not even realize that they “need” what you are selling, and even if they’re aware of their need, they may not understand that your product fulfills it.

In social spheres, the barriers to entry aren’t nearly as high, but there are similar forces — and similar filters — to contend with. Overcoming loneliness means fully accepting that these forces exist and working with them, instead of against them.

So how does “nobody cares” translate from a reality check for entrepreneurs to a wake up call for expanding your social life? Here are some thoughts:

  • Don’t buy the rhetoric that “it’s hard to meet people” where you live. Those are the words of an energy vampire. That’s like a business owner saying “it’s hard to find customers in this city.” Of course it’s hard. It’s hard to find customers in any city. Welcome to Planet Earth. Population: 6.7 billion. Retaining one’s sanity here requires an unconcern for the vast majority of things. And — by default at least — that includes you.
  • 80% of businesses fail. Which means that 80% of the time, indifference wins. If you’re hitting it off with more than 20% — even 10% — of the people you make contact with, I have only two questions for you: 1. How are your writing skills? 2. Wanna write a guest post?
  • Get out of your house. Nobody cares. And if you’re staying at home, taking long baths to “think” about things, and repeatedly promising yourself that tomorrow is The Day that you are really going to crank it up, then they will keep not caring.
  • Salespeople are the masters of rejection. They spend most of their day getting brushed off by people that don’t care. And they make a hell of a good living at it too. If you’re willing to expose yourself to massive rejection, you win.
  • We buy products for the same reason that we choose friends and lovers: they make us feel better and do better. Social success isn’t about you kicking ass, it’s about helping other people kick ass. So consider: What do you know that you can share with others? What can you help other people be better at? What do you want to see changed in the world, and where might you find others that want the same thing?
  • Be honest: How many people where you live even know that you exist? 50? 100? Maybe 150? What about as a percentage of your city’s population? 0.00005%? Unless you live in a smaller place, cracking even 1% is almost impossible. An entrepreneur who doesn’t advertise his product would not get depressed if nobody bought it. And yet a lot of people do get depressed when they don’t “advertise” themselves (by going out, meeting people, talking to strangers, etc.) and nobody comes knocking.

Ultimately, if you are in a social rut, I am there with you. I know what loneliness is like and I know there is a way out. Nobody cares does not mean that nobody will care. It’s just a reminder that there are forces and filters that, while helping us cope with information overload, also make us invisible to each other. And the way to social savviness is not to ignore them, but to incorporate them into your action plan.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve moved a lot. And a few months ago I moved again, to Berlin. But unlike when I moved to Montreal, this time I wasted no time waiting for the world to come to me. I have built an active social life since arriving here. I’ve met some brilliant and interesting people. I will write more about this later this week, including the specific places I go and the activities I participate in that have exposed me to a wide variety of people who have been fun getting to know.

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Comments
  1. Matt Hanson says:

    Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

    Matt Hanson

  2. Thanks for the excellent reality check once again Brad! I’ve started over in new cities so many times I’ve lost count but these words are always important reminders that the world won’t be knocking on my door…
    I love the interesting links you share in these posts! Really looking forward to hearing how Berlin has been a success for you :)

  3. @Matt:

    Kind words. Thank you. :)

    @Benny:

    Thanks. By the looks of your language videos, it seems like you’ve been doing a good job getting out there and making it happen. :)

  4. JJ says:

    Good post, I just moved to a new city and I know what it’s like to have no one know you exist. Creating a new social life is definitely work and I look forward to seeing your next posts about your strategies!

    -JJ

  5. Benjamin says:

    Awesome post!

    It’s very interesting how you link things like social exploration and entrepreneurship.

    I’ve noticed that this is something some of the startup greats do — there’s not “business” and “personal,” just “life.” Same principles apply. It’s all living.

  6. Nobody cares says:

    I like the way you write. Your clarity of thoughts is amazing and the ability to put them in a simple manner is commendable.
    Coming back to your post, what you say is right, but there are other issues also. A sales man getting rejected is not a personal issue but one getting rejected while approaching a girl is a personal issue. It hurts you ego. I know you have written about rejection, but how much you make your mind understand that it’s not personal it still hurts a lot. I am basically a loner but once I tried being different, And I had wonderful success. But that was not me. It was stressful being pretentious. Maybe I am comfortable being disappointed, being lonely. :)
    Well Brad, coming back to your site 30sleeps.How does it make money. I am unable to make sense of its business model. I would really appreciate a few posts on your thoughts on web 2.0.

  7. Vessi says:

    Cool post,

    i’d like to add that loneliness is not exclusive to moving to new cities,

    as you can live somewhere for a while and still accumulate no meaningful connections with people..

    I think so much of it has to do with the mindset of the individual

  8. @JJ:

    Cool, I look forward to hearing more about your experiences getting established in a new place.

    @Benjamin: Thanks. :)

    @Nobody cares:

    I think the link between taking it personal is closer than you suggest actually. As a writer, for example, I can’t pretend not to take it personally when I pour my heart (and several hours) into writing something and nobody reads it, comments on it, doesn’t do well on social media, etc. I think when you really love what you do, there are similar pains, and it’s just as important to learn how to deal with that.

    But, you’re right, it’s still never quite as bad as being rejected socially. I hope that sharing my own experiences (and having discussions like these) helps people realize that there is no way around it, no matter who you are or where you live.

    As for how I make money on this blog, I went back to being self-funded (instead of AdSense) a while back. I have plans to remonetize in the not-too-distant future, but those plans are secret for now. :)

    @Vessi:

    Agreed.

  9. Markus says:

    Another great, and true, post!

