For so many years, I’ve had this aversion to the type of networking that occurs in many of the professional organizations – the kind of place where you have your business cards handy, smoothly carry your wine and appetizers, deftly hand over your business card; where so many are there relentlessly self-promoting and not all that interested in building a relationship.
I’ve read at least twenty articles over the past few years on networking: the best ways to do it, the pitfalls, how to start conversations, how to overcome awkwardness. Much of the advice rang true for me, yet I have never felt comfortable in these environments. Since the conventional wisdom is that you are there to promote yourself, those of us who are quieter or more reserved end up suffering several times over.
This discomfort occurs when
- We feel we should be promoting ourselves but don’t
- We make a good faith effort to connect with others and they don’t reciprocate
- We resist these events in the first place, knowing that we have to develop relationships and often this is the only place outside of work where we have the opportunity
- We try to rally but end up feeling we aren’t being true to ourselves
Many of us have experienced these feelings over the years; and have to put on our armor before engaging. We “send our representatives.” Almost invariably, I would leave feeling fake, like I sold a little piece of my soul. More suffering, because why do I take it so seriously?
So, I took a break for a while. I was in the process of reinventing several aspects of my life, and slowly excavating what was meaningful to me and how I wanted to show up in the world. I also was intent on building a comprehensive plan for both work and life, one that could integrate both; one that better blended and supported my interests and abilities.
What came out of this time, was a deeper self-awareness – from how much sleep I need to perform well, to how anxiety influences behavior, to untangling the old knee-jerk reactions to the old stories; stories that were no longer (or had never really been) mine. Discovering this foundation stripped away a lot of the “shoulds” that had been clouding my intent and purpose and preventing me from developing my own style of networking. This blog grew out of that work, as did my commitment to pursuing development and coaching as an HR professional. There was a lot of inner work involved, and a strong commitment to pursuing my own unique path.
A Happy Networking Story
This week, I had several extremely positive networking experiences, and it has solidified my thinking about how I like to engage in this necessary and useful practice.
Two contacts on Linked In have contacted me recently, neither are known personally to me, but we have connections in common. One reached out from the Bay Area, and invited me to join a group of like-minded professionals with the intent of supporting each-others endeavors. The second contact was actively working on expanding her connections, but doing in a way that was more focused on cultivating relationships than pushing a product. She invited me to a call, I accepted, and we had a great conversation. Both are entrepreneurs, have products and businesses to develop, but the goal was to meet other San Diego contacts and build relationships. I look forward to interacting with both and will be actively seeking opportunities to both participate and help them in their endeavors.
As a member of San Diego Association for Talent Development (SD ATD), I attended an exceptional talk with Eric Kaufmann. He is the author of two books, and he was sharing some highlights from The Four Virtues of a Leader. (Get the book here; https://www.amazon.com/Four-Virtues-Leader-Navigating-Journey/dp/1622037278). This group is made up of a tribe of people passionate about learning and development, and I feel at home here – willing to sit in a classroom with them for two hours after a full day of work to touch base, connect and meet new people.
Life is short, time is hard to find, and with all the choices we have, it has never been more important to stay focused on the things that are truly important in life – and we get to decide what they are! But we must decide. Choosing one thing necessarily means that you did not choose the other. Tradeoffs are essential. We can read endless articles on “how to” but at the end of the day, the insight that helped me the most was found within – through the awareness of self and purpose – this allows us to carve out the best and most comfortable way to grow our networks, and build our meaningful, whole lives.
Kristina Au writes on leadership, clarity and creating personal sustainable change, with the goal of providing the tools for building fulfilling lives.
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