Propinquity: How (and Why and Where) to Align Yourself with Like-Minded People

When we practice propinquity, we place ourselves where we can make valuable connections, and we align ourselves with positive influences and like-minded people.

The preparation phase of the gainful serendipity process consists of conditioning and positioning. One of the primary components of positioning ourselves for serendipity is propinquity.

Some people tend to use the word “propinquity” almost synonymously with “proximity.” But while proximity generally implies physical closeness, propinquity implies physical or psychological closeness (or both).

For our purposes, propinquity involves both proximity (closeness) and affinity (causal connection or shared interests). Proximity provides an opportunity for people to form a relationship, but affinity makes them interested in doing so.[1]

Why you should align yourself with like-minded people

Belonging

When we feel like we belong, we feel accepted, appreciated, and understood.[2]

Sometimes when we set off in a new personal, professional, or entrepreneurial direction our friends, family, or other associates don’t necessarily understand what we are trying to achieve. Sometimes they seem disinterested, unsupportive, or even outright resistant.

If the people around us don’t understand, appreciate, and accept what we are trying to accomplish in life, we begin to doubt ourselves and question our own decisions.

Associating with people who share our interests and goals can restore our confidence and give us the courage to boldly move forward without feeling like we have to justify everything we do.

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Connectedness

Connectedness goes a little beyond belonging. While belonging makes us feel accepted and understood, connectedness makes us feel like we have a shared purpose with others; that we are meaningfully linked to other people who have similar goals and aspirations.

When we feel connected, we feel a sense of unity. We know that we have established bonds and formed relationships. We know that we can use the power of our network.

In his personal development classic, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill called this the power of the “Master Mind,” the power that is “produced through friendly alliance of minds.”[3]

Connectedness enables us to feel that we have access to other people’s knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

When we feel connected, we feel like we don’t have to do it all on our own.

Feedback

We get valuable feedback from our associations with like-minded peers. They give us feedback about what we did right, and what we might have done better. They give us feedback that keeps us interested and motivated, and that helps us improve.

Peer feedback also strengthens our commitment to our cause, since we no longer feel like we are working in a vacuum.

We may receive useful feedback from friends and family, but some of that feedback may be nothing more than cheerleading. Or it may be critical but off the mark due to a lack of understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, or even from some subconscious desire to steer us down another path.

Our like-minded peers have a much deeper understanding of – and respect for – our endeavor and will provide targeted and effective feedback that will challenge and inspire.

Support

Naturally, we will enjoy the moral and emotional support we get from our feeling of belonging and connectedness to our like-minded peer group.

But they will provide other forms of support as well. They will promote our interests, advocate for us, and provide needed assistance with challenging problems or tasks. And if we should need some level of support that they can’t provide (say, money), they will often still be able to connect us with someone who can.

Mostly, though, they will share ideas, perspectives, and resources. Our like-minded peer group will become our de facto team or tribe, and they will help get us over the hump when we are feeling overwhelmed.

Inspiration and motivation

Reciprocal interaction between like-minded peers creates shared motivation, which leads to higher levels of commitment and increased productivity.[4]

We are motivated not just by shared interests and goals, but by the social benefits of acting in congress with others.[5]

Acting with others opens up a range of possible outcomes that we might not be able to achieve individually, and also allows us to acquire particular skills and behaviors through social learning that we might not otherwise learn on our own. But more than that, social bonds motivate us in unique ways that prompt continued engagement with our group, engender a sense of mutuality, and create an ongoing feedback loop.[6]

Our extended peer group will consist of people with similar interests and goals, but of varying levels of accomplishment. We can take inspiration from each level.

There will be those who have achieved more success than we have, whom we can learn from, model ourselves after, and sometimes even imitate. There will also be many people on the same level as us, with whom we can exchange ideas and experiment with new methods or concepts. And there will be newcomers whom we can advise and counsel, which will boost our own self-confidence and sense of purpose.

Luck

Much of the popular literature acknowledges the influence of propinquity on luck and serendipity.

