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How to become friends with amazing people

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Heath here, writing to you from Southwestern Colorado. A place that has been our home for the past 3 years but will no longer be a month from now (if you read our last post​, we’re packing up our things and moving to Portugal this fall and becoming full-time nomads again).

In today’s post, I wanted to write about something I’ve been thinking about lately— how to build relationships with amazing people (or as the great Dale Carnegie said it, How to Win Friends and Influence People).

This topic has been on my mind for a while and I wanted to write about it for a few reasons.

1. I’ve been told this is my biggest skill in business.

A while back I asked my friend Joel what he felt I was best at and he said building genuine relationships with people.

I would have to agree. Making friends with new people and building relationships and community has been relatively intuitive for me. I’ve never really overthought this or met someone and tried to persuade them to be my friend (minus maybe when dating Alyssa, but that’s a story for another time).

That being said, I recently sat down and tried to connect some of the dots around what has led to some of the relationships in my life. This leads me to reason number 2…

2. I want to share what has worked for me (and what hasn’t) when it comes to building relationships.

Will try to be as specific as possible in this email.

3. An amazing network of people will make all the difference in your life.

In the same vein as your health, it permeates everything you do. The people closest to you in your life will be a balloon or weight, a source of encouragement or annoyance, and even impact what food you put in your body and how often you exercise.

Why would you not want to build the best community to surround yourself with?

Many of these ideas are not original or new. I won’t claim to be the expert. I’ve soaked them up from books or learned them from others. But they still are powerful.

So, without further ado, here are some ideas and strategies that have been incredibly helpful for me when it comes to making and building friendships with amazing people.

How to become friends with amazing people

1. Want nothing from people when meeting them.

A big change happened for me in 2014.

Alyssa and I were going to a conference called World Domination Summit. At the time, we were two broke newlyweds filming a documentary, deep in student debt, and blissfully excited to be traveling the country on our honeymoon.

Unlike the conferences I’d attended at my previous software sales job, this time I had nothing to sell.

We weren’t attending to “get leads” or “network”. We attended because we wanted to surround ourselves with this creative community.

My mindset going into the event was to make friends. That’s it.

This approach totally flipped my approach to conversations with fellow attendees.

Instead of asking the typical, “What do you do?” question, I would ask:

“What are you most excited about right now?”

“What’s your story?”

Asking someone “what do you do?” to start a conversation is just another way of asking them, “How are you relevant to me and my goals?”

I found these questions triggered something more exciting and real in people. They told me about their passions or what they were struggling with or what business idea they were dreaming up.

We’ve all been asked this question only to see someone’s eyes immediately glaze over when they realize that talking to a 23-year-old living in an old RV is not going to help them launch their e-commerce startup.

The better path when first meeting people is to be curious about who they are as a person. Learn what makes them tick. Ask a real question that you are genuinely curious about. If you aren’t curious, don’t ask the question.

Asking a question when we don’t care about the answer is an easy way to tune out of a conversation and waste someone’s time.

And just because you ask better questions doesn’t guarantee you will make a lifelong friend. Sometimes I ask people what they are excited about and they say “nothing.”

In short, when you first meet people, ask them genuine questions.

Don’t frame up a discussion to try and get something out of it. Try to learn about people and who they are. When done in an authentic way, this can lead to incredible relationships.

Side note: On the first day of the World Domination Summit conference I met a guy named Wes. Wes owned a production company in Alabama and was shooting the event.

We met these friends at WDS with no biz goals. Here they are producing an RVE Summit with us!

Almost ten years later, Wes is one of my best friends.

We’ve traveled across the country to spend time with each other and our families. We’ve collaborated on big projects with companies like Winnebago (the launch of the Revel in 2017) and had some incredible adventures together (like the day we sank a kayak on the Buffalo River).

When you approach initial conversations with this kind of curiosity you open yourself up to making genuine friendships.

2. Create a habit of consistently reaching out to people you admire.

In 2015 I downloaded an app that changed my life called Moment.

It tracked your iPhone usage and helped you spend less time on your screen (and more time in the moment). The app came out five years before Apple released Screen Time and it was downloaded by tens of millions of people all over the world.

Moment made me realize how much time I wasted on my phone. After a month of using it, I loved it so much that I sent the founder an email, telling him so.

