Being a NEWB: The practice of being a new person

We’ve all been there before. It’s the first day of school, a new job, a bicycle riding group, fitness class, etc. and we feel lost, confused, and helpless. Here is this group of people that know each other talk the same language, share similar values, wear similar clothes, and know the in’s and outs better than you.

Every time, even if we’ve been the new person a 1000 times, it’s weird awkward and down right scary. We want to be accepted, we want to be in the know, and more than anything we wish we felt comfortable. Very often we feel like little kids all over again.

I recently joined a masters swim club to improve my swimming time and ability. I’ve joined many new groups and know how these things go, but without fail I end up feeling lost, weird, and awkward.

So I decided to write a post about the practice of being a new person, because it is a very interesting practice and it actually reveals alot about who we are.

Step 1: Admit you’re scared and step forward.
When we enter a new group old habits of protection arise, old strategies emerge, old insecurities are abound, because we are unsure we will be taken in by this tribe.

In traditional cultures not being taken in could mean isolation, hunger, and even death; so our fears are well founded. The first step as you enter a new group is to just admit to yourself it’s scary. Trying to act like it’s not scary just makes things harder.

Now that’s not to say that you should be shy, timid, or hesitate. What it means is that you should admit you’re scared and then do your best to go for it. Hesitation only breeds more fear and hesitation, but confidence breeds confidence.

Step 2: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Whenever we enter a new group it’s best to take the attitude that we don’t know what were talking about. Even if you’ve been in a similar group or setting each group has some specialized language or gestures that you will need to learn.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions right away, and I often don’t at first, then just watch very carefully. See what other people are doing and do that. When I first started doing group rides, I learned quickly what hand signals meant. People pointed out potholes and debris, people warned others when they were stopping.

So I would watch and then imitate, imitate, imitate.  Then whatever terms you don’t know just ask about. I don’t know how many times I floundered around in a new group until I figured out what the hell they meant. Just remember it’s cool, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. In reality most people don’t know what they are talking about at some point.

The key is to admit it to yourself, forgive yourself for the awkward mess you may very well be and keep at it. What you shouldn’t do is act like you know what’s going on, esp. if you don’t actually know whats going on.

You may come off a cocky and you set yourself up for quite a fall if you miss a key cue. There are people who can act like old pros and they are old pros. If you are one of these you know it and if you aren’t don’t try to act like one. People love an underdog, so just be an underdog.

Step 3: The trick is to keep going.
Very often in new groups, people are slow to warm up. They may even be pretty skeptical of new members. If you’ve been a part of a public group for a long time you know why this is.Most people who join a group quit within a week or two.Why? Well there are lots of reasons why people don’t stick around, but most people quit because it’s hard to be the new guy and it’s hard to stick with change.

If you have been the veteran member of a group it’s hard to take these new people seriously because most of them quit pretty fast. Why invest time in someone who may very well be gone next week?

Instead people will often wait a few weeks to see if you will stick and then they will get more friendly.  Remember that you are scared of all these new people, but in a way these new people are scared of you too.

You are an unknown entity and value. You could be cool as Elvis and as Saintly and John the Baptist or you could be the exact opposite. The only difference between them and you is they have safe people to talk to instead of you. While you only have yourself to talk to, which I wouldn’t recommend doing out loud when you first join a group.

Remember that every person in this group was the new person once. They were scared and uncomfortable just like you were. The biggest difference between the newbie and the accepted teammate is time.

Take some time and reflect on when you tried something new.

What about it was really scary and what about it was really exciting?

Think of something you have always wanted to try, but never did.

Why not try it now?

What exactly do you have to lose?

Finally, in the groups that you already attend, think about what could you do to help new people feel more comfortable.

The easiest way to get to know people in a group you join, or to get to know new people in your group is to ask open ended questions. Be curious about the people around you, in fact even if you think you know the people in your group now, you’d be surprised what you will find out if you just ask then open ended questions and take the time to really listen.

One thing we often don’t give space for is other peoples lives, hopes, and dreams. We are so caught up in our own agenda we don’t take the time to really hear others. Try to hear one friend or family member this week in a deeper way. You might be surprised with what they have to say.

Thanks for reading and Be Well,



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