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. Thanks again all.

    @Martin:

    When I say that failure and rejection are competitive advantages, I mean that the more time you’re willing to spend in those zones, the better chance you have to win. Not mindless failure and rejection, mind you, but more the finding of 10,000 ways that don’t work, Edison style.

  2. don diego says:

    I hate to be a contrarian, but this approach is utter BS as far as I’m concerned.

    So you meet up with a bunch of random people, all of whom have their own agandas and are just as egocentric and self-centred as the rest of us? Great!

    No, I say do your own thing, be happy on your own terms, then like-minded people will gravitate toward you. And if they don’t, who gives a fuck?

    As Sartre said, ‘Hell is other people’. Be a man, stand by your own values and principles. NEVER compromise and lower yourself by playing the game of manipulation.

  3. @don diego:

    From what I can tell, you’re refuting an argument that I didn’t make.

    I’m not suggesting bending to other people’s wishes to get them to like you. You can find several articles in the archive where I promote quite the opposite of that. (Search for “social polarity” if you want to read those.)

    Rather, this is meant to address people who feel themselves stuck in a social rut, and think that it’s “so hard to meet people.” I think the business analogy I gave in this article can help people who feel trapped in their loneliness to put things in perspective.

  4. Khuram Malik says:

    Hey,

    I just wanted to say, that i hit it off with way more than 20% of people that i meet. Be that online or offline.

    I think it comes down to a) having a genuine love for people and their welfare b) inspiring them to be the best person they can be and c) enthusiasm

    ;-)

  5. Sean says:

    Great article, made a lot of sense.

    -Must get out more-

  6. Nick says:

    Good post.

    I agree with Don Diego’s point as well though. It’s not worth compromising yourself just to make a few friends.

    Also, I am willing to write a guest post for you if you are still taking the offer. I usually write about travel, finance, politics, or sports, but I can write just about anything you would like me to for that guest post.

  7. miraj says:

    brad:

    great post. even b4 i found your blog, past few months i was having the spontaneous urge to say ‘hi’ to strangers. i spent a few months in halifax where most strangers say ‘hello’. i was shocked to see that in vancouver many ppl would smirk even if you just smile at them.

    anyway here’s what i wanted to know. how do you literally avoid “eating alone”. can you ask strangers to come join you at the lunch/coffee table? how?

  8. Benjamin says:

    You’re so right… Moving a lot is also about leaving you’re comfort zone behind.

    What is fear ? Fear is leaving your comfort zone behind, doing stuff thats unknown.

    How do you overcome it ? By doing it lots !

    You will become an expert in building social networks my friend.

    If you ever move to Belgium send me a mail :-)

    cheers,

  9. Hmmmm says:

    “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.”

    I have to agree with this. Going out and meeting people, getting rejected or feeling like you don’t fit in is very taxing. If you’re a widget salesman, and no one wants to buy your widgets, who cares? It’s not a personal judgment. When you try to sell yourself, and no one’s buying, it’s much more depressing.

    ‘Rather, this is meant to address people who feel themselves stuck in a social rut, and think that it’s “so hard to meet people.”’

    It IS hard to meet people, even if we accept that it’s our own fault. I don’t sit around moping saying “it’s hard to meet people in this town”. I sit around moping saying “I wish I weren’t terrified of meeting people and knew how to create good friendships with them after I’ve met them”. I know it’s my fault, but I just don’t know how to behave in social situations.

  10. Newschool says:

    Great article!! I think getting rejected is all in your head. Like Brad said it will happen, and happen often where your just beginning. I’ve gotten blown out about 30 times this week Wednesday-Saturday but I’ve learned so much! There is no way around it which is why I’m interested in the whole social interaction process.

    I want to change my life for the better so I’m willing to put it all on the line. I have nothing to lose I’ve already hit rock bottom. I want dates for this summer and thats my goal. Thats why I’m out talking to women I’m interested in.

    How bad do you truly want to change your life? If your okay with being lonely, not dating more, and having a larger social circle so be it.

    Lastly I’d admit rejection initially was the reason I never wanted to meet new people. Especially since I’m a quiet guy, but getting over the whole situation has been great thus far.

  11. moi says:

    Hi there – thanks for a good article, it’s rather better than a lot of repetitive, blatantly obvious junk you see on the web about building relationships.

    My q: you link building relationships to building a successful business. But to build a successful business you need to have a product of value to offer your customers. What if I, as a person, have nothing to offer potential friends/partners?

    I’m not just being self-deprecating, and I don’t want to be patted on the head and told ‘of course you have something to offer’ – because I don’t.

    I’ve always found the initial part of making friends quite easy – but after people start getting to know me better they inevitably lose interest. I hang out with people during classes – but soon after we start to see each other in a purely social setting, they take visible pains to avoid me.

    You might say ‘get a hobby, build relationships based on something you love’ – but I find that even people who share the same interests as me can’t stand me for long. I don’t think I’m particularly obnoxious, nor do I smell bad…

    Any suggestions?

  12. Aaron Agassi says:

    If you are to compare social outreach to business marketing, then all of that relentless forced positivity you paddle is still just more of the same Amway cult hokum. You present nothing analogous to a business plan, no substance. Moreover, when you say nobody cares, you plainly include yourself. And that’s a crappy sales pitch.

  13. anne says:

    Hehe. This is great! I am so with you, right from the beginning of your post. In the past five years I’ve lived in five different countries (currently pushing through piles of paperwork to make my move to France a more permanent one). I know what it feels like to perpetually find yourself back at square one. I’ve had some unforgettable friendships last only a few hours in a youth hostel or on a train, but a steady group of friends? Never.

    I think you’re absolutely right, that nobody cares, but that’s not as depressing as it sounds. The best way to connect with someone is not to tell them about yourself, but to ask them questions about their interests and activities with genuine interest. I guess then it’s just a matter of finding someone you can relate to. In my experience, finding someone you can deeply relate to is pretty damn rare.

    Anyway. Thanks for the post- I appreciate your writing style. Wishing you well.

  14. Barb says:

    Okay, I’m sure you are younger than I am (seems most are these days) but the insights and your skill at communicating are amazing. This was very good, not boring (as someone before me said) and full of wisdom.

    I need to just get over myself & reach out more in the times when I am not limited by chronic fatigue & pain. I must not get so down when it’s not as often as I like it to happen, either…and keep trucking so I can encourage others!

    Really.

    Thanks.

  15. aliasanonymous says:

    I don’t want to downplay some of the complex issues being discussed here, but one thing that cannot be overemphasized is…if you don’t like you and don’t “buy into” yourself, there is naturally no reason another person would.

    I believe this goes for both selling a product and selling yourself. In either case it is possible to con others in order to make them value you — but you find out soon enough that lack of genuineness is likely the worst possible trait (again, whether we’re talking selling products or selling yourself).

  16. hotel kielce says:

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  17. Maran says:

    I’m exactly in the same situation, one year and half living in Montreal and still find it so hard to meet new people inspite of I’m dying and so ready to make a lot of friends
    When I was in my own country couldn’t imagine how hard is building a permanent circle of friends and feeling that you actually belong the city…
    specially a city like Montreal that obviously has a great potential for having fun,
    it’s like a torture when it seems every one has fun but you!

  18. Mimi says:

    I enjoyed this article, really good :)

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