I sent the email and then forgot about it. A few days later I received a reply from Kevin (the founder) thanking me for my message and mentioning how he and his wife were also planning to hit the road in an RV (he’d read my email signature that mentioned our RV blog).

Kevin and I kept in touch once he’d started his RV journey, met up a couple of times while on the road, and have become closer friends over the years.

In a few days, I’m actually hopping on a plane to go spend time with him in Austin (BBQ and queso will be happening this week!).

I don’t know how many of these types of emails I’ve sent over the years. Most of the time, they don’t lead to a friendship with someone like Kevin (which wasn’t my intent in reaching out). It was a fluke that I’m supremely grateful for.

In retrospect, I’ve realized the power of this kind of genuine outreach.

A worst-case scenario is I send a nice email to someone who made a positive impact on my life.

Best-case, you end up becoming buddies and go on river floating trips together.

I think a mistake many people make when sending cold emails to someone they follow online is saying something nice to them and then immediately asking them for something. When someone asks you for something, it’s not a compliment. It’s a request disguised as a compliment. (People don’t like that.)

I didn’t reach out to Kevin with any ulterior motive other than to tell him I appreciated his app. As a result, we’ve been close buddies who talk business and life and many other things together.

If you follow people online that resonate with you or have made a positive impact on your life, I’d encourage you to simply reach out to them and tell them. Don’t ask them for anything in this outreach.

At worst, you send good vibes into the world. At best, they become a friend or a part of your community or a mentor.

3. Recognize that nobody can “put you on.”

I’m not sure where this term comes from, but for some reason it makes me think of rappers. Like, if I was trying to come up in the rap game, someone like Dre could “put me on”.

Maybe he’d let me pop in on a song and drop a few lines and before I say something dumb I’m going to discontinue this metaphor because I’m out of my depth.

Terrible rap comparison aside, I don’t think in life we can get “put on” by other people.

Maybe back in the day of TV networks or when music labels ruled the world it could be possible to get put on. But for most of us regular people, this is not a reality.

Heath, where are you going with this?

Good question. Here’s the punchline.

A lot of people have the mistaken belief that if only they could get featured on someone’s Youtube channel or Instagram post or blog (or freaking Threads, I can’t keep up with it all anymore)— they will have made it.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let me take you down a little trip down memory lane.

The year is 2014. It’s Halloween. Alyssa and I are camping on someone’s farm in the middle of nowhere Maryland (a stranger who offered us a place to stay on LinkedIn of all places).

Amidst Alyssa baking cookies in our tiny RV stove, I lean over and tell her that we are currently on the front page of Yahoo! Keep in mind this still had some relevancy 9 years ago.

The week before, we’d had various media outlets cover our 50 Jobs in 50 States journey and a few large publications also ran with the story. Fox, CNN, Forbes…now Yahoo!

I immediately went to our blog and started refreshing the stats every few minutes as hundreds of visitors poured into our fledgling website.

Obviously, we were going to be super famous.

The day the article hit the front page of Yahoo! we had over 6,000 visitors to our website, which was about 6,000 more than we received on any normal day up until that point.

I just knew this would mean massive follower growth. The next day I logged in to check and see how many of those 6,000 people had opted into our email list.

Six people.

That’s right, a .001% opt-in rate.

As it turned out, I had a lot to learn about email opt-ins and how to capture people’s attention.

But the real lesson for me was that a spike in attention does not equal long-term success.

This moment changed how I thought about influencers or media or anyone with a large audience. Instead of seeing those people as the gatekeepers who could change my life, I just saw them for what they were. People.

And yes, media and getting mentioned by big audiences can have a big impact.

But I learned the key ingredient is that you have to actually be doing something interesting to retain the attention once you have it.

You have to be creating something of value in a product or through entertainment to keep those people around.

Therefore, it’s infinitely important to focus more on honing your own craft versus trying to get put on by others.

How does all of this pertain to building relationships?

In many of my life circumstances, I’ve found building a real relationship with a person who could “put me on” to be much more fulfilling than caring about how they might invest in my company or mention my website.

A spike in traffic or attention is great, but it’s short-term and transactional.

