One Coffee at a Time
How I plan to secretly (shushhhh) take over the world
In last week’s newsletter, I talked about my poor social skills and lack of friends in university. I also hinted at how I tackled this lack, by getting a job where I would be surrounded by people.
At the time, it was a bold move, and being in the state I was back then—i.e. still recovering from my month-long stint at the mental hospital—I wasn’t too confident of my chance at success.
I stumbled my way through that job, more often than not paralysed by fear as I faced time and again the daunting prospect of approaching and making conversation with high school teens (I was working in a language school). In retrospect, this was probably too much for me to handle at my level of conversational skills and confidence at the time.
I didn’t emerge from that job miraculously endowed with friend-making skills. But if you were to cross my path tomorrow, you wouldn’t know it. Today, I’m pretty comfortable with making conversations. In fact, I think (if I may say so myself) I’m rather good at it.
I’m quite proud to be able to say this. I have come a long way from my 2015 self, and this is a skill that will only get stronger with time and practice.
How did I do it? I’d say it was a combination of luck and perseverance. Luck because I happened to secure successive jobs in international companies, working with expats and western-minded Thais, i.e. people I had a lot in common with. And perseverance because, boy, did I persevere.
In the first of two companies I worked at post-language school, I studiously organised what my boss called “networking lunches” with people I’d crossed paths with and who seemed even remotely friendly. At these lunches with people from all walks of life (and usually more senior), I’d rack my brains for questions that would lead us into engaging conversations. I sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed. But I persisted.
Once I moved company (where I got in thanks to last week’s cover letter), I intensified my practice. On top of lunches with teammates and colleagues I worked with directly, I had “networking coffees” with people from far and wide across the company. It didn’t matter what team they were in. If they expressed the slightest bit of interest (and enthusiasm) at continuing a conversation with me, I asked to have a coffee with them.
From the first coffee, I’d judge whether the coffees would continue, evolve into lunches (or even dinners if I’m feeling bold), or if I should let the relationship peter out. (Some people you just don’t click with, and some conversations are just torturous to keep going.)
Once Bangkok locked down in March 2020 and our company began working from home, I continued with these coffees virtually. And born of those virtual coffees are at least three close friendships that I have a good feeling will be lifelong. (You know who you are, homie.)
When I was moving to Vietnam, I was a little apprehensive about making friends here. But I had faith in the coffee. And sure enough, I’ve made one good friend through a coffee I initiated (You know that rare moment you meet someone you instantly click with? Yeah, that happened.)
I was even audacious enough to ask a complete stranger who happened to be on the same flight from Bangkok as me and was quarantining at the same hotel for a coffee after we got out of quarantine, purely on the basis of that shared experience. Luckily, he accepted and we proceeded to have our coffee. Another friend!
The other day, I was chatting with a good friend (one born of the virtual coffees) and she commented that my “expand the empire one coffee at a time” approach may take time, but “eventually you’ll have your claws in everyone.” That gave me a good chuckle.
But it also made me reflect on how far I’ve come—from that awkward tutor hesitant to even approach a group of friendly and chatty teenagers, to someone who’ll comfortably have coffee with a stranger and be able to keep the conversation going easily. And most of the time enjoy it.
How about you? How do you make friends? How confident are you in your conversational coffee skills?
Leave a comment or reply to this email. I’d love to hear from you.
Until next Friday… Stay cool, stay safe, stay thoughtful,
That’s the plan, but don’t tell anyone. Shushhhh…