  10. kareem says:

    brad,

    great post. i’ve been nomadic for close to two years and have internalized a lot of your lessons. i’m in budapest now and am here with my gf. it’s the first time i’ve been nomadic with someone else. and it’s amazing how all the lessons i learned previously went out the window. one day we decided that we needed to get out and meet new people, as it’s too easy to be comfortable with each other.

    good stuff, keep up the great work.

    kareem

  11. Amy says:

    Hi, Brad.

    A year ago, I moved from the east coast USA to Vienna, Austria, to be with my (new) husband. So much upheaval, and yeah, I’ve been lonely — in a new country where I don’t really speak the language (yet). I have friends here but not best friends. *They’re* all back in the US.

    We just had to interrupt our first real in-country vacation because I came down with bronchitis, so I’ve spent the last 4 days holed up in our apartment watching Buffy on DVD, and I’ve been coming to the same realizations as you lay out here so clearly.

    Namely: It’s my own fault. Duh.

    I knew this, of course, but it seems sometimes like no matter how often you learn a lesson (e.g. “stop whining and get off your duff”), it’s so easy to slip back into ignorance and inaction. Or maybe that’s just me :)

    As soon as I’m better (that’s a valid reason to delay *cough*), I’m going to ask one of my new acquaintances out on a friendate, just me & her.

    So thanks for the kick in the ass. And I love your essays.

    Cheers.

  12. @Markus:

    Thanks!

    @kareem:

    Good to hear from you again. I know the feeling: I tend to stagnate socially when in a longer-term relationship too. (Was recently in one that ended after 14 months.) Though Budapest sounds like fun.

    @Amy:

    Amy Hoy? *The* Amy Hoy? I remember listening to a RoR podcast with you in it. Awesome! :)

    I hope you’ll find my article later this week particularly useful then, since it’s stuff that I’ve really benefitted from as a stranger in a strange land.

  13. Niall says:

    Love this post, just moved to the US from Europe and know very few there. It’s going to take some mental-fu to get my head into the right frame of mind to meet people, I’m really looking forward to your next blog post!

  14. Reader in Sweden says:

    I think it’s hard to find quality people. They must have:

    * Good taste.
    * Compatible values.
    * A passion for growth.
    * A sense of humor which clicks with mine (Trailer Park Boys for instance). Riffing on, mashing up and elaborating on internal jokes is a great way to spend time together in meatspace and cyberspace. Creativity and a keen eye for possible syncretisms is key here.
    * Be very flexible, creative, open-minded and capable of acting on input in an independent. This is VERY rare. Most people I meet, I tell them something that can revolutionize their life like effective resistance training, how to reliably lose weight in a non-haphazard manner, the pick-up arts, time management, how to become more happy in general, or whatever, and they just go “hmmm, neat!” and file it away in some mental corner without ever acting on it. My best friends are the kind where I tell them about some new technique or field and when I get back to them a month later they’ve ventured farther into it than I am.
    * Ruthless intellectual honesty and criticism towards one’s own accomplishments, with the goal of constant improvement.
    * Loyalty.
    * Preferably be available for hanging frequently. Most people have this weird concept of not having time, when all they really do is grind the wheels with TV, pointless work, and other filler activites.
    * Not be overly nerdy, autistic, and socially/emotionall dystrophied/miscalibrated. I hang out with a lot of nerdy types, so go figure on that one.
    * A sense of humility and looking up to those who are above you, which is oftenmost me in the social circle. However, I eat my dog food: I pay respect to those who are higher level characters than me.

    Basically I want a private army of kick-ass capable and creative personal development junkies/Zen mercenaries/powerlifting buddies/peacocked wingmen/tactical mallninjas/stealthy urban explorers/whatever, who I can take with my on all kinds of ventures and side projects. A good mix of wingmen, bodyguards, confidantes, mentors, apprentices, not to mention drinking buddies.

    So, in closing, I would like to agree with you that getting acquiantances such as drinking buddies, chatting partners and hawt chix is very doable and should not be constrained by the usual self-limiting beliefs, however doing what I describe further above is a Hard Problem. I am actually in the process of writing down a formal method for doing so, however. I have the recruitment and training/indoctrination parts done, the hard part is getting all those elite Internet pals to move to my city :p

    Or maybe I just watch too much Burn Notice :p

    Also, you shouldn’t feel bad when something you write isn’t popular. It just means the dim masses don’t understand that particular bit of brilliant writing ;)

  15. Reader in Sweden says:

    Oh, and I am not as crazy as it sounds, I just like to write like I am :)

  16. Reader in Sweden says:

    Oh, can I bounce some texts by you? Working on a very cool project, would like your input.

  17. @Reader in Sweden: That’s a pretty thorough list of points. I tend towards a similar set of criteria as well. It’s definitely a Hard Problem, which is why I like to emphasize that failure and rejection are competitive advantages. And why I love writing about my own mistakes.

    Re: Your texts: feel free to drop me an email (info on the About page). I can’t promise to have the time to review anything, but I can try.

  18. Johnny says:

    Welcome back Brad :)

  19. BB says:

    As always, a great article!

  20. Martin says:

    Interesting how you connect economic principles like creating value for others with being successful in social life.

    I wonder what you mean by gaining competitive advantage through failure/rejection. Having studied economics, I have spent some time with that topic. One definition of competitive advantage is that your product’s perceived value is bigger than that of the competition.
    So how can you increase value by failing? Do you mean that by willing to expose yourself to rejection you are able to learn faster what works and what doesn’t?

    I’m looking forward to read your experiences in my hometown Berlin ;)

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