Richard Wiseman asserts that lucky people are good at building secure attachments, are likable and accessible, tend to be trusting and form close friendships, stay in touch with friends and colleagues, and that this extended network promotes opportunity in their lives.[7]

Connection is one of the eight serendipity skills described by Thor Muller and Lane Becker. As they explain, “The ability to optimize the number and quality of connections with others is one of the strongest factors in amplifying the opportunities for serendipity to happen.”[8]

And Karla Starr cautions us that, “The unlucky may mistakenly assume that fascinating people give out life-changing opportunities to strangers at random. Turns out that we’re more likely to offer life-changing opportunities to strangers when they no longer feel like strangers because they’ve made a personal connection.”[9]

How you can align yourself with like-minded people

Always have a motion project

Muller and Becker describe motion as the essential serendipity skill. Motion, they explain, greatly increases the likelihood that we will encounter new experiences, opportunities, and information that are relevant to our goals. Motion is about “knowingly seeking out the unknown,” and is about finding what we need “without knowing from whom or where or when, exactly” we will find it.[10]

In my 7 Serendipity Strategies post, I describe the property of variability, which is the capability to break away from our typical patterns and routines. We can think of motion, then, as variability combined with movement toward our vision.

Motion will allow us to encounter the types of like-minded people that can help us realize our vision. But to connect with these people when we meet them, we need something that establishes some shared purpose.

It’s one thing to have a goal or vision that relates to someone else’s purpose or intent. But to concretize our particular vision in the minds of others, it helps to have an actual project underway that demonstrates our commitment.

A motion project can be big or small. It may represent your grand vision, or it may simply be a related side project. But have something specific to discuss with – and potentially show to – others, so that they will take you seriously and think of you when a related opportunity presents itself to them.

Other people can act as conduits and filters for opportunity, but they need a solid connection between us and the opportunity before they are likely to send it our way.

Use your personal contacts

One of the best ways to connect with like-minded people is to start with people we already know.

We often don’t know the full range of our friends’ and acquaintances’ interests, even if we have known them for quite some time. Discuss your vision with them. If they don’t necessarily share your interest, they very well might know someone else who does.

Use your professional contacts

As with our personal contacts, our co-workers and business associates likely have a range of interests that are not known to us.

Of course, if your vision relates to something you are already doing professionally, you will be more aware of which professional contacts are most likely to be receptive to what you are trying to achieve.

But even if your purpose is outside of your professional track, share your vision with associates when and where it is appropriate to do so. They may have a broader network than your personal contacts, and they might be better able to steer you toward the types of people and organizations that can open up opportunity for you.

Talk to strangers

Karla Starr makes the point that striking up casual conversations with strangers helps us improve our ability to read people as well as our general social skills. She also explains that, “In order to have more lucky social interactions, you need to have more interactions overall and take responsibility for how many you initiate.”[11]

Experiments with bus and train commuters in Chicago revealed that most commuters predicted they would have a more pleasant commute if they sat quietly and kept to themselves. The results, however, revealed that commuters reported a more positive commute when they spoke with a stranger.[12]

When we talk to strangers, we learn to listen, we see things from a different perspective, we boost our confidence as communicators by stepping out of our comfort zone, we potentially expand our network, and we just plain feel better.

Engage in small talk

A lot of people abhor small talk. They think it is strained, meaningless, superficial, and a waste of time. But this might be a misguided, elitist, isolationist view that could disconnect us from genuine opportunity.

In her book, How to Create Your Own Luck, Susan RoAne says, “People who create their own luck don’t wait for a great opening line, nor do they initiate conversation with big talk. The people who attract coincidental opportunities tend to talk about little things.”[13]

Small talk is not meaningless. It’s how we let people know that we’re open and available for deeper conversation.

If we want to make meaningful connections with like-minded others, small talk is usually our gateway.

Be receptive

If we want to engage strangers in conversation, and if we want to engage any new connection in small talk that might lead to a deeper connection, we must be receptive.