I’d much rather become friends with an amazing entrepreneur than immediately pitch him to invest in my startup. The money would be nice, but a long-term friendship where we can talk business and ideas and be there for each other is much more interesting and fulfilling for me.

Plus, having a long-term view of relationships like this typically does lead to really interesting business opportunities (but in their own time).

4. Don’t be an influencer chaser. Instead, collaborate with peers.

In 2015, two of our friends reached out and asked for advice on video equipment. They were going to travel the world for a year and wanted to document their experience on Youtube.

Alyssa and I were no experts. We’d only just picked up a camera the previous year. But we gave the best advice we could (who knows if any was good).

Those friends ended up starting a Youtube channel that has done very well (this is an understatement to the extreme!).

Not only have they continued to be a major inspiration for Alyssa and me to push our comfort zone and see the world, but they’ve inspired millions of people as well (love you Kara & Nate ❤️).

This is probably Nate teaching us about video since they surpassed our level of expertise in about 3 seconds.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to only connect with people who are five or ten steps ahead of you.

And while it’s great to get advice from people who have been there and done that, the real gold comes from people who are working towards similar life goals right alongside you. Those are the people who can commiserate with you and encourage you.

Don’t spend all your time trying to connect with people who are five or ten years ahead. Find people who you can go on a similar journey with together and push each other to do awesome things along the way.

5. Pick up the phone.

This one is less about making new friends, but how to keep the ones you already have.

In 2023 this is a trait that continues to surprise people when I do it (not my old friends, they are used to it by now, but new ones).

I call people often.

As someone who isn’t physically around a lot of my friends in person, I consistently reach out and try to stay in touch. I want to know what’s happening in their lives, what they’re working on, and what is exciting or what they are struggling with.

According to the popular book citing the top 5 regrets of the dying, one of the most common regrets among older people is not staying in touch with their old friends. When we have kids and life gets busy with work and obligations it can be easy to lose touch.

I’ve found a way to probe through the busyness. I just keep calling until they answer.

I imagine this is how people look when they see me calling them.

A friend named Chris and I both have two young kids. Before kids, we talked on the phone often. Over the last five years, those calls have gotten further and further apart, but we still talk.

The primary difference now is that sometimes he will call me three times and I will call him back twice before we finally sync up.

One of us might be changing diapers or giving the kids a bath and just can’t talk, but we always call back.

I’ve realized that pushing through the slight inconvenience of syncing up on a call is worth keeping a decade-long friendship with someone I love. It just is.

True friends are not annoyed to hear from you, no matter how many tries it takes.

Sure, they might be busy or wonder why you called versus sending a text (especially if they are under 30), but they won’t be annoyed. At the very least, if you call, then you will never have to feel regret for letting an old friendship die.

6. Be a source of encouragement, but also truth.

​My friend Garrett calls me on my crap. If I were to put on 15 lbs, he would tell me. If I’m making excuses, he would does let me know.

When some people meet Garrett, this might come off as judgmental or critical. I see it differently.

He cares.

He cares enough to give me real feedback and honest criticism when I need it. I value it so much.

A common trait of good friends is to encourage you, which is also valuable, but it’s also to give you the truth you need to hear.

I’ve tried to do this with my closest friends. I don’t just tell them they are doing great and they’re crushing it, but when appropriate, I ask them genuine questions about the decisions they are making and give them my honest thoughts. I do it because I care and want the best for them.

This is a delicate tactic because not all people are great at hearing the truth.

Also, your relationship has to be in a certain place to influence someone. I once heard someone say it’s impossible to influence or change someone without first loving them. A bit corny, but I believe it’s true. I’m not sure I’ve ever openly taken advice from someone who hasn’t built a rapport with me.

Build rapport with someone. Invest in them. Encourage them. And when they are asking or need advice, don’t just tell them what they want to hear but what they need to hear.

Honestly, I hadn’t planned for this to be a 3,000+ word post. I have a lot more thoughts on this subject, but for now, I think I’ll end it here.

My hope is this could lead to some interesting and fun relationships in your life.

If you made it to the bottom of this wooly mammoth of a post, I’d love to hear from you. What is your best advice on how to build or keep great relationships?

Excited to hear from you and hope you have an amazing day!

—Heath (and Alyssa)

PS If you’re looking for a new book to read, you can check out my reading list here​ 🙂

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