In my 7 Serendipity Strategies post, I present the property of receptivity as the willingness to relax boundaries and remain receptive to new ideas and experiences.

A big part of that is being receptive to initial contact with new people. Never assume that you have nothing in common with someone you just met. You do. Find out what it is.

  • Listen.
  • Don’t judge.
  • Ask questions.

If you do those three things, you will most likely establish a potentially valuable connection. And when you do, follow up with that person.

Where you can align yourself with like-minded people

Networking events and groups

Meetup features over 330,000 groups in 190 countries and 2000 cities worldwide. You can usually find a local affinity group that relates to your interest area.

Eventbrite is another service where you can find millions of live experiences in 170 countries.

Also, if you follow professional organizations or affinity groups on social media, they will post upcoming events throughout the year.

When attending networking events, it’s best to have a goal in mind, whether it’s to learn something specific, to meet a particular type of person (or maybe even a specific person), or to connect with someone from a particular company or organization.

Also be prepared to pitch your motion project, just in case. And be sure to follow up if you make a valuable connection.

Conferences, seminars, and workshops

Conferences are generally large events featuring a number of presenters and often spanning multiple days and sometimes even different venues.

Seminars are usually small groups of people focused on a particular issue and may only take an hour or two. Seminars are often discussion-focused and can be good places to get feedback on a new idea or concept.

Like seminars, workshops are fairly small and usually only last a day or two. They are also focused on a specific topic and are good places to learn new skills or gain additional expertise.

All three of these types of events are good ways to connect with like-minded people. You can find them listed on sites like Eventbrite, on the websites of various professional organizations, or by simply Googling terms like “workshops and seminars near me.”

Classes and courses

Taking classes in an area of interest is a good way to learn something new and meet like-minded people. It’s usually a safe bet that people in the same class will share some common interests and goals.

Also, you may have a chance to collaborate with other students on projects, which will allow you to form a stronger bond than by simply being in the same class.

Clubs and communities

Clubs and communities, both online and offline, are a good way to start associating with others who share your interests.

These types of groups are often a little more social and relaxed than some other types of networking groups, so it’s sometimes easier to approach other members and engage them in casual conversation that may lead to something serendipitous.

Professional organizations

Professional organizations are usually a conduit for many of the networking opportunities mentioned above.

They host or sponsor networking events, conferences, seminars, workshops, and classes. They also usually have special interest groups and local chapter meetings.

Join one or more professional organizations related to your cause. This will not only expand your network of professional contacts, but it can also help boost your credibility and authority.

Volunteer

Volunteering is an excellent way to do good work, help others, give back to the community, feel better about yourself, and to connect with like-minded people.

You can also put your current skills to good use while learning some new skills at the same time.

Evaluate volunteering opportunities by assessing not only the skills that you can offer, but also by evaluating what you expect to gain from the volunteering experience. You want to do the most good for others while hopefully aligning your efforts with your own bigger purpose.

Websites like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and Nationalservice.gov can help connect you to volunteer opportunities in your area. You can also check the websites of specific nonprofits and NGOs.

But remember to maintain diversity

Aligning ourselves with like-minded people makes us feel connected, gives us a sense of belonging, and provides us valuable support, feedback, inspiration, and motivation.

But it’s important that we don’t align ourselves only with those who share our interests, goals, and purpose.

If we do, we run the risk of placing ourselves in an intellectual and social silo of groupthink where our own ideas, beliefs, and behaviors are no longer challenged.

This could increase the likelihood of some types of serendipitous encounters, but would also significantly decrease the likelihood of other types of serendipitous encounters.

As Karla Starr says, “Maintaining diverse connections exponentially grows your luck over time . . . People inhabiting different social worlds bridge various networks and get access to unique knowledge that they can leverage and use creatively. If it seems as if most of your friends know each other, you’re not maximizing your luck.”[14]

We want to maximize our stimulation of serendipity on all fronts. Purposeful alignment with like-minded people provides many benefits. But we don’t want to conversely minimize the serendipitous value of maintaining diverse connections across a broad